When thinking of science fiction concepts, images of futuristic technology and the vast frontier of space are the first things that comes to mind. Arguably the most popular item in the former category is that of the robot. A machine that exists to serve a person or perform a designated function is nothing short of useful and can almost be seen as necessary depending on the setting of the story. Upping the ante are androids, "advanced" versions of robots that take on a human-like appearance. Though they have an advanced AI system and they can look as real as you or me, they are still machines bound by the 3 Laws of Robotics (not harming a human, obey human orders, protect its own existence). But how well defined are the 3 Laws? That's what Time of Eve wishes to explore over the course of its run time.
Time of Eve is a film that, like the androids of the movie, masquerades its depth early on. In a "not too distant future", androids are seen serving humans in daily tasks and treated no different than any other kind of machine one would use. Adding to this is the propaganda created by the Ethics Committee, a group that has roots in radical anti-robot activities. Serving as a stark contrast to the outside world is the cafe known as the Time of Eve, a hidden location where these androids meet to talk and have coffee. In the outside world, androids have to have a pink halo above their heads constantly to let the world know they are robots. The cafe's golden rule goes against this, saying that all androids must turn off their halo as to not form any discrimination. You would think that even with the halos off, identifying androids would still be quite easy due to robot mannerisms. However, the androids themselves change quite a bit when in the cafe, with personalities and behavior that strikes closer to being made of flesh than metal. It becomes a guessing game observing each customer, wondering who is real and who isn't.
This is what ultimately makes Time of Eve so interesting to watch. The androids of the future aren't a weapon of mass destruction or some perfect human - rather, they are robots that use this independence as a way of better serving their designated master. They learn by observing others and they too have things that make them happy or sad. Just look at the bizarre love triangle of Koji and Rina or the absolutely heartbreaking story of Katoran. Though it is sci-fi on the outside, it's a slice of life at heart - personal stories are shared amidst coffee and the atmosphere of the cafe. Despite the laid back tone it sets, the film is not free from conflict. The main characters Rikuo and Masaki both have had their share of robot problems in the past, planting seeds of jealousy and distrust in their minds. Coupled with a society that condemns humans for seeing androids as more than mindless servants, they can't be blamed for their suspicion of this grey area. It takes the efforts of bartender Nagi and the histories of the customers to sway their opinion.
What makes this film enjoyable stems from how the minds of the androids work. The androids are still bound by the three Laws of Robotics, but they try to grasp as much they can from around these laws. Lying, for instance, doesn't fall under this rule. Yet with all these nifty loopholes the androids have found, they use this towards better providing service to their owners/masters. It forms a strangely heartwarming experience, seeing how these robots wish to be seen as caring loving people instead of emotionless distant machines. With every law examined, it brings up questions of ethics not just for the characters but for the viewer. Is it OK to lie now if it brings something better in the future? Can you follow an order at the cost of hurting another? What appears as a basic human rights campaign is actually that of philosophy.
The film is also a joy to watch due to its excellent pacing. It is told in a series of vignettes, and when director Yasuhiro Yoshiura feels a scene is over, he smartly cuts away or lets it fade into the next one. With a lot of ground to cover in just an hour and 40 minutes, we are given just enough to feel the impact of the characters without them growing tiresome. By the time the movie ended, it left me wanting even more and even feeling a bit upset there was no Season 2 or continuation. As quickly as I learned about this futuristic world, I left it with just as many questions as I started with. Even if there never will be a follow up, Time of Eve exists comfortably in its own world and can work just fine standing alone.
A few problems do impact this film. A little bit of suspension of belief is needed to get into its world setting. I don't think that a future like this with near-human androids would be met with such backlash. Additionally, as human as the androids act, they are still programmable and as complex as the feelings that these robots show, they are still ultimately artificial. Yoshiura's directing style can also be yay or nay with some. His camera angles shift between first and third person quite often and frequently use a motion blur effect. Though it makes scenes more dynamic (I personally loved it), its alternative style can be distasteful to some (and could possibly invoke motion sickness)!
The art style is a mix of 2D and 3D. This can usually be disastrous, but with a smart director (and a decent movie-sized budget), it gives the scenes more depth. In Time of Eve, there's no clash in these styles and things lay naturally in space. I like the character designs in particular - they're not particularly "loud" with huge expressions and distorted features but not plain enough to make it seem like a forgettable mid-2000's title. Outside of the typical "anime feature" of highly detailed eyes, I could probably see these character models as real people, from their noses to their hairstyles. The movie does fair audio-wise. Aside from the pleasing credits song "I have a dream", the soundtrack is more or less sound effects and short pieces to enhance a mood. The voice actors also did a good job in this film, in particular the main characters with a down to earth and realistic tone (though the mania that Yukana gives Akiko is loved as well).
With this in mine, I give Time of Eve a 7/10. I admit that I was a bit skeptical on starting the movie, thinking it was going to be one of "robot rebellion" or overtly preachy. What I got was a mature film that was as welcoming and relaxed as the atmosphere in Nagi's cafe. Fans of shows like Mushishi or Natsume Yuujinchou will adore this movie, as well as sci-fi fans who are looking for something different than a thriller. On every object in the cafe, it asks if "you are enjoying the Time of Eve?" I certainly can say I did.
Do you like or dislike this anime? If you haven't watched it, are you encouraged to watch it or not? Leave a comment on my profile telling me what you think of the anime and/or my review.
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day!