「You’ll Be Mine」
Lacia is a wish fulfilment robot. I think that much is plain. She’s cooks, she cleans, she offers lap pillows voluntarily. Pure wish fulfilment. But that’s really the point, no? What purpose is there for a humanoid robot other than wish fulfilment. We make machines to do things that fleshy humans cannot do or will not do, or at least cannot or will not do as well. Thus machines that can explore Mars, or assemble cars, or calculate pi. They are designed to do these things better than we do. So, if we were ever to make a perfectly human-like robot, like the HiEs, it should be for only one reason. HiEs are supposed to be better humans than we are. They can be perfectly polite, have any required skillset, and follow clear ethical standards. Whatever kind of person their owner thinks is ideal, HiEs can be that. In anime, and in fact in media of all kinds, we see wish-fulfilment characters frequently, be they magical girlfriends or sparkling vampires. In the realm of fiction, writers can create whatever perfect character they desire. That, I think, is exactly what Beatless is getting at. It is completely aware that Lacia is a pandering magical girlfriend, and Lacia is too. She is by design, not just of the authorial hand but also of her own programming. As far as wish-fulfilment characters go, there is little difference between an artificial person and a fictional person. Lacia specifically adjusts her personality to be more compatible with Arato. What is the ‘real’ Lacia? Arguably, ‘Lacia’ is equally as fictional to Arato as she is to us.
This is why Arato needs to be a bit of a naive idiot, because it takes a bit of idiotic naivete to know all this and not be bothered by it at all. I do think that Beatless is doing all this intentionally, because it does show a level of awareness and attention to detail. It draws attention to Lacia’s monolith-thing, first to indicate that Lacia was disarmed and then later to make a point of it being moved. It makes sure to lay out all the reasons why Arato had to dash out to save his robot himself. And it makes sure we know that Arato is aware that he is being played, and very easily at that. He doesn’t seem to dwell over long on whether that is healthy (again, naive idiot), but we are invited to consider the question in his stead. In this episode, Arato is juxtaposed with some loon driven mad by the inhuman, manipulative seductiveness of the HiEs. Now, he was most likely mad even before he he became obsessed with HiEs and nothing excuses creepy robot rape, but that obsession did not develop unilaterally. ‘Analogue hacking’ is directly about getting into people’s heads. The HiEs in the fashion show was specifically designed to draw and capture attention. The punchable nutjob is just the extreme case of that. Now, Arato is probably not on the same level of crazy, but he is being subliminally manipulated by Lacia every day, benignly or otherwise. This entire kidnapping kerfuffle was probably allowed by Lacia as a test of how successful her analogue hack has been, how much she has endeared herself to Arato — after all, she could have escaped at any time but instead called Arato to her. Arato seems to know this, but it doesn’t trouble him quite yet. Should it trouble us?
So, despite something of a rocky start, I think that Beatless has successfully laid out an intriguing thesis that it can explore in the rest of its run. I wasn’t sure what Beatless was trying to do at first (‘Robot fashion? Really?’), but the puzzle is coming together. One piece I can’t make out quite yet: Kouka (Tomioka Misato). She’s supposed to be a Lacia-class HiE, but doesn’t resemble Lacia in any way. She doesn’t even seem that much of a robot. We don’t know if she’s following orders. She doesn’t seem to have any ethical restrictions in regards to harming humans. And she always smirks. Who, when designing a robot, gives it the ability to smirk? I definitely don’t want my toaster to smirk; there’s only one reason it would want to do so, and that’s to herald the rise of the machines. Yet, despite Kouka’s only robotic feature being super-weaponry, she still insists that HiEs are only tools. Tools shouldn’t have egos (the sentient toasters haunt my nightmares), yet Kouka seems to have that in abundance. And with Lacia’s psychological hold over Arato, she seems much more Arato’s master than vice versa.
I don’t know if I’ll end up covering Beatless full time; we’ll see how the schedule shakes out. But I’ve been convinced to keep watching it. I know it has done things to raise eyebrows here and there, and could be frustrating at times, and not rise to its highest potential at others. I know that I haven’t always been impressed. But Beatless should certainly not be dismissed. There are interesting ideas here, ones we don’t encounter enough in anime. I had some doubts at first, but this is science-fiction, and I can’t help but want to love science-fiction. I don’t know if we’ll end up loving Beatless, but perhaps it will work its way into our heads as we go.