|A great idea for a story with appropriate visuals and a deft touch when dealing with the soft tragic romance elements. When it was on it was really on.||Tried to do too many things at once and fell short in many ways - sometimes downright painfully. When it was off, it was really off.|
Before the season began Plastic Memories was without a doubt one of my most (or THE most) anticipated series of the Spring season. I loved the idea of the series and how the series was presenting itself in the previews and snippets. I (and a fair number of other viewers of anime) have enjoyed a certain type of science fiction narrative since as early as I can remember exposing myself to the genre – the study of and definition of what makes a human human through the prism of robots or machines (or even aliens) getting closer and closer to humans in terms of emotions, reflection on certain aspects of existence that characterise humans, and the rest.
Some classic examples of this for me would be Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, in anime circles the humanoid interface Nagato Yuki from the Suzumiya Haruhi franchise, and especially the replicants from the classic sci movie Blade Runner. To say that I (and many others) were hyped for the series ahead of time would be an understatement, especially on both hearing of how closely the descriptions reminded them of Blade Runner proper but in a “softer”, perhaps more “thought provoking” or reflective manner – seeming to focus on the elements of romance, tragedy and an inorganic life form that straddled the boundaries between human and non-human coming to grips with mortality.
However, it quickly showed itself to not be these sorts of things, and nowhere near what people had in mind before the season began. In some ways I think part of the problem so many wound up having over the course of this series airing could be boiled down to two general areas. The first would undoubtedly be the matter of what it was (apparently) selling itself to be before the season began and then not delivering, or rather, showing itself to be something quite a bit different. The second, however, which may relate some to the first reason (as far as I can tell) is that it tried to do way too many things at once and left way too many things undeveloped and left alone. This included only scratching the surface of the science fiction aspect of the setting, and of the Giftia (that is the androids) in particular. They touched on so many things about them but left so many questions unanswered.
But for myself the biggest problem of the series was not necessarily the aspect of not fully unpacking the science fiction setting per se, nor delivering what it seemed to be promoting itself as before the season began. No. My biggest problem was with the way it used the comedic elements. Plainly said – it was horrible, ungainly, and just plain not funny. The series as a whole certainly had a knack of leaving me with a mix of complicated feelings at times (and after one ep extremely annoyed and baffled), especially because it could go from being skillfully able to handle it’s material with a deft touch to a whiplash like movement to a downright clumsy, crude and even … well, juvenile method … with its content.
Why it chooses the latter still seems to me to be a half hearted attempt to somehow garner some level of attention from certain potential dvd/bd disc buyers … or something. Series like this (and there were a handful of them this season – such as Re-Kan and Punchline) are frustrating to watch for me, but especially so when in the wake of other series that are handled with consistently talented and caring hands that are … well … fearless, I suppose? This season series like that for me are Ore Monogatari and Kekkai Sensen – consistently just plain good and solid and always coming across as if there is a clear image of what they want to do. There was SO MUCH POTENTIAL in Plastic Memories, and it was frustrating to see it … well, mishandled.
In retrospect, though, I think one of the main things to keep in mind regarding this series was that the main focus (however “deceptively” it presented itself) was always centered in the final event – the series of events leading up to the deactivation of the Giftia and female lead named Isla involving Tsukasa – and that’s it. It is not concerned as much with world building, or the story’s objective settings details as much. When it focuses repeatedly on showing other examples of Giftia being deactivated it is not to bring an objective setting into focus in which to place all the events, it is more to educate Tsukasa into the “emotional world of the Giftia”, particularly around their deactivation – both as an illustration of the inner realm Isla moves in and as a preparation for what he will have to face.
Elements like the higher ups from SIA being unhappy with Section One Retrieval is only to illustrate Isla’s contribution, not go anywhere else. The existence of the Black Marketeer and the Giftia Marcia going into “wanderer” mode is solely to close a future door that Tsukasa might be tempted to open when Isla’s time comes – not to utilize the elements for a grander, more overarching storyline of corporate corruption, or to launch off into a more detailed presentation of the hardcore “wetware” level of technology surrounding the Giftia proper. In other words, the series in some ways tantalizes and teases the viewers to easily veer off into other areas related to the narrative, but it’s actual foundation is always firmly the cultivation of the emotional bond between Tsukasa and Isla before the latter’s deactivation. Period. Nothing more. Watching the series with that in mind is a bit easier, I feel.
There is another aspect of the series to take into consideration, though, and that is that it seems to do much better when steamrolled. When watched episode after episode in succession its faults become less visible, yes, but they also have less time to snowball into what quickly become rabbit trails of speculation and their resultant expectations. More than that – the strengths of the series actually stand out more, I found.
Where the series really shines, though, is in the serious (and that includes light hearted, not dumbed down comedic elements) interactions between the characters, and especially between Tsukasa and Isla. Especially as the series gets nearer to the end it really becomes quite … moving at times. In many ways Isla is the heart and core of the series, yes, but she is also the steadiest element and character – you watch the series to see what happens to Isla.
There are other places the series shines in as well, though – the audio aspects are very well done: the OP is well crafted, with the few second snippet at the end of each ep reflecting how Isla feels towards Tsukasa adding a nice touch; the ED is downright moving, and became my favorite ED of any series this season. The OST is plenty appropriate and helps emphasize the content of the episodes effectively. The visuals are also quite nice – Doga Kobo has a character animation style it exhibits both here and in the Mikakunin series that I really enjoy, and both its in door and outdoor cityscapes and backgrounds are … well … quite lovely, I thought.
As I was mulling over how to write this review I found myself asking myself the question “Would I recommend this series to other viewers?” and having to pause. After thinking about it a bit I would probably say a reluctant “yes”, but could easily see myself warning the inquirers about the “pitfalls” I found myself falling into so easily regarding the series. In many ways the series had great potential, yes, and the expectations almost across the board were for it to be a “big” or even a “grand” series. But at core it is not.
At core it very much a “small”, almost “local” or “miniature” manifestation of the Romance-Comedy genre with a blend of Sci-Fi and Tragedy sprinkled in. Its focus is on relationships primarily – almost like a standard shoujo offering, where the concerns are very … well … small. Its greatest weakness is its directing, I feel – the choices the staff made were inconsistent at best, and if it had left out the elements of “trying to be funny” and replaced them with its strengths the series could easily have been far more successful in my book. Its strong end made up for its early unnecessary elements, though, and in the end I do think it was worth it as a whole.
This series gets a B ranking from me, but it could have easily, oh so easily been something much better and even … greater, if only it had either stuck to its guns and tried not to please too many people by being too many things at once, or if it were bolder and more consistent in its potential of what it could have been.
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