Manga authors’ notes are usually self-deprecating and full of “oh God this is awful I can’t bear to look at it”, and usually I disregard them as the typical perfectionism of artists, not a true indication of the quality of the work. Not so in the case of Amnesia Labyrinth. At the end of this volume, there is a writer’s note that says “I sort of ran out of things to write, and therefore I admit there are a number of lazy, phantom passages scattered throughout.” And sure enough, Amnesia Labyrinth is a frustratingly uneven manga.
The story concerns a boy named Souji who moves back to his family’s home from boarding school after his older brother disappears. There’s no sign of his parents; his family seems to consist of his three sisters, who are all more-or-less creepy; all three of them are excessively devoted to Souji (in Saki’s case the devotion leads her all the way into incest). There are hints and overtones of the supernatural that remain mysterious and vague; over and above the weird relationships, there’s obviously something odd about Souji’s family, but what that might be is not revealed. Meanwhile, three students at Souji’s new high school have been murdered, and although the police are treating the incidents as unrelated, Souji’s classmate Yukako is convinced all three were murdered by the same person for the same reason, and she enlists Souji to help her dig up the truth. Souji goes along with her, partly because she badgers him into it, but mostly because he’s pretty sure one of his sisters is the murderer. And the way the eldest blithely smiles at him and says “It wasn’t me” is not remotely convincing…
There are two main problems with Amnesia Labyrinth. The first is that the above summary is a lot more cohesive than the actual manga, which zigs and zags all over the place. There are some decent ideas here, but every time I think the story is going in an interesting direction it veers off and does something different — usually less interesting. The second problem is the character of Souji, or rather, his lack of character. If Souji were a TVTropes page, he would be “Deadpan Snarker” — and that’s all there is to him. He seems to have no emotions whatsoever, beyond mild irritation. There’s nothing in Souji’s character to like or admire, or even to dislike or be annoyed by. Souji is a blank slate. That might not even matter if he were some kind of wish-fulfilment project-yourself-onto-the-protagonist type, but he’s really not; his life is hardly enviable, and he never really does anything, other than being led around by the plot.
Amnesia Labyrinth is readable enough, and the art is competent, but the overall impression it gives is of a few good ideas being given a slapdash, lacklustre execution.