Heaven’s Memo Pad: Complete Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Narumi Fujishima isn’t your typical high school student; he’s never really fit in and has been becoming increasingly more isolated from his fellow classmates.  But he’s not alone, and when Ayaka, the sole member of the Gardening Club, introduces him to the reclusive girl who lives above the ramen shop.  Narumi enters a whole new secret world.  Alice is a NEET, someone who is Not Employed, being Educated or in Training, but as Narumi quickly discovers, that doesn’t mean that she does nothing all day.  In between tending to her small army of stuffed bears, Alice is an expert hacker and very exclusive, private detective.  To his surprise, Narumi finds himself drafted as one of the strange, but elite team of associates that Alice has assembled from her NEET acquaintances.  Together they’ll battle gangs, thieves, murderers and drug lords.  And in the middle of it all, Narumi will find his life changing forever in Heaven’s Memo Pad!


In Japan the acronym NEET, standing for Not Employed, being Educated or in Training (and, significantly, `teen’ spelled backwards), defines a youth subculture who have given up (or just never cared to seek a foothold) on the weak job market and subsist absorbed in hobbies, crafting, gaming or media.

[Um, reviewer’s note here: I live in Cleveland, Ohio, and if you look up “no jobs” in the dictionary there’s a picture of Cleveland.  And I have asked a local otaku if NEETs are a phenomenon around here. He said no. So I would guess Austin, Texas, still wears the crown, if Slacker still means anything.]

Reading manga and watching anime by the ton are classic NEET pastimes, and a few of the smarter anime have incorporated NEETs in the plot, such as the Princess Jellyfish and Eden of the East series.  Heaven’s Memo Pad makes a mythologized version of NEEThood key to the premise, though the gimmick is a somewhat drawn out entree to a seriocomic serial about, essentially, a weird, sequestered Nancy Drew-type, Japan-style.

No, there are no paranormal elements, robos or sci-fi samurai girls, which is fairly novel all in itself.  Tokyo teen Narumi, new at school, shy and non-assertive, falls in with such a group – including a military enthusiast and a martial-arts brotherhood with street-gang overtones (what makes this latter, then, a bunch of NEETs rather than a mob of thugz, is for anthropologists to argue over).

These young NEETs are ferociously loyal to the mysterious Alice, a reclusive, waifish computer hacker sequestered above a ramen shop with her stuffed-animal menagerie.  Alice is a self-proclaimed “NEET detective,” and comes complete with a speech/creed she recites often enough that viewers of all 325 minutes in the disc will have it memorized a la the code of the Repo Man: “I am not just a detective.  I am a NEET detective.  An advocate for the dead!”  She thus unravels mysteries or avenges crimes against the powerless on her own initiative.  And there is sort of a parallel to Girl With the Dragon Tattoo heroine Lisbeth Salender.

Alice imperiously dubs Narumi her trainee assistant.  Their caseload encompasses exploited prostitutes, a Thai immigrant girl, and the secret torment of the streetwise, bosomy lady who runs the ramen shop.  Despite a boob joke or two about the ramen lady, there is no swimsuit episode in this cycle – and it helps to have a healthy knowledge of Japanese society and culture (for example, the louche tendency of anime to indulge in a swimsuit episode) to follow the general run.

Best story: a marauding yakuza gangster turns out to be a once-great baseball pitcher who left the field in disgrace, cueing a duel on the baseball diamond between rival teams of NEETs and Tokyo mobsters.  But the overall tone is serious, perhaps even to the show’s detriment, as Narumi agonizes repeatedly over onetime pals he has “sworn” to, in assorted crimes, misdemeanors and conflicts of interest/honor.  Along the way, Narumi evolves from a weak-willed kid to someone worthy of being a NEET for Alice, though the series concludes without giving us a hint about the heroine’s origin, this time out.


Non-fantastic Tokyo settings are nonetheless rendered in moody and stylish fashion, with a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio presentation.  DVD and Blu-Ray versions are sold separately, with the Blu-ray receiving the usual1080p HD treatment with bright colors, lineage and exceptional detail.


Alice speaks for the dead the same way, suitably clear in either dubbed English or Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.  Nothing remarkable, huh?  That’s exactly what I was thinking too and the reason why the score’s not high here.


No true NEET, detective or not, would find anything special about the extras: the usual opening and closing musical credits without graphics, and trailers of other Sentai anime releases.


A NEET alternative for Japanophiles seeking Nippon animation that doesn’t fall into the predictable genres of martial arts, sci-fi, or magic-schoolgirls-with-swords.


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