「心の在処」 (Kokoro no arika)
“Where the Heart Is”
It was impossible to see the preview for this episode and not think of David and Teddy. Not least because A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a movie I hold in the highest esteem, and never far from my mind when themes like AI no Idenshi trades in are explored. If you’re going to riff on something you may as well riff on the best, so fair play. And the resemblance was relatively superficial, though superficially it was certainly unmistakable. That says a lot about this series I think, both about its strengths and its limitations.
The focus this time shifts away from humanoids to industrial robots, a very important distinction in AI no Idenshi. For all intents and purposes the story treats the former like human beings. Superficially (there’s that word again) they’re treated by society as sentient beings with “human rights”. Just how hollow the ground is beneath that veneer is a theme – perhaps the theme – the series will certainly probe further. Robots are different – they’re seen as tools, no matter how human they may look. And in some cases they can look very human indeed.
This episode is about two robots, one who looks very human and one who doesn’t. Joe (as if the A.I. homage weren’t obvious enough) is a boyfriend robot , designed to provide for the “physical and emotional needs” of a paying customer. Poppo is an animatronic teddy bear, an antique by the standards of the time, something between a child’s toy and a babysitter. Getting Ishikawa Kaitou and Kugimiya Rie for roles like this is evidence that Madhouse is working with at least a modest budget here, and they bring a fair bit of gravitas to their roles.
Joe lives with his mistress for seven years. He’s presumably fully functional in the Data-Tasha Yar sense, he cooks, and he’s always ready with a smile. But she falls in love one day, and after making up lies to explain her absence for a while, gives in when Joe admits he’s figured out what was going on. The recourse is to return him to the company, though she feels terribly guilty about this. His memories will be retained in the server for five years though, in case she changes her mind and chooses the “continue” option.
As for Poppo, his master Kenta is totally devoted to him. But Ken-chan is perhaps ten or eleven, and his mother feels it’s time for him to move on. That doesn’t stop her from letting Hikaru fix Poppo when he starts to malfunction, but his fix restores Poppo’s memories of his first mistress (he was bought used) Yuki-chan. Ken-chan doesn’t care – in fact he brings Poppo back to Hikaru on his own to investigate. But Mom – who bought the bear when she was a single mom and has since remarried to what seems like a decent guy, schemes to have Poppo taken away while Kenta is at school. You can probably see where this is headed.
I don’t think that AI no Idenshi is breaking any new ground with stories like these, and for the most part as it explores the moral and ethical implications of artificial intelligence it’s painting in primary colors. But as familiar as the questions it asks are they’re still interesting and important ones, and the series explores them in entertaining fashion. In the end Joe’s mistress goes back to her old robotic flame, but chooses not to have his memories restored – which, in a funny way, I think she does out of respect for Joe. As for Poppo, eventually Kenta’s mother is convinced (by events) that he “cares” for his master – even if she’s not sure what that means, exactly. I don’t think any of us are sure what that means, and I think in the end that’s very much the point here.