Wow. I know this is only the first episode of a new series, but Plastic Memories really looks like it will be a winner. There is soooo much to like about this series, and I think it has incredible potential for story and character development. This series was one of my pre-season picks for an A ranking, and thus far it has delivered – if it can only slow the pace and narrative a teensy bit and slip into an evenly flowing, rippling narrative it could even be one of the best anime of the year, I think. I am very excited to see what the studio and staff will do with this one! Some initial information in necessary to put in place, then, as this world and the activity the characters in it are engaged in is rather detailed and specific, and may serve as a launch point for future story development.
The series itself is set in a futuristic, science-fiction type of world a bit more advanced than our own at present. After failing his college entrance exams the Main Character and “Male Lead”, an 18 year-old male named Tsukasa Mizugaki, is offered a position at the renowned SAI Corporation due to his father’s connections and accepts under the assumption it is simply an office or desk job. SAI Corporation is known for its production and management of androids that possess human emotions called “Giftia.” It turns out that Tsukasa’s position is in the “Terminal Service Department” where their main job is to recover Giftias that are close to their expiration – almost a little bit like working in a funeral home or a mortuary. Recovering the Giftia is always done by a combination of a human and a Giftia proper, and Tsukasa is assigned a Giftia named Isla (pronounced “Eye-sluh”, who is for all intents and purposes the “Female Lead” in the series), who seems to be somewhat of a retired veteran in recovery, having apparently worked alongside another member of the Service Department previously for some time – something hinting that her own lifespan may be nearing it’s end. It seems there are three other human/Giftia combinations in the office as well (though from the pre-season character sketches and summary material we have not met one of the humans yet, it seems).
A few other notes about Giftia include their “lifespan” being about 9 years and 4 months. When their lifespan runs out their personality and memory disintigrate – the personality itself just seems to vanish, while the memories in their early stages start developing “discrepancies”, though it is not quite clear what that means. At one point in the episode the question “What will happen if the Giftia is not recovered in time?” is asked, but no answer is given – do they just collapse? Or fall to pieces? Or do they lose control and become a danger to all around them because of some kind of limiter being broken or the like? The lifespan limitation itself is chalked up to “technological limitations”, but it is unclear whether or no this is a truthful one. IS the limitation could be related to hardware, or software or a combination of them together, or something else? For example, the limitation could be built into the system to prevent the androids from becoming too powerful, or for monetary gain (that is, needing to purchase a newer Giftia after a set period of time), or something entirely different, for example, or it could actually be an honest limitation. We are not really told much about the details, and since this is an original anime work we have no “source material” to refer to.
In the episode itself we are shown a teeny glimpse into the activities of Tsukasa’s new job through the prism of three separate incidents. Tsukasa and Isla go out into the field side by side with another human/Giftia combo at the office named Michiru (a rather uppity tsundere sort, it seems) and Zack (a Giftia in a young blond boy’s body). The first incident goes extremely smoothly – a Giftia that looks like a human male in its mid to late twenties and is named Edward lives with an older couple named Hajime and Mari. We see from this that the Giftia in the Terminal Service department are the main ones to negotiate with both the retrieved targets and their owners – apparently they have been specially enhanced with “negotiation skills” (Zack illustrates this really well in this incident). The Giftia doing these retrievals are nicknamed “marksman”, while the humans are called “spotters”. A spotter’s job is to “keep an eye on their Giftia and make sure they do their job properly” (a description which raised a sleugh of suspicions from me, but lets leave that aside for now). The marksman Giftia are the ones with the actual ability to deactivate the Giftia whose term of service has run out, doing so by placing a ring on the hand of the Giftia to be retrieved and then pressing their palms together. After this the Giftia is returned to the company’s headquarters. We also learn a few other things about the Giftia recovery process and the country’s law. There are legal requirements that must be followed. Not only must an agreement be signed allowing its retrieval ahead of time, but the law requires that the owners of the Giftia being retrieved must be present when the Giftia is deactivated – apparently for purposes of privacy, as the memories of the Giftia are data files and can be accessed after their deactivation.
The second retrieval operation is a bit more difficult. The human owner and the Giftia attempt to flee when Tsukasa and Michiru arrive at the appointed place, and while they are captured eventually by ever-efficient and responsible Zack (though we are not given the nitty gritty details of how this happened – which made me wonder a bit) before this Isla attempts pursuit, slips, and falls from the fifth or sixth floor of the apartment complex through the roof of a lean-to and into the apartment complex’s trash pile. At least in Isla’s case she is not quite endowed with superhuman abilities, but is certainly as tough as one might expect an android to be – I wonder if the Giftia have regular maintenance or tune-ups done on them or something and whether that is also needed for the Giftia living with people? By this time we are beginning to see deeper into Giftia in general and Isla in particular.
