Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Kami-sama no Memo-chou Episode 1 – Little Sister is Watching You

Kami-sama no Memo-chou Episode 1 – Little Sister is Watching You

While I haven’t seen the finale for Gosick yet, I think it’s fair to say that my overall impression of the series is mixed at best. While I’ve liked certain aspects of the show, it wasn’t nearly as strong a mystery show as it could have been, preferring to telegraph major plot points too obviously to generate suspense about future revelations. It also had several stupid historical errors and a few too many divergences into classic anime cliche.

I thus approached Kami-sama no Memo-chou (God’s Notebook) with a certain amount of trepidation. At first glance Kamimemo is Gosick transfered to modern Japan—based off a light novel series, has a petite genius detective girl with hair past her knees and several social phobias, who meets a high school boy who has (or will) help her to come out of her shell. Changing the production studio from Bones to J.C. Staff also did not inspire confidence, as I don’t trust the latter studio to do anything aside from romantic comedies.

But there were a few things about the production that had me hopeful, namely an emphasis on some of the less savory aspects of Japanese urban culture, many of which bleed into various otaku sub-communities. If the first episode is any indication, that hope is going to be fulfilled.

"Shousa," Hiro, and Tetsu (left to right) are hardly the people you'd expect to work together, but they are surprisingly respectful of the others' abilities

The case of the hour long opening episode revolves around the disappearance of a model student, who we eventually discover was leading a double life as a prostitute through “compensated dating.” It’s implied that she was doing so with the deliberate hope of being caught, just to shatter the perceptions of her being so perfect and free her from the overbearing expectations of her parents, teachers, and even her friends.

As I’ve mentioned in several other reviews, the pressure Japanese society places on the young to succeed is one of sources of teenagers or even adults dropping out of education or the workforce and becoming NEETs, delinquents or shut-ins outside the traditional structures of education and the workforce. Enter Narumi Fujishima, who through a series of somewhat improbable coincidences is roped into Tokyo’s only NEET detective agency.

Most of those coinicidences center around Ayaka Shinozaki, Narumi's classmate who takes an immediate interest in him because he's the main character. Ayaka happens to work in the shop below where Alice lives

Technically, being a NEET would seem to preclude doing something as productive as detective work, but the NEETs are hardly stereotypical. “Shousa” (a military rank equivalent to major or lieutenant commander) is a military gun-nut freak, but is technically a college student, however much he might avoid taking classes. Hiro, a skillful womanizer and “face” for the group, has all the social acumen and grace that NEETs are supposed to lack. Even Tetsu, who dropped out of high school to try his luck as a professional gambler (only without the professional part), seems normal in appearance and personality.

It thus falls on Alice, the ostensible female lead of the show, to hit all the classic NEET checkboxes, and regrettably she does so. From her windowless studio apartment, she works as a hacker to discover leads and coordinate the team, but how she’s qualified to lead anything is an open question. From spending all her time in a cramped room, to having her only source of illumination being the glow of her many, many computer monitors, to having emotional reactions better suited to an eight-year-old, she manages to combine all the worst and most pronounced aspects of the NEET/otaku lifestyle (even though she’s not technically an otaku).

Alice also has a serious cola addiction (and J.C. Staff failed to get a Dr. Pepper sponsorship)

Of course, Alice also looks like an eight to ten year old; the show hasn’t given any real hints as to her age, and might intend to be deliberately coy on the subject. I hope the show isn’t planning much in the way of a romantic relationship between her and Narumi, because a) it would be creepy, and b) the chemistry is completely lacking. A relationship between Narumi and Ayaka would be much more fitting, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening.

(It goes without saying that the show’s only real bit of fanservice is loli-bait involving her, which is both completely unsexy and entirely stereotypical in both the event itself and the reaction of all parties. Given the show had managed close to an hour without degrading itself in such a fashion, I was hoping we could avoid it altogether; at the moment, I’ll settle for having reoccurrences kept to a once per episode basis.)

