So, one thing I’m going to start doing is reviews of shows that I’ve finished recently, which typically means recent shows (but sometimes older ones that I haven’t caught yet!). Plastic Memories aired during the Spring cour of 2015, and it’s a 13-episode science-fiction slice-of-life show that kinda takes cues from the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Sorta. (Spoiler alert: it’s not nearly as cerebral, and doesn’t leave nearly as much of a metaphysical footprint.)
Background: If you’re unfamiliar with “slice-of-life” as a genre descriptor, it’s a type of show that’s become a lot more popular in anime recently. Rather than concentrate on big, sweeping stakes, the slice-of-life plot is very personal and intimate, and often focuses on small, ordinary parts of life, like going out shopping with people, preparing food, or going on a trip to the countryside. So, with that settled, let’s see how the show does!
Setting Up the World
The world of Plastic Memories is pretty straightforward: in a far-future (or maybe not so far-future?) world, incredibly human-like androids called Giftias act as servants and companions to humans. Of course, you wouldn’t know that they’re robots, since they basically behave just like humans, up to and including eating and drinking, wearing normal clothes, and displaying a normal range of human emotions and facial expressions, blushing included. Eh, it’s fiction. I give it a pass. All part of the premise. Now, of course, you have to have a big narrative wrinkle, and it’s this: a Giftia’s effective lifespan is about eight years, after which time their memory and personality begins to decay, and must be wiped. Data corruption, cool. They don’t really dive into an in-depth explanation, but eh, I can take it as a stated rule.
So anyway, here comes our protagonist, a pretty unassuming guy named Tsukasa, who goes to work with a company that specializes in “retrieving” Giftias. By “retrieving” I mean that when a Giftia’s eight years are up, they go to the owner, get them to sign an agreement, and then they take the Giftia in to have their mind wiped clean so it can be reprogrammed. Cheery stuff. As a rank newbie, Tsukasa gets paired with Isla, a veteran Giftia who’s been out of action for a while. I’m sure you’ll never guess how the rest of the show goes.
How the Show Goes
There’s a few different possible paths this show could’ve taken, and I want to take some time to discuss all of them, because I think that talking about this show necessarily involves talking about what its potential was. After that, I want to talk about how the show actually executed this potential. So, here goes.
A pathos-filled reflection on death. Seems pretty straightforward. You had a lot of room to delve into not only the emotional aspects of death and grief, but also the metaphysical aspects. What does it mean to die? What are the contents of a soul? Can a robot truly die? What place does death serve? What’s it like, knowing the timeline you’re on? What do people do as they approach death? It’s definitely something which has a presence in the show, since the protagonist duo literally act as robot psychopomps. (I’m gonna have to re-use that concept somewhere. “Robot psychopomps”.)
A powerful character study. We get introduced to a pretty sizeable ensemble cast at the start of the show, with plenty of variance in character type. Also, about half of them are Giftias. This is a great opportunity to get inside their heads, and the heads of the humans around them, and to explore what those dynamics are like. What kinds of relationships do they have? What are their motivations and priorities? What do they hope, feel, and want? You get plenty of chances for different characters to play off of one another.
A brainy social sci-fi story. The first episode sets us in a world with a ton of interesting potential story ground. What does society look like when it has a class of human-like androids at its beck and call? Do all levels of society benefit equally? What are its virtues and vices? How has society shaped itself in response to (or in anticipation of) this technology? How does it entertain itself? You can imagine it getting incredibly compelling, as worldbuilding comes together, growing upon itself.
And the verdict? Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh it kinda falls short of all three. It’s ultimately a very safe show. A reflection on death? A little bit–there’s a lot of episodes that do feel touching, but the show falls back on letting you see humans feeling emotions, and doesn’t try going any further. A character study? Well, pretty much all of the characters start as stock tropes, and by the end of the show you only really get two or three who wind up being interesting or deep. The rest get moments which contrast their archetype, but nothing substantial; they get reduced to one-note performances. A social sci-fi story? Nope, not at all. This story could’ve been set pretty much anywhere and nothing would change; just find another justification for the eight-year life limit (a terminal illness, perhaps) and you’re set.
I think that’s what disappoints me the most. This show had huge amounts of potential, but it never does anything more than paint-by-numbers. There’s a few episodes with moments that start to leap towards those three points I mentioned, but that promise never gets delivered on (which makes me wonder if there was behind-the-scenes argument over the show’s content). It’s not an abjectly terrible show–the art is quite nice, and there’s genuinely compelling moments–but it’s still a bit of a letdown when you want something more.
It’s not a bad show. If you feel like watching a straightforward romance, it’s watchable. But it’s just that, watchable. It’s a safe show, a formula show, pretty predictable not just in plot but in characterization and even the emotional beats. So, I don’t see a huge amount of reason to watch this over other shows.
You can watch Plastic Memories at the official streaming site, Crunchyroll.com.