Type: Plot Convenience, Plot Device and Character Cliché
What made it popular: The fact that its a really convenient tool and method for creators to excuse their bad writing skills, bad character development and save themselves whenever they are in a pinch. It is popular across all mediums not just anime, but anime really likes to overuse it due to most of the modern Japanese creators being highly incompetent in terms of writing. The usage amnesia allows major plot changes to occur with little creativity on the authors part.
Cliché Level: Extremely High
Where can you find it: Eden of the East, Toaru Majutsu no Index, Tasogare Otome Amnesia, Tsubasa Chronicles, Grimgar, Rin Daughters of Mnemosyne, Elfen Lied, Code Geass, Ef Tale of Memories, Myself Yourself, Utawarerumono, Armed Librarians: The Book of Bantorra, Bleach, Casshern Sins, Durarara, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, Gungrave, K – Project etc.
Amnesia refers to the medical condition where the character is unable to remember some kind of information, memory, past, their own name or even their entire personality. In very rare cases this also extends to the point that they unable to retain new information (see Ef Tale of Memories), these characters usually have to use notes or diaries to keep their memories intact. A person may forget who they are, but they usually retain their skills and the things that they were good at (how convenient), these are often used to hint to their past personality, for example someone who is good at cooking may have been a cook, someone who is good at sword fighting may been a knight or bandit etc.
Amnesia is usually result of mental trauma or some kind of head injury, although in fantasy and supernatural anime this can also be a result of some kind of magic or other supernatural element.
Why it’s bad:
Amnesia is one of the clichés that I hate the most, and with good reason for it is literally nothing more than a tool of convenience for the author, it almost always exists for that reason not because it makes the show better or more entertaining to have an amnesiac character.
Let me just list a few ways how amnesia can help an author (there are hundreds).
- Can’t figure out a goal or destination for you anime? Then just make your protagonist an amnesiac! He will search for his memories by default while you come up with an actual story and plot.
- Want to make your otherwise boring character interesting? Then just add amnesia to him while keeping everything else. It will make your audience go: “Oh~ A mysterious swordsman/gunman/wanderer who can’t remember his past! I wonder what’s his story.”
- Do you suck at writing and ending fights, but don’t want to resort to an outright deus ex machina? Then just make your character an amnesiac! This way whenever he is in a pinch you can just make him remember some secret technique, power or ability that he otherwise forgot and was never foreshadowed previously! Easy.
- Do you have two characters that know each other, but it would be inconvenient for your story for them to interact? Then just make one of them amnesiac and forget his previous relationship with that character. (Commonly used tool with childhood friend cliché)
- Are you writing a mystery story and you made your detective figure out the identity of the killer but it would be inconvenient for the story to end this early? No problem just add amnesia and make the detective forget!
- You can’t write relatable characters that the audience will like? Then just add amnesia and the audience will immediately sympathize with his plight and feel sorry for the character.
- Do you have this completely psychotic character who would do nothing more than kill everyone else in sight if they were to meet other characters but you actually want them to interact with others peacefully? No problem just make the killer forget that he is a killer, works all the time (Elfen Lied).
- You want to hide the identity of the killer in a mystery story? Just make the protagonist forget that he is the killer and troll your entire audience!
- Do you want to advance the plot in your anime? Then just make your amnesiac character remember a vital piece of information (that he or anyone else had no way of knowing or attaining) that moves the plot forward.
- You can’t develop your characters because you are a shit writer? No problem just make your amnesiac character remember his true personality and change back to it. Everyone will be amazed at your writing skills~
- Did you make one character appear in a certain location/place but don’t want to or don’t know how to explain how he got there? Then just make him an amnesiac once more and let him wake up in that area like all amnesiac do, this way you don’t have to explain anything!
- Two of your characters got close and it might develop into a romantic relationship if continues, but you don’t want that? Then just make one of them lose memories and everything is solved as usual. (Fucking Toaru Majutsu)
I think that’s more than enough to illustrate my point, but I could write a lot more examples if I wanted to. It is pretty much always just a tool of convenience, I don’t think I ever seen a single anime that took this element seriously and actually explored it. Either way, an additional negative is that these characters almost always have some kind of sad or traumatic back story that caused their amnesia in the first place, but because this cliché is so common they always come off as completely boring and unsurprising.
The way amnesia works in anime is also really weird as it’s entirely selective and arbitrary, characters conveniently remember one vital information while he can’t remember another until the time in the story is right. And no periodically losing your memories on a daily basis is not something that medically makes sense. Sometimes writers are so incompetent that they confuse amnesia for split personality.
Using amnesia at this point is essentially just treating your audience as if they were stupid or dumb.