Stop me if you’ve heard of this one before: boy meets a robot girl and falls - wait let me finish!
Beatless premiered in January of 2018 and it looked like a relatively average show. Opening with a small fight between the military and 5 robots, each possessing a unique weapon and appearance, Beatless started by looking like most other anime involving robot girls. Things got worse when the protagonist is introduced; he was a miliquetoast teenage boy who, in contrast to his friends, respected robots (termed hIEs, human Interface Elements) to such a degree that he practically sees them as equals. Most anime fans would predict that the boy would most likely fall in love with one of the robot girls, maybe he’d even make a harem out of the 5 that showed up!
The fans were half right, as by the end of the first episode, Arato Endo, the protagonist, is saved by the blue haired robot, named Lacia, when a berserk hIE (and later an automated car) try to kill him. Arato even takes Lacia home with him.
So far, pretty average.
However, there was one stand out occurrence during the premiere that caught my attention. When Lacia first saves Arato from the berserk hIE, he tells her to run away because, while the berserk hIE is incapacitated, now there’s a car gunning for them. Lacia, of course, has the ability to disable the car as well, but she can only do so if Arato takes her on as her owner (bear with me). Being Lacia’s owner means that Arato accepts responsibility for all of her actions.
Wait, this sounds vaguely familiar…
That one line about the owner accepting all responsibility for a hIE’s actions (especially when the hIE is a “mysterious” robot girl with a giant laser gun) piqued my interest. While we always joke about how artificial intelligence is going to be the end of humanity, the fact is that the ethical quandaries around A.I. are no joke, especially when its about who is responsible for an A.I.’s actions – the A.I. itself, its creator, or the company behind the A.I? While Beatless hasn’t given an answer to this question (presumably it’s whoever is the owner of the hIE), that one exchange of dialogue where Arato becomes Lacia’s owner was only the tipping point of the ideas that Beatless would explore.
Note that there will be spoilers for up to episode 22, which is what the show is currently on, but honestly, that’ll probably be the only way to convince people to even try this show.
Beatless takes place in a future where robots called hIEs are common place, serving in roles such as storefront sellers, housekeeper, or fashion models. While most of the populace accept hIEs are part of their daily lives, there are anti-hIE groups, such as the Antibody network, that use violence or other means against hIEs, not for any grand purpose but mostly as acts of anarchism.
Memeframe is a company name that gets brought up quite often. It is the world’s leading company in hIE behavioral management through its cloud system. Presumably, all the hIEs are connected to this cloud system that helps them make decisions or actions, based on input they get from humans or their environment. Memeframe are the ones responsible for the development of the Lacia-class models of hIEs that escaped at the start of the series.
There are also 39 “super A.I.s” that provide guidance and advice to organizations up the food chain, such as the military. Note that the super A.I.s are not networked to each other, they’re isolated and kept that way because…they’re super A.I.s. Presumably humans have a way to keep them focused on doing their job as advisors only. There are two super A.I.s that are named in the show, one that advises the military for their operations late in the series, and Higgins, the A.I. that designed and instructed the production of the Lacia-class models.
Apart from the existence of super A.I.s, the setting of Beatless is stock futuristic sci-fi (and note that the super A.I.s were introduced quite late in the show).
While the show has adult characters that show up from time to time, the focus is kept mostly on the teenagers and the various “special robots” that showed up at the start of the first episode. The main characters at the start of the series are as follows.
Arato Endo is the protagonist; he’s an average teenager that gets tends to get overshadowed by his friends. He’s almost a door mat, getting trampled over by other people’s ideas, except when it comes to hIEs (including Lacia, the hIE he adopted).
Yuka Endo is Arato’s younger sister. She’s obnoxious, loud, and energetic where Arato is quiet. She lives with her brother alone in an apartment complex, as their father, Kozo Endo, is off doing research on hIEs. Depending on your preferences, she gets increasingly unbearable as the show goes on or becomes more endearing.
Lacia is the female protagonist of the story. Coded as Type-005 of the Lacia-class models, her demure attitude (and solid cooking skills) endears her to Arato and his sister. She carries a “black monolith” as her weapon, which can be used in both defensive and offensive ways (it can transform into a beam cannon). For the majority of the show, Lacia is practically the typical “shy, submissive robot girl that boy protagonist falls for” character; she happily goes along with things that get suggested to her, including a hIE contest where she becomes a spokes-model for a fashion line. While she does show slightly more attitude when Arato is in danger, she constantly insists that Arato is the one to make decisions for her.
