The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide BEATLESS
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
BEATLESS is the kind of show that Teenage James would have gone totally gaga for. An unassuming boy winds up living with a cute robot girl who can cook just as well as she can use her super techno powers to kick all kinds of ass. It's not an original premise by any means, but any anime can overcome the drawbacks of cliché foundations with solid enough execution and vision. As to whether or not BEATLESS will be able to accomplish that feat, the jury is still out.
I suppose the best thing I can say about BEATLESS is that the lack of ambition in this premiere renders it average to the point of being inoffensive. Outside of some eye-catching character designs and a couple of genuinely creepy and atmospheric moments during the episode's climax, BEATLESS spends this opening episode going about the business of setting up its plot and introducing its characters without much fanfare or aplomb. We learn about this futuristic society that utilizes the services of androids known as hIEs, we meet our bland-but-nice protagonist Arato, who's living his life as simply as could be expected, and we also observe a confetti of micro-machines turning hIEs haywire, including a benevolent older-woman model who gives Arato her best take on the Exorcist's most iconic scene. Outside of this one moment, all of this plays out in a style that's pleasing enough to look at without ever standing out in any given area. The CG is fine when it's present, the brief action scenes are engaging without ever crossing the threshold into exciting, etc.
It remains to be seen whether or not BEATLESS will be able to make its well-traveled premise feel fun, if not necessarily original. The way that this world is introduced, and the manner in which Lacia ends up serving as both Arato's caretaker and bodyguard, is tackled efficiently, but it also means that BEATLESS doesn't have a lot of opportunity to establish a unique identity outside of the anime and science-fiction tropes it cribs from so liberally. That said, this is a pretty show to look at, and there is potential for this story to inject its setting and plot with more life and energy. There's nothing wrong with working in familiar territory, but in this day and age, shows like BEATLESS have to strive for more than just decency in order to stand out from the crowd.
I guess Beatless is here to recycle some pretty tired sci-fi themes and wrap it up in a cute robot wife package. You might be familiar with Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, or its film adaptation Blade Runner, OR the anime it inspired, Bubblegum Crisis. Whichever incarnation you know about, let's just say the question of whether humanoid robots possess a soul has been kicked around by fiction for at least 50 years. The answer has always been the same: more or less yes, and at the very least humans should empathize with these creations whether they have a soul or not.
This vein of sci-fi has been mined until it's dry, but Beatless reveals pretty early that it's still going to whip out its pick-axe anyway. Arato is introduced immediately as empathizing with this future world's hIEs, even pitying them at times while his friends see them like any other piece of technology. This is definitely the wrong approach if you want to end up with a cute robo girlfriend to make you tea and breakfast in a unitard, but Arato's bros seemingly missed the memo.
Fast-forward and a handful of super-powered hIEs have escaped from the Memeframe, a corporation run by President Doge and his council of Dat Boi, Gooby, Dolan, and Scumbag Steve. They are probably battling for hIE rights or revenge, given the hard push to set up how future Japan takes its robots for granted. For some reason, one of these robots has a spidey sense for when Arato is distressed and decides to save him from a renegade hIE affected by the nanomachines released by one of her escaped comrades. And then go home with him. And make him dinner.
It's a major yawn. Not because Beatless looks bad; the super-powered hIEs have some pretty nice designs and the action sequences are also well-choreographed. It's just that as far as sci-fi goes, this route is pretty worn down and the powerful girlfriend angle is also pretty old hat. Your sci-fi pickings are pretty slim this season, so if Beatless is all you get then it could be worse, but just keep your expectations low.
The Inhuman Girlfriend is one of the most enduring and persistent tropes in anime, with origins going back at least as far as Urusei Yatsura in the early '80s. The prospective girlfriend in this case is a highly-advanced android who adopts the hapless male lead as her owner since she can't technically act on her own due to the red tape surrounding android accountability. Making Arato legally responsible for anything she does is an interestingly different twist, and I am curious to see how that plays out in execution. The darker tone to the series so far is also a little different for this setup, with the scene where an hIE goes berserk and attacks Arato being genuinely creepy.
It's also unusual that Arato's little sister seems remarkably cool about Lacia moving in with them, but those are about the only things that distinguish this series so far. Arato is as stereotypical of a responsible nice guy as you can find, and Lacia is pretty much the perfect robot girlfriend; she can cook and serve tea by downloading the skills from a cloud server, she's handy in a fight, and she's got substantial sex appeal and a personality tailor-made to be endearing. Combine that with Arato literally owning her and you have either the ultimate otaku sales pitch or a potential opportunity for him to foster a sense of independence in his new partner. Nothing special stands out about the other rogue hIEs, either. On the plus side, the first episode does take pains to establish the attitudes people hold toward hIEs and delivers some neat extrapolations on technology in this setting.
The technical merits so far, courtesy of Diomedéa, are far from the sharpest, including some kind of fuzzy filter effect used in the outdoor night scenes. The animation isn't bad though, and the heavily-techno musical score actually works in the show's favor. Overall, there's nothing terribly exciting about this premiere, because it feels like it's restraining itself from going for the gusto like DARLING in the FRANXX, but there's nothing particularly wrong with it either. Despite the premise being old as the hills, BEATLESS has just enough of a hook to garner interest.
This too-modest show could definitely use a dash of DARLING in the FRANXX's overconfidence. While the Philip K. Dick-ian premise and immediately distinctive android designs by redjuice give off the impression that BEATLESS could be the sci fi anime event of the season, the execution of its seemingly ambitious story is low-key as can be, so casually underwhelming that it almost seems bashful in front of an audience. While it's never boring by any means, (largely thanks to snappy pacing and clear storytelling courtesy of reliable veteran director Seiji Mizushima), this episode is an abnormally mild viewing experience for its genre of sci fi action. The animation is never poor, but it's conservative and workmanlike to a fault, as if this was episode 4 of the series instead of the premiere. The art direction is pleasant, but there's certainly no bombast or showstopping zeal, even during the episode's biggest moments. Everything about this series' execution is so restrained that you're basically forced to confront it solely on the strength of the story it wants to tell.
That story is intriguing so far, but hardly gripping. At its best, this episode does a great job of seeding mysteries that aren't just mysterious for their own sake. It gives the audience plenty of opportunities to start putting the pieces of its conspiracies together while keeping us firmly in the dark about the important twists to come. (Basically, it's just directed well enough to keep your focus firmly on the information that matters in a scene and nothing else. For a light novel adaptation especially, this is impressive in its own small way.) Despite the episode's complete lack of flash or panache, it managed to get me invested in its open questions about whether these robots have souls and where this assault on the future society might be going. But at its worst, this episode doesn't go far enough with its larger-than-life premise, falling too hard on tired character tropes of the nice milquetoast orphan boy who takes in a mysterious robot girlfriend without asking enough important questions. After setting up some neat little mysteries about hIE dismemberment and android saboteurs, they decided to end the episode on tepid domesticity stuff between two bland love interests.
So I'm torn. I think the thing that most intrigues me about this show is that it's based on a standalone novel with 14 chapters, no more and no less. That means we'll be getting a complete story that hopefully won't overextend itself with extraneous worldbuilding or convoluted subplots like its light novel peers. BEATLESS is a nice little show with tragically pedestrian production work and a solid hook, but it feels like it should be much more.
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