Heaven’s Memo Pad Collection (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 308 minutes approx.
As you may be aware the acronym NEET stands for “Not in Education, Employment or Training” which has given rise to the unique modern day Japanese phenomenon of the Hikikimori, disillusioned youths who lock themselves away from the world in a tiny apartment and live off their parent’s finances. But, as recently relocated to Tokyo high school student Narumi Fujishima is about to discover, not all NEETs are a useless burden on a society.
After being accosted at his new school by the energetic and perky Ayaka Shinozaki to join the Garden Club (current membership: one), Ayaka treats Narumi to ramen at the Hanamaru Ramen shop she works at, run by the stern but motherly Min. There Narumi is introduced to Tetsuo Ichinomiya, Hitoshi Mukai, Hiroaki Kuwabara, three NEETs who he had seen the day before in an unusual incident involving a girl leaping from a love hotel window. Before he can say anything, the trio are summoned via phone by someone called Alice and with equal stealth swiftness, Narumi finds himself tasked with taking a bowl of ramen up to this mysterious commander. Behind the door with the sign “NEET Detective” Narumi finds a young girl clad in pyjamas, surrounding by soft toys and banks of computers and a wall of screens. Alice has found herself a new assistant.
The adventures of this diminutive shut away sleuth first appeared in the light novels of Hikaru Sugii in 2007, before becoming a manga in 2010 with this adaptation from studio JC Staff arriving a year later. A beguiling character, Alice looks like your typical lolicon and even acts as one with added tsundere abuse aimed at the unsuspecting Narumi, but behind this childish appearance is a sharp mind suffused with a keen sense of justice. Alice refers to herself as an “advocate for the dead” although she is far from being a medium; her skill is using her extensive computer network to seek out information to solve crimes. Handling the footwork are Tetsuo, the brawn of the group with police connections and a gambling addiction; Hitoshi aka The Major, who is an electronics expert and warfare otaku and Hiroaki the ladies man. Elsewhere a NEET yakuza group called the Hirasaka Group – headed by the charismatic but violent chap known only as The Fourth – is on hand to offer additional support, most drastically whenever one of Alice’s stuffed toys needs repairing.
One would assume that such an eclectic bunch of esoteric character would make for a series of comedic adventures. Well, disabuse yourself of that notion because this show actually tackles some very dark themes that reflect the seedier side of modern Japanese society. As alluded to earlier, Narumi already met the NEETs while on a case. The girl he saw leaping from the hotel window was a classmate Miku Kimura who is also a prostitute, her current job being interrupted by the NEETs. The mission for Alice and co is to find out what happened to missing school girl Shoko Sakuma, a friend of Miku’s whose involvement in the final analysis leads to a very dark and disturbing conclusion.
With just twelve episodes this is a series that needs more chapters to fully explore its character and the unique relationships between Alice and her amazingly loyal NEET subordinates. Yet it manages to fit in two multi-episode arcs both of which have shocking denouements of differing impact. The first begins innocently enough with Narumi helping out with the promotion of a local all girl rock group who broke their previous contract with (another!) Yakuza group. But it is the meeting between Narumi and Renji Hirasaki, an old friend and flat mate of The Fourth along with a young woman named Hisan that turns this into a deadly affair of vengeance with a surprisingly bold and unexpected twist in the tale’s finale.
The second arc deals with the proliferation of drug trafficking hitting Tokyo, with the current deadly narcotic being Angel Fix. Once again a member of the NEETs has a connection with one of the people involved, resulting in a tragic turn of events that changes the complex not just of the arc but of the reserve and fortitude of Narumi, the once timid tag along of the group. This arc paints an ugly picture of the criminal side of Tokyo as well as issuing a stern warning about the dangers of drugs, as if one was really needed but to their credit, the show’s producers ensure the message hits hard.
One cannot question the heart and conscience this series has, in both addressing heavy modern issues and its attempt to quell the demonising of NEETS and creating a situation in which they are portrayed as more useful and productive contributors to society despite their refusal to adhere to the proper conventions of attending school and jobs. In spite of, or perhaps because of, their individual quirks they are quite a likeable cast of characters although only Narumi and Alice get any real development. However, The Fourth is the sole cast member to get a backstory leaving everyone else a mystery, including Alice; it would have been nice to learn about how someone so young and intelligent came to be a NEET, where he finances come from and how she commands such devotion from her team.
A familiar problem of ambition over ability hampers many an anime series but with Heaven’s Memo Pad, it is the single season episode count that is the biggest handicap. The potential is there for some thing truly great with a view of fleshing out the characters more deeply but twelve episodes, including some comical interludes, prevent this from happening. So we’re left with a decent and enjoyable enough show that ultimately leaves the viewer hungering for more. Maybe a second series or OVA will rectify that? That would be the NEET thing to do!
Rating – ***
Man In Black