Heaven’s Memo Pad (aka Kami-sama no Memo-chō) is excellent but often confronting anime best taken in small doses. There are occasional light moments, but most of the 12 episodes tackle serious and occasionally triggering material.
WARNING: Some potential triggers will be discussed below.
Anime as Social Commentary
One thing I’ve been noticing in recent years is an upswing in politically, or at least socially, aware anime. Recent anime that I’ve seen have tackled the issues of:
- Single parents/orphans: Usagi Drop (2011), Papa no Iu koto o Kikinasi! (2012) to a lesser extent, the otherwise execrable Kanamemo (2009) used it as part of the setup,
- Body image issues: Tari Tari (2012), Say “I Love You” (2012)
- Hikikomoris and other characters who don’t really fit into Japanese society: Anohana (2011) Tsuritama (2012), Kids on the Slope (2012, with bonus points for being set in a time of social upheaval)
- Abuse and/or self harm: ef: a tale of memories (2007), ef: a tale of melodies (2008), Angel Beats! (2010, to a lesser extent).
Going back to the early 90s I can’t recall any other period with as much social commentary happening in anime that was available to English speaking audiences .
This is the context in which Heaven’s Memo Pad needs to be placed.
Heaven’s Memo Pad covers a lot of the above issues, and more. It goes to some dark places, but does not do so in an exploitative or gratuitous way: these things are integral to the story, and a strong part of why I think Heaven’s Memo Pad is an excellent anime overall.
That doesn’t make it an easy anime to watch sometimes, just a significant one that should be watched.
The Light Novels
Heaven’s Memo Pad is adapted from an ongoing light novel series and the adaptation is very tightly edited . I’ve had concerns in the past about light novel adaptations being over edited, but Heaven’s Memo Pad is coherently scripted throughout.
Certainly there were never moments when I thought I was missing something. This is an example of a light novel adaptation done right, and one that should serve as a lesson for others.
Heaven’s Memo Pad is constructed around a hikikomori NEET  named Alice running the NEET Detective Agency. In many respects Alice is an information age version of Sherlock Holmes who solves crimes by, ah, acquiring information from the internet and applying equivalent levels of deductive reasoning.
The characters around Alice are also mostly NEETs, and this provides a look at the darker sides of Japanese society.
This is a series that looks at the loners, the fringe dwellers, the ones who somehow don’t quite fit into the anime mythology of the happy high school life and the regular job after that.
This includes the other main character, Narumi Fujishima. Narumi has been the transfer student too many times and simply can’t engage with ordinary students anymore . In fact Narumi doesn’t even bother trying to learn their names.
Instead, and via the other borderline character Ayaka Shinozaki, he engages with Alice and the NEET Detective Agency.
The issues tackled by Heaven’s Memo Pad
The existence of NEETs is the first issue that Heaven’s Memo Pad deals with. The central message here is that they aren’t going away anytime soon: there will always be Narumi’s and Ayaka’s who simply won’t fit into the High School Rocks mythology followed by steady employment (men) and marriage/kids (women).
The current stresses on Japanese society  mean that the NEETs and the hikikomoris will exist, and will need somewhere to go.
The NEETs in Heaven’s Memo Pad are people adapting to a world that they don’t quite fit in as best they can. Not all succeed, and this generates the cases that the NEET Detective Agency investigate over the course of the series.
The cases themselves expose the other issues at the seams of society: sex work, isolation, drugs, gang violence, and suicide.
As mentioned above these issues are not handled in a gratuitous or exploitative manner. Instead there is a real heart to how the stories are tackled and one that kept me watching throughout.
It is also important to note that whilst Heaven’s Memo Pad has a very good ending, that doesn’t make it a happy ending.
Some minor bits and pieces
Heaven’s Memo Pad looks and sounds great. It has a strong sense of design, that is well supported by the opening/ending songs and the soundtrack.
Speaking of which, here’s the opening:
And here’s the ending:
What isn’t so good is the lack of any extras  at all on the local release DVDs, not to mention the absence of a Blu-Ray edition.
Heaven’s Memo Pad is one of the best anime of the last 10 years, but that does not make it a necessarily easy anime to watch. It took me over a week because I simply wasn’t able to binge on this one; I needed time between episodes to digest what had happened.
You may note that whilst I’ve talked about the type of issues and characters dealt with, I have said as little as possible about the content of the story. This is deliberate, the story matters in Heaven’s Memo Pad and I did my absolute best to not spoil it in this review.
This is a series that really should be more popular than it is, and certainly is strongly recommended as at least a watch once.
 As far as I can tell from the Wikipedia entry the anime covers the first, second, fourth, and half of the fifth novels. The third is omitted due to juggling the chronology somewhat (and it is a spoiler to say exactly how). That’s a lot of ground to cover in only 12 episodes.
 In case you’re wondering, this is a fairly similar set up to Yuki Sanada in Tsuritama but played much more seriously. In fact it was the comparison to Tsuritama that got me thinking about recent anime more generally.
 To a greater or lesser extent this is true for most modern industrial societies transitioning to post-industrial societies. It is worth remembering that the term NEET was originally coined in the United Kingdom.
- Tsuritama (2012) with some spoilers (piratesobg.wordpress.com)