BEATLESS
Episode 9

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Beatless ?

This episode has no action content beyond a couple of brief flashes back to the events of last episode. However, that doesn't mean there's anything tame about this segment of the story. Characters are making major moves, new and interesting truths are being revealed, power plays are being set up, and additional philosophical issues are thrown into the mix to create a story with softly building tension and a strong suggestion that Shiori's meeting with Arato and Lacia is a far bigger threat to the tranquility of their building relationship than it appears to be at first.

The oddest among the many interesting tidbits brought up in the series is the backstory of Erika Burrows. She joins Arato's class at school because she wants to experience a regular education, something she couldn't have before because of frequent hospitalization. That's hardly anything unusual for tragic anime girls, but the unusual twist is that those events happened in the previous century for her; she was cryogenically frozen for many decades until whatever illness she had could be cured. This revelation's relevancy to the overall story is completely unclear at this point, but it's too major a detail to not have some impact. Ending up in Arato's class is not a coincidence for her of course, though her reasons why are also unclear at that point.

Whatever the reason may be, her interactions with both Arato and the hIE Saturnus (who's being renamed Marriage) provide the heart of the episode's philosophical angle. Erika gives every indication of being obsessed with appearances, but it's not idle vanity; she makes it clear that she sees the value of a thing as being based on its aesthetics at least as much as its functionality. Decorative emblems on items, such as a Hello Kitty logo, matter because they attract users to the item. By implication that applies to hIEs too, which then becomes an extension of established discussions about analogue hacking. In other words, hIEs are cute, pretty, or sexy so that they will appeal to their owners or customers. In the eyes of people like Ryo, that means they can manipulate and deceive their owners orcustomers too, which is what he seems to be concerned is happening with Arato.

Therein lies the strain in the relationship between Arato and Lacia. Ryo's words are enough to plant a seed of doubt in him about his new hIE. Lacia's own words and refusal to flat-out deny that she could be manipulating Arato via analogue hacking contribute to the problem, as does Ryo's insistence that Arato can't prioritize objects over humans and Lacia's insistence that she is an object, even though her desire to have Arato as an owner seems like more of an emotional action than she realizes. Her refusal to be the one making decisions also appears more like passing responsibility than following programming.

All of that that contributes to the new dilemma: Shiori's request to Arato in the café scene about returning Lacia. Unlike Ryo, who mainly seems to be concerned about Arato's well-being, Shiori approaches him with graver pressure—Lacia's ID code should be examined under the pretense that it's stolen. While this is almost certainly a manufactured problem intended to get around legal constraints, it's going to force Arato to take action. The next episode preview indicates that this is going to lead to the biggest battle scene in a few episodes, involving multiple Lacia-class hIEs.

Though the series has had occasional narrative rough patches, right now the only thing holding it back is its consistently mediocre technical merits. It's got the storyline, the thoughtfulness, the right cast mix, the soundtrack pushing the ominous tone, and even some interesting symbolism that I haven't quite pinned down yet, in terms of what different models in the Lacia series might represent. If it stays at this level of writing quality, then BEATLESS could stand out as one of the most underappreciated series of the season.

Rating: B+

BEATLESS is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.


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