by Gabriella Ekens,
What if you knew exactly when you were going to die?
That's a fact of life in Plastic Memories, a show about death, particularly the physical and mental decline that comes with aging. It's unusual thematic subject material for anime, but Naotaka Hayashi, the man behind Steins;Gate, has proven himself to be an inspired creator. In this future world, Giftias – organic androids with enhanced physical capabilities and limited lifespans – are widely employed. As people in all ways but construction, Giftias are kept as workers and household companions. Unlike a lot of other stories about artificial people, Plastic Memories isn't immediately dystopic. There's no indication that Giftias are abused, and many seem to live happy lives surrounded by people who love them. Instead, they're oppressed by a technological limitation – their enhanced bodies last about ten years before breaking down. As Giftias became more prevalent, grief came to the forefront of society. There's essentially a population of functional adults who live shorter lives than many household pets. An entire industry has popped up around the process of mourning for Giftias, and that's where the show is set.
The first episode begins with our protagonist, Tsukasa Mizugaki, at his first day of work for the terminal service department at SAI Corp. As a sort of mobile enthusiast, he's tasked with picking up and disabling Giftias who are about to expire. It's not as cruel as it sounds – the task is considered a mercy to prevent Giftias and their families from witnessing the process of neural degradation. Pick-up agents aren't just technicians, but grief therapists. Good bedside manner is crucial because they need to ease Giftias and their families into their separation. Every day on the job, they're introduced to and witness the end of several close relationships. The job is deceptively difficult, emotionally taxing, and never leaves people happy. Still, it's an important function that isn't fulfilled often enough.
Pickups are conducted in pairs consisting of one Giftia marksman (who conducts the retrieval) and one human spotter (who supervises). Right off the bat Tsukasa is partnered with Isla, a veteran marksman who has just come off an extended leave of absence. Isla is supposed to be one of the most capable people in the office, but when they go on assignment she can't even work up the strength to ring the doorbell. Tsukasa is flustered, and his team's repeated failure earns him the ire of his coworkers. What's wrong with Isla, and why was this incompetent agent assigned to work with the newbie? It turns out that Isla has herself reached senescence and has only 2,000 hours – 83 days – left to live. At this point, she's being given assignments out of pity, and knowing this just torments her more.
I like Isla. She's a nice subversion of the typical infantilized moe girl, because her condition is treated like what it actually is – a handicap and continual source of personal anguish – rather than a point of charm for others. Pseudo-Alzheimer's causes Giftians to gradually lose their functionality and identity. Isla tries to keep hold of herself through physical and mental training, but it's all swimming upstream. No matter what she does, she will in the near future become unable to work, lose her memories, and die. The genuine, resonant sadness of this fact prevents Plastic Memories from being a purely indulgent melodrama. Isla isn't a beautiful perfect flower torn away from our protagonist by cruel fate, but an individual struggling to process the finality of her life. This looks like it's going to be a love story, and if it turns out to be reciprocal love, Tsukasa is going to reach Isla by supporting her efforts to do things for herself rather than doing them for her.
Tsukasa's a good lead. The show is clearly more about Isla, but he's hardworking and makes a sincere effort to do well at his new job. There seems to be some conniving going on around him and the company's owner – Tsukasa got the job as a favor from the guy, who's a friend of his dad's. Other employees include the Asuka-like Michiru, her partner Zack, Isla's former partner Kazuki, and the bossman Hanada. They're the weakest parts of the show – too much stock anime types in a show that looks like it'll be at its worst when generic – but they're by no means insufferable. This show shines when the characters are on assignment, and the second episode suffers for placing that story in the background to introduce more of Tsukasa's coworkers. With this side cast, Plastic Memories could easily have the same pacing issues as Death Parade, where enthralling standalone episodes tended to alternate with interminable worldbuilding episodes. Let's see whether they can manage it.
It's also a well-produced show. The art style is distinct and attractive with a vaguely watercolor sheen. It most resembles a much less busy version of last season's The Rolling Girls. This show doesn't need a lot of animation, but it's well done when it happens.
It's ambiguous as to whether the ten-year cap is imposed by the corporation that creates them or whether it's a hard technological limitation. I hope that the moral dilemma inherent to a corporation creating and controlling the behavior of sentient beings will be addressed at some point. Plastic Memories has a lot of potential, and I hope it achieves more than just straightforward melodrama. So far, so good!
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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