This is our full series review. You can also check out our first impressions.
Plastic Memories is a series that was brave enough to pose hard questions. It’s seldom that an animation has the daring to take on genuine challenges of life past the feel-good nature of friendship, but Memories courageously shouldered the burden of mortality. Not only does the series ask important questions about death, it takes a very rare risk by attempting to give its own answers. As uncommon as this is in entertainment as a whole, it’s especially unique in anime.
The plot initially seems like something out of a Philip K. Dick story — or in anime terms, it seems like a watered down Ghost in the Shell. Half of the cast are androids with operating lives of only nine years, after which point they begin to malfunction so drastically that they become unsafe. The series follows the human Tsukasa and android Isla as they work for a corporation which retrieves androids from their families for deactivation. This opens very emotional doors — grandparents having to surrender grandchildren, orphans being forced to give up their adoptive android parents, and human-android love pairs trying to escape the reclaimers.
It was difficult not to groan when Tsukasa began developing feelings for Isla during their work-based partnership. Since we know from the beginning that Isla will be dead within a few months, it was easy to expect a watered down romance. What Memories managed to do instead was create a love story. Drowning in the abundance of terrible romance narratives that get thrown at us from every media source, we’re sometimes quick to forget that romance and love are not interchangeable words. Memories drives this home completely. A hug in this series is more likely to unleash the waterworks than a dozen deaths in any other because it’s written from experience. That might seem strange to say when we’re talking about an android who is perpetually young-ish, but hear us out.
Plastic Memories is not the story of Isla’s death. It’s the story of anyone‘s death. It’s a simple translation to slide many of the scenarios featuring Isla over to, for instance, your grandmother. Isla makes the best tea. She has a little garden she enjoys keeping even though she could just buy all those things at a store. She’s fearful of being a burden as she loses functionality. She’s terrified of losing her memories. She gets depressed and lets this depression form a barrier which prevents her from meeting new people. She wonders at the futures of those she’ll be leaving behind, while also doing what she can to make sure her departure won’t be painful for them. She wants to be remembered as she was in her prime. She hopes that somehow, against all odds, she’ll be reunited with the people she loves after death.
At different points in our lives, we’re all in Tsukasa’s shoes. Sooner or later, we’re all in Isla’s position, too.This might not register on an emotional level for those who haven’t lost a loved one, but for most of us it’s easy to see a dearly departed when we look at Isla. For those of us getting older, it also doesn’t take much imagination to put ourselves in her role. Adding complexity to the series are the cast members surrounding Isla and Tsukasa. While the characters aren’t developed in great depth, doing so feels like it would have been superfluous. Each one shows a different stage of grief based on their proximity and familiarity with Isla. Many of them are coping with their impending loss in different ways (including developing alcoholism). In her friends and coworkers we see the full gambit between grief, denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. Tsukasa compounds the heavy emotional atmosphere by traversing these stages himself throughout the course of the series. The credits of the final episode roll before we’re shown whether he’s actually progressed to a stage where Tsukasa can accept Isla’s death. In short, Memories is an incredibly heavy series.
Many viewers seem tempted to reduce the philosophical nature of Memories to a simple “carpe diem,” but this is as great a disservice to the viewer as it is to the series. Memories would have us learn that life is not simply about living well, but about loving deeply and dying bravely. Thankfully, Isla never becomes a serious sex object (and it says a lot about the poor state of anime when this has to be pointed out). We’re presented with a personality and a mind first. As Tsukasa elicits enough emotion to get past Isla’s depression barriers and aloofness, we see a heart — but one struggling with the sense of futility that overshadows life as she waits for death.
It’s difficult to step back and detail why Memories is far from a perfect series. We can point out overt CGI. We can strip away points for the awkwardly unsuitable music. There’s the drastic shift in personality once Isla opens up. There are “habits” that are dropped halfway through the series for time constraints. Isla is inexplicably light enough to carry around, yet other androids are so heavy they can crush limbs by falling into people. There are intimated relationships the series doesn’t follow through on. Especially obvious are the copious amounts of slow pans used to depict awkward silences. However, the bottom line is that none of these things ever detract from what you’re watching enough for you to notice them because, like Tsukasa, you’re just trying to get through it all without crying in front of everyone.
While the series tries to throw in a few comedic breaks to ensure it doesn’t crush us with the weight of feeling like life is the most pointless thing possible, the divergence into the day-to-day silliness is only reluctantly enjoyable because of the distinct awareness of looming tragedy. This, in its own way, is perhaps an intentionally artful way of conveying how people often feel in the twilight of their lives. Memories is certainly not for the hard of heart, but anyone looking for something more mature — especially those who have lost loved ones — will appreciate this as one of the more memorable series to come out in quite some time.
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: 06/2015
Episodes Reviewed: 01-13