Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

The manga is good!

The basic premise is fairly straightforward, and not particularly unusual: boy meets ghost girl, he's the only one who can see her, they end up friends with a romantic undertone. Unusually, the story provides an immediate hook or direction for an overplot, something that is usually missing from stories with this kind of premise; in Dusk Maiden's case, the 'of amnesia' part is the hook, with Yuuko (Girl ghost) having fairly significant amnesia such that she doesn't remember how she died and doesn't know why she's lingering instead of moving on to some afterlife. Teiichi (Boy who can see Yuuko) and Yuuko end up pursuing the topic of her history over the course of the manga, providing a framework for a plot to be scaffolded on, so it's not just aimless slice-of-life stuff with a supernatural concept. The story also uses the cliche and usually painful Japanese stereotype of a school having 'seven mysteries' to good effect, with the Seven Mysteries of this school all having something to do with Yuuko and thus providing a framework for the investigate process. Usually this kind of story ends up relying on contrivance to keep the story moving forward consistently, and it's really nice to see something I usually cringe at leveraged to solve a core problem instead of being a problem.

This core competency does a lot to prop up the entire story, so that even its weaker moments tend to be stronger than most equivalent stories' strongest moments simply because they're placed in this context.

There's also a number of unusual choices that stand out in a very positive way. One that particularly stands out in retrospect; I've seen a number of stories with this basic general premise ("Protagonist stumbles into the secret world of the supernatural"), and the majority of these fall very firmly on one side or the other of 'the supernatural is really real' or 'while this story has a ghost/youkai/whatever as a key character, the supernatural is all nonsense'. In Dusk Maiden's case, the question is kept ambiguous. Yuuko is definitely a real ghost -the story makes a point of periodically having Yuuko's actions affect the world in a manner that cannot be explained away with psychological shenanigans of any sort, so she's not simply Teiichi's imaginary friend- but beyond that it's not clear how much supernatural stuff is meant to be real. In one case, someone takes advantage of a pre-existing myth to dress up a part and manipulate other people, but the story never makes a point of trying to suggest that this 'proves' the myth is nonsense, nor alternatively does the Real Thing show itself. I was particularly surprised when the story got to Yuuko's backstory; without getting into the details, there's an element to it that in virtually any other story would've been handled as 'this supernatural thing is definitely real', if only because it's tied into Yuuko becoming a ghost, but Dusk Maiden has the actions based on the belief fail to produce the expected outcome.

I like this. Whether ghosts are really real isn't terribly important to ghost stories, and the fact that many other stories premised on the supernatural feel the need to firmly side with one position or another ("Ghosts/Bigfoot/whatever is definitely real and anyone who doesn't believe has something wrong with them" vs "That's all nonsense that only gullible idiots believe in") usually ends up undermining their core story. For one thing, it makes these narratives more predictable, and thus less interesting; once you've noticed the author is committed to a particular position, you can 100% reliably predict that Bigfoot will turn out to be a guy in a mask or that the ghost stories everyone is laughing at while declaring 'ghosts aren't real, everybody knows that' are going to eat those people first. Instead of being caught up in events as they unfold, eagerly waiting to see what's going to happen next, you're just thumbing through what you already knew in general terms was coming, waiting for the story to get back to something you hadn't already predicted a couple dozen pages in advance.

In Dusk Maiden, the end of the story involved investigating a supernatural entity where I was genuinely wondering all the way to the last second whether this one would turn out to be a real creature, or somebody playing a prank, or a misunderstanding, or what. I really had no idea, and I was interested in seeing what would happen.

Yuuko herself was also a surprisingly entertaining character. Ghost characters are frequently made fairly passive; the exact way this is accomplished varies, but this particular element is rarely deviated from more than a little, and usually only for a plot beat or two. Yuuko is an energetic go-getter, and her sensibilities as a ghost are this delightful mix of strange and strangely reasonable. One detail that's particularly memorable is how she's a lot shyer about her corpse being seen than about her ghost self's skin being seen, and I mean that in the sense of treating her corpse being seen as something private it's embarrassing or awkward to have a stranger see. It got a laugh out of me from the combination of sensible-once-you-think-about-it but weird-on-the-face-of-it.

Another detail is that the story is the canniest, most thoughtful presentation of connecting stereotypes about ghost activities with the typical 'ghost character as invisible person' approach so common to stories like this that humanize ghosts. I mentioned earlier that Yuuko's actions have effects that can't be explained through psychological shenanigans; this fact ends up causing Yuuko to accidentally generate stereotypical ghost stories, because she's a ghost doing things that make sense from her perspective! Stuff like a rumor about the girl's shower being used at odd hours when no one is there, caused by Yuuko in fact using the shower. Most stories with ghost characters struggle to really connect their invisible (And often intangible) characters to typical 'ghost story seen from outside' tropes; their ghost characters never have any reason to do these kinds of things, and in many cases they have no methods for doing them. (eg intangible ghost characters can't operate devices; Yuuko not being intangible is vital to this working) When such stories try, they usually 'cheat' and just throw a vague supernatural ability with vague rules out and then don't think too hard about its implications. Dusk Maiden's handling of the topic, by contrast, is a treat.

The closest thing to a strong criticism I have of the story is I would've liked to see an epilogue addressing the future of the characters. The ending could be considered essentially happy and mostly complete, but without delving into major spoilers there's some obvious questions that go unasked and unanswered by the narrative. Even then, it's not the kind of flaw that retroactively hurts the earlier story or anything like that, and to be entirely fair they're questions where the answers are basically guaranteed to be awkward and probably bittersweet as well.

I like it. It's a good manga.


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