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[Denpa Teki na Kanojo]
AKA: 電波的な彼女, Electromagnetic Girlfriend
Genre: Atmospheric drama
Length: OAV series, 2 episodes, 45 minutes each
Distributor: Currently unlicensed in North America
Content Rating: R/17+ (Graphic violence, sexual nudity, mild profanity)
Related Series: Kure-Nai, based on a light novel by the same author, is supposedly set in the same universe, although there is no explicit connection.
Also Recommended: Garden of Sinners Series, Elfen Lied, Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Kure-Nai, Perfect Blue (Non-Anime) Brick
Notes: Based on the first and third books in the serial light novel seroes of the same name by Kentarō Katayama. The second novel has no adaptation, and there are currently no plans to animate it.

The Japanese phrase that literally translates as "Electromagnetic" is used colloquially to refer to a person believed to be mentally ill or somehow "have a screw loose".
Rating: Four StarsFour StarsFour StarsFour Stars

Denpa Teki na Kanojo

Synopsis

Juuzawa Juu is a delinquent high school boy who just wants to be left alone. One day, he is approached by Ochibana Ame, who claims that she knew him in a previous life, and now wants to serve him as his "knight". At first Juu wants nothing to do with Ame, but after a classmate is murdered, he accepts her help as he looks for the killer. (Adapted from ANN)


Review

Sometimes, I waste both time and mental energy on anime that I expect to like, but which only manage to frustrate, bore, and disappoint me. Every once in a while, however, the universe has the good grace to compensate me for that lost time. I didn't expect much when I stumbled upon Denpa Teki Na Kanojo, a relatively-unknown 2009 OAV series, and yet the quality entirely surprised me, both in terms of its cast and its intriguing if disturbing story. It's a show that had a very difficult time winning me over and convincing me that it was anything besides generic, and yet by the end, those reservations had gone entirely out the window, and I was left with a title that, in spite of its macabre premise, was thoroughly enjoyable.

Indeed, upon my first glance, Denpa Teki Na Kanojo seemed to have all of the ingredients needed to make a disaster akin to the horror stories I've heard about DearS and similarly awful shows. For example, the first time I heard Ame say "I am your servant. please give me a command", I cringed, and I had a bad feeling that I had just committed myself to another one of those messes in which a loser boy finds himself endowed with an illogically devoted female servant. Indeed, the first OAV spends fifteen minutes acting as if it's forgotten that its premise is anything more than a gimmick, and this part plays out like a run-of-the-mill high school comedy complete with a "violent but misunderstood" hero in Juu, a token hot-tempered class president, a budding harem, and the expected antics that ensue as Juu experiences consternation at the sight of his new, self-proclaimed "servant". I'm not sure whether to slam the show for wasting time on these tired harem tactics or to praise it for cleverly and intentionally giving me the wrong impression, but regardless of that, the opening is more than a little cliched, and it took a little eye-rolling to get past it.

But in a stunning and surprising flash, all of this is entirely swept away.

We instead end up with a pair of effectively creepy stories about society's strangest and most disturbed people, where, surprisingly, Ame's claim actually starts to serve a definite purpose. Something as outlandish as, say, the crazed man who insists that he is a special agent sent to hunt down aliens could spell disasaster in a lesser series, but Denpa Teki Na Kanojo knows how to balance the focus on the ludicrousness of the ravings and that on the danger they present to the saner characters. In my opinion, it does a great job of showing how such craziness can "infect" and ruin the lives of normal people, and indeed, it is in these instances that the show becomes especially touching, giving us a glimpse into the psyche of people whose domestic and sexual lives, as well as their mental health, have entirely fallen apart. The series is quite adept at tricking the viewer into believing that a character is harmless, even as bland as a typical "genki" high school student, and then dramatically sweeping that facade away entirely. I've seen other movies and series that have attempted the same tactics, but it's pretty rare when I find something that I don't either roll my eyes at or find predictable, and I do have to say that I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised at this show's cleverness. It never frightened me as a horror movie would, and yet it is spooky and haunting throughout. While it's very far from the grimmest show I've watched, meanwhile, the deceptively light-hearted beginning gives way to a rather disturbing, if never overbearingly depressing, tone. Indeed, the beautiful piano and electronic soundtrack amplifies this mood perfectly, as does the nicely contrasting but highly detailed palate of gorgeous sunlight and gloomy, seemingly water-colored alleys and streets. It isn't the most unique style I've encountered, and aside from Ame, most of the characters have fairly generic (if well-drawn) designs, but it does very well in this context to make the show as haunting as it is.

