In the near future, humans live alongside androids known as Giftias. Giftias look, act, and have the emotional capabilities of humans, but are restricted by a limited lifespan of roughly nine years. When the lifespan of a Giftia expires, they must be “retrieved” and deactivated lest they break down or even go berserk. Recent high school graduate Tsukasa gets a job at the SAI corporations’s Terminal Service no. 1, an office of eccentric people (and androids) whose modus operandi is to conduct retrievals with kindness and compassion for both Giftas and their human caretakers.
Tsukasa is partnered up with a veteran Terminal Service agent and Gifta named Isla. Though she has worked in the field for years, Isla is clumsy and childlike in demeanor, and seems to be keeping her own problems inside. Slowly, Tsukasa draws Isla out of her shell with the help of his co-workers. When he realizes his feelings for her are deeper than simple work camaraderie, he faces the same problem he encounters with his clients: what do you do when love someone but you know your time together is limited? Plastic Memories uses this question, built in to its futuristic society, to tell an emotional story that urges us to appreciate the time and memories we have.
A human dilemma
The world of Plastic Memories world may be populated partly by androids, but the problems the characters, and really the whole society faces, are very human. This is not a story about technological questions that arise when robots are our friends and family so much as the classic existential issue of dealing with your own mortality and that of your loved ones, only magnified by the Giftas’ shorter lifespan. When a Giftia’s lifespan expires, owners have the option to replace the hard drive instead of retrieval. This allows owners to keep their Giftia, but without their personality and memories from the last nine years. It speaks to how human the Giftias really are that almost no owners are shown to choose this option, and Terminal Service agents are surprised when a client does want this. Giftias are treated as family, friends, lovers, and colleagues, and although humans know the pain and risk that comes with caring for one, they can’t help but form these bonds. Plastic Memories does some of its best work when it explores the different aspects of this problem. When I started watching, I thought the story of the main cast might be framed by episodic looks at how various clients and Giftias deal with the end of the lifespan. Sometimes it is, and I would not have minded had the entire run been as such.
Good guy Tsukasa
One of the foremost problems with romance and romantic comedy anime is that the male protagonists often suck. Many times if they aren’t obnoxious and pervy, they are useless and boring. Plastic Memories’ Tsukasa is not the most interesting leading man around, but he’s genuinely kind and an all-around good guy. He’s a meticulous worker and is willing to go above and beyond to help not only Isla, but each of his clients. He may be naive, but he isn’t afraid to show initiative. It’s not hard to see why a girl would be interested in him.
Isla is adorable. I am fully aware that by finding her lovable, I am being emotionally manipulated by the writers and artists because she is just about every moe cliche rolled into one petite, pouting ball. She’s clumsy, easily scared, and has an air of perfect innocence about her. Isla is something between Chaika and Rei Ayanami. As she warms up to Tsukasa, though, we begin to see that beyond being cute, she’s a good person (well, android). She takes extra care to treat the retrieval process with empathy, bringing in her own perspective of a Giftia dealing with a limited lifespan. And let’s face it. It’s nice to have that fuzzy moe feeling.
Let’s take this to the next level - matching ahoge
Romance (when it happens)
This brings me to the other big gripe I have with romance anime: not much romance actually happens. For the first half and change of Plastic Memories, it seems to be heading for that lack of direction with a lot of things left unsaid and a lot of messing around with staid rom-com jokes that were never funny in the first place. It’s clear that Tsukasa, the point-of-view character, has feelings for Isla. He even admits as much in the first episode. When he finally acts on this, the central drama at the show’s heart starts to develop in a meaningful way. Tsukasa and Isla make a sweet couple, and it’s delightful to watch this inexperienced pair figure out how relationships work. The romance actually, you know, happening is also essential to making us understand the complications and pain of the big elephant in the room: Isla doesn’t have forever. Tsukasa tries his hardest to make memories with her anyway, and it’s hard not to cheer them on.
Plastic Memories can also be very skillful in its presentation of the mundane joys of love. Some of the best scenes were simple: Tsukasa and Isla trying to cook together, Isla teaching Tsukasa to make tea, or one partner caring for the other when they’re sick. Much like a real relationship, it’s often the little things.
Eva, Eva everywhere
Someone on the team for Plastic Memories likes Evangelion. It was a “huh” moment the first time, but after reference upon reference, it was clearly a trend. There are many visual, shot-for-shot references, but it extends to the characters as well. Michiru, a feisty co-worker at Terminal Service, has Asuka’s hair and attitude. Kazuki, Isla’s former partner and senior worker at the office, does the Misato beer chug. These references are not necessarily positive or negative, but it can be lazy writing if personalities and character habits seem transposed from another work. It also may be lazy to use famous shots to convey the same emotional meaning, if that was the intention. When Isla steps across the premises of the apartment she shares with Tsukasa (partners at SAI room together), are we meant to read into it the same gravitas of Shinji accepting his new home with Misato, or was it simply there so viewers could say “I get that reference?”
The team at Terminal Service 1 is a mostly friendly group of personalities who support Tsukasa in his quest to make Isla happy. The only supporting cast members who get anything close to fleshed out are Michiru, Kazuki, and the busty and bubbly engineer, Eru. With the exception of Michiru, who does have a tragic backstory, the secondary characters are all assigned one personality trait and rarely deviate from it. As I’m writing, I don’t remember most of their names, but I remember that there was a kuudere, a lecherous dude, and an often inept boss. No one stands out as particularly unlikable, but no one is memorable either.
The tone of Plastic Memories is all over the place. It’s an understated emotional drama. It’s a dumb, slapstick romantic comedy. It even tries to be an gritty sci-fi exploring the repercussions of the Gifta black market for one or two episodes. It tries a lot of things, but only does a few of them well. I will reiterate that the anime is by far at its best when it keeps its central theme of love in the face of impermanence, and how that affects characters on a deeply personal level, in mind. The latter episodes, which keep Tsukasa and Isla’s relationship in focus, are much better and tightly written than the first half of the show. I wish we could have gotten the good stuff longer - much like humans feel about their Giftias.
The biggest mistake that Plastic Memories makes is that while it finds its footing, it throws trope after trope at the wall to see what sticks. The premise and world are interesting, but the story wastes so much time doing things that are neither new nor interesting. There’s a tsundere who un-ironically speaks in versions of “it’s not like I like you or anything.” Eru is one of those sexually aggressive onee-chan types who takes perverse pleasure in dressing Isla up - a trope I admit I still don’t understand or see the humorous value of. What’s unfortunate is that there are moments that prove the writers are capable of delivering a touching story and likable characters, so there is really no excuse for the amount of cliches used as a crutch.
Despite my issues with Plastic Memories, I was still invested in the characters and was sitting there wimpering an crying at one point. It’s a sweet romance that can bring the bittersweet feels, which is always welcome for fans of love stories in anime. The moral of the show is simple, but something we often still need to remember: value the relationships and experience you have, and don’t avoid them out of fear of pain and loss.
There are plenty of things to appreciate, but Plastic Memories has enough drawbacks to keep me from giving a wholehearted recommendation. I will remember the touching moments, but I will also remember the times it made me cringe. Of course, you might find that that the emotional roller coaster is worth the flaws
Header and gifs by Unimplied.