This is our pilot review. Check out our full season review for new info!
Plastic Memories is poised to steal the hearts of even the most robotic of us if it plays its cards right. So far it’s done just that. The series offers a fresh (and possibly prophetic) glimpse at the ever-narrowing boundary between natural and artificially created life.
Memories has the rare luxury of being a standalone series not beholden to any source material — its manga version won’t be out until this summer. That gives it a lot of leeway in being whatever it wants to be without any obligation to a prior fanbase, art style, or plotline. It doesn’t waste the opportunity to go at its own pace and gives us what we need when we need it. There’s just enough backstory to know what’s going on without being bludgeoned by redundant exposition. The characters have diverse personalities without giving us entire bio episodes on each of them.
The story takes place in a near-future setting where the well-intended Tsukasa Mizugaki is starting his first real occupation at the SAI corporation’s Terminal Department. His job is to pair up with a sentient androids called Giftias to reclaim other androids from their owners. After their shelf-life of just over nine years, each Giftias will rapidly lose its memories and functionality, making them potentially dangerous. Yet after a decade of treating them like the thinking, feeling family members they become, not all Giftias owners will part with their purchases willingly. It’s up to SAI to do whatever necessary to reclaim the androids before their minds decay.
It’s the role of the Giftias to approach the owners and robots in diplomatic ways to get them to come along willingly while the human partners supervise the androids’ behavior. Mizugaki is paired with Isla (her Japanese name is spelled and pronounced as “Aira” but we’re going to roll with the fact everyone is Engrishing it as “Isla”). Despite her status as a veteran android reclaimer, Isla seems to dislike her job immensely and makes poor work of it. When Mizugaki asks her about it, she tells him the only thing he needs to know is that a job ripping apart memories will never be rewarding for him.
The straight-edged Isla and her intense coworkers offer well-spaced injections of comedy, but the overall mood of the series can’t help but be a bit dark. Memories poses many of the same questions as Ghost in the Shell: when an entity with a synthetic soul has memories implanted or erased, what is real and what does it mean to be alive? We see Isla and another droid struggle with this conversation in the second episode. Just like humans, it is enough for some of them to have lived and enjoyed a brief life, while others can’t help but view their impending deaths as rendering everything quite futile.
Isla’s various quirks and disposition seem to be so detrimental to her work that she and Mizugaki swap roles. It falls to Mizugaki to use empathetic diplomacy to create smooth reclamations, but Isla isn’t content to stand idly by. Despite her struggles to contribute, Isla’s performance is often poor and we quickly begin to suspect that she isn’t the fresh young child she appears. Her overprotective former partner, Kazuki, is going a little mad and takes to drinking rather than admitting to Mizugaki — and herself — that Isla’s failures are signs of a very rapidly approaching end to her life cycle.
The potential for this set-up is quite high because (barring any terrible deus ex) we already know one of the two main characters has to die. This means that no matter how much comedy occurs, the series is always under the flag of a tragedy waiting to happen. As we grow to genuinely care about the characters, we will likely find ourselves traversing the stages of attachment between the curious Mizugaki and the desperate Kazuki. Even as Isla decays, the mistakes she makes only serve to add an even deeper level of humanity to her. To find out that she is afraid of her impending death is easy to relate to and difficult to watch.
It’s not just that it’s inherently hard to watch sobbing children be hauled off to their deaths if you aren’t a monster. Everything comes together wonderfully to immerse you as well as possible. The animation and CGI are practically seamless, the music is appropriate and enhancing, and the story deals with familiar themes on new levels. To make things more horrifying, one of Kazuki’s drunken rants reveals that they don’t actually know how to destroy the memories of the androids they reclaim. In all likelihood, it’s simply a ruse to make it easier to get the androids’ owners to sign off on the deactivations. While Isla warned Mizugaki that it was their job to shred the memories of androids, we see Isla whisper something to a reclaimed, crying robotic child which instantly comforts her. Is it possible that Isla’s fear of death is because she knows there’s something to hold on to? Unfortunately, that case might also set up a very flimsy feel-good mind transfer ending that would be a great disservice to the imposing philosophical nature of the series.
While the animation seems pretty standard and the plot initially comes across as old-hat, Memories has unlimited potential with how deep and dark it could choose to be. It’s going to be worth catching a few more episodes to see where the writing wants to go. From here, it has to decide whether to become another cliche pseudo-romance with a contrived ending or a classic tragedy. We’ll have to find out over the next few weeks!
Recommendation: Watch it!
Title: Plastic Memories
Original Source: Animation
Source Writer: Naotaka Hayashi
Source Publisher: N/A
Director: Yoshiyuki Fujiwara
Writer: Naotaka Hayashi
Studio: Doga Kobo
Run Start: 04/2015
Review Date: 04/2015
Episodes Reviewed: 01-02