This review contains spoilers.
“In the future, probably Japan. ‘Robots’ have long been put into practical use. This is a time not far after the widespread deployment of ‘Androids’.”
So begins Time of EVE, a six-episode ONA anime series written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura that explores the relationships between humans and androids. The critically acclaimed 2008 anime was rereleased as a movie in 2010 with additional scenes that resolve some of the anime’s mysteries.
Time of EVE explores a world in flux. The advent of androids has been met with much hostility. Television ads decry the use of androids in early childhood education and the food industry. Talk shows denigrate young people who fall in love with their androids. These “Android-holics”, they say, represent the nadir of humanity’s relationship with technology, for they have lost the ability to relate to real human beings.
Two opposing organizations represent the polarities of the politics regarding human treatment of androids. While the Ethics Committee tries to limit the use of androids and encourages people to treat them as mere household appliances, the Android Promotion Committee operates covertly as a nascent android rights movement.
The only way to tell androids apart from human beings is the holographic ‘status rings’ that appear above the androids’ heads. The Robotics Act, a set of laws sponsored by the Ethics Committee, makes it illegal for androids to not display their status rings in public.
The story opens with high school student Rikuo checking the behaviour log of his family’s android, Sammy, who has recently been acting independently by going places and doing things outside of her orders.
Amid the list of Sammy’s activities, one entry stands out: “** are you enjoying the time of EVE?**”
With his friend Masaki, Rikuo traces Sammy’s movements to the underground café The Time of EVE. The café has one rule: discrimination between humans and androids is not allowed. Within the café, androids do not display their status rings, and when patrons leave the café the door locks after them for two minutes to prevent anyone from following them and discovering whether they are human or android.
Rikuo, Masaki, and the audience enter the world of The Time of EVE unable to discern anyone’s identity; this mystery blurs the lines between humans and androids. We become acquainted with each of the café’s patrons, and through their backstories explore the diversity of human-android relationships and androids’ roles in society.
The first friend Rikuo and Masaki make is Akiko, an energetic, talkative young girl they believe is human—until they see her at their school the next day with a status ring above her head.
Shimei, an android with the appearance of an old man, acts as the primary caregiver to the young girl Chie, his “everything”. His only wish, he says, “is to make her happy”.
Rikuo and Masaki also meet an android illegally abandoned by his family whose memories have been erased. He dies—short circuits—when he tries to remember his name.
Perhaps the most interesting of the patrons is the couple Koji and Rina, both of whom are androids and believe the other to be human. Though they initially only associate with each other in order to understand and serve their respective masters better, they eventually fall in love.
Koji serves his master primarily as a ‘sex-roid’: an android used for sexual and emotional intimacy. Rina doubles as her master’s bodyguard and his sex-roid. Her leg periodically malfunctions from a bullet wound she sustained protecting her master. Though her time as a fully-functioning android is limited, she will not get the necessary repairs to save her life because the discovery of the (sexual) “modifications” done to her body would put her master in an awkward position.
During our time at the café, we also learn about Rikuo’s own past and his reservations about androids. Once a talented and accomplished pianist, Rikuo performed at a recital where an android also played the piano. Not only did the android pianist play better than him, but—and this is his major hang-up—he was moved by the android’s performance. Horrified that an android could play music with more passion and emotion than he could, Rikuo vowed to never again perform.
Saddened by this, Sammy teaches herself to play the piano. She isn’t very good, illustrating that androids, like humans, aren’t immediately excellent at something, but must spend time practising in order to master a skill (though whether the rate of their learning or improvement differs from that of humans is not revealed).
After meeting all of the androids in the café and realizing that they too have emotions and psychological depth, the revelation that Sammy can play the piano does not horrify Rikuo, but inspires him to take up music once again. Now that he has recognized the individuality, interiority, and emotionality of androids—their ‘humanity’, so to speak—he is no longer ashamed that an android may be able to produce art that surpasses his own.
Eight years prior to the events depicted in the anime, the Ethics Committee led a demonstration against robots known as the Tokisaka Incident. Although the specifics of the incident are unclear, it appears that the demonstration culminated in the death of one robot and the near death of a young girl.
Nagi, the owner of the café, is hinted to have been that girl.
At the end of the movie version of Time of EVE, Nagi visits her father Shiotsuki, the creator of the first androids. The last shot of the movie shows Nagi placing her hand over Shiotsuki’s. Faint outlines of Nagi’s metallic knuckles can be seen beneath her skin, hinting that she, like her father, is in fact a cyborg—making her a literal and metaphorical bridge between humans and androids. It seems that after the Tokisaka Incident and the loss of one of her hands (if not more of her body), Nagi began to travel, setting up various cafés for human-android interactions wherever she went.
The anime frequently falls back on its refrain of “are you enjoying the time of EVE? ” This question is posed by Nagi to the café’s patrons and appears throughout the film on scarves and coffee mugs. This isn’t just the café’s slogan, but is also a meta-anime question posed to Rikuo and to the audience.
Rikuo realizes that he is enjoying the Time of EVE because he is making friends, learning their stories, and revising his understanding of humanity and what constitutes a person. The ultimate message of Time of EVE is that when we relate to the Other—which in this case manifests as androids—we discover that others aren’t actually that much different from us, and that life is much more enjoyable when we treat each other with dignity and respect rather than like household appliances.
With brilliant pacing and scripting, thoughtful and thorough world-building, and a careful examination of what makes us human, Time of EVE is a timeless, poignant, and fascinating anime.
-contributed by Alex De Pompa