Kengo Suguri is Arato’s classmate. He’s far more paranoid about hIEs than Arato or their mutual friend, Ryo Kaidai, even going so far as to join the antibody network in their terrorist schemes. Despite his reservations toward hIEs, he comes into contact with Kouka, Type-001 of the Lacia-class models, and is under her thumb whenever she feels like it.
Ryo Kaidai is Arato’s other classmate that he hangs out with. While he goes to the same school as Arato and Kengo, he is the oldest son to the founder of Memeframe. He warns Arato about Lacia as, despite not being aware of Memeframe’s inner machinations, when an advanced hIE that had no previous owner shows up out of the blue, you do not simply adopt the damn thing. He is very much against Arato’s philosophy that hIEs deserve the same level of respect as humans, stating on numerous occasions that Arato is giving priority to a robot over his fellow human beings.
The Lacia-class hIEs serve as both protagonists and antagonists in the series. They were all designed by Higgins, the most name dropped super A.I. In order of production, they are Type-001 Kouka, Type-002 Snowdrop, Type-003 Saturnus, Type-004 Methode and Type-005 Lacia. They each have their own weapons as well; Kouka wields what look like giant scissors which can also fire energy projectiles; Snowdrop uses electronic flower petals to take control of other electronics and hIEs (she was the one that attacked Arato in the premiere); Saturnus has a device like a spinning-wheel which can fabricate anything; Methode can fire beams of energy from her palms and is generally faster and stronger than the other models, while Lacia’s is the aforementioned Black Monolith.
Each of the Lacia-class hIEs have very defined personality types: Kouka is rash and obnoxious, Snowdrop is child-like and quirky, Saturnus is a maid, Methode is proud and arrogant, and Lacia is quite and submissive. (Saturnus is a bit weirder as she hasn’t shown up much in the show proper). At the end of episode 4, there’s a small montage where 3 of the Lacia-class hIEs pointedly define their purpose (Saturnus doesn’t appear, Lacia doesn’t say anything).
The Animation and Sound
The most I can say about the animation is that it’s serviceable. The color palette is varied, but it never pops into eye-candy, in contrast to something like No Game No Life. The world is clean and pristine, unlike this season’s Megalobox. The animation is consistent over most of the run – there’s nothing that strikes off-model or spectacular. Even the action scenes, such as where Kouka takes out a series of hIEs, are bland; her actions are fluidly animated but lack the sense of speed or dynamic movement that successful action shows portray.
The sound is also just serviceable. Sound mixing hits the right notes for clashes or explosions, and the music helps accentuate scenes as necessary, but none of it is memorable. Even the two openings by GARNiDELiA, the pop rock duo that also did Kill la Kill’s fantastic openings, are…fine. They hit the beats well enough, but it’s nothing that worms its way into your head.
As with other sci-fi properties dealing with A.I., one of the major themes of Beatless is how hIEs impact humanity. It is important to note that, while we see that hIEs fit quite comfortably into many service industry occupations, none of them are sentient in the least - avoiding the whole “we need to treat them with respect because they’re alive” debacle.
An early arc in the show deals with the use of an hIE, Mikoto, as a politician that aggregates opinions from the political assembly and provides a decision based on the information gathered. Mikoto herself is the product of an idea of Higgins, one of the super A.I.s in the series to aims to help humanity. The idea of this makes sense given the setting but it is, of course, worrying to the politicians that they may become obsolete if public opinion believes hIEs to be better for politics (alongside the usual A.I. take over scenario). However, Mikoto points out that there are such fail safes for these scenarios – whether it’s automatically returning power to the politicians if public opinion of hIEs get too high, or Mikoto herself giving the order to remove her from the assembly if needed. The idea of using a non-sentient A.I. to help govern the people is an interesting one – Mikoto would still be at the whims of the people, as she can only gather opinions and formulate a decision from that.
A later arc looks at how hIEs may react when cut off from the behavioral management cloud – something all hIEs in the city are connected to that help them make decisions and actions. A false city is created and filled with 20 000 hIEs; 17 000 of them have the role of “human” as this is the ratio of hIEs to humans in the real world. While all the hIEs are being managed by the cloud (who is the Mikoto program from the politician arc), the experiment being run by Kozo Endo is to see what happens when the hIEs are cut off from Mikoto’s guiding influence. Hopefully the hIEs would band together to continue a normal functioning society. In theory then, if, in the real world (of Beatless) something were to happen to the behavioral management cloud, the hIEs could still properly function in their roles without need to check in with their cloud.
