Hapless Narumi's been drafted into the "NEET Detective Agency," a collection of slackers who devote their diverse abilities to solving mysteries that no one else will touch. Organized by the preteen genius known only as "Alice", their case portfolio soon grows to include mysteries from Narumi's own life.
An interesting concept and some intriguing mystery elements somehow don't add up to a show that's more than pretty good. Any sociological speculation about the generation gap implied by the show's setup never gets played out to any degree; for that, there are other, better shows.
- Intriguing setup and ingredients.
- The mysteries are usually well-constructed (although a few of them do turn out to be obvious by the halfway mark of the episode).
- The social issues touched on in the show are never used for much more than set dressing.
- Director: Katsushi Sakurabi
- Animation Studio: J.C. Staff
- Released By: ASCII Media Works
- Released Domestically By: Sentai Filmworks
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14 (language, violence, thematic material)
- List Price: $69.98 (DVD), $59.98 (DVD)
Watching the detectives
Imagine someone took two different anime production teams and gave them both the same basic instructions: “Create an anime about NEETs [unemployed twentysometing slackers] using modern technology to unravel mysteries.” One team comes back with Eden of the East, a show that for all its flaws still manages to be one of the better anime of its point in time. The other team comes back with Heaven’s Memo Pad, a show that for all of its merits can’t help but be about a good deal less than it might seem.
The premise by itself isn’t a bad one. High-schooler Narumi Fujishima is a bit on the hapless side, a member of the gardening club, so out of touch with his surroundings he barely knows his own classmate’s names. He is the prime candidate for something interesting to happen to, and something does: he’s dragged into the world of the “NEET Detective Agency.” This agency’s staffed by a gang of unemployed young folks around his age, who lend their various oddball specialties to the cause as needed.
The agency’s leader, though, is a real piece of work: her name’s Alice (true name: Yūko Shionji), she’s barely twelve, she spends all her days locked in her room surrounded by computers and stuffed toys, and she subsides on little more than a diet of Dr. Pepper and green onions. Pushy and prickly in about equal measure, she’s also a genius—both with computers (as much of the detective work done by the Agency is accomplished digitally)—and with making sense out of apparently disparate pieces of evidence.
Half mystery, half comedy, rarely blending
Narumi is nonplussed, to say the least—not just that this crew exists, or that they have a remarkable track record, but that he’s somehow ended up in their circle as a jack-of-all-trades. His cover story for the straight world is that he’s working for the lady who runs the ramen shop two flights down (from which Alice gets her food supply), and who is every bit as stern a boss as Alice is. In reality, he’s drafted into one bizarre mission after another, each connected in some way to a case currently being worked on. And while at first those cases remain things safely at arm’s length—a rivalry between old friends, a girl whose father went missing with a ton of embezzled cash—eventually they hit home.
What’s curious about Heaven’s Memo Pad is how it feels like two teams of writers were working on the show: one to create the mysteries, and another to import them into the existing storyline. It’s clear the creators were banking on the more serious stuff to give the show its gravity, and the goofier stuff to keep the tone light.
The problem is how the two tones sit side by side, like oil and water. Most of the stuff that concerns Narumi, Alice, and the rest of the NEET crew is downright glib, but the seriousness of the actual mysteries doesn’t shade over into the rest of the show. The results feel schizoid, like we’re watching two different shows edited together with some minor reshoots to spackle over the holes.
A good idea, but not a great show
There are a few places where the mix does work. All the business with Narumi being bossed around by Alice eventually gives way to her learning to trust him, to step that much more out of her comfort zone and deal with real life instead of always hiding behind a computer. This is good stuff, but the show relegates it to a second- or third-tier development, and so it never feels like the show’s being driven by those things. It doesn’t help that the Bossy Little Girl Genius archetype has shown up many other times in other shows—the intriguing GOSICK, for instance, maybe also Okami-San and her Seven Companions, or even Dance in the Vampire Bund (where she was more of a Bossy Little Girl Overlord, but you get the idea).
The last couple of episodes are a stronger hint of what this show could have been, wherein an attempted suicide on the part of one of Narumi’s friends turns out to be the result of a new and dangerous drug being pushed onto the streets. This presses Narumi to act that much more fearlessly and risk his own neck. It’s not enough to redeem the rest of the show—was that what they were aiming for?—but they’re parts that work in the midst of a good deal else that seems phoned-in. What’s more, the show invokes NEETs as a social class often enough to make us think something’s going to be done with it—much as was the case in the aforementioned Eden of the East or Welcome to the NHK—but it’s surprising how little ends up developing in that vein.
Heaven’s Memo Pad works best if you don’t expect too much from it. It’s entertaining, the mysteries are cleverly put together for what they are, and the animation’s done with a nice degree of attention to detail for urban Tokyo. Just don’t feel disappointed if it only seems to be following through on a third of its promises.