by Theron Martin,

Beatless Final Stage

Beatless Final Stage
As Lacia and Arato infiltrate the depths of the facility housing Higgins, Lacia explains exactly how Higgins keeps the updates for all hIE units connected to the cloud current, by trying to anticipate what humans will develop. Ryo has sent Methode to try to stop them, the Kouka clones are still wreaking havoc, and certain enterprising parties have found a use for what's left of Snowdrop. Meanwhile, Ryo tries to convince higher-ups in Memeframe that Higgins needs to be shut down in order to prove that a super-intelligent AI can be shut down when needed. Ultimately, the battle for the future of super-intelligent AIs will also determine the future of humanity.

If you skip the intermission episodes, these are the true episodes 21-24 of Beatless, though you'll find them on Amazon Prime Video as episodes 25-28. Released over the course of a week in late September, they represent the definitive finale for the series; theoretically there could still be more story to tell in this setting, and the ramifications of how things conclude are not trivial, but all of the discussions that the series has been following throughout its run and all of the major plot points are brought to conclusion by the end of episode 24. How satisfying that resolution turned out could be a matter for debate.

The final four episodes do not deviate from the structure seen in the first twenty. They may have a slightly higher action ratio, but the action scenes act more as punctuations to the story than focal points, representations of conflicting ideologies that cannot be peaceably resolved rather than violence for its own sake; even Methode, who can come across as cruel, is always acting purposefully rather than sadistically when she assaults Lacia. That doesn't mean that the action scenes will be found wanting, however. Several of the exchanges between Methode and Lacia are sharp and dramatic, especially in the way that Lacia manipulates the situation to protect Arato and offset the greater speed and physical capabilities of Methode.

Lacia's complex strategizing in general is one of the less obvious hallmarks of the series, but especially in this final act. Masterminds who manipulate a broad web of events behind the scenes are nothing new in pop culture, but this is a rare case where one of the protagonists is actually responsible for the deepest degrees of manipulation. The full extent of Lacia's plans at any given time can be both flabbergasting and a little scary; it's not hard to understand why some humans are apprehensive about super-intelligent AIs after hearing Lacia describe what she's been up to. Of course, the series also continues to make the point that she can only utilize her abilities to the maximum because Arato is making the big decisions, making them a super-intelligent force together. As much as this sounds like Lacia just trying to make Arato feel useful, it does firmly fit her insistence on acting as a tool rather than a person.

In between the action scenes, the intrigue, discussions about an AI's soul (or lack thereof), and relationship reaffirmations, the story continues to engage in exposition, including one episode that provides a detailed run-down on how Lacia came to be. Although this can bog down the pacing, it's also where the series' most interesting ideas come from. One segment reveals that that the Lacia-class hIEs are far from the only "Red Box" items out there; Higgins has routinely been creating predictions of human inventions in order to make the responsiveness of hIEs more effective by anticipating human wants and needs, which is a pretty heady concept. So are the discussions about the merits vs. risks of allowing a super-intelligent AI who's always been isolated to be networked, or a debate about what it means for AI to promote quality of life for humans. Sometimes it can take a machine's point of view to lay out the flaws in our own thinking. All of this leads to a climax built on everything that the series has been developing since the beginning, a dramatic conclusion that finds the perfect balance between machine logic and human emotion, demonstrating that the two are not mutually exclusive without being cheesy.

These final episodes also carry over the same flaws as earlier episodes. Aside from some occasional issues with storytelling flow resulting from the exposition, the technical merits still aren't great. While there are a few good action sequences, character designs always look a little on the rough side, and colors are still pretty washed-out for the most part. Depictions of Snowdrop in late scenes, though creative, also seem to deviate from the series' long-standing policy of sticking to a certain degree of scientific realism. Offsetting this is the effective use of the series' electronica-dominated musical score, which is at least as effective at promoting tension and drama as anywhere else in the series.

The one thing that I didn't like about the way the series ends is that it leaves things a little vague about what Arato and Lacia actually accomplished given all their efforts. The final episode is aptly titled "Boy Meets Girl", in a reference both to the advertising campaign early in the series that was going to promote their ideal relationship and the series' very final scene, but did they actually achieve that future? That uncertainty is why I can't rate the story quite as high as before, but it leaves plenty of room for discussion. For one of the most thoughtful anime series in recent memory, I suppose that's fitting.

Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B+

+ Lots of big ideas, suitably dramatic climax
Exposition can bog down the story flow

Director: Seiji Mizushima
Series Composition:
Tatsuya Takahashi
Go Zappa
Sadayuki Murai
Tatsuya Takahashi
Go Zappa
Shota Ibata
Keizou Kusakawa
Kyōsuke Maeda
Tsutomu Miyazawa
Seiji Mizushima
Shingo Tamaki
Toru Yoshida
Episode Director:
Shota Ibata
Gorō Kuji
Keizou Kusakawa
Tenpei Mishio
Yōsuke Yamamoto
Original creator: Satoshi Hase
Original Character Design: redjuice
Character Design: Hiroko Yaguchi

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Beatless (TV)
Beatless Final Stage (TV)

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