Isla appears to be a much more sensitive and emotionally developed in some way than other Giftia. Before his first day at work Tsukasa happened by chance to stumble across Isla in an elevator and noticed she was weeping, and it moved him to the core – even musing to himself that he may have fallen in love. Later, when on their way to the first retrieval Isla remarks to Tsukasa that he should be aware that doing the job of retrieval never feels rewarding, and says that their task is “to rip apart memories”. We also discover then that Isla apparently keeps a daily diary – obviously memories are very important to her. Finally, at this second retrieval we see that she is too frightened to even ring the doorbell and after Tsukasa does it for her she steps aside and stares at her hands, which are shaking with fear, with a worried look on her face. When situations arise that she does not want to face or answer she often reverts to a defense mechanism of sorts by saying “Error. Cannot comply.” or something like that.
Just before the final retrieval task is accomplished (it takes several failed attempts as the human who owns the Giftia does not want to let her go under any circumstances) there is a telling interaction between Isla and Tsukasa in the small garden out back that sheds another facet on both Isla and the default interactions between humans and Giftia in general. Tsukasa somehow intuits that Isla is troubled about something (picking up on this while Michiru, who has been working at the recovery center for about a year now, does not), and goes to ask Isla about it, but takes the tone as one might with a child. Isla quickly realizes this, and is hesitant, but responds anyway, and responds in such a way that Tsukasa realizes that the way he approached Isla was unintentionally thoughtless.
It seems that there are many humans (for all we know perhaps even among those who own Giftia) who either simply see them as disposable items or do not take them seriously, perhaps including some of those working in the SIA corporation, or even in the Recovery Department itself, while there are other Giftia owners (the three examples in this episode, for example) who take their Giftia very seriously indeed, and near-fully treat them as human beings. At the end of their dialogue Isla says two interesting things: “I’ve got to get them to drink tea.” (referring to the human and Giftia involved in the up to know thwarted third retrieval task) and “As long as I am working, even I have a reason to exist.” (Words we would regard as heavy hearing from the lips of a human, let alone an android). It is likely that this scene begins to really plany the awareness in Tsukasa’s head that Isla (and perhaps Giftia in general?) are not “just machines”.
The third and final recovery in this episode is where we get a glimpse into the deeper parts of Isla proper, when she finally is able to begin the process of recovering Nina – a Giftia in the body of a young girl who lives with a single, elderly lady ma,ed Chizu. Isla and Nina have a discussion where we see that Isla herself is actually afraid – seriously afraid – of losing her memories and personality when she her lifespan will expire, almost to the point of existential fear. Even with this she gently and carefully discusses these things with Nina, asking things like “Do you really accept the fact that you are going to be retrieved? Don’t you want to be with Chizu?” And at these questions Nina looks surprised, as if she had not thought of it that way, and begins to replies that of course she wants to, but she knows that she will break if she is not retrieved, and if that happens Chizu will be made very sad indeed, and she does not want that to happen to her.
After this everyone drinks tea together, but it is almost like a final farewell meal, the last time they will spend together before saying their farewells – farewells which prove to be very painful not only to Chizu, but to Nina as well. In the last moments before Isla begins the deactivation process of Nina, however, we are shown that she whispers something in Nina’s ear – something that surprises her very much but then causes Nina to break out in a happy smile in her last moments. It was then that it hit me – what Isla is doing is something similar to what a hospice care-worker might do (that is, someone who cares for someone in their last days with the full knowledge that they are going to die and helps them come to terms, be at peace with it all inside). When I realized that I was immediately reminded of all the discussions I have had over the years with friends who have worked in hospice as well, and was surprised by the similarities in approach. Obviously there is not a 1=1 relation here, but moreso Isla has become not only someone who is disturbed by what for her is the “reality of death”, but someone who tries to help and speak to others of her kind in their “final moments” as well.
After the episode was over something the famous thinker Pascal said a few centuries ago came to mind. It was something like: “Since men been unable to eliminate the reality of death they have instead decided not to think of it.” And then I immediately began to think of last season’s masterpiece of Death Parade and put the two series side by side. Death Parade gave us a fictional representation of the soul being made to squarely face some of the deeper, driving forces that helped shape its actions and who they came to be during their lifetime, but a lifetime very often lived with the inescapable reality of dying (and what might happen afterwards) not present in their mind, feelings and way of life as a sort of omnipresent consideration and guiding factor – this was precisely the complaint Ginti levelled at humanity in general and one of the core reasons for his disdain and harshness towards those who have had the misfortune to be assigned him as their arbiter.
But in Plastic Memories we have a different angle on the “inescapable reality of dying” being presented to us, albeit also in a fictional manner and setting – one focused on those who profession focuses on those who are preparing to “die”, even knowing full well the expected day and time of their death. In fact, the very first line of the episode sets this as the overall tone, as if making a sound from a tuning fork: “If my lifespan was predetermined I wonder how I would handle that?” This seems to perfectly sum up what Isla herself is struggling with, and the considerations may be driven home in unexpected ways into the other characters (both human and Giftia, I’d imagine) throughout the rest of the series. Frankly, I am thrilled to get the chance to see how it will develop and hope it will do so in a powerful, moving and convincing way. Material like this is what made some of the best science fiction books or movies into the great things they became, and I can only hope Plastic Memories will be able to rise to the occasion and stand in their midst.
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