In the Japan of the future, human-appearing robots called hIEs (for Human Interface Elements) are common; they're all managed through a gigantic AI, called Higgins, created by the Memeframe Corporation. But five more-than-usually-autonomous hIEs, called "Red Boxes", have escaped from one of Memeframe's research labs. One of them, named Lacia, rescues teenager Arato Endo from getting killed by another one; and Arato quickly pledges absolute loyalty to her, and his assistance in whatever she's doing, despite warnings from- and later, THREATS from- his classmate Ryo Kaidai.
"The low quality of Japan's Assembly members has been a prevalent issue"
In engineering, there's a classical piece of advice summarized by the acronym KISS- for "Keep It Simple, Stupid!". One of this show's main problems is that it doesn't; it brings up a LOT of ideas- the original author seems to be quite familiar with much of the relevant Sci Fi- but it doesn't develop any of these ideas in any real depth, or in some cases at all.
Take that quote at the beginning of the review. It's certainly a sentiment that a lot of people would identify with right now, in their OWN countries. In the context of this show, it's made by a prototype "robot politician", which would instantly assess popular opinion and make decisions based on that. Now this would seem to be replacing conventional representative government with something closer to direct democracy. Theorists on government, from Plato on, have usually maintained that decisions should be made by the wisest, and not directly by the masses; the latter has usually been disparaged as "mob rule", and of course masses CAN be pretty easily swayed into doing awful things; we have plenty of horrible historical examples. On the other hand, many folks would argue that we've not been picking our best-and-brightest, much less Plato's ideal "philosopher-kings", of late; and direct democracy DOES have the advantage that it's much harder to bribe millions of citizens than just a few hundred politicians. One of the most popular themes in classic Sci-Fi is the exploration of just these sorts of questions, and its authors have felt free to explore the possible advantages even of societies run by principles quite contrary to our own thinking. (Among the stories finding positives in what we'd almost universally regard as negative are Damon Knight’s "I See You" (everyone spying on everyone else as a GOOD thing), Philip K. Dick's "Minority Report" (in the ORIGINAL story, Pre-Crime is, also, ultimately judged a GOOD thing), and Isaac Asimov's- well, I'll get to that one below.) Anime can also explore alternative social arrangements; as I mentioned in the review for Heat Guy J, one of its episodes did a marvelous critique of a society actually run on Ayn Rand's principles. But here...well, the issue of direct democracy is not something Beatless really wants to explore, so the whole issue gets dropped, quite abruptly too.
The show also raises the issue- which it ALSO really didn't develop very deeply, in my opinion- inherent in Asimov's First Law of Robotics, namely what does it mean to keep humans "from harm"? Asimov himself (or at least his story's stand-in, Susan Calvin), in "The Evitable Conflict", the last story of I, Robot, concluded that robots would do whatever it took to make humans "happy"- which in fact meant running their affairs while leaving them the illusion of choice. John Sladek, in his story "The Happy Breed", has the robots reducing humans to infantilism to make them more manageable. In the current show, Lacia says that robots are tools that have outpaced their owners and need to be scaled back to be in harmony with human beings; but even though we're shown the catastrophic consequences of an earlier AI's failures of judgment, it mostly looked to ME like Higgins was doing an admirable job of letting the humans act as ignorantly and irresponsibly has they always have; all the chaos and destruction seem to exclusively be the fault of the Red Box girls. To put it another way, I didn't really think the show made Lacia's case for her. I was particularly puzzled by one character's eleventh-hour change of heart; that character had some legitimate issues with some of the things going on, but they didn't seem to pertain to Higgins per se.
(By the way, the only explanation I could come up with for the "Red Box" term was that it was some reference to the video/game retailer. I also don't know where the show's TITLE comes from, or exactly what it refers to.)
The fact that the Red Boxes all look female DOES sort of make sense, aside from the pleasure it gives to teenage male anime fans; people will tend to follow the lead (and instructions) of a pretty girl. The show calls this manipulation of humans an "analog hack", and Arato's friend-turned-enemy Ryo urges Arato to not trust appearances with Lacia; and yet the show seems to have the subtext that appearances are EXACTLY what SHOULD be trusted: one Red Box girl, Methode, has a permanent scowl/sneer/snarl on her face (therefore NOT to be trusted); another, named Snowdrop, LOOKS psychotic (therefore ALSO not to be trusted), and so on.
While the motivations of the Red Box girls were usually both cryptic AND contradictory, the feelings and actions of several of the humans toward robots often reflected their own personal baggage. Ryo hates robots for a personal reason, even though his dad WORKS for Memeframe, and he'd normally be in line for a position in the company's upper management. Ryo's sister Shiori may not hate robots in general, but she does hate LACIA for her own reasons; and I thought it was the height of hypocrisy for her to condemn her brother for his perceived ethical failings, considering the trouble she causes out of her OWN pettiness. Several of the human cast, in fact, are major pains in the posterior for one reason or another. These include Arato's other close friend Kengo Suguri (another one with robot issues), but most of all, a woman named Erica Burrows, who was awakened from cryosleep and is now fabulously wealthy. (I guess this is one of those When The Sleeper Wakes things where one's wealth has grown to outrageous proportions while one slept.) Erica is BORED with this Brave New World's general peacefulness and really wants a return to the chaos and carnage of the past. (I sure hope the show is getting reimbursed for all the product placement her character does.) There's also Arato's kid sister Yuka, who's obsessed with food (her T-shirts mostly feature pictures of food items), and who is constantly declaring her brother an "idiot". Well, YES, he sort of IS- I'll get to HIM soon-but she seems to have the same intelligence genes HE has. Or perhaps inferior ones to HIS.
There are two other Red Box girls, who I had very different reactions to. One drops out of the action almost immediately, in favor of the (literally) domestic life, without the audience really getting to see much of what she could DO. I won't dignify her by giving her name here, and wonder what the rationale was for creating her character in the first place.
As for Arato, I'm afraid he's the absolutely typical anime male teenage lunkhead. When he becomes the "owner" of Lacia, he OF COURSE asks if this pretty girl robot will do "adult things" with him. Fortunately, Lacia has been programmed to avoid contributing to the delinquency of a minor. (Some will be disappointed that we don't get to find out how "anatomically correct" she is in certain details.) Lacia, like Asimov's robots, seems content to let Arato THINK he's in the driver's seat- even though I think Ryo's right, in a way; she DOES lead Arato around by the nose, but she's so NICE about it (and he's so oblivious) that none of this registers with him.
I need to mention the show's episode count. There are 24 episodes of actual story, but as aired there are 28, because 4 "clip shows" are included (summaries of the previous few episodes.) I would guess this was because even the show's creators realized it was hard to follow. The problem is that the reprise "episodes" don't really help.
Yes, some of the 3DCG is good enough, and there's plenty of action. But the show has a TERRIBLE time fully developing either the ideas it brings up, or the motivations of the Red Box girls, except for Kouka (who really doesn't NEED to justify herself; she is what she is), and Lacia I suppose. The humans usually seem either brain-dead (Arato), or consumed by petty feelings of revenge, or in some other way unpleasant; given THIS sample of humanity, I can kind of understand why some of the Red Box girls are so dismissive of people. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Some nudity (though not too graphic, and do naked robots really count?), and quite a bit of violence (though it's mostly the robots that receive THAT, too.) Amazon goes TV-NR as usual; I'd likely go TV-14.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Beatless © 2018 Diomedea
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