Despite the beautiful music, video game adaptation “DEEMO Memorial Keys” strikes as off-key, overlong, and uninspiring.

For those not in the know, the video game subgenre “rhythm” is of a music-oriented or music-centric design, the intent being to get the player to engage with music in some way. This could be by using one’s feet to hit one of four directional pads with Dance Dance Revolution, tapping on a touch-device with the Tap Tap series, or playing an instrument in any of the Guitar Hero or Rock Band games. The latter games, specifically, may have had significant influence in an uptick in interest in learning a musical instrument. Crafted by Taiwanese developer Rayark and released for play on mobile devices in late 2013, the first iteration of the game Deemo invited audiences on a new interpretation of rhythm gaming by way of a more music video-style and where the instrument is a piano that players must synchronize their taps to. With ports to PCs, VR, Playstation and Nintendo systems, Deemo has seen several iterations of the original concept published. In 2022, a theatrical adaptation of the game hit Japanese theaters and now, thanks to Shout! Factory, the Shuhei Matsushita-directed (Please Tell Me! Galko-chan), Junichi Fujisaku (Asura Girl: A Blood-C Tale) and Bun-O Fujisawa-written animated adaptation, titled DEEMO Memorial Keys, releases on U.S. shelves so that stateside fans can partake in the musical majesty without having to pick up a controller. However, those who find they lack any prerequisite love for DEEMO may find Memorial Keys off-key, over-long, and uninspiring.


L-R: Issey Ogata as the voice of Nutcracker, Gaku Hamada as the voice of Mirai, and Naomi Watanabe as the voice of Fragrant Sachet in DEEMO MEMORIAL KEYS.

Waking in a strange castle-like building, a young girl with trouble remembering her own name discovers that her companions in this place are several sentient toys and a silent tall man who’s as black as the dark side of the moon. Slowly, by working together, they not only realize her name, but that playing music on the piano in a central chamber may be the key to freedom. All that stands in the girl’s way is the ability to find all the music scattered throughout the property and a mask-wearing individual who wants the music for herself.

DEEMO Memorial Keys feels entirely like a missed opportunity for a number of reasons. The first is that the narrative is split between two paths, one involving the girl in the castle and one outside of the castle. In researching the game, the inside the castle storyline seems to almost verbatim follow the narrative of the game. This makes sense in keeping with the original themes and utilization of the piano music as the transitions both tonally and narratively in the film. However, the story outside the castle, the story that we begin with, seems to be almost added on as a way of elongating the material when all it really does is establish (and giveaway) all the secrets that are to come before the film proper begins. Therefore, whether you’ve played the game or not, there’s no anticipation, no suspense, no real drama because we already know where the story is headed. Does this make the film less enjoyable? It does if you’re hoping that it’ll somehow come to surprise you. Instead, there’s little more than countless exposition from the supporting characters in the respites from musical numbers, which are, thankfully, lovely.


L-R: Ayana Taketatsu as the voice of Alice and Akari Nibu as the voice of Masked Lady in DEEMO MEMORIAL KEYS.

The songs themselves, composed by Yuki Kajiura (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba series), are quite lovely and, if one were so inclined, would be great to just close your eyes and relax to. Considering the focus on music as a means of soothing one’s mind and finding peace and consolation, the beauty of the music is paramount. Strangely, the animation from Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell/Giovanni’s Island) and Signal.MD (Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop) is far less so. Whereas both Ghost and Giovanni utilized animation in a variety of ways that evoke an emotional response from the viewer, the animation design of the film keeps the viewer at bay in its stocky 3D animation style. It appears to be in keeping with the original colors and visual language of the source material, yet it lacks the power of the music that the characters play to convey the same sense of loss, grief, and longing. Oddly, over the credits, viewers are shown what appears to be various character and production stills in different animation styles and the majority of them would’ve been far superior compared to what it used, if only because they would make the world of Memorial Keys more fantastical and simultaneously grounded. They are also more visually appealing in their use of color and inventive designs. Breaking from the style of the game would’ve gone a long way in making Memorial Keys stand out on its own, separate from its progenitor.

For those who are fans of the long-running series, I’m sorry to tell you that there are no on-disc bonus features that will investigate the game in any way, shape, or form. Honestly, it’s a massive missed opportunity as learning about the music, animation, or adaptation process would go a long way in improving the home viewing experience. Instead, those who already come with an established relationship with the material will leave with nothing new to add, and those without will be left without a means of comprehending what they just observed. Perhaps the intent is to keep the focus on the video game, but even some kind of connection from one medium to the other would go a long way in making the home release more enticing.



As someone with a fondness for video games and even the lesser cinematic adaptations (Super Mario Bros. (1993)/Street Fighter (1994)), DEEMO Memorial Keys is a struggle to watch. Even if I could get past the early telegraphing, there are far too many questions that the film raises without answering that make sense in a video game context that don’t in movies. The first being why the lost girl isn’t initially frightened by Deemo’s visage, the second being how does she know his name without being told? That the film doesn’t somehow improve from here frustrates, as the film shouldn’t serve as a continuation with the all the rules set when it’s very much a first-run story. Perhaps there’s mileage here for fans of the series, but those coming in fresh will find it lacking and difficult to embrace.

DEEMO Memorial Keys Special Features:

  • 60-Second Trailer
  • 90-Second Trailer
  • English Dub Promotional Video
  • Promotional Video
  • Japanese and English Language tracks in both 5.1 and 2.0
  • Subtitles for Original Language Version
  • Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack and digital March 28th, 2023.

For more information, head to the official Eleven Arts DEEMO Memorial Keys webpage.

To purchase, head to the official Shout! Factory DEEMO Memorial Keys webpage

Final Score: 2 out of 5.

DEEMO Memorial Keys

Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming

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