Last year was the first year that I participated in the Secret Santa Project and I basically hit the jackpot with the three series that were picked for me – Noein, Figure 17, and Simoun. Noein even earned a spot (#16) on my top 20 all-time anime list; not bad for a series I probably would never have watched by myself. I spent the year hoping for a similar outcome with this years Secret Santa Project which put a great deal of pressure on my Secret Santa, even if the person didn’t know it. Probably a bit unfair to ask so much but that’s how humans seem to operate. So, could Time of Eve live up to likes of Noein, Figure 17, and Simoun? Let’s find out.
Sometime in the near future the twin developments of true AI and perfect human-analog mechanical bodies allow for the creation of lifelike androids to fill a variety of roles in society. To protect humanity from potential harm Asimov’s Three Laws are hard coded into the minds of all robots, including these androids. And to allow humans the ability to differentiate these androids from humans they have to keep a holographic ring glowing above their heads at all times. Time of Eve starts somewhere in Japan as one day a high school student notices that his household android went to a weird location and decides to investigate. Once there, he and his friend stumble upon a café which has a house rule that humans and robots are to be treated equally (thereby forcing all androids to turn off their rings). Neither of these boys are ready for the series of experiences they are about to have as they come to grips with the idea of androids being true independent individuals with their own personalities, hopes, and dreams.
Thoughts and impressions
I won’t lie. I was initially kinda disappointed about my three picks. The one was an anime based on a manga that I bought a few volumes of before stopping, the second was a series that at one point I was kinda interested in but never got enough interested in it enough to actually watch and the third, Time of Eve, was half-downloaded by me three years ago and then never finished or watched. I grumbled to myself for a couple of days until my optimistic side won and I decided to embrace the point of the Secret Santa Project – to try something I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. With that in mind I picked the movie version of Time of Eve for my first review. (I still hope to get to one of the other picks before Christmastime.)
A mere 15 minutes in and I was ready to throw a time-traveling Aquarion Evol style Infinity Punch back to myself at the point where I decided not to watch Time of Eve. To think I had this thought-provoking, emotionally deep, grand SF tale laying around for the last three years, gathering metaphorical dust, makes me angry at myself.
Like all good science fiction, the science fictional backdrop is really just an aid to tell a story. So, while one could watch Time of Eve to marvel at the high-tech society and it’s human-like androids, that’s really a sidelight to the story about the café and it’s customers who go there to relax and express a side of themselves that’s impossible to do so in society and hide a side of themselves that they normally have to express in society. Just like one would imagine happens all the time in cafés around the world today. What’s kinda surprising, at first glance, is that Time of Eve was able to spend almost no time constructing its SF, near future world. Instead, the movie spent it’s mere 105 minute run time on introducing nine characters (and a handful of smaller bit characters), giving us their back story, explaining what makes them tick (figuratively 🙂 ) and having many of them go through serious maturing and character development all while creating a compelling story (expect to find your eyes get a little misty in a couple of places) that also sneaks in a deeper plot then what’s normal for a slice-of-life type show. And I almost forgot to mention the great vocal cast that helped bring Time of Eveto life; to name but a few, there was Jun Fukuyama, Rie Tanaka, Rina Satou, and Miyuki Sawashiro.
I say only initially surprising because it became readily apparent that Yasuhiro Yoshiura (original creator and director) and Studio Rikka are masters at their craft. There was so many little touches that just screams we are in the presence of people who know how to make really good anime. The background music was always spot on in complementing and bringing out the very best in every scene. The comedic bits were genuinely funny and integrated into the overall show without upsetting the flow of the show. The realistic animation style coupled with the live-action style handheld camera effects (jerky pans, zooming, refocusing when changing the focus of the shot, etc.) helped make Time of Eve feel like it was a real place, full of real characters. And let’s not forget the quality storytelling and the way a bigger plot was weaved into the movie (no specifics on this because I don’t want to spoil). Or how Time of Eve doesn’t need to spend time info-dumping about the world or androids because anything we need to know is worked into the story. Heck, even the sound effects were a cut above and helped sale so many scenes.
Of course, if one wants their SF movie to have thought provoking science fiction, Time of Eve does not disappoint either. It’s obvious that Time of Eve was a love letter to Isaac Asimov, his Three Laws of Robotics, and his belief that robots weren’t going to try to kill humanity off just because they were robots but it goes beyond being a mere slavish imitator; it also nails the heart and soul of an Asimov book like I, Robot , the reason why these books are so good. I’d even go so far as to say that Time of Eve is a better embodiment of the spirit of Asimov’s robot books then pretty much anything I’ve ever seen made out of them (do not get me started on the I,Robot movie).
Time of Eve never had to preach about the questions and ideas it wanted the viewer to think about; it told a story and we, the viewers, merrily did the work ourselves. For instance, without trying to spoil anything, at one point in the movie we see one of the androids in society after seeing her behaving and thinking like a person inside the café and I had this intense visceral reaction in my gut – I was seething with anger at a society that’s forcing these androids to act like cold machines when they aren’t. I wanted to climb into the screen to do something about it and that’s the mark of a good movie (or TV series, book, etc.).
The only downside to Time of Eve is that, even though the movie is emotionally satisfying and it has a stellar ending that completes the various story threads, I want more and there’s so obviously more to this world that’s just waitng to get animated. I can easily see a 26 episode series that could pick up at the end of the movie and there’d probably still be plenty of material left over for more.
I guess my secret Santa knew what to pick again, thanks. I highly recommend Time of Eve.
In closing, my final thought is: what is it with great Japanese SF anime series and cafés.
Final Series Score: 12/12 Perfect
Rewatchablity: 4.5/5 – High
Ending: 4.5/5 – Sublime
Animation: 5/5 – Epic
This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2012 Secret Santa Project.
Seeking a second opinion? Try these other blogs – Mono no Aware, Hanner’s Anime Blog, Ambivalence – or is it ambiguity?, chaostangent, anime/otaku, Major arcana, and last but certainly not least Anime Instrumentality