Reviewby Theron Martin,
In the near future, androids called Giftias can pass for human both physically and emotionally due to a synthetic soul exclusively developed by SAI Corporation. The only drawback is that the synthetic soul deteriorates rapidly after 81,920 hours (roughly 9 years and 4 months), so they must be reclaimed before then or there can be nasty consequences. That is the job of SAI's Terminal Services branch, where a team consisting of a human “spotter” and Giftia “marksman” negotiate with owners and then retrieve the Giftia, which can sometimes be a very involved process. 18-year-old Tsukasa, the newest employee of Terminal Service One, finds himself teamed up with Isla, a petite, morose Giftia. Though a former expert marksman, she has been retired to office work for a couple of years, so her return to field duty is shaky and Tsukasa finds her difficult to interact with. She doesn't seem to want to make any new memories or friendships, and Tsukasa eventually learns why: her own retrieval time is now only a few weeks away. The more he learns about Giftias though, the more determined he is to make things work with Isla.
Though I am a sucker for anime tearjerkers, I can easily count on one hand the number of series to get an emotional reaction out of me from their first episode. This original series from the Spring 2015 season is one of them. The first episode is not the only one that can seriously tug on the heartstrings either, with emotional raw points in episodes 6 and 7 as well. In that regard, the first half of this show compares favorably to equivalent runs in many Key visual novel adaptations. Sadly, it falls short in some other regards.
The core concepts at least are strong. The show hand-waves any technical explanation for Giftias having human emotions and personalities with the abstract concept of a “synthetic soul,” but that's forgivable because this is much more a story about the experiential side of advanced technology than the actual technology itself. For instance, the first episode starts exploring the legal and emotional ramifications of retiring a Giftia, such as how the owners have to be present when it happens to assure the security of any personal information about them that might be in the Giftia's head, even though that's functionally equivalent to watching a relative be euthanized for some. The show also looks at the varying reactions of both owners and the Giftia to the process. (Isla, afraid of her own impending retrieval, seems to be more the exception than the rule, as most of the Giftias are more concerned about creating trouble for their owners than the loss of their own identities and memories.) It also looks at the potential black market for retrieved Giftias, though that aspect does not get a satisfying amount of development. Easily the most intriguing issue brought up is that of Giftias serving as surrogate parents, to the extent that children raised by them have a special name (“Android Children”). What happens to Giftia when they aren't retrieved before their synthetic souls degrade is also shown, implying that maximizing owners' time with their Giftias and the safety concerns involved in waiting until the last minute to retrieve one is a tricky balancing act.
The first seven episodes also do fine when purely focusing on their more dramatic aspects. Isla's situation is a compelling one, as it forces a look at how both she and her coworkers might handle what is effectively a terminal illness. More emphasis on Isla's point of view would have been preferable, as the story is mostly told through Tsukasa's viewpoint, but Isla is not as hard to read as Tsukasa sometimes thinks she is. The related backstory about coworkers Michiru and Kazuki also plays out smoothly, as does the gradual romantic development between Tsukasa and Isla, and a brief exploration of the nasty but necessary technology at Terminal Service's disposal for extreme cases.
The biggest problem with the first half is that it often struggles to smoothly integrate its serious and light-hearted components. The humor is very hit-or-miss, ranging from intense groaners to a few genuinely funny moments, with the former typically involving the “dating advice” scenes or Isla being physically clumsy. (This is portrayed as a symptom of her long-term deterioration, but it dovetails a little too well into the whole moe “clumsy girl” archetype to be fully believable.) Some of the gags also depend on typical tsundere antics, for the redheaded Michiru is practically a clone of Asuka (Neon Genesis Evangelion) with classic tsundere tendencies, including being more interested in Tsukasa than she cares to acknowledge. The office antics and personality dynamics are also somewhat reminiscent of those seen in the series Planetes. None of this would necessarily be bad if it wasn't for the sometimes-graceless way the series transitions between light fare and dramatic aspects. A sterling example of this comes at the end of the first episode, when the cool-down from the most intense early emotional scene is jarringly disrupted by a joke about having to go to the bathroom. The creators could have stood to take more inspiration from Key adaptations that handled this vastly better, like Kanon or Angel Beats!
The series also pales compared to most Key visual novel adaptations in its artistic merits. Hardly any of the character designs stand out – not even Isla with her flared-out hair – and the quality of the drawings can sometimes be rough-edged. The animation is also unimpressive, with significant dependence on still shots and minimal sustained movement. Despite this, there are still a few stand-out scenes, like one shot at the amusement park in episode 3 where the sun sets just as Isla's mood darkens in response to something Tsukasa says. What little fan service is present is generally unobtrusive; in fact, the writing actually makes a point of Tsukasa avoiding walking in on Isla in the shower, despite one of his cowoker's advice to the contrary.
The musical score is a little stronger. It mostly uses gentle, low-key instrumentals designed to be supportive rather than showy, even when it does hype up a bit for one intense scene in episode 5. Episodes 1 and 7 also use a lovely insert song sung at least partly in English. The opener and closer are both unremarkable as songs, but the lyrics are worth paying attention to; as pointed out in an included staff interview piece, the closer is specifically Tsukasa's voice and the opener is specifically Isla's voice. Additionally, the lyrics for the opener (which were written by the series' writer/creator) also lay out the whole series down to a suggestion of the ending, though how accurate this is may not be evident until you have seen the final episode.
Aniplex of America's release covers seven episodes split across two Blu-Ray disks. The case comes in a flimsy artbox-like slipcover, which includes a set of postcards depicting promotional art. There's no English dub on this release, although it does include Spanish subtitles in addition to English ones. On-disk Extras consist of web previews for each of the episodes and two live-action pieces. The first, at a bit over 40 minutes, features the Japanese cast for Tsukasa, Isla, Michiru, and her partner Zack. It's fun but not especially insightful unless you're into doing latte artwork. The second, about 27 minutes, features the series' producer, art director, and writer/creator, with a brief appearance by the singer of the opening theme. This has some more juicy tidbits in it, including the above details about the theme songs and commentary on how the first episode was carefully designed to presage developments from throughout the series if you know what to look for. Fair warning that both pieces contain some mild spoilers for those who have not yet watched the series to completion.
Overall, the first seven episodes make for a pretty good first half of a series, but it's a disappointment considering that the concept and emotional content gave it the potential to be a great series. Still, the first half does accomplish the task of setting the show up for important interpersonal events in the second half.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Some parts can be emotional, an interesting exploration of practical applications and consequences for its androids
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