Almost A Hero

Eve no Jikan – Of Goodness in Golems

In Anime on October 7, 2008 at 12:51 pm

What is it about robots and coffee? Is the future to be populated with darling droids and ye old coffee shops? Is the fragrance of the Brazilian blend to be the scent of the new technological era? Will coffeehouses always serve as the germination for revolutionary seeds?

Influenced by the Robot Ethics Committee, it’s become common sense for people to treat androids like household appliances. Their appearance – indistinguishable from humans except for the ring over each android’s head – has lead some people to empathize unnecessarily with androids. Known as “android-holics,” such people have become a social problem.

Rikuo (Jun Fukuyama), a high school student, has been taught from childhood that androids are not to be viewed as humans, and has always used them as convenient tools. One day Rikuo discovers some strange data in the behavior records of his family’s household android.

Rikuo and his friend Masaki (Kenji Nojima) trace Sammy’s (Rie Tanaka) movements, only to discover a mysterious café that features a house rule that “humans and robots are to be treated the same” . . .

Eve no Jikan is a fascinating show. For a 15 minute ONA, it manages to cram in a lot of visual detail and information while maintaining a steady flow in the story itself. While the music, pacing, animation and characters are all excellent, it is the angle which Yasuhiro Yoshiura has taken, along with the wealth of information in the background, that I would like to discuss.

Eve no Jikan offers a lot for the viewer who is willing to engage with it beyond a superficial level, and I hope that my essay will add to your enjoyment of the show and get you thinking. This is based solely on Acts I and II of the show.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Androids

The most interesting aspect of Eve no Jikan is the interaction and social dynamic between the humans and androids. Typically, the humans treat their robot companions as inferior beings. There is a fair amount of Luddite propaganda pushed by the Ethics Committee (which seems to have a more sinister hidden agenda, but more on that later), and concerns about the growing phenomenon known as dori-kei: a psychological dependence on androids.

Rikuo and Sammy share a moment. Ahhh, how romantic.

All of this is fairly standard stuff as far as robot tales are concerned, but there is one critical point in which Eve no Jikan differs, and it revolves around the treatment of dori-kei. Dori-kei extends beyond its presented official definition as presented in Eve no Jikan’s media – the very act of thanking an android or treating it similarly to a human, (which can hardly be construed as having a psychological dependence), is enough to warrant being labeled as a dori-kei, and there is a fair amount of ridicule, shame and disgust that follows the label.

But, if it is so important for humans not to empathize with androids – and there is a definite social stigma in doing so – then why are the majority of them manufactured to resemble humanity so closely? Barring very few exceptions, almost every android shown in Eve no Jikan is eerily human in appearance, voice and manner. Empathy is the natural, instinctual reaction to another human being, and a lack thereof is seen as the hallmark of psychotics.

Isn’t it odd, then, that the level of interaction promoted with androids in Eve no Jikan seems to be one of abuse? In THAT Animeblog’s review of the first episode, the observation was made that the androids are treated worse than one would treat an appliance. Androids appear to be used as a target for humans to vent their frustrations or act out small cruelties that would be frowned upon if enacted on their fellow man – which would explain why dori-kei is so detestable. It places such action in a very negative light, and no one wants their own motives called into question.

There is a fair amount of criticism in the portrayal of this interaction. Eve no Jikan presents the question: if given a human being who was denied the same rights and privileges as themselves, how would they treat such a human being? The answer seems to be a misanthropic one – the average person treats them like slaves. I can only wonder if the show will look at the less savoury, maladjusted portions of the population who are not dori-kei.

Similarly, the older generation is exempt from dori-kei. In one scene, when his sister asks why he talks to Sammy as if she were a human being, Rikou points out that their mother talks naturally to her and even purchases her clothes to wear. The sister replies, “For her generation, it can’t be helped. But if you do it, it means you are already a dori-kei.” If everyone acted the same way, one could argue that dori-kei is an unnatural deviation.

By separating the older generation from the younger one, Yasuhiro highlights that this enforced regime against androids is a deliberate construct by the Ethics Committee, and to explain why we will have to dig into Eve no Jikan’s history.

“Would you eat a tomato created by machines?”

Aquatic musings in the time of EVE

Eve no Jikan shares many themes with Yasuhiro’s earlier work, Mizu no Kotoba, otherwise known as Aquatic Language. Both feature androids, coffee shops, questions around the Three Laws of Robotics, issues around human relationships and the power for language to shape ones thought.

