Bit of a shorter one today, for no other reason than that I don’t have as much to say.
As always, the review is provided in video format and transcribed directly below.
Let’s say you have a best friend. Hopefully, that’s not a hypothetical scenario. You spend a lot of time with this friend, you get to know them quite well. Hang out, go to the movies, play video games, whatever you do. Then, one day you discover that they are an Other. That is, someone society deems is not worthy of being a person. How do you react? Do you drop the friendship and cut ties? Do you stand alongside them and preach that they deserve the same freedoms you do? Do you try to keep things the same between you two, or accept that whatever feelings are present must evolve? Substitute the vague “Others” for robots, and you’ll have a pretty good idea as to what Time of Eve is trying to do. This is a story about what it means to be alive, and how we should (or should not) define those boundaries.
Oh, and to clarify, this is a review of the full compilation film, rather than the individual episodes.
Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are as follows:
(1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
(2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
(3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
In the not so distant future, under these Laws, robots and androids have been fully integrated into our society. Though the older, archaic models are very clearly machine, modern androids can only be distinguished from their human peers by a digital halo floating above their heads. By law, this ring must be enabled at all times.
One day, Rikuo Sakisaka (our main character, voiced by the marvelous Jun Fukuyama) stumbles upon a curious cafe, called Time of Eve. In this establishment, discrimination of any kind between humans and robots is forbidden. No android turns on their ring, and no one asks who you really are. Even the door only allows one person to exit at a time, to prevent inquisitive individuals from following other customers. In Time of Eve, everyone can be themselves, freed from the judgmental and divisive authorities that permeate the rest of society. During his visits to the cafe, Rikuo’s eyes are opened up to a whole new world, one where the line between man and machine is blurred, or even outright ignored.
I love when a story can be thoughtful without feeling pretentious, and that careful balance is exactly what Time of Eve manages to pull off. Granted, it doesn’t exactly cover new thematic material (the question of what it means to be “human” in a world dominated by technology and AI, and whether robots should be considered truly alive, has been discussed and examined for decades in all forms of entertainment), but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the tropes when they’re done so effectively. Time of Eve manages to pull you in with layer upon layer of intriguing scenarios, different characters that all have their own stories and their own way of expressing who, or what, they are.
I was rarely bored during Time of Eve, because it was always asking me to think. Even if I myself had the preconceived notion that true AI are in fact people, it was fascinating to watch the characters struggle with that concept, especially since it threatens to upend several assumptions they make in their lifestyles. Is it right to mark non-humanoid machines as automatically inferior to human life? Is it wrong for a man to be unfaithful to his robot, especially when she clearly has consciousness and emotions of her own? Does it matter if your friends, and even family, are man-made? Time of Eve tackles all of these questions and so many more, usually in admirable fashion.
While Time of Eve works well as a mental exercise or even a philosophical piece, it can also be supremely effective at tugging heartstrings. As I’ve mentioned, the film routinely introduces new characters, complete with their own pasts and problems. Most of these arcs culminate in a mesmerizing and emotional scene, as the respective individual come to terms with whatever it is that’s causing their inner turmoil. This can be as simple as an affirmation of love between a couple to something as large as talking to an old friend for the first time in years. Regardless of the exact weights of these character circumstances, they’re written in such a way that usually delivers a powerful impact, and I’m a real sucker for pathos.
By and large, Time of Eve looks good enough, which is something that you can hopefully expect from a film (if not always a TV series). It certainly doesn’t brave a new frontier for what it means to be an animated movie, but it was more than competent enough to get the job done, and the CGI (used usually for the more complex or non-humanoid robots) was very unobtrusive, which I always appreciate.
An interesting aspect on the visual front that I feel deserves special mention is one I rarely notice at all: the shots themselves. The way shots were framed throughout Time of Eve reminded me of a style more typically seen in live-action than anime. It can be difficult to properly explain without seeing it for yourself, but the shots just felt different than what you’d traditionally see in the medium. It’s the kind of subtle aspect to a production that would make Time of Eve easier to recommend for someone that isn’t familiar with anime, because it can look and feel decisively un-anime.
