Plastic Memories

In the near future, the Sion Artificial Intelligence Corporation (SAIC) develops a humaniform android called the Giftia, so life-like that it corners the market and becomes wildly popular among lonely humans looking for a replacement for the child or lover or friend they never had. The Giftia, however, has a catch: the lifespan of each model only extends for 9 years and 4 months, beyond which time their personality matrix deteriorates and they become unstable and even potentially dangerous. The SAIC Terminal Services Division is therefore charged with the timely decommissioning of Giftias before their lifespan expires. Tsukasa Mizugaki is an unworldly 18-year-old who, because of illness, missed the opportunity to sit his university entrance exams; however, due to his father’s business connections, he manages to land a job with Terminal Services Department One. Terminal Services personnel operate in teams, in which the Giftia “marksman” carries out the actual decommissioning process, while the human “spotter” oversees the process. Tsukasa is assigned to partner Isla, an attractive female Giftia who seems at first to have a rather childlike personality, as well as being prone to mistakes and blunders. But as they begin to work cases together and go through the confronting decommissioning process – and its sometimes tragic outcomes as unwilling owners try to prevent their Giftia’s from being terminated – Tsukasa begins to develop an appreciation for Isla and her ability to bring a degree of humanity to their difficult assignment. Tsukasa also begins to appreciate the other members of Department One – human and Giftia alike – and gradually learns that many of them have experienced their own Giftia-related sorrows. As SAIC policy dictates that “spotters” and “marksmen” live together in order to increase familiarity and efficiency, Tsukasa realises over time that he has developed feelings for Isla; but this is also when he learns that her frequent errors are the result of her programming breaking down as she nears the end of her lifespan. Meaning Tsukasa is faced with a wrenching choice: either spare his own feelings by abandoning Isla for a new partner and effectively leaving her to “die” alone; or pursue a relationship with Isla, even though he knows it will be doomed to a short duration and heartbreak…

An original animation series produced by studio Doga Kobo, Plastic Memories premiered on Japanese television between April and June 2015. Animated in an eye-catching, mangaesque style that will be familiar to viewers of series like Sword Art Online, and featuring backgrounds based on landmarks located in the city-state of Singapore, Plastic Memories covers territory that was first opened up by Blade Runner, and which has subsequently been traversed by other anime series such as The Time of Eve, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, and Beatless. However, Plastic Memories cuts its own course through this landscape, focusing on the relationship between Tsukasa and Isla, and in the process asking deep questions about whether or not humanity is even entitled to create artificially sentient beings, let alone use them as substitutes and remedies for our own brokenness. These questions are all the more effective for not being presented didactically, instead arising organically from the narrative itself.  In doing so, the series also raises uncomfortable questions about issues such as euthanasia, and questions what it means to be human when the dividing lines between human and non-human sentience are made blurry by technology. The narrative arc of Plastic Memories is unashamedly tragic, and there are plenty of moments of heart-aching sadness; but these are often mediated by a disruptive humour of awkwardness that is grounded in Tsukasa and Isla’s endearingly innocent romance. At times, the animation is slightly off, especially early in the series: the look of secondary characters is sometimes sketchy, and there are moments when – especially in close-up shots – the characters appear superimposed on the background rather than part of the environment in which they supposedly operate. But these small quibbles aside, Plastic Memories is an engaging series that is by turns humourous, bitter-sweet, and moving, a gentle and meditative reflection on mortality and memory that will tug the heart strings of most – and may even mandate a nearby box of tissues for those inclined toward teariness of eye.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.