In Aquatic Language, a graph is displayed showing the curves of the first two robotic laws against the dimensions of potential and time. 1 and 2 represent the First and Second Laws of Robotics respectively: 1. A robot may not directly harm, nor through inaction fail to try and prevent harm to a human being and 2. A robot may not disobey a command from a human unless it contravenes the First Law. The potential, I believe, represents the likelihood of the laws contradicting themselves over time and the operational band in which they can successfully follow each law.

Aquatic Language could be seen as the historical precursor to the current times of Eve no Jikan; a point where robotics and artificial intelligence have been only recently introduced. The barista in Aquatic Language identifies herself as an android immediately, and openly states that she’s never experienced the same emotional hardships as human beings. As a result, you could argue that the androids in Aquatic Language fall near the start of the graph, and therefore have a fair amount of play in following the laws.

Whereas Eve no Jikan lies further on the time axis, either just before, on or past the turning point as indicated on the graph. Asimov designed the rules to have a hierarchy of importance; therefore, as long as the curves of each do not cross, the three rules can be maintained.

This is particularly relevant in Eve no Jikan, and I will explain why. The only thing that separates humans from androids is the digital halo that spins around the androids head, marking them as such. In other words, without it, humans would be constantly performing a form of Turing’s Test – trying to determine whether the person they’re interacting with is a human being or a robot.

The café itself presents such an environment. By enforcing the house rule that patrons cannot discriminate, you create the environment for this test to occur. If a human is unable to determine who is an android – or chooses not too – it is possible that said human could develop a relationship (platonic or otherwise) unwittingly.

This is where the graph factors in. The potential to cause harm beyond that of the merely physical increases substantially in this scenario over time. Therefore, it becomes more and more difficult to follow the Laws. Let’s say that a human – unaware that the object of their affections is literally that – had just confessed his love for an android. The android knows that a romantic relationship would cause them harm due to increased animosity from their peers due to dori-kei. However, to spurn their love would also cause emotional harm.

In Eve no Jikan, the androids side-step the issue by either lying or refusing to make a decision (say, by not answering at all) on the premise that the Second Law prohibits them from doing so. This side-step requires rationalisation, something at which human beings excel over their logic-chained brethren. This is the “turning point” in the graph – the point where the androids cease to be mechanical devices following a program. At this point, androids would begin to demonstrate autonomous action and nurture intelligence.

This is why the Ethics Committee pushes the anti-android propaganda so forcefully. It can be seen in various areas of the show – in an advert which criticizes the modernization of agriculture, in the “Human Style/Robot Style” posters that grace the billboards, the “No robots” sign which uses a symbol reminiscent of the androids’ 1940’s counterparts. Interestingly, not once in the first two episodes do the Ethics Committee refer to androids as “Androids”, despite the popular media and androids themselves referring to themselves as such.

The Ethics Committee is trying incredibly hard to maintain that disconnect between humans and androids in both action and language in order to avoid what the café has created: an environment where androids and humans are indistinguishable from one another, and for the very reason I explained earlier – such an environment encourages the growth of individuality in androids as they, along with their human counterparts.

Although the obvious reason would be to prevent losing a cheap workforce, that doesn’t sit very well with me. I believe the Ethics Committee have another reason for suppressing the growth of a self in androids, but with only two episodes I can’t really say what with any degree of accuracy.

Ultimately, for some, Eve no Jikan may seem to fall into the “Can robots think and feel?” category. Truthfully, there isn’t an original story in the entire world – yet we continue to tell them. Eve no Jikan happens to be telling an old story very well, and falls into a subset of anime that has been released recently (such as Kaiba and RD Sennou Chosashitsu), but more of that in another post.

Postscript

These are just one or two other observations that I would like to point out that didn’t really fit with the flow of the essay.

  • One of the things that cropped up while I was looking for screenshots was the gender of the androids people selected. Notice how all of the owners seem to gravitate towards androids of the opposite sex? The rich lady walking has an all male entourage; the off-screen female classmate who is ridiculed for thanking her male android; the two male students who slam their bags roughly into their waiting female androids arms. Is it related directly to our preference for aesthetically pleasing objects and persons, or is the show hinting at a deeper, psycho-sexual meaning behind the choice, considering the level of abuse levelled at the androids?
  • I was immediately taken by the digital halos that adorn the androids, and the shift between the red/green status. I’ve tried to correlate the colour with their actions to determine some sort of pattern, but I can’t really explain it. Maybe someone else has some idea, but I’m largely stumped.
  • References to Code:Life, which appear both in a book and in the opening credits to the show, when the title of the act is displayed.

