「はじめてのパートナー」 (Hajimete no Pātonā)
“The First Partner”
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27
Before we begin, there are some reference materials that you may want to partake of that will aid us in the discussion of Plastic Memories. Isaac Asimov’s science fiction portfolio is a given, but there’s also the anime it inspired, Time of Eve (especially the third ‘episode’), and older fare about aging androids like Mahoromatic. Needless to say, Japan loves its robots, but rarely does it engage in a serious discussion of AI, and when it does it’s very much, from my less than comprehensive experience, a product of Western influence. Isaac Asimov and his Three Laws were just too good; it’s hard to break away from his canon. Here we have Plastic Memories, though, offering us two very Japanese elements to our android anime: cute girls, and death. Mmm, that’s good. More than that later; let’s lay out the show first.
I think the overall tenor of Plastic Memories is pretty much established when it first starts with our protagonist, Mizugaki Tsukasa (Takumi Yasuaki) contemplating mortality, before he has his boy-meets-girl moment with Isla (Amamiya Sora). The rest of the quirky cast come from a very familiar stock—Kuwanomi Kazuki (Toyoguchi Megumi) is the scary boss, Kinushima Michiru (Akasaki Chinatsu) is the tsundere (and by her age, also a dropout), Zack (Yahagi Sayuri) is the devilish child—but it’s already fairly assured that’s it’s not going to be sunshine and lollipops and rainbows all the time for Plastic Memories. A stint of drama aside, though, most of this first episode was comedy, courtesy of Isla, who manages to be stoic, enthusiastic and clumsy, and exposition, courtesy of Tsukasa, who conveniently knows nothing about anything. They also had to quickly establish that this is science fiction, so that means in the future architecture is weird, fashion is weird, and we have corporatised the manufacture of life. I refuse to believe that, in the future, cars don’t drive themselves. It’s already enough that they don’t fly.
Let me make something clear: when a company claims to be creating ‘synthetic souls’ and the results are indistinguishable from a human being, they are effectively manufacturing sentient life, and that’s an ethical quagmire in itself. I don’t know if Plastic Memories will actually address that, and in any case such questions, like whether androids dream of electric sheep, are discussed in other media. Again, much of this is from or influenced by the West, perhaps because modern artificial intelligence theory was birthed there. Before Alan Turing (who I hear has a movie made about him, one which I sadly haven’t watched) proved that computation was universal, artificial intelligence as we imagine it now wasn’t even theoretically a thing. Plastic Memories seems to a softer science fiction, focusing on emotional attachments and the process of wiping them away. As such, while the West often deals with robots that will one day be superior to humans both morally, because they are bound by ethical rules, or physically, because they’re bloody Terminators, the Giftia are still very much beings beneath us. They die, and they die quickly, and as I discussed frequently when writing about Mushishi, the ephemerality of life is a topic dear to the Japanese heart.
(On that note, watch Mushishi. It’s high-class anime.)
Think of the children
Plastic Memories certainly isn’t tiptoeing around its central themes. The fact that the retrieval crews call themselves ‘spotter’ and ‘marksman’—a sniper team—is already a bit grim, and Plastic Memories brings out the big guns right from the beginning: dying children. A bit heavy handed? Yes. But it also addresses one of the elephants in the room from the outset: all of Giftia are essentially children. Even the older looking Edward has had less than 81920 hours on the good earth. He is the same age as Nina, they are both treated as family, and they must both die. What exactly is SAI doing here? They are marketing surrogate children, and eventually putting them down. That’s a lot of moral responsibility, on their part. Is the contract they enforce not the one of Rumpelstiltskin, on which one’s firstborn is bargained? And we haven’t even seen what actually happens if the time limit expires naturally—what is at stake here? All that said, it’s still not exactly clear why Plastic Memories has to be a story about androids; so far it more evokes euthanasia. These are nuances to be worked out, I’m sure.
81919 hours ~ looking ahead
This was a pretty good setup episode for the rest of the series, with the broad themes established, world and characters introduced, and some key questions floating around that we know will be the subject of our plot before we’re through. For the introduction of our anime, though, they sure laid on the drama quickly and heavily. I found that Nina’s retrieval involved a bit too many tears shed a bit too early in our run, and it didn’t work as well for me as the comedy. These big Oscar-baits need to be set up slowly and methodically, sneaking on the viewers and ambushing them when they are emotionally open. That’s what I’m assuming the comedy is doing at the moment. That said, if any one thing is going to move me in Plastic Memories I wager it would be the music, which featured both effectively chirpy pieces for lighter scenes and more gently melancholic fare when we needed melodrama (this week’s insert song: Again & Again by Melody Chubak). It also helps that the show just generally looks good; they had some fun with the camera, facial expressions showed a lot of fluidity (especially when Nina broke down), and I fell in love with the night-scape on first sight. Hurrah for production value!
So I’m looking forward to seeing what else Plastic Memories is going to do, especially after having expended an emotional climax in its first episode. I would guess that we’d step a bit back next episode, and learn more about our cast beyond their initial archetypes. In particular, female lead Isla, the ‘industry veteran’ who does naught but serve tea, is an enigma. Tell me her story, Plastic Memories. I’m keen to know more.