What a fascinating introduction for Kami-sama no Memo-cho. It feels like equal parts, Eden of the East, Gosick and Durarara - but leaves a very distinct impression all it's own. But what's with all the Dr. Pepper plugs in anime lately? I hope the checks are fat...
Based on a LN series, this JC Staff effort carries the character designs of Mel Kishida (Hansaku Iroha) and you can definitely see the imprint faintly through the assembly line JC Staff lens. Comparing this to PA Works and HanaIro is really unfair, as visually it's like a pale reflection in a cloudy pool - but that's a ridiculously high standard to live up to, as HanaIro is the prettiest show of 2011. For the studio involved, this looks very nice so far. The palate is a bit grimy in a stylish way, lending itself to the subject matter.
What we have here is a group of NEET's who have their own detective agency, and the high-school freshman Narumi (Yoshitogu Matsuoka) who accidentally crosses paths with them when a young girl jumps from a hotel window and lands in a trash pile right in front of him. Whether he has any secrets (a la Mikado Ryugamine) we don't know, but he seemingly just wants to stay out of trouble. While not yet a NEET himself, Narumi is a deliberately detached boy whose parents have moved pretty much every year. His sole source of pride seems to be avoiding attachments of any kind.
As things unfold me meet a cast of characters of above-average interest. There cute 'n genki classmate Ayaka (Ai Kayano) who recruits him unwillingly into the gardening club - and even more unwillingly into the circle of the three young men who seemed to be behind the hotel incident at the start of the story. They're pretty much stock at this point - dropout hoodlum, military nerd, pretty-boy in suit - but there's potential there. Their hangout is the back of the ramen-ya where Ayaka works. But things don't really get interesting until they get a call from Alice.
Alice (Yui Ogura) is the brains behind the NEET Detective Agency - the Victorique of this story, if you will. She's a loli in a nightgown who lives in a tiny apartment full of teddy bears and computer equipment, but when Narumi is roped into delivering her leek ramen, no noodles pork or eggs (ewww) she launches into some terrific and fascinating dialogue. She calls her role as a detective a "speaker for the dead", and takes the intriguing position that only detectives and writers can make the dead come back to lie. Not a normal detective, she - the difference "between China and Chinatown". Her playground is the memo pad of the Gods - Kami-sama no Memo-cho - and that is how she will speak for the dead.
This is actually a double-premiere, with the second episode review to follow (along with the ED) shortly. But I'm prepared to commit after the first part - this is a really interesting premise and executed very nicely. I don't know the source material but I'm immediately engaged with the story and the characters, especially Narumi and Alice. Even in this less lush version Kishida's designs are distinctive and attractive. My only hesitation is that we really don't have a lot to base optimism on behind the scenes. JC Staff is a studio I'm basically neutral on, and director Katsushi Sakurabi hasn't really done anything of note as yet (Edit: Thanks to Niana for pointing out that Sakurabi directed Asatte no Houkou. I actually liked that show a lot, so this gives me even more optimism.). But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and so far this looks like one of the tastiest new shows of the season.