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The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
Prima Doll

How would you rate episode 1 of
Prima Doll ?
Community score: 3.0

What is this?

The story centers on autonomous mechanical dolls, or automata. They work at Kuronekotei, a coffee shop that sits at the corner of the fifth district of the imperial capital. However, they were originally made as weapons for a great war that ended a few years ago. Now, they have been restored and dressed in shiny kimonos.

Prima Doll is the anime component of Visual Arts/Key's mixed media project and streams on HIDIVE on Fridays.

How was the first episode?

Caitlin Moore

Okay, I have a bone to pick with anime tropes. I forgive a lot of BS plot contrivances, overlook things that make no sense as, “Well, that's just anime is,” but if I have to sit through one more series where for some reason the government decided to wage war using sentient weapons of mass destruction shaped like cute girls who go on to staff cafes or become maids or whatEVER career is best to put them in the moe costume du jour I am going to turn into a weapon of mass destruction myself from sheer rage. Why would any country devote their resources to that? What purpose does it serve? Is there some kind of strategic advantage? Wouldn't enemy forces just start murdering every cute girl they see just in case they ended up being a robot?

These are the questions that keep me up at night every time I watch the type of series of which Prima Doll is just the newest. What's that you say? “Don't think about it too hard, Caitlin”? No, actually, I will think about it too hard because I am very, very tired and thinking about things too hard and getting mad about them is a defense mechanism, much like the girls in Prima Doll.

This is a Key joint, so I knew going in it was going to work really, really hard to be sad, but I wasn't ready for just how insipid it was going to be. The first half is peak moeblob, with a cute girl with a squeaky voice who looks like she's about eight years old but with big tits and her shiny thighs exposed trying and failing at the most basic of basic tasks and then gurgling like a frustrated infant when she can't get it together. I was an anime fan in the mid-00s; I've seen a million series like this before and I would very much prefer to never see one again, thankyouverymuch. Then in the second half it turns into cut-rate Violet Evergarden, when a mysteriously revived robot is tormented by the realization that she doesn't have any memories of the little girl who adores her.

Like I said, it really, really, really wants you to be sad. It rolls in the tragedy of it all like a dog rolling in roadkill, begging you to shed a tear for this poor small girl who is voiced, as far as I can tell, by an unoiled door hinge or maybe my cheap metal bedframe. But the emotions are as artificial as the characters expressing them, without a trace of humanity or authenticity. It's cold and calculated, cynically conceived by a committee rather than a human driven to tell a story.

Prima Doll isn't an entry into my least favorite anime genre – that would still be slavery fetish isekai, thank you very much – but it's still low tier. Enough with the cloying capitalism.

Richard Eisenbeis

To explain why I disliked this first episode of Prima Doll, we'll need to unpack it a bit. If we remove the steampunk A.I. trappings, what we're left with is the story of a young girl who doesn't realize her only remaining family member is suffering from dementia. It's the kind of thing you'd expect to find in quality science fiction (which uses things such as robots and space travel to teach us more about what it means to be human).

The problem is with the resolution. Essentially, instead of explaining to the child that her “grandma” (for the sake of the analogy) is suffering from an incurable mental disease and working to manage the situation as best they can, they instead decide to lie to the child (saying grandma is going on a trip), put her in a medically induced coma, and lock her away in a hospital room indefinitely. That's pretty fucked up for everyone involved. Yet, this is treated like not only the most practical thing to do but the right thing to do.

Because of this resolution, whatever emotional beats the episode is trying to hit fall flat. The repurposed war androids and their human caretaker seem like a shockingly unethical arrangement, and they are completely unsympathetic as characters. And while the intended moral seems to be “even a fleeting moment of love can give a person purpose,” here it comes across as “keep the mentally enfeebled hidden away and hide hard truths from children.”

Needless to say, this first episode of Prima Doll is a major misstep. It's not something that can't be overcome in subsequent episodes, but if this is the quality of writing I should expect going forward, count me out.

James Beckett

Prima Doll is an anime where it seems like the core story that it is attempting to tell would actually be pretty cool and interesting, if only it weren't for all of the tired anime tropes holding it down. I can totally get behind a cast of mechanical dolls that were used as weapons in some alternate universe steampunk war, and I can even get behind using that concept as a backdrop for a more character-driven story about what happens when those dolls have to find another function to serve once the fighting is done. What I don't need is for the story to be drenched in such a thick layer of syrupy sweet moe artifice that it becomes an absolute slog to sit through.

