Cholisose: For our second movie of our summer film festival, we watched Time of Eve. The story was first told as a series of six ONAs (original net animation) in 2008 and 2009, which was all put together as a film (along with some extra footage) in 2010. The director, Yasuhiro Yoshiura, is also known for the OVA Pale Cocoon, as well as the upcoming film Sakasama no Patema. Helping me with today’s post on Time of Eve will be Totali, a fellow writer at the Sea Slugs Anime Blog.
Note: Next Sunday the Anime Watchers Club will have a post for First Squad: The Moment of Truth. Be sure to watch that by July 15th! But for now, let’s dive in to Time of Eve.
It was difficult to decide what to focus on for this post, since there’s just so much thought-provoking material in this film. But I suppose I can start by saying if you haven’t watched it–then you really need to, because Time of Eve is just superb. It’s one of those rare productions that I would be perfectly fine with suggesting to just about anyone (if not everyone), whether they are familiar with anime or not. Great story (or rather, stories), great setting, great animation, great music, great drama, great comedy, great everything. And by great, I mean excellent, if not top-notch. The only bad thing I can really say about Time of Eve is that it ends. (And there’s definitely a need for more…)
Totali: Having actually started watching Time of Eve when the stories were originally released as ONAs, I jumped at the chance to assist Cholisose and YumeState with discussing this gem of a film. The movie version of this story is one that sits at the very top of my favorites list, alongside of other masterpieces by the likes of Makoto Shinkai and Miyazaki. The story alone would be enough to do this, but the sheer beauty of the film and visual directorial choices that Yasuhiro Yoshiura makes are enough to push it to even greater heights.
A Unique Plot Structure
Cholisose: Since Time of Eve began as a series of ONAs, the plot structure for the film version is quite different from the norm. If Time of Eve were a book, it would be a collection of short stories rather than a novel. Perhaps this is fitting, considering how so many classic robot-themed narratives back in the day were short stories (including those by Isaac Asimov, who formulated the Three Laws of Robotics). Of course, all the stories that compose the Time of Eve film are interconnected, and several characters gradually develop in interesting ways from one tale to the next.
Totali: When the Time of Eve ONAs were originally airing, each episode was named appropriately after the main character(s) they would be representing; Akiko, Sammy, Koji and Rina, Nameless, Chie and Shimei, and Masaki respectively. This was particularly effective during its original run, as the stories felt self contained enough to keep fans satisfied between the long waiting periods between each episode. Perhaps even more interesting was how the stories were intertwined with each other just enough to continue developing the characters gradually with each passing arc. The theatrical version inserted enough extra footage to help make this an ever smoother transition through each segment, but even actually furthered the mystery by giving us just enough clues about certain characters to make us ponder a sequel.
Sci-fi Slice of Life
Cholisose: In your average sci-fi story, there is typically a lot of action, be it within galactic space travel, a dramatic alien or technological threat, or an extensive dystopia-themed conspiracy. But where does Time of Eve focus all its amazing production values? Into a cafe. The stories in Time of Eve are not complex, nor do they require the audience to grapple with scientific theories and technological concepts too much. Instead, the film gives us simple stories, allowing the audience to focus on the characters, their thoughts and feelings, and the ways they interact with one another.
In the end, this really is just a story about the ways humans interact with androids… and the ways androids interact with humans! There are plenty of stories with robots out there, but I feel this one stands out in the way it shows how androids view human beings. Androids have been designed to think, to act, and to serve–they understand better than anyone what they are, but with the guidance of the Three Laws they have become exceptionally human-like. Complete with what can only be described as emotions, though the way these emotions have been acquired and utilized may (or may not?) be quite different from humanity.
Totali: While it’s a sci-fi story that takes place in the near future, Time of Eve makes several references to our contemporary society and even those of the past. In the Time of Eve cafe, androids and humans are typically indistinguishable from each other due to the androids’ hiding of the ring that normally identifies them. This provides an interesting dynamic, as the characters become just that – characters with varying personalities, worries, and goals. From Rina’s requests for Koji to not leave her alone, to the concept of lies and what hurts others being discussed by several customers at the cafe, basic human struggles and philosophies are brought up throughout the film under the guise of futuristic fiction piece. We see these struggles particularly in the protagonist Rikuo and his friend Masaki, who overcome their conflicts gradually by interacting with the rest of the cafe’s patrons.
A Hundred Questions
Cholisose: And at the same time, I think Time of Eve manages to note how people in such a technologically-grounded society have become much like androids in a number of ways. I mean, we *actually* have a robot who has a relationship with a robot (who he thinks is human), in order to better assist/understand his human master (who wants to be a robot). And the robot he’s with thinks he’s human. (HEAD EXPLODES) There’s a ton of cause -> effect -> cause -> effect going on in this world, and it’s quite an exercise to attempt working out any of the big questions the film implicitly asks us.
What is “heart,” and is it a requirement for being human? (Or at the same level as a human?) Are things like feelings, emotion, intuition, and premonitions more natural, unexplainable forces, or are they much more calculated and mechanic than we realize? (Or want to admit?) Is love–that greatest emotion of all–really just the culmination of a deep desire to selflessly serve another individual? (And isn’t that what these androids are all about?)
