2016.44: Time of Eve (Blu-ray)
One of the saddest things about anime is that the majority of people, certainly here in the West, are utterly ignorant of it, either because of the general impression that it is all giant robots and violent teenage fantasies, or that they are simply very strange Japanese cartoons as opposed to the more familiar animated features from Pixar or Disney. Its a great pity, as the best anime can actually be quite sophisticated, and challenge viewers perceptions of the world, or suggest unlikely possibilities, and even rank against traditional live-action for quality drama. Time of Eve is one such anime. It doesn’t have giant robots or any guns or violence- rather it is a fascinating character piece that gently raises some very interesting questions about identity and freedom.
Its the near future, and androids are widespread, functioning as servants in general society, as taken for granted as owning a family car. They look quite human, like the Replicants in Blade Runner, but are easily identified as they each have digital hologram rings floating above their head. Some owners treat their androids like slaves, while others become quite attached to them, treating them like friends or even lovers, which causes some consternation in society. Are the androids indeed just objects, appliances, or are they capable of something more, can they be almost human, with their own thoughts and needs, or is it just a case of owners anthropomorphising them, projecting their own failings and needs and even hate onto them?
One day a young man, Rikuo, notices that the family android, Sammy, has been acting strangely, disappearing for periods whilst it is out shopping. No-one else in the family pays the android any heed as long as its tasks are done. Curious, Rikuo finds a strange phrase recorded in Sammy’s activity log- “Are you enjoying the time of eve?”. He enlists the help of his friend Masaki, and traces Sammy’s footsteps to an unusual basement café hidden down a back alley.
This café is called ‘Time of Eve’ which has a rule that humans and androids cannot discriminate one another. With their digital holograms switched off, it is quite impossible to distinguish who is human, who is android. Regular visitors include Akiko, a bold young extrovert girl, a couple named Koji and Rina, an old man and his foster child, and Setoro, a loner who comes in to read. And of course Rikuo’s family android Sammy. The café has to remain a secret, as androids are not normally allowed to disable their digital identifiers and mix with humans as if they were human themselves.
Fascinated by the place and its clientele, Rikuo repeatedly visits the café, and gets to know the bar lady Nagi and each of the regular visitors, learning their stories and deciding who is human and who is android, and whether the distinction even matters. He begins to get a particular insight regarding the androids and their place in society, and that perhaps the Time of Eve café might indicate the possibility for a better future. The film has an episodic format as Rikuo chats to each customer over succeeding visits and slowly builds to an emotional and satisfying conclusion (this episodic format is inevitable as the film is an expansion of a six-part OVA available online, but it doesn’t hurt the flow of the proceedings at all).
There is a lovely sense of place in Time of Eve; schoolrooms or city streets or family apartments are all lovingly painted and animated and the café in particular is cleverly designed, usually animated as a 3D CG background to the character animation. It’s all very clean and sharp, the design of the characters establishing their personalities well.
It is all very subtle and impressive really, and particularly in HD it is a beautiful-looking anime, but what really rewards are the intriguing concepts going on. Its really thought-provoking as it postulates the possibility of artificial sentience and Philip K Dick’s frequent examination of what it is to be human, or what that even means. With affectionate nods to genre predecessors like Blade Runner and THX:1138, as well as Isaac Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics its a fascinating little film with a few rewarding twists along the way. This anime is certainly much more successful than the Channel Four tv series Humans that aired here last year, which shares suspiciously similar themes- it’s unfortunate that the success of that tv show will likely forever leave Time of Eve hidden away largely unnoticed here in the West.
An anime to savour then, and at the very least it is worth checking out the original OVA (easily available with English sub on Youtube).