The last arc I will discuss actually occurs halfway between the two above; it has to do with Lacia taking a job as the newest hIE face for a fashion line. The details of how she got it are unimportant, but it presented ideas that continued to reverberate throughout the rest of the show. During a public showcase for the fashion line, Lacia and her two predecessor hIEs start to gather a large crowd of onlookers. Eventually, Lacia and the other hIEs walk their separate ways, taking with them half the crowd. One of the organizers of this public stunt tells Arato (who accompanied Lacia) that this is an “analog hack,” where people unwittingly start to follow and implicitly trust an hIE. It later relates to a publicity campaign called “Boy Meets Girl,” a campaign that tries to present hIEs as an alternative for life time companionship. Obviously this has major implications for society and Beatless isn’t the first show to tackle this idea (for example, Plastic Memories dealt with this as well, but Beatless doesn’t have the expiration date concept. Also see almost any other sci fi property). It does however, have worrying implications that Lacia might in fact, be analog hacking Arato, making him fall for her in order to achieve her ends.
Over the course of the series, Ryo keeps warning Arato from getting too close to Lacia. It’s not frequent enough that it becomes incessant, but upon review of the episodes all the signs were there; Lacia has indeed been manipulating Arato. Choosing him as her Owner, her passive personality and her general girl-next-door aura have effectively been to get Arato to commit to a future where the two can coexist happily…because humanity is “enslaved” through a massive analog hack.
Earlier, I wrote about the Lacia-class hIEs, Kouka, Snowdrop, Saturnus, Methode and Lacia. Halfway in the series, it’s revealed that Kozo Endo developed an automated administration system called Matsuri (presumably to help handle basic administrative affairs), which inspired Higgins to create an A.I. called Eliza to control society through a massive analog hack. Eliza was destroyed by people wanting to assassinate Kozo Endo, so Higgins made designs for Lacia. Unfortunately, the means to actually create Lacia weren’t around, so Kouka was made first (hence her designation of Type-001). Lacia was made last, but as the first designed, her name gives rise to her class of hIEs.
Lacia is the final realization and means of Higgins to analog hack and control society. She is the world’s 40th super A.I., and all of her actions over the series were to observe and collect data on human behavior to make it easier to analog hack them. When working the fashion and Boy Meets Girl campaign, she was studying human behavior (and getting first hand mass analog hacking experience). When she helped Arato go find Kengo during the terrorist attack on the politician Mikoto, Lacia was also gaining the data Mikoto gathered from talking to the politicians. She chose Arato as her owner because he believed that hIEs were just as worthy of respect as other people. Her maneuverings also enabled her to network with other computers, enabling her to increase her processing power and thus become a super A.I.
Now, all Lacia needs is the command from her owner to create a world where she can control society.
Which Arato gives.
While the main idea of having a super intelligent A.I. control humanity to have peaceful coexistence for everyone isn’t brand new, it also isn’t something frequently appears in sci-fi. Most of the time, robot overlords aim to subjugate and enslave humanity to their will, and then humanity fights back! Beatless takes a different route and seeks peace for all…through control of the masses.
The show is still “boy meets robot girl and falls for her,” but it’s also “robot girl chose boy because she knew he’d be easy to manipulate into giving control of the world to her.” It just took a long time to reveal that. Nevertheless, Beatless’s big ideas with A.I. make for a refreshing change of pace. While its execution is bland (like its protagonist), it has enough ideas to warrant giving it a chance.
Beatless will soon be on hiatus until September, when the final four episodes will be released at some point. This is really weird because the source novelization was finished back in 2012. Oh well. In any case, consider giving Beatless a watch. The things I wrote are just a few of the ideas that it tosses around, there’s more it has to talk about with regard to its in-universe mechanics of A.I. and such.
Beatless is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Please note that if you watch it, of the 20 episodes aired so far, 5 of them are recaps, which are also a good way to catch up.
Edit: as of now, there are 20 regular episodes, 4 recaps, and 1 introduction to Beatless episode. The final 4 episodes will air in September. Thanks purposefully cryptic!