Unnamed Memory – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser April 10, 20240 Comments
Tishana turns away from a seated Oscar in frustration

What’s it about? Prince Oscar was cursed as a child to be the end of his bloodline. His latest quest to lift that curse has brough him to the Witch of the Azure Moon, Tinasha, who is known to grant requests to those who can reach the top of her tower. She tells him that there’s no lifting it, since it’s technically a blessing—a protection spell for the fetus so strong the average womb can’t survive it. All Oscar has to do is find someone with sufficient magical resistance to bear his heir. Oscar, ever the pragmatist, asks if she’d be up for the job.

Sometimes a premise is all about execution. There are plenty of stories that sound sketchy but come out on top thanks to thoughtful execution—I know all about it as a hardcore Scum Villain evangelist, and I’m sure fans of After the Rain would say the same. Unnamed Memory’s premise, with its romance that begins from a cold-eyed focus on continuing the royal line and a troubling magical plot device, certainly has some inherent hurdles to overcome. But I’m not sure from this first episode whether it has the chops to sell its romance convincingly.

The phrase “started out on Narou” is an automatic point against a series at this point, as they tend to come burdened with the woes of a self-publishing platform: heavy trope-chasing in the early going, the need for major editorial overhauls that usually don’t happen because readers expect the messy version they loved online, and a shaky-at-best sense of where the overall story is meant to end up. There are examples of stories that can do exciting experimental things because of the freedom of self-publishing, but they’re not nearly as well-represented when you get to the echelons of big-budget anime adaptations.

Tishana summons a magic circle

To its credit, Unnamed Memory’s initial story is contained in six books with a clearly separated sequel, but the real ace in its pocket is getting Akao Deko as series composer. Akao is a big gun with a lot of previous AniFem recommendations under her belt, and her best work has an underpinning of poignancy and very human-feeling dialogue. She’d definitely be on my short list for currently working anime writers who could make a story about a transactional relationship start to feel like a genuine, mutual one.

This is clearly a world that’s leaning on medieval logic about marrying for political gain, as Tinasha herself proposes that should Oscar find a viable baby-carrier who’s still a child it wouldn’t be out of step with royal tradition; but it’s hard to tell how much that extends to the world-building outside Tinasha’s isolated tower, particularly the court where she’ll soon find herself. The bigger, more immediate problem is that Oscar kind of sucks. Not in an overt way—we’re clearly meant to see him as basically decent but driven by duty, since he keeps trying to send his irritating wet blanket of an assistant back to the entrance for safety and seems vaguely put out when the latter almost dies. But Oscar seems “vaguely” in all senses. Nakajima Yoshiki’s performance shoots for gruff and reserved but lands in the grotto of dull surprise, and the character animation doesn’t do much to convey the mismatch between his words and his unspoken feelings. If he’s supposed to have some kind of inner conflict over basically threatening this woman into living with him, it’s not coming through here.

Tinasha and Oscar riding on horseback
In German they call that “Backpfeifengesicht”

It is, incidentally, an implied threat that convinces her. Tinasha turns Oscar down, gently and then with extreme force, until she realizes he has an anti-everything royal sword that could cancel out her magic and presumably cut her down with ease. Oscar agrees to ratchet his request down from making Tinasha his consort to just having her live at the castle for a year, since she apparently did so under Oscar’s great-grandfather, but it’s pretty clear that his strategy is to work on wearing her down. Good character writing could really dig into the nuances of how a setup like this, between the commodification of women for the lineage machine and the world’s standard anti-magic bigotry, and how human emotions spring up in the cracks of a functionally mechanized system.

That’s delicate writing, and while I believe Akao could pull it off, I’m less confident in the source material. It’s just something in the harping usage of Oscar’s assistant for most of the episode as an exposition device, the weirdness about Oscar’s grandfather being an almost-rival who tried to woo Tinasha and apparently failed (at which point she reassures him that he’s manlier?), and the mundane, unremarked-on nature of Oscar’s kinda smirky dickishness. Like a lot of shows with premieres that are functionally prologues, it’s hard to call.

Visually it’s fine, if unremarkable, and the level of Light Novel Bullshit Exposition is kept at a fairly manageable check. I’m not exactly wildly excited, and for het romances this season I’d sooner send people over to A Condition Called Love or Spice and Wolf, but I’m willing to give it the three-episode test.

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