  • Sammy is cuter in a ponytail. That is all.

Validation of statement. See above.THAT IS ALL.

Acknowledgements

Thanks must go to Pireze, who has not only taken it upon himself to sub this awesome series, but has introduced a form of open-source subtitles that makes capturing screencaps and blogging a breeze. Pop him a message of thanks if you can!

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  1. I did think that Aquatic Language was a sort of prequel to EVE no Jikan, and you did a great job at connecting the two in a way that I couldn’t, and in explaining what being a dori-kei could represent: in a way having humanity own up to their actions.

  2. Thanks, TheBigN. While I don’t think that the characters “afflicted” with dori-kei see it as owning up to their actions, they no doubt feel a need to interact with the androids on a more personal/human level.

  3. Oh. When I say that, I don’t mean it’s the dori-kei that feel that way. It’s the people that criticize the dori-kei (as well as the people that probably coined the term) that would probably feel that annoying sense. :P

  4. [...] android-holic is somebody who treats their android as if they are human and, as Almost a Hero smartly points out, it is a term reserved for the younger generation. In one scene a girl is teased [...]

  5. Wow. Just when I think I’ve read all there is to read about this, I find something else that gets me scratching my head all over again. There have been a few occasions where comparisons have been drawn between EnJ and Aquatic Language, but I’m still a bit reluctant to connect the two together (I think the ideas from one were revisited in the other, but I’m not confident they take place within the same universe or timeline).

    The very existence of the cafe got me thinking though. You put across a good argument for maintaining the status quo – because it’s a place that goes against what the Ethics Committee is trying to maintain – which leads me to suspect that the authorities have a vested interest in the place. Whether or not Nagi is on their side I’m not sure (hell, I don’t even know if she’s an android too!) but it’s a possibility that the place was established as a behavioural experiment into human/android relations or similar.

    What I did conclude from these episodes, and a bit of blog discussion that followed, was that while the cruelty towards androids is deplorable it’s not practical, or beneficial to make strict rules like those employed in the cafe. It’s too early to say why Nagi is doing what she’s doing, but I think the truth is much more complicated than merely maintaining one isolated haven for human/android equality.

    But yeah, again this is an excellent post that I’ll re-read after a proper night’s sleep. I will add though that the choice of opposite gender in an android hints at the desire to make them companions – which makes the prevailing custom of ridiculing dori-kei all the more contradictory. And Sammy does look cuter with her hair tied back. Would I want a cute android helping out with making breakfast and fetching the groceries? I think I would actually…

  6. @TheBigN: Oh, right. My bad :D

    @concretebadger: Glad you enjoyed it. And I totally agree with you – it seems to warrant a look everytime you read someone elses take on the show.

    I rather like the companion angle – it certainly makes alot of sense. It also offers an explanation as to why people seem to react so vehemently to their androids; they recognise their own emotional reasons behind choosing the androids they do, and the violence is a form of denial.

    I’ve read both your insightful post and the discussion that followed, and I think the cafe’s rule is necessary as much for the androids as it is the humans. Just as humans in Eve no Jikan are prevented, through the stigma of dori-kei, from considering their androids too deeply, so androids may feel a similar restriction: in how they should behave, in asking questions, in showing autonomy. Akiko’s comments are suggestive in this regard: “When you’re here [the cafe],” she says, “you can talk with anyone you want, right?”

    Interestingly, I don’t believe the rule is equates to enforced equality, as Sasa suggested – even Akiko points out that despite their external similarities, humans and androids completely differ on the inside (which is further emphasised when Riuko accuses Sammy of “imitating humans” and her subsequent reply). What the rule does is prevent conversations and actions based on prejudice, which is very different from treating someone as an equal.

    On the whole, there’s definitely lot more I want to say about the show, especially in relation to some of the other series that have come out.

  7. [...] enough to blog about so far. Just goes to show how miserably lacking in cerebral agility i am. Btw, Almost A Hero has a dated but awesome review of the previous 2 eps that i cannot resist plugging, i suggest you [...]

  8. [...] you’ve watched the episode, feel free to discuss it here! I’d also suggest you to read Almost A Hero’s blog entry about this episode first, it’s really worth reading (I know I enjoyed it at [...]

  9. I thought Code:Life was Jeff Hawkin’s On Intelligence. The cover’s look similar.

    I thought I saw a reference to a very insightful book there :(.

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