Prima Doll isn't based on a mobile game, which was absolutely shocking to me, but you can still tell that it exists as a multimedia franchise first, and a compelling story second. It's one thing to give your cast of anime robot girls unique designs, but from the start, Haizakura and the other automata at The Black Cat Café look and feel like they were designed to be appealing toys first and foremost. Haizakura herself is irritatingly twee, and I genuinely couldn't tell you a thing about the others aside from their hair colors, and the fact that the blue one can't speak.

There are a couple of moments where the show almost looks like it is going to give us an exciting action scene, but then immediately cuts away to a new scene, robbing the story of any stakes or tension. The premiere feebly gestures in the vague direction of mystery and intrigue—what is Haizakura's deal, why does she have such power over controlling and restoring other automatons, etc—but the characters are so devoid of depth that it is impossible to care.

The narrative thread shared between the little girl and the malfunctioning automaton in the café basement is a perfect example of why Prima Doll doesn't work. It's hardly original, but a more creative and well-executed show might have still been able to make compelling drama out of it. Prima Doll, though, doesn't seem at all concerned with going beyond cheap clichés and flimsy archetypes. It exists to look pretty and sell products. A perfectly fine commercial, maybe, but it is far from great so far as television is concerned.

Rebecca Silverman

If there's one thing Prima Doll has going for it, it's the visuals. Not that they're vibrantly unique or anything, but they do hit a sweet spot between pretty and cute, and the “steampunk, but with kimono” aesthetic is very nice. Everyone looks unique without too many fetish-specific markers – Gekka's animal ears being the notable exception – and Yugiri's design is downright beautiful. I even really like the way that automata and mechanica are differentiated visually – the former is more human in appearance while the latter has an old-fashioned robot vibe, especially when stripped of their military-grade weapons. It's the sort of show I'd buy an artbook for regardless of how I felt about the plot.

And that plot isn't doing a whole lot at the moment, although this is mostly introductory in feel. The idea of automata being repurposed after their major role in the war is done isn't all that bad, but Haizakura's wide-eyed innocence and reliance on moe stock lines like “I'll do my best!” and sounds like “ugyu” don't do either the story or the character many favors. Her earnestness is sweet, and even if we know that her attempt to bring Yugiri back to life for little Chiyo is doomed to failure, the impulse is kindly meant, and the vaguely tuneless singing she uses twice in this episode is, if not precisely subtle, at least not handled with the delicacy on a sledgehammer on ice; I'd still hesitate to call it good foreshadowing, but it's still decently handled. The issue is more that there doesn't seem to be any plot besides the automata being repurposed as waitresses while the descendant of the professor from the first five minutes just sort of swans around being stoic and mysterious. Presumably Haizakura will use her song to put an end to all war and save the world forever.

Still, there are worse plots, and many of them aren't attached to episodes as soft and pretty as this one. It treads too close to old-school moe to truly work for me, but it also feels like it has a little more bite than a typical CGCT show, and it may prove to have a decent message under all the pink. If you're looking for sweet with plot potential, this should be worth a couple of episodes to see where it goes.

Nicholas Dupree

Well, that was an absolute chore to sit through.

Part of me feels like a hypocrite, being as negative as I am towards Prima Doll despite giving Smile of the Arsnotoria middling-to-positive impression. But while I totally get why anyone would find the latter anodyne and insufferable, it had just enough charm to its visuals and direction that I could see the appeal. Here, though? Nearly from the first seconds I was tired of this show.

I can't even really justify it, other than trying to explain how every aesthetic decision seemed to annoy me. There's the overly-designed characters who are as shiny and plastic-looking as the term “doll” implies, but are obviously meant to be seen as humanly sympathetic. There's the uniformly grating vocal performances, capped off by Chiyo's screeching, artificial little girl voice that made my eardrums deflate every time she speaks, let alone sings. There's the way it rushes through its attempt at a sad story without ever developing its cast outside of “cute anime girl” and “cute anime robot girl” yet seemed convinced it was pulling every heartstring on the planet by its closing moments.

It's just stunningly hollow in everything it attempts, be it saccharine tragedy or cutesy-poo humor. And that's a shame because there are the elements of an interesting story here, even if it's pulling from the scrap pile of sad robot storylines that anime and visual novels have tapped into for ages. Instead there's just an empty attempt at recreating the pathos of those past stories with none of the leg work. Combined with a pace that's both languid and rushed, and you have a premiere that winds up every bit as robotic as its central characters.

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