When one of a pair of young lovers is killed in an air disaster, a robot is made into a replica of the deceased and sent to the survivor, to help them work through their feelings of trauma and guilt.
Hal is set in a future of both humanoid robots AND pastoral scenes, and some of those scenes are absolutely gorgeous, particularly scenes set in a Japanese garden, and in a park at dusk. Our leads, Hal (Haru in the Japanese version) and Kurumi are also both attractively rendered. I've absolutely no complaints about the art.
Plotwise, though, I had issues. I've noted before that some shows leave too much unexplained, and Hal seems to me one of the worst offenders. It only runs an hour, and yet it prioritizes things strangely for such a short OVA, spending considerable time on things like the securing by Hal of an unwieldy gift for Kurumi, and also spending some extended time with some elderly women in a care facility. (Some of the ladies are drawn in what I felt to be a grotesquely caricatured style, but maybe it's only my sensitivity as an older person myself.) But other important and/or interesting details get short shrift. I was unclear about the whole thing with the "buttons" (other than that they were some kind of wearable tech), and especially about exactly what Kurumi's "value added" was with them. I didn't have the slightest idea what Hal and his "friend" Ryu were supposed to be DOING in the "dirty job" we see them forced to perform in a flashback. (Though it's interesting that, as Hal explains, humans, NOT robots, are given the most dangerous jobs here because "robots are expensive." Apparently this future Japan also still has the practice of debt inheritance.)
But there's that whole issue of the show's eventual dramatic change of perspective. While ALL fiction necessarily involves selective reporting- since we're only looking at events related to particular characters' relationships, etc.- we nevertheless still normally expect a writer or director to be at least somewhat objective about what we're being shown, which is why we're so easily fooled when we're presented things in a deliberately deceptive way (e.g., The Sixth Sense.) Hal doesn't engage in THAT sort of biased reporting- in fact, there's one careless remark by a character that gives us a hint of the "truth" long before it's revealed- but I kept wondering if spending so much time on seemingly incidental issues is the show's way of keeping us from figuring out things too soon. Still, even during these "incidental" happenings it becomes clear that things are not being left to pure chance; there's deliberate (if subtle) manipulation going on by the people Hal meets, for the purpose of getting the robot replica and the human into a relationship. But if the "alternative facts" are correct, the people around Hal aren't just being less than completely honest with him- they're actually part of a deep conspiracy of deception.
And that brings me to the core of what's bothering me here: the story does NOT work equally well "both ways." As noted, much deeper conspiracy has to be involved if it's one way rather than the other. One version of the "truth" requires highly sophisticated acting by a party we'd normally expect to be very naïve; the other version doesn't. And there's the whole thing with Ryu- he has very little reaction when he sees Hal with Kurumi. It's surely not because HE'S part of the conspiracy too; I just felt that the show here couldn't show an honest reaction from him because that would immediately give away the game, so it avoids it. And what's with Ryu's big change of heart later? The first impression I got of Ryu was as a "user" who's seeking out Hal to get him out of a jam with some pursuers; the latter are presumably those amoral "dirty jobs" guys who want to press BOTH boys back into service in their horrid enterprises. So not only Ryu, but THOSE guys as well, all suddenly turn altruistic and magnanimous? REALLY?
I've said a really good ending can save a show I'd otherwise tend to be dismissive of, and sure, the ultimate denouement here is, at least, encouraging; but I STILL felt a bit "used" (AND shortchanged) at the end, somehow.
It's just too spare to suit me, and what storytelling there IS seems strangely skewed, even if that IS part of the setup for the 180-degree switch later; but then that switch" didn't work for me either. It's a VERY pretty show though, and the leads are nice kids- or at least ONE of them is... — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Mature themes, including a tragic death. (I assume that "body" in the box/coffin is just a hologram, since, given the circumstances of the accident, I wouldn't expect much of the actual victim to be left at ALL.) Rightstuf suggests 14+
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Hal © 2013 WIT Studio
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