While I enjoyed my time with Time of Eve, it was hardly revolutionary, and that could clearly be felt. A few months after watching the film, I struggle to remember a single name of any of the leads. They weren’t outright bad per se, but I guess the word to describe them would be “boring” or “standard”. There was no one that stood out, no show stealer. Everyone played their assigned roles well enough, but there was nothing that broke the mold, no one that really surprised me in their actions or dialogue.
You had the young main character who slowly warms up to the idea of treating robots as people, the best friend with his own tragic past (though I use “tragic” somewhat loosely), the cheery cafe owner that of course sees no fundamental difference between man and machine and then the androids themselves that just want society’s recognition of their right to live. Again, not awful characters, but somewhat uninspired and, like the film’s basic premise, a bit tropey. It didn’t help that their visual designs were par for the course, too. On one hand, it fit the style and tone of the film that everyone looked so low-key, but when you can’t pick your characters out of a lineup, something has gone wrong.
Time of Eve is essentially a recompiled version of a series of ONAs (that’s original net animations). Can you tell? Absolutely. The movie can’t help feeling disjointed, as (while there is something of an overarching narrative), the immediate focus of most scenes are new characters or conflicts that were introduced fairly quickly and phased out in much the same manner.
What this means is that the film can feel like it lacks focus, because while it does revolve around the Time of Eve cafe, the whirlwind of new scenarios can make it difficult to care about any of them beyond a superficial level, simply because you only get 10-20 minutes to get to know any of these specific individuals. Now, that may seem like it contradicts what I had said earlier about Time of Eve’s ability to drum up emotional impact, but it’s a testament to either the writing chops of the crew or my own soft spot for feels that I didn’t always mind. Plus, there are plenty of scenes that do focus on the more established characters, if that’s more your speed.
If there’s one thing I hate in my entertainment, it’s an ending that doesn’t include, well, an actual ending. Perhaps I got into the wrong brand of entertainment, considering how frequently anime likes to throw inconclusive “read the manga (or light novel)” finales at its viewers… but what can I say? I like me my anime. As for Time of Eve, it can’t really be said to have a true conclusion. It’s more accurate to say it stops, and just when the plot was starting to ramp up too. The cast had cleared some major hurdles, and the bond between humans and robots was stronger than ever. But then, there were sinister lurkings of a threat that they wouldn’t be able to avoid.
Thanks to various efforts, that conflict was temporarily resolved... in the last act of the film. In the ensuing final scene, the main character says something along the lines of “a lot happened afterwards, but let’s just stop here”... and my face hit the floor. I really, really wanted to see what happened next. It’s not as if it ended on an outright cliffhanger or anything, but it left just enough loose ends to leave me disappointed. Though, if the worst thing I can say about Time of Eve is that I wanted more, I guess (in a way) that’s actually a pretty good thing.
I liked Time of Eve, a lot. I may have had some minor grievances, like the mildly flat characters (which bring with them a degree of predictability) and an ending that didn’t resolve as much as I’d hoped, but I was so intrigued and enraptured by the basic setting and society that I could overlook it. Sure, it may not bring wholly “new” ideas to the table, but the way it brings them was more than enough to sell me.
So, after taking everything into account (as well as my own subjective enjoyment) on a scale from F to S, Time of Eve gets an A rating. If you’re looking for a great way to spend about an hour and a half, Time of Eve is certainly worth the look. It’s another one of those films that puts humanity under the microscope via our interactions with self-created intelligence, but (despite some setbacks) it manages to feel like it has an identity of its own.
Time of Eve is currently available for legal streaming on...well, technically nowhere. The film version that I watched was briefly available on Crunchyroll only for a weekend, and thus is no longer on the site. However, Crunchyroll does currently host the ONA version of the story, which I have been led to believe is more or less the same as the film just split into six chunks. So, go for it.
You’re reading Ani-TAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. Ani-TAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.