First Look: Plastic Memories

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Anime Original by Dogakobo
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

The SAI Corporation has developed a series of androids called “Giftia” that are nearly indistinguishable from humans. The only catch is they have a 9 year life span before they must shut down and have their memories erased. Tsukasa Mizugaki begins his new job with SAI’s Terminal Service, tasked with retrieving the Giftia when they run out of time.

Jel’s verdict: Sad Robots in Snow

Barely a week removed from the emotional gut punch of Death Parade, I don’t think my heart can take this. In its very solid opening episode, Plastic Memories has already established this is going to be a tear jerker, going straight into killing off kids in front of old ladies. Honestly we all kind of saw this coming when the shows premise was announced, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. The question was whether a studio best known for wacky school comedies had the chops to pull off deeper material and I’m happy to say Dogakobo succeeds for the most part.

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The big complaint we always have with portraying tragedy is pouring on too much melodrama – going for the over the top screaming matches, grand speeches, or exaggerating weeping that remove the situation too far from reality to connect. Plastic Memories handles the two retrievals in its first episode with the proper amount of dignity, humor, and heart, even if they do go for the easiest possible route to tug on your heartstrings. Much of the credit has to go to up and coming director Yoshiyuki Fujiwara, who was last seen making the best of what he had to work with in Engaged to the Unidentified. His style has the nuance and restraint to let the heavy moments sink in and let the bits of humor shine when necessary. And considering the series is about accepting death at a very specific time and date, that humor is a very welcome necessity.

Probably the only minor complaint I might add is the character designs by okiura (of Infinite Stratos infamy) are a little too “Sci-fi Space Anime” for the setting. They would look good in another series but here they feel a little detached. I’m also not entirely clear why the Giftia’s were created, aside from “hey, we can make humans!”, but I guess that’s not really the point. Other than that, it’s really just a question of whether Plastic Memories can keep it up. It’s pretty tough to top the tragedy factor of losing a grandchild, so I wonder if they played their hand too much already. It’s heavily implied Isla’s appointed time is coming soon, but will they be able to keep the balance of tragedy and comedy until that time arrives? I hope they can.

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Marlin’s verdict: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream of Electric Sheep

I was expecting this to be dramatic, what I wasn’t expecting was it to actually have some restraint. It may not be the most subtle show out there, but in the world of non-stop ham machines that are anime dramas, it’s nice to have a show that can tackle the ideas of death with a bit of grace. My biggest problem would probably be Isla. While her comedy is fine, the idea that she talks in error messages when we’ve been shown Giftia have the full range of emotion that humans do is just weird. It makes her seem less human than the Giftia are supposed to be, with absolutely no explanation for it. It’s hard to tell if this kind of premise can really last a full cour of shows though, something tells me there will be equal parts slice of life episodes where our main pair hang out. At least, I hope that’s how they go about this. Otherwise, it’s going to have to pick its plots carefully in order to keep the premise from becoming old hat pretty quickly.

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Gee’s verdict: This Would Be Way Cooler if it was Blade Runner

From a setting and premise standpoint, Plastic Memories is totally my jam. Examining the meaning of humanity against a backdrop of robotics and AI, the idea of watching the lives and experiences of the men and women tasked with recalling said AIs upon reaching their expiration dates is one rife with potential. If this were any other medium and you told me that premise, I’d be psyched and ready for badass cyberpunk-noir shenanigans. Unfortunately this is anime, where as always, anime finds a way to utterly disappoint me. It may seem a strange complaint, but for me, tone and aesthetic are everything. Quite frankly, I just don’t take Plastic Memory’s modern day soft anime aesthetic seriously. There’s no way for me to buy into this world when there’s not a speck of neon, retro synth music, or 80s-inspired sci-fi fashion. Additionally, the sheer mood whiplash is perhaps a bit too strong for my own taste. Is Plastic Memories a solemn portrayal of a world where humans with a limited lifespan live among us? Or is it a tepid anime comedy with all the failings of Japanese humor? I seriously hope Plastic Memories is the former, because without a compelling aesthetic or setting, that’s the only thing left keeping me invested.

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2 thoughts on “First Look: Plastic Memories

  1. I really like the first episode. Seems to be hinting at a lot of things that I hope will actually be explored by the end of the run. It just seems like an arbitrary lifespan for the Giftia, though it would make sense if their entire memories were being written into a storage device with no programming for deleting unnecessary information, like a really large vinyl disk for example.

    But seeing as the company had the ingenuity to not only create machines which can pass the Turing test, but still pass a heretofore still unknown test for realism in the physical realm, it is hard to believe that one of their solutions to the problem is to wipe all the memories and install a newer operating system. That should be enough to set off some alarm bells.

    I smell a critique of proprietary software and planned obsolescence for perfectly functional electronic items one gets attached to. For example, I am not going to replace my budget laptop that is still running the pre i series Intel processors because I can still upgrade the hard disks and keep the other parts functional with due diligence. And my operating system is still built around the same Ubuntu distribution I started out with in 2008, only it has gotten better with age – and I dare say if my computer has a soul, it is without doubt a friend to which I can now understand every quirk and stumble.

    Never seen Blade Runner, and I do not understand the attachment to such retro-future aesthetics. This anime may inevitably disappoint me, but I am dead sure it won”t be because of character and environmental designs.

    • “not everything can be blade runner” is something I have to remind Gee of almost daily.

      As far as the bigger picture, I’m looking at in the context of this being written by the same person that wrote Steins;Gate in which the “science” was just an arbitrary plot device to give the characters a unique space to shine. I think it’s the same deal with the set lifespans here, and that none of this actually has anything to do with robots. I think it will be more about how life is short and precious and meaningful, given how Isla is questioning her existence toward the (alleged) end of hers.

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