Face Off 2: Mike and Ