by Gabriella Ekens,
Plastic Memories went out with class. This final episode opens on the dawn of Isla's last day. She and Tsukasa seem to have stayed up all night reminiscing with each other. Isla recounts one of her most profound experiences with death – retrieving her best friend, Chelsea – and Tsukasa begins to realize that the person he loves is about to die. Like most of the episode, this moment is shrouded in silence.
Isla requests to be retrieved on the ferris wheel, the place where she was happiest. They go on one last date at the theme park. If Isla had her crisis last episode, Tsukasa has his today. As the day ends, the reality of Isla's impending death dawns on him. This is conveyed through a number of excellent directorial choices. Throughout their montage at the theme park, the twilight starts creeping in, culminating in Tsukasa looking astonished at his extended shadow. He knows that, when shadows overtake everything, it'll be time for him and Isla to say goodbye. As the park closes at night time, Tsukasa refuses to move. He's frozen hand in hand with Isla, smiles plastered on their faces, for what must be moments – but feels like hours – until she goads him onto the ferris wheel.
There, Isla wants to talk about what they love about each other. Tsukasa, struggling in his grief, comes up with things that sound like insults – like Isla's clumsiness or her short stature – but he's sincere. He comes across as genuinely in love with Isla, and those “flaws” are points of charm. They'll become a treasured part of his memories with her, and he knows it. He's been her rock for the past few episodes, but now its time for Isla to be his, since she has come to terms with her death, and he has not yet. In the most heartbreaking part of the episode, Isla gives Tsukasa permission to move on after her death. Tsukasa's at risk of denying himself happiness by clinging to her memory, and Isla wisely addresses this, even though the prospect of loving someone new is painful for him at the moment. As Tsukasa slips on the retrieval ring, they kiss, and Tsukasa collapses sobbing onto her body. (Interesting that her death takes on the symbols of marriage.)
The character animation was excellent here. They let Tsukasa's face break out into ugly sobs, conveying deep grief in contrast to his usual cheerful demeanor. Isla is also consistently framed from others' POVs. It makes sense – this episode is a series of people seeing her for the last time. This is how people will frame their final memories of her, as snapshots, or blurry storms of emotion.
After the credits, there's a flash forward to several months in the future. Tsukasa has returned from leave to work in his old department. In contrast to his previous entrance as an isolated, intimidated trainee, he's now surrounded by friends and confident in his skills. The show ends on him greeting his new partner, whose face we never see. This epilogue implies that he took the time to process Isla's death and is now ready to move on with a new professional partner. Leaving this partner anonymous keeps the audience from forming a conclusion about whether they're also a romantic option for Tsukasa, which would be crude so soon after Isla's death.
Plastic Memories ended about as well as it could. It dodged some tacky possibilities – for example, Tsukasa meeting the next person to inhabit Isla's body, or Isla's memories somehow returning. Overall, the show has about six good episodes worth of dying-girl romance, three episodes worth of half-baked science fiction, and the rest is interminable comedy. If this had just been those six episodes, Plastic Memories would've been a competent, affecting work of romance melodrama. The two leads have chemistry, and the show resists the most obvious pratfall of making itself all about Tsukasa's feelings over his dying girlfriend. To both caretakers and patients, it emphasizes emotional honesty and empathy in the face of mortality. It's visually distinct and even subtly adventurous in its production at times.
However, six solid episodes does not make a good series. The show is weighed down by endless, painful stretches of the most cliché anime sitcom comedy. At their worst, they undermine the severity of what our heroes are going through – deflating the emotional gravity that Plastic Memories builds up in its strongest moments. The show also could have done without the speculative fiction tangents, like the cast's run-in with illegal retrievers or details about the SAI Corp. I would have enjoyed Plastic Memories more if it were speculative fiction, and those expectations made me a more severe judge of its actual melodrama focus. (Of course, it could have been both. Subtract the comedy and – voilà! – you have enough time to flesh out the world. But that's a could-have-been.)
Plastic Memories is less Time of Eve and more Clannad. It's a bit more emotionally mature than that juggernaut of dying girl romance, but it satisfies the same itch. At six hours, Plastic Memories would make a good evening for fans of Key shows, even if some parts can be sped through. Plastic Memories may be the textbook example of hit-or-miss, but that's more than many shows ever amount to. I won't be mourning this one, but I can't deny that it had its moments.
Plastic Memories is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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