Thank Heaven For Little Girls – A Review Of Heaven’s Memo Pad
Opposites attract. It’s an idea that most romantic and crime writers still use.
Crime writers use it especially as part of a recipe for good crime fiction, which has worked for crime writers like Arthur Conan Doyle and Stieg Larsson. Add one aloof/socially withdrawn/troubled character who possesses either a great mind or puzzle solving skills with no care for rules or bureaucracy. Couple them with Mr Joe Average who just moved/got transferred/started the job today, follows the rule book like a holy text and constantly apologises for his partner’s unorthodox methods. Throw them into a case which threatens to spiral out of control with the two of them out of their depth/unable to solve the case/just not getting along. Give them time to think and raise the body count and they’ll solve the case and go on with their lives, simple as that. Now, for a twist, have the alcoholic genius replaced with a Lolita girl with excellent hacking skills and insomnia and replace the dutiful sidekick with a lonely high-school student who has no idea what he’s doing. Still with me? Now, add some light-hearted humour and heartfelt drama, questionable ecchi scenes and an array of wacky yet deep characters. Keep in the murderous gangsters, illegal activity, forced prostitution and an enigma of a case. Does it all work together? That’s the mystery I’ll be diving into with Hikaru Sugii’s Heaven’s Memo Pad.
Our story starts with high school loner Narumi, who spends each day of school just getting by and keeping his head down. His friend Ayaka introduces him to the ‘Gardening Committee’, which is itself a front for something far more interesting. It is a front for the NEET Detective Agency, a small group of unemployed, uneducated youths who work as detectives for their mysterious boss called Alice. Alice is a strange little girl, a Hikikomori (someone who isolates herself from society by living in her room), a great hacker and a ‘NEET detective’. She hires Narumi as her assistant and introduces him to the agencies team: ex-boxer and gambling addict Tetsu, Hiro the womaniser and suspected gigolo, the gun-mad otaku called Major, Min the matriarch and owner of the base of operations (a ramen shop called Hanamaru) and the ultimate badass, the Fourth, leader of a NEET yakuza group. They take on the case from a Thai immigrant girl called Meo, whose dad has run off with a bag containing 200 million yen and left her alone. The case develops and the group find themselves being confronted by yakuza members, human trafficking from Japan’s neighbours, money laundering and public corruption. As Narumi tries to deal with how deep he and his friends are in, with their lives in jeopardy and the possibility of the truth getting buried, he works to help Alice and Meo, and challenge his fears as he braves potential death and fights to uncover the truth and bring justice to the case.
Originally Heaven’s Memo Pad started life as a light novel written by Sugii and then had a manga adaptation with Sugii working with the Korean artist Tiv. For those of you who don’t know, light novels are Japanese books which are a couple of hundred pages and are aimed at high school students (think Young-Adult fiction like The Fault in Our Stars or The Hunger Games trilogy). They feature alongside manga where some get adapted into manga, anime or get a live-action treatment. The first book of the series was published in 2007 by ASCII Media Works under the trade name Dengeki Bunko, an imprint for boy’s fiction.
Heaven’s Memo Pad made the move to manga in 2010 under the company’s manga magazine, Dengeki Daioh (home of other great manga like Toradora, White Album and the classic Azumanga Daioh). Although obscure from the mainstream, Heaven’s Memo Pad is able to stand out from the crowd by its mixture of serious drama and light comic relief. Whilst readers can laugh at Meo failing to dry Alice’s hair and making a mess of it, they can also be gripped as Narumi tails a suspect and runs into yakuza thugs, armed and dangerous. The manga is able to delve into both personal and national issues that affect Japan today and keep the reader involved with the drama. Sugii is able to do this by giving a voice to those in Japanese society who are often ignored or demonised. The number of NEETs and Hikikomori for example, has grown in Japan since the recession, yet standards of employment and working hours for employees are still very harsh where Karōshi (death from overwork) is common. Sugii also reminds the reader of the fact that the group are only kids and that the work of detectives is hard and brutal, a fact later lamented on by Alice. The story grips you because you want to see what happens to Narumi and Alice. You worry for them like they are real people. That is the power of Sugii’s writing.
The story is gripping, the characters are 3D, the artwork is fresh, what more do you want? Go and read Heaven’s Memo Pad, you won’t regret it. Go and watch the anime adaptation; it’s fresh, funny and thrilling. Yes, it’s no True Detective but this manga deserves credit. Read it or read Gosick, another similar detective manga. It’s no mystery.