“…a story of meetings and partings.” (Naotaka Hayashi)
In the not-too distant future, androids with personalities called ‘Giftias’ have become part of everyday life, acting as care-givers and companions. Unfortunately, their lifespan is only 81,920 hours (roughly ‘nine years and four months’). When young Tsukasa Mizugaki joins the SAI Corporation, he finds himself assigned to the terminal service department and joins the team working to recover the Giftias who are reaching their expiration date. Tsukasa is partnered with reserved, lilac-haired Giftia Isla, and off they go on their first retrieval mission together. Tsukasa is eager to learn but is treated like the rookie he is by the team – and is overcome with embarrassment when he finds himself obliged to share accommodation with his Giftia partner (he’s only eighteen, after all). He learns (the hard way) of the difficulties of his new job, of Isla’s original human partner and a disastrous mission that went wrong, leading to their break-up and Isla being put onto tea-making duties at the office, and that there are Black Market crooks out there trying to get their hands on the Giftias by pretending to be the official retrieval service. He also learns of the importance of recovering the Giftias before their expiry time is up – and what can go wrong if they evade retrieval.
By immersing the audience (and the somewhat oblivious Tsukasa) into the world of the Giftias straight away, Plastic Memories is not playing entirely fair with our expectations. It’s one thing to drip-feed story-relevant facts as needed as the narrative progresses (and avoid clunky info-dumps), it’s another to withhold them and only reveal them when the plot can’t advance any further without hitting a wall.
The retrieval dealt with in Episodes 4 and 5 is a case in point. When Tsukasa and Isla are sent to bring back Marcia, to all intents and purposes the sole caretaker of an orphaned little boy called Souta, we are never told who is going to look after the child when Marcia is removed as the Giftia’s appointed time for retrieval approaches. Logic demands that we should at least understand that Souta is not being left to fend for himself at such a young age by the terminal service department – but no, all we see is a distraught child about to be separated from his only remaining ‘parent’, putting a totally different spin on the story.
Given that the ‘original creator’ of this anime is by Naotaka Hayashi (Steins;Gate) we can be forgiven for expecting a storyline that challenges the viewer and asks some deep and disturbing questions about AI and humanity. Yet strip away the science fictional outer trappings from Plastic Memories and you find some familiar (and rather over-used) elements: ordinary but likable young man gets first job, is obliged to share lodgings with his female co-worker who just happens to be cute and pretty but also klutzy and unworldly. Add in a tsundere red-haired female colleague who has secretly taken a liking to the newest recruit but can only express her feelings by constantly finding fault with him. Frequently switching straight to harem-style fan service hi-jinks after an emotional farewell scene might be director Yoshiyuki Fujiwara’s solution to diffusing dramatic tension but it often feels awkward and forced.
We’ve been here before in anime, of course, especially with Chi and the other Persocoms in CLAMP’s Chobits (2000) which asks: can an android with artificial intelligence develop a will of its own? By the end of Episode 7, many questions have been raised about Giftias, what happens to them and their personalities/memories beyond their expiration date, not to mention the legal implications of their being party to their owners’ personal information (data breach!). With another six episodes to go, it remains to be seen if Naotaka Hayashi and the creative team are able to supply satisfactory and believable answers within the parameters they’ve set up – or will the story remain a romantic drama playing at dressing up in the trappings of science fiction?
Sora Amamiya (Touka in Tokyo Ghoul) delivers a convincing portrayal of Isla, persuading us that she is not quite human and Yasuaki Takumi makes a likable, earnest Tsukasa, with Chinatsu Akasaki suitably volatile as tsundere redhead Chiharu. There is no English dub in Anime Limited’s Limited Edition – and I found the subtitles (white) difficult to read as they’re often set against a pale background. (Yellow isn’t everyone’s favourite colour, but it’s a better fit for subtitles for those of us whose vision isn’t 20/20.)
The score is by Masaru Yokoyama (Your Lie in April, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans) and is pleasingly sympathetic to what’s going on dramatically. The music is not over-dominant, it isn’t omni-present either which greatly adds to its effectiveness in the moments when composer and director decide to use it to enhance a mood or to increase tension. Less is definitely more. There’s also a fascinating little interview in the Extras with Eri Sasaki, the singer of the OP which is called “Ring of Fortune”. The ED is “Asayake no Starmine” (Starmine of the Morning Glow) by Asami Imai, featuring many moe illustrations of Isla and there’s an Insert song: “again & again” by Melody Chubak (in Episodes 1 and 7).
Anime Limited are releasing Plastic Memories in a two-part Limited Edition. Part 1 comes with Episodes 1-7 over two Blu-ray discs inside an amaray case. But ‘additionally, there will also be a box included that can also fit Part 2 (sold separately)’. On-disc extras include two Staff & Cast Talk sessions (one featuring four voice actors from the series, the other featuring people behind the scenes of the series) trailers and web previews of episodes. The discs are easily navigated and the sound and picture quality are good.
All in all, Plastic Memories – from the very first episode as Tsukasa witnesses his first retrieval – is an old-fashioned tearjerker masquerading as an SF series. Dig a little deeper into the science of its science fiction and the whole premise seems rather flimsy and ill thought-through – which will trouble some viewers more than others. But these episodes stop at just past the halfway mark and matters could still improve in the second part (out in a week’s time)!