Can a robot legitimately be a lover? A parent? A friend? If you write a list of actions that a lover, a parent, or a friend must do to be labeled as such, and a robot goes down the list and does every single one–well, is that good? Are androids no longer an imitation at that point, even when considering that they’re still bound by the programming and limitations of their unnatural nature? Taking this the other direction, what “programming” and limitations are humans bound to? You see what I’m getting at, when I say I could probably write at least a dozen posts on this film? XD
Totali: A derogatory term is used towards people who become too close to their androids, “dori-kei”, which heavily mirrors that of “otaku” in contemporary Japanese society. Should androids be thanked? Named? Or should they simply be treated as appliances? There is a heavy theme of discrimination towards robots, especially within the Ethics committee’s public service messages and actions. This is used as a medium to analyze such discrimination in our own societies today and throughout the ages. In Philosophy courses, the term “speciesism” comes up a lot – a term that usually describes a human being who is willing to treat animals in any way due to their belief that they are a superior being. While supposedly living alongside of humans in the story’s presented world, the androids are often treated with a certain level of disrespect by most of society.
While Japan has not experienced the levels of racism that other Western countries have, namely the United States and its past of race based slavery, there still lies a thread of racism in its isolationist country. Time of Eve initially introduces us to robots who are practically indistinguishable from us, but slowly strips away their skin in each passing episode to show their true nature. While Katoran was far from resembling a normal human being, an even initially laughed at by our main protagonists, it was eventually showed by the end of his arc that he cared just as deeply about his family as any human would. Why is it then, that outside of the cafe, the androids must simply act as servants for others?
Playing with Expectations
Cholisose: One of the things I liked most about Time of Eve was how it portrayed situations in one way in order to surprise us once the rug was pulled from beneath our feet. The genki girl is in fact a robot. The “robot-holic” is in fact a robot. That kindly old man taking care of the little girl who thinks she’s a cat? Yep, even he’s a robot. On top of getting across some basic themes (ie not being so quick to judge, just how multifaceted individuals are, etc), the film manages to surprisingly include some really hilarious sequences (such as when the old prototype robot is going to drink the coffee… only to slip in a plastic hose at the last moment–or even better: dramatic music plays as Masaki takes Tex’s hand and leads his old friend to the exit… only for the robot to run into the bottom step).
Totali: “We resemble each other, but our contents are completely different.” With the rings hidden from view in the Time of Eve cafe, many characters are revealed to us as androids in the most unexpected ways. Early in the film, the young Chie steals Rikuo’s glasses – obscuring his vision. It isn’t until he regains them that he becomes upset at Sammy who he discovers is at the cafe. In similar fashion, it takes an entire series of events for Rikuo and Masaki to realize that Koji and Rina are both androids – until then, they were treated neutrally because of their ambiguity. All the while, Chie imitates a cat despite the notion being ignored because of her age and appearance. Imitation is used well enough by the androids that our expectations are perfectly thwarted in dramatic irony.
The Courage to Play On
Cholisose: This is a small thing, but I really appreciated the subplot regarding Rikuo and how he gave up on the piano when he realized a robot could not only play a masterpiece perfectly–but even move him with its “mechanical” performance. For many tasks, machines in our present day are already much more effective than human begins (and have been for some time). But in Rikuo’s time, it had to feel absolutely crushing to realize a mere “object” would be better than him at the musical arts–something that was supposed to come from the heart (SEE: A Hundred Questions). As a creative type myself, I found it quite uplifting to see Rikuo overcome that hurdle, and to accept the fact that he’s outclassed and just play anyways. As it turned out, everyone at the cafe loved his music. What use is there in squandering the results of his many years of dedication to the craft?
Totali: Rikuo’s discouragement towards playing music, because of an android’s exceptional ability, plays into the bigger theme of how far technology can surpass human talent. In the art world, such questions are brought up frequently. Some photography purists attempt to hold onto traditional film techniques despite digital practices quickly reaching the same levels; Traditional painters scoff at digital painters despite their often times more adequate ability; It’s questioned whether graphic design can be thought of as an art form due to the tools and methods used in the craft. As a former design student, Yoshiura probably would have been more than familiar with these concepts. What happens when a robot surpasses a human’s ability to perform? When it comes to computers, many mathematicians would gladly allow the machine to work problems for them. An artist on the other hand may only use it as a tool to express his own skills and philosophy. And at the end of the day, no matter how far technology has come, it is the humans who ultimately control their creations.
Are You Enjoying the Time of Eve?
Cholisose: And thanks to the film’s eponymous cafe, Rikuo’s understanding of androids came to include an understanding of the fact that machines aren’t there to replace humans. They’re meant to be companions. I wasn’t sure what to make of the film’s title upon first viewing, but the second time through I was able to connect the aims of the cafe to the messages one can glean from the old Bible story of Adam and Eve. Adam was created, and then from his rib came Eve, the second human. “Flesh of my flesh.” Based on themselves, humans created androids. The film takes place shortly after the arrival of androids.
The Time of Eve cafe thus asks a pretty simple question: Are androids being treated as equal companions to humans? The answer, of course, is no–but thanks to the cafe’s one rule, it’s made quite clear that if androids are allowed to freely use their programmed ability to make decisions and act according to them, then they can indeed become indistinguishable from human beings. And doesn’t that make for a much better atmosphere, than an empty master-servant (or human-toaster) relationship?
Totali: Rikuo is initially too embarrassed to be seen walking under the same umbrella as his household robot. But they the end of the film, he has become great friends with everyone in the cafe, and seems quite proud of his friendship with androids. While there are those who are still against human and android relationships, there are those who openly accept them as their friends and family. It’s a theme that truly reflects our own societies’ acceptance of other people, animals, or even man-made objects such as art. Time of Eve presents the viewer with many themes and points of philosophical discussion, but one that may truly stand out in particular is this – While we are all different, we hold similar values and have the ability to understand each other despite our unique circumstances.