Time Of Eve

Diversity is a good thing. As someone from the United States, I've been taught this statement for a very long time. In general, I agree with it. I am honored and blessed to count among my friends folks of different races and nationalities. I appreciate hearing points of view that are not my own, even when I vigorously disagree with them. But how far is my diversity willing to stretch? With questions about immigration not just in the US but also throughout much of Europe, with huge stretches of the world still radically opposed to religious and racial diversity, it's a legitimate question not just for me as an individual but for all of us. There are huge differences between tolerance and acceptance, between permission and persuasion and coercion. There is no one "right" answer to the question of diversity.

Conversations along these lines are not new, but to find them as a subtext in anime is surprising. But that's exactly what we see in Time of Eve, a 6-part series composed of 15-minute episodes released over 2008 and 2009. Yasuhiro Yoshiura, director of the 2006 OVA Pale Cocoon, does a great job presenting us with a future world not far removed from our own. In this arena, he presents us with a gentle, humorous, yet deeply thoughtful rumination on the nature of personhood and what it means to be confronted with others who just aren't like us...at least at first glance.

In the near future, robots have become ubiquitous. They've gone from simply serving in manual labor jobs too dangerous for an average Joe to becoming a regular fixture in households.  The latest models, androids, look almost indistinguishable from humans. Made to carry out busywork jobs like shopping, cleaning, and cooking, they are distinguished by electronic halos above their heads. They appear emotionless as they carry out their tasks, and they are governed by Asimov's three laws of robotics (though he is never directly referenced by name). Although the robots and androids don't appear to have caused harm, a group called the Ethics Committee regularly attacks robotics advances and puts out a variety of PSAs to convince the public to be wary of mechanized beings.

All this is backdrop, of course, and our central story revolves around Rikou and Masaki. The teenage boys take robots for granted, as they always have, though Rikou seems the more sensitive and thus is occasionally accused by his sister of being "android-holic," a derogatory term for those who treat robots like humans. Truth be told, Rikou doesn't exactly treat the household robot Sammy with the greatest of affection. But one day, after suspecting that Sammy is doing things on her own without orders from her human masters, Rikou looks into her activity logs. Finding some surprises, he and Masaki eventually find that she's been going to a cafe called "Time of Eve." The one rule of the cafe is that there is to be no discrimination between humans and androids. At first they are shocked, but gradually they become friends with Nagi the shopkeeper, as well as the other regular patrons.

As the story continues, they find there is much more going on in the robotic world than they ever imagined. The regulars include a couple of lovers who are more than they seem, a young teen with a bunch of questions and a lot of energy, and a grandfather and his young charge who plays at being a cat. Rikou quickly warms to them all and starts seeing the androids in a different light. Masaki, however, always plays the gadfly, convinced that robots playing at being human is a violation of the order of things. By the end, their friendship will be strained as they both must come to terms with their perceptions of robots and if androids are, in some ways, more human than human.

Time of Eve is not a groundbreaking feature in terms of animation, though it looks smart and sharp throughout. Character models are always consistent, and everything looks just lovely, but this is a piece devoid of action sequences. But don't let that make it seem slow...I would have not expected it, but the 15-minute episodes make everything move along briskly, and material that would have felt drawn out in 22 minutes feels perfect in the shorter length chosen. The music is engaging, though mostly found during the end credits. The look reminded me somehow of Yoshitaka Abe and Akira Takata's work in Haibane Renmei, which is certainly a good reference point in my book. (Maybe it's just the halos.)

What makes Time of Eve an engaging show to watch is its sense of self. It doesn't take itself too seriously, as sci-fi often does.  Just about the time that things get a little heavy, there's something to laugh about. It's a voyage of discovery for our characters, but I didn't get the sense that they (or we as an audience) were supposed to be smacked over the noggin with the message. In fact, one could come out of viewing Time of Eve and not take a greater message from it at all. It's a show that sneaks up on you. I enjoyed each episode more and more and felt drawn into this world, but only once I'd seen the whole did I think, "Wow, that was really pretty great." It tugs at you through simple conversations and small nuances that become deeper upon reflection. It shows wit and class that more anime need to emulate.

Based on my opening paragraphs, you might think that Time of Eve wants you to come away with some greater perspective.  Perhaps it does. But I also think that it has to be seen through Japanese lenses. While Japanese culture is more harmonious than many Western cultures on the surface, there is a great deal of honor and shame that still plays into how Japanese persons feel they must act and behave, and roles must be played. Looking at the larger picture, Japan has also had a very tough time in terms of accepting racial diversity. It is still a very homogenous racial group, and so they have their own issues to deal with. Can we learn from them too?  Absoultely. But I think it would go way too far to think that Yoshiura has a specific agenda in mind. Indeed, he is dealing with robots here...it's possible that I have placed a subtext into the piece where none was intended.

No matter. I give a strong recommendation to Time of Eve not just because it made me think, but also because it is quite beautiful. It's a treat to able to enjoy an anime with meaningful characters, strong dialogue, and a lack of cliche. It brought a smile to my face. In fact, the main reason I didn't give it my highest rating is because this world deserves a further exploration than what it receives in these six lone episodes. There's enough here to be engaged and intrigued, but it's not quite perfection...yet. A theatrical version hit Japanese theaters this weekend (6 March 2010), and I hope it does well enough to inspire the second season hinted at on the official website. I want more.

Time of Eve -- mild lechery in one episode -- A