What really made Denpa Teki Na Kanojo into such a nice surprise, however, is that our titular "wonky girlfriend" entirely broke my expectations as time passed. I spent much of the first episode feeling convinced that Ame was completely insane, and indeed, her behavior outwardly seemed to lie on the border of delusion; by the end, I was entirely won over to her character. In spite of the initial unease I felt, and in spite of the fact that most of the show's own characters, including her younger sister, also believe her to be crazy (if friendly and mostly harmless), the show slowly and subtly makes it clear to the viewer that her bizarre story may actually have some grounding. Her uncanny ability to appear right as Juu runs into trouble (hence the title), as well as a degree of physical strength that would seem impossible for such a small girl, is a big part of this, and strangely but surely, the viewer starts to believer her when she appears for the fourth or fifth time to defend him and claim "I am your knight" without a trace of irony.

Indeed, her soft, nasal voice and the bangs that entirely block her eyes initially made her appearance and manner rather off-putting, and yet by the end, I found myself growing attached to her, praising her for her fortitude, and even finding that the occlusion of her eyes aside from the occasional, pivotal moment served a purpose. Far from making her into a mindless slave, the show, in only two forty five-minute episodes, makes her into a multifaceted and captivating character, and all of the hesitation the viewer feels is intentionally placed. We slowly discover that she's both intelligent and calculating but see hints that her matter-of-fact insistence has made her domestic life difficult, and we even find that she works, of all places, at a maid cafe when not at school. Once I got used to her, I realized that she was, in fact, sane and also surprisingly independent, as a scene in which she steadfastly and almost humorously tells Juu to give her a particular command indicates. Her relationship with him holds the series together, in my opinion, and in the best moment of all, her "mysterious girl" persona is, for a fleeting moment, entirely stripped away to reveal a deeply loving personality. I was quite impressed by the show's ability to turn this strange and potentially gimmicky character into such a lovable protagonist, and I wish I could say the same about many other shows. I also quite liked Juu once I got past the inevitable groaning at seeing another "misunderstood punk" lead. The show doesn't quite develop him to the degree it does to Ame, but by the end, the two of them develop a relationship akin to that of Mulder and Scully from The X-Files, with him having embraced her strangeness and her having opened up enough to behave a little less cryptically. He's quite lonely, for while Clannad's Tomoya at least has Sunohara to laugh with, our protagonist appears to be almost devoid of true friends, but he proves to be very likable, bringing a small but welcome dose of dry humor and even once going far enough to nobly and voluntarily take punches to free another person from an undeserved bad reputation. Thankfully, his archetype ceases to be important, and he proves to be both a good lead and a compelling not-so-straight man with whose eyes we observe this universe of the quirky, the unsettling, and the downright deranged.

I enjoyed Denpa Teki Na Kanojo much more than I had expected to, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that director Mamoru Kanbe of Elfen Lied fame has honed his effectively atmospheric but somewhat choppy style to produce a much more consistent work. The combination of his technique with a strong cast and a well-written script makes for a tight and gripping pair of episodes, and while this is not for the squeamish, the restraint of his usual overdose of gore and nudity makes for fascinating musings on insanity and sexual trauma. Aside from the shaky opening, however, there is a single yet unforgivable problem I must cite, and that is that the piece is incomplete. Although the largely standalone nature of the episodes covers the lack of a definite conclusion well, the fact remains that we don't find out the full truth behind Ame's claims, and that we likely never will. The light novel, unfortunately, stops where this last episode does, and the hope that more material will be added to this unlicensed and largely unknown series will likely remain relegated to my "if only" list. Perhaps someday, somehow, the anime gods that made One Piece and Naruto as long as they are will turn their eyes to this fascinating story, but for now, this look into the strange and yet not-altogether bad world of Ame, Juu, and the lunatics they encounter will do very nicely.

A solid four stars kept at just that by my unhappiness with the beginning and frustration at the incompleteness, but a very worthwhile watch nonetheless. Remove a star if the macabre is not to your taste. Nick Browne

Recommended Audience: Mature teenagers and adults. This OAV depicts several fairly bloody murders and suicides, and it also includes mild profanity. The strange sexual complexes of a few characters, meanwhile, lead to brief moments of erotic nudity, as well as one mostly-implicit rape scene, although there is surprisingly little that could be called "fan service".



Version(s) Viewed: Digital source
Review Status: Full (2/2)
Denpa Teki na Kanojo © 2009 SHUEISHA / Kentaro Katayama
 
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