Given the show's coverage of prostitution, there's a fair amount of skin and lingerie flashed about. But within the context of the show, it doesn't feel exploitative—which is both surprising and encouraging

Alice is also a bit of a megalomaniac, treating the overflow of information her computer system gives her as a power bordering on the divine, which in turn makes her responsible for failing to stop the various ills of the world. That guilt gives her the motivation to solve crimes—and bully her fellow NEETs into doing so—and might explain some of her more interesting quirks (such as dressing in Gothic Lolita style clothing in her one excursion outside, or her title for herself as a “speaker for the dead”). It also makes her behavior fall somewhere between absurdly pretentious and outright insane.

It’s easy to be frustrated by Alice, wondering who is paying for her computer toys and lifestyle, or why the other NEETs got pulled into her orbit in the first place. Strangely enough, and despite the cold introduction he has into the group, it’s not hard to see how Narumi becomes one of those people. For all Narumi’s talk about limiting his own social contact and just trying to pass through life, he’s obviously hungry for some form of community. This makes him vulnerable to at first Ayaka, and then Alice, who for all their bossiness clearly want him to belong.

Narumi's family has been constantly on the move thanks to his father's work, so he's learned not to make close friendships as a consequence. One would hope that his family life would be stronger as a result, but that's obviously not the case either

I want to give the show credit for making Narumi a somewhat interesting character. By rights he should be the generic, colorless anime protagonist that we’ve come to know and hate here at antiotaku, but he’s given just enough characterization and background in the story not to be. We see his resentment at his absent father and absent-in-spirit mother, and come to understand why he’s lived his pre-high school days avoiding much in the way of human contact.

Most of the supporting characters don’t have that depth yet, but feel as if they could. Shousa is a bit of a one-trick-pony, but Tetsu and Hiro both seem surprisingly well-adjusted, which means their backstory as to how they became the NEETs they are should be interesting. Ayaka, as noted above, is rather conveniently interested in Narumi, but manages to feel like a real girl and not a carefully concocted appeal to the fetishes of a particular subgroup of perverts. Which is more than I can say for some people.

There's also "Yondaime," a small-time Yakuza boss with a long-standing relationship with Alice. He's good enough with sowing to fix Alice's stuffed animals when they are damaged—a fact he does not want his gang to know about

And more to the point, the show succeeds both as a mystery and as social commentary, and succeeds in both cases for knowing when to be subtle. The mystery aspect strikes the right balance between providing clues in an incremental fashion, slowly unraveling the actions of the various victims and perpetrators, who wind up being the same people. The social commentary part takes note of the social pressures of Japanese culture and the expectations of others, but doesn’t get too preachy in its conclusion. It presents a reality, without offering a trite solution.

If Gosick worked primarily (and at times solely) on account of its strong female lead and her relationship with her her costar, Kamimemo succeeds, at least at the moment, at everything but that. In this, the shows are radically different despite any surface simlairies. It will take another couple episodes to discern if Alice will become more tolerable, or if another aspect of the production will degrade, but that the moment, I can recommend at least a watch.

I'd say I'd recommend a watch just for the artwork, and particularly the attention given to light sources. But Index had similarly excellent art, and I hated that show

With luck, I’ll be able to recommend more as the show goes on. Given the relative maturity of the subject matter and the great maturity with which this premiere handled it, I’m hoping the series will continue to shine a spotlight on those aspects of urban Japanese society which you won’t necessarily read about in a guidebook. If it can maintain such a deft touch, there could be something very special here.

  1. cuc
    July 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I didn’t plan to watch this, but your post provoked me to look up the novel. I see that Vol 1 opens with a James Tiptree quote, and Alice actually names herself after the real name of Tiptree. Now my interest has been piqued.

    • threeheadedmonkeys
      July 9, 2011 at 10:49 am

      Happy to have gotten your attention. I just hope the series will wind up being worthy of it.

  1. July 29, 2011 at 11:56 pm

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