So I missed Pale Cocoon last year when it came out, but thanks to phuzy’s review I got a chance to check it out last week, and I was really impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I googled the director Yasuhiro Yoshiura to find out what else he had done, and lo and behold I stumbled upon him at just the right time, because his new ONA Eve no Jikan just released its first episode earlier this month!
I wasn’t really sure what an ONA was (I had to wikipedia it) but apparently it is an Original Net Animation, which is a neat idea and something that I haven’t seen much of in the anime world. I don’t know if anyone saw the Joss Whedon net show “Dr Horrible,” but it was one of my first experiences with an online video being done by professionals and within the constraints of a “show” rather than some abstract. An excellent idea primarily because it lets a director tell the story he wants in the time frame he chooses. Time is so important to film, and pacing can truly make or break a series; doing a show online frees you from the constraints of episode numbers and length, and allows a director to express his idea how he sees fit. Too often a show will start strong only to give up halfway through its promised 24 episodes. For me, all OVAs with original scripts are my personal anime heaven. The newest slice of that heaven, Eve no Jikan, is a very promising start to what I hope will be a major force in anime production. Time of Eve, as it’s known in English, is another look at what happens when androids become so lifelike that humanity is forced to look again at what it means to be human.
A brief intro text sets the tone: this is a tale set in the not-so-distant future, and technology has progressed to the point that humanoid robots are starting to become common in the average home. This story is about Rikuo, a young man trying to discover why his female android, Sammy, has been acting strangely lately. After checking out her travel log files, he discovers that she has been going off-course in her usual rounds, and he enlists a friend from school to find out where she’s going.
The two boys find that Sammy has been going to a small, out of the way café where patrons are informed that there will be no discrimination between humans and robots. Normally, androids all have a glowing halo above their heads, and the two find out for the first time that at least some are able to turn it off. Shocked, they are befriended by a girl name Akiko who tells them about her views on android relations – making them wonder in the end who is really an android in the café.
I am super excited about this series! I know that many people are tired of shows with a “can robots think” theme to them, but they are right up my alley. Some may say that this is ground we’ve covered before, but with the exponential increases we experience in the field of technology, Ghost in the Shell is just as far from us today as Asimov’s work in the 60’s is from Ghost in the Shell. Robotics as a field is progressing so quickly that I think it is increasingly important to deal with the issue as often as is possible, as culturally we need to explore our feelings on this subject before they become a reality.
A big theme is obviously dori-kei, or android obsession. Most people seem to treat their robots like trash, worse even than one would treat their car – shoving things in their hands and ordering them around like slaves. But the androids here are much more human-like than machine-like, making me wonder what disconnect the people must have to be able to treat them like they do. Even though they were created to serve, isn’t empathy for other human-like things ingrained in out very nature?
From birth we are conditioned to recognize human faces, and when we grow up we can see them everywhere. In fact, the reason that people find baby animals so much cuter as a whole than adult animals is because at birth, most animals possess skulls that are shaped more like a human baby’s than the parent animal. Why, then, in this future Japan are the people that empathize with androids, these dori-kei, treated like social outcasts? I think the director is making a reference to the Philip K Dick book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, in which the only way to tell an android apart from a human was to administer an “empathy test” that measured whether or not they were capable of emotion for living creatures.
In fact, Rikuo starts at the beginning to talk to Sammy like he would any other person, but he corrects himself and addresses her as he would any machine. When his sister gets up and turns on the TV, she sees a news cast about the dori-kei, and an ad for fresh fruit that suggests very strongly that there is a stigma against robotically harvested crops, even though Japan’s self-sufficiency rate has climbed to 80%. This is not just treating the machines like machines; this is actual contempt – an emotion normally reserved for something else that can feel. Strange, then, that those who treat robots with respect, or who show an “unhealthy” interest in them are treated like so much otaku.
I will most certainly be blogging the rest of this series. There were a lot of other things that this made me wonder about, but I think that the way humans treat robots is going to be the main focus of this show, and hopefully it will turn into something that helps better explain our emotions toward technology. I can’t wait to have some of my questions answered, like are the androids starting to imitate what they think humans do when they feel, or were they made for a specific purpose. No mention has been made about to company that makes these, so it could go either way.
Another major question is, “What’s up with that E-Blend?” The next episode is titled “Sammy,” and I’m sure Rikuo will finally embrace his inner dori-kei and ask her all sorts of questions – like what the deal is with the coffee. Can robots enjoy coffee? I thought for a second that they were going to serve Rikuo motor oil. The barista was so convincing as a human that I think it obvious Akiko is also an android, but I could be wrong. And what about Rikuo’s sister and his friend, what will they think if (when) they catch him having a conversation with Sammy? Will he be shunned, or worse? I’m getting excited just thinking about it.
One last note – thanks to Pireze for subbing this show. It sounds like he had to jump through a lot of hoops just to download the video. Plus, I think that his open source fansub idea is really, really neat, and you guys should check it out. Way to go, dude!
OK, new theory, since Acesoldia pointed out that I was wrong in thinking it was the barista who was the android at the end, I now think that she is some sort of super dori-kei who will be instrumental in acquiring android rights or starting the freedom-fighting, or something to that effect.