Plastic Memories: Of Robots and Love

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With all these advances in technology, why haven’t we been able to build a robot with an AI on the same level of a human? If we could, then could we build robots that can seamlessly integrate with society, feel emotions, and actually cry? And what would be the future of human-synthetic relationships? Those are the questions that you should be asking when watching Plastic Memories, a beautiful love story between a human and a synthetic.

Brief Review

Plastic Memories tells the story of the SAI Terminal Service office, where Tsukasa, a boy who failed his college entrance exams due to appendicitis, works. There, he meets the Giftia, Isla. Giftias are androids designed by SAI; but I would say they’re “near-human synthetics”, as they can cry, eat, and feel emotions. Giftias have a lifespan of roughly 81,920 hours (approx. 9.3 years) and when a Giftia “dies”, it has to be retrieved by the Terminal Service. Otherwise, the Giftia could run amok. Tsukasa partners up with Isla, and eventually, their relationship becomes a romantic one. However, Isla only has around 1,000 hours to live. The rest of the anime shows us how Tsukasa and Isla, who is perhaps the cutest couple I’ve seen in a long time, make memories until Isla’s end.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a romance slice-of-life anime that doesn’t draw out the romance antics until hell freezes over. Proper character development happens, especially with the two protagonists. It’s not like that generic romance anime where the two just flirt with one another without ever actually dating. And unlike most romance comedies, Plastic Memories doesn’t go overboard with the cliche tropes and sexual fan service. Plus, Plastic Memories is real feel-trip, especially near the end.

Plastic Memories on Love

But, I won’t be talking about whether Plastic Memories was a good or bad anime. That’s up to you to decide. Instead, I’ve decided to explore the love lessons in Plastic Memories.

Perhaps the most important lesson in Plastic Memories is well… memories.

Throughout the series, Isla and Tsukasa have to retrieve “dying” Giftias from their owners. Most of the time, the owners willingly give up their Giftia. Sometimes, they resist. Either way, during the retrieval process, the Giftia is stripped of its memories and the owner has to deal with the loss of someone dear in their life, even if it’s an android. As Isla’s lifespan dwindles, Tsukasa has to deal with the same problem all Giftia owners have to: facing the inevitable “death” of their partners.

Now, let me ask you: if you can know exactly when a loved one will die, will you still love her? I’ll let you think a bit.

Of course, we could all wallow in despair and denial. But that won’t do anything. One could also consider burning down bridges with that person, so they won’t feel hurt. But that’s a one-sided  and egotistical assumption, as demonstrated by Kazuki terminating her relationship with Isla. All it did was cause Isla a lot of pain. Instead, Tsukasa, being the ignorant optimist he is, decided to make a lot of memories with Isla by having fun with her and confessing her love to her.

And perhaps that’s what Plastic Memories wants to teach us. If we truly love someone, then we should aim to create cherishable memories so that we have something to remember them by. Even though the pain of separation would be devastating (I know, I’ve been there), at least time will heal the wounds. But time will not corrode those memories you made together. This particular aspect of Plastic Memories was what I truly liked from the anime, even though at times the anime was too melodramatic.

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Synthetic Love?

Now, if only Plastic Memories decided to lessen the romance melodrama and paid more focus on the more serious issues regarding human-synthetic relationships, that would have made Plastic Memories a better watch overall.

We have thought that robots cannot feel or show emotion. If they could, then they would naturally not want to be oppressed by humans who are, in their view, inferior. Or, that’s what Terminator taught us.

There have been advances in human-synthetic relationships, and most importantly, robotic emotions. Aldebaran (part of SoftBank group) has released Pepper, a robot capable of sensing emotions and responding accordingly. The company claims that Pepper is the “first humanoid robot designed to live with humans”. But unlike our fantasies of laziness, Pepper doesn’t do housework; instead, it acts as a synthetic friend that can cheer you up when you’re feeling down.

[HorribleSubs] Plastic Memories - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_12.51_[2015.04.11_15.01.20]

Of course, Pepper still has a long way to go before getting to the level of a Giftia. Giftias are idealized versions of the synthetic partner; their only flaw is their lifespan. Basically, a Giftia is a perfect resemblance of a human. Their intelligence and physical appearances can’t be easily distinguished from that of a human. They can laugh, cry, love, and even eat, just like humans. But, they’re still not “human”. So, would a romantic relationship with a synthetic be deemed appropriate?

In Plastic Memories, we see the people of SAI Terminal Service having no qualms about Tsukasa’s relationship with Isla. They even go at lengths to support them. Their relationship is considered normal and even appropriate. But it stops at that. The issue isn’t explained deeper, which is a shame. We can’t even know if they can have sex, though it is implied to be appropriate throughout the anime.

Dr Helen Driscoll argues that sexual relationships between human and synthetic would be normal in the future.

This may seem shocking and unusual now, but we should not automatically assume that virtual relationships have less value than real relationships.

The fact is, people already fall in love with fictional characters though there is no chance to meet and interact with them.

We should also remember that there are already many people living alone, people who perhaps have not been able to find a partner, or have lost a partner. Virtual sexual partners may provide significant psychological benefits for them – after all a virtual partner is surely better than no partner at all.

Unfortunately, SoftBank has prohibited the use of Pepper as a sexual robot. But perhaps that’s for a good reason, considering that today’s humans still need to be sociable. Lack of human contact would cause detrimental psychological effects.

Though I would love to agree with Dr Driscoll, there’s something still nagging me about human-synthetic relationships, especially based on the way Pepper is programmed. Pepper is programmed to adapt accordingly to our emotions. So, if we feel sad, then Pepper will detect our sadness and then act towards alleviating it. If we’re happy, Pepper can mirror our emotions and be happy as well. So then, if we fall in love with Pepper and Pepper mirrors our romantic feelings, is the romance built between Pepper and I truly genuine? Or is it just our own delusion? Please help me out on this.

Ending

Overall, Plastic Memories is one of the best anime of 2015 and is indeed a recommended watch, especially if you enjoy a cute couple and proper romantic character development. The anime could have tried to go in-depth with the whole human-synthetic relationship issue, however. Anyway, Plastic Memories shines some light on how our future with robots could be albeit being an idealized one.

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2 thoughts on “Plastic Memories: Of Robots and Love

  1. I totally forgot that it was released this year. :p

    There’s something else about Plastic Memories, it’s that when you replace a dead loved one with a Giftia. You will feel overjoyed to see them again but, at the back of your mind you know that it won’t last so you can’t help but hopelessly hold onto that dream of being with your loved one forever. The longer you stay in that dream, that harder it is to “wake up” and face reality. After the time limit is up, it’s a terrible thing to behold. To see your loved one perish…

    …a second time.

    Liked by 1 person

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