This is the first premiere I was really looking forward to with something like genuine burning curiosity – and it both did and didn’t disappoint. Plastic Memories was one of my sleepers for the season, and as there aren’t many of those that gives it an awfully important role to play in how the season as a whole turns out. Original series are always a bit of a leap of faith to begin with, but given the mixed bag of staff behind this one it was even more so than most.
Like I said, there’s so much churning around in my head that it’s hard to know where to start in talking about that episode. I guess I’ll sum it up by saying that for me, the premiere acts as a striking example of what happens when there’s a gaping chasm between premise and execution. I found the episode clumsy and manipulative, and almost never funny when it was trying to be (which was almost always at the wrong time). Yet it still packs both emotional and intellectual punch, largely because the idea it’s built around is fit to bursting with possibility.
Shows that inspire such conflicting responses from me are a big worry, because the good is rarely able to overcome the bad – stuff like KimiUso comes to mind. I don’t think the fundamental flaw here is as terminal as it was with that show – we’re talking about awkward execution rather than a fundamentally warped worldview and despicable cast. But I think it would be foolish to bet on Plastic Memories until we have a better idea of just how bad those problems are going to be. We’re not talking about an especially accomplished director here, and it’s certainly not going to win any awards for animation or backgrounds (though in the larger scheme of things, that’s not a deal-breaker).
Is Plastic Memories‘ premise an original one? No – from Eve no Jikan to Hybrid Child to A.I. and far beyond, we’ve seen variations on this theme play out. But it’s a good take on it here, especially given how close we are to seeing genuine artificial intelligence become a factor in our daily lives. Is it a good idea to imbue lifelike androids with fully-realized memories and personalities, knowing they’ll burn out in 81,920 hours (9 years, 4 months)? I’d argue it’s certainly not, both because of the ethical question of creating a sentient (and that in itself is an interesting debate to hold) being under those circumstances, and the predictable emotional trauma it’s going to cause the “owners”. Yet I could easily see something like the “Giftias” coming into existence under these circumstances, because if one corporation held the patent on the tech they’d certainly put their own profit above such concerns. Unless they were forbidden to do so by law – which is yet another fascinating debate to have.
So you begin to see the appeal here – Plastic Memories may be only the latest to jump down it, but this is a rabbit hole of endless ethical and moral dilemmas. Then problem comes with the show itself. So far, the cast of characters seems stock at best – the tsundere, the shota, the dojikko, the violent girl… The exposition is clumsy – the old “explain everything to the newbie” trick. And when we actually see the plot unspool when said newbie Tsukasa (Takumi Yasuaki) joins two “Marksman” giftias and another human “Spotter” in retrieving a giftia at the end of its life cycle, it’s a shamelessly maudlin and overwrought tale of a moeblob and an obaa-san.
The problem is easily seen – the first time we see the plot play out (“Eddie“) is actually much more impactful, because we whiz through it in a couple of minutes through Tsukasa’s dazed eyes. When you have a premise that’s as emotionally powerful as this one, the worst thing you can do is oversell it – let it speak for itself and it’ll be fine. It’s troubling that given the choice for its first extended field exercise, Plastic Memories elects to go for the full bore violins and dying children route. There’s also the issue of that unfunny comedy, which is a big problem mostly because there’s so much of it. And it rears up at inopportune moments, too, such as right after what’s supposed to be the emotional climax. Generally speaking shows that aren’t funny to start with don’t end up figuring out how to be funny later, and while I have no problem with Plastic Memories not being funny, if it tries to be and (repeatedly) fails, that is going to be a problem.
So at the end of all that, all I can say is “who knows?” If the worst thing a show can do is bore you that’s clearly not a problem with Plastic Memories – the premiere made me think and made me feel, even if the feelings are mixed as hell. There’s such a world of potential here that I’m going to give this show a lot of rope to hang itself unless it just flat out blows up, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very worried by some of the things I saw in the first episode.