OP: 「Error」 by GARNiDELiA
The setting of Beatless isn’t extraordinarily complex, but there’s one thing that I really want to know: how advanced is the average HiE? We’re reminded constantly that Lacia is a super-special model of android, but she’s really more than even that, right? And our erstwhile protagonist (what was his name again? He’s so very forgettable) knows it. So the story’s going something like this: the kid meets Lacia, some piece of rogue military technology or the like, out of pure coincidence, she uses an incredible electronic warfare weapon right in front of him, he decides to take ownership of her (‘it followed me home!’), and then goes on with his life as if nothing was strange. Is nothing strange? Does this happen all the time? Even if not, it seems like an awful waste of a warbot to just have her play dress-ups.
To be fair, the secondary cast are a bit savvier than Arato (right, his name was Arato). They, at least, can sense that there is supposed to be a plot hook here and seem to be actively investigating it. It’s good that somebody is, because plot does seem more interesting than the awkward flirting, but alas Beatless still seems intent on investing more into its daily life with robot segments. There are two necessary side-effects of this decision. One, the protagonist has to be, at least at this moment, irreparably thick, devoid of both wit and curiosity so that he will neither see the plot right in front of his eyes nor endeavour to seek it out. Second, with the plot so firmly rejected by the protagonist it rebounds onto the secondary cast, making the protagonist look increasingly irrelevant. This makes Arato a rather frustrating as our point-of-view character; he’s not supposed to be an idiot, yet acts like one, occasionally showing hints of recognition that suddenly owning a piece of unexplainable super-technology of unknown original like Lacia may be a serious matter, yet never willing to engage his cerebral cortex for deeper contemplation.
At this point I can’t really tell if Beatless expects too little from its viewers or too much. On the one hand, it feels like they keep pushing the relatively shallow boy meets cute-robot-girl angle because hard sci-fi doesn’t sell well with a modern audience, but on the other hand it does bury hard sci-fi underneath the surface that we need to dig to find. In this episode, when I first saw the death-bot turned fashion model subplot I must confess that my first reaction was, ‘What the hell is this bollocks?’. And indeed, the sequence didn’t sit well with me. For one, manufacturing obsession with trends to control the masses sounded far too Brave New World, a hint of dystopia in this otherwise bright future, only there was nobody who called it out. As we went further, though, I considered that maybe this was the intended effect after all. They drop the title of this episode — Analog Hack — near the end, but it’s just a fancy term for psychological manipulation, with robots. I don’t think the episode actually explains it that well, but how I see it is that in Beatless we have these robots that are even better at acting like humans than actual humans. They are capable of emulating any personality, skillset, or behaviour model so long as they have the correct programming (‘clouds’, whatever). This makes them, like the functional psychopath, perfect manipulators. Consider this: an AI designed to convince us they are people is already a layer of manipulation. With sufficient understanding of human psychology, they can manipulate even more. One HiE can emulate authority to act as law enforcement. Multiple HiEs can coordinate to move a crowd. On a subconscious level, human beings use body language, subtext, and emotional cues on each other all the time. On a conscious level, actors are trained to elicit specific responses from the audience with the most subtle of expressions and gestures. Heck, when we watch anime we can cry at a sad scene or whatever even though it isn’t real because of careful timing of dialogue and music and whatever. But there is a willing suspension of disbelief there. What if, instead, we were surrounded by psychopaths and being consciously manipulated every moment of our lives? Beatless notes why some people don’t like HiEs in its setting. They don’t like being manipulated, being ‘hacked’. Do we empathise with these robots because it feels like they have a ‘soul’, or are they just tricking us? Consider every cutesy gesture of Lacia’s. By her own admission, all her actions are calculated. Arato is clearly fond of her, but everything she does around him is designed to be liked. Does that make her actions more sinister? Or is it fine as long as we can’t tell?
And that was how five minutes of the show became more interesting than the other 20. I admit that I may be amusing myself a lot more than Beatless is, but there were interesting ideas that set me off. I really hope that Beatless will grow more courageous about exploring these ideas it goes along. At some point Arato will become a functional character and not just an unnecessary weight on the plot. The third episode usually ends Act I and truly opens up the narrative. Let’s see if it Beatless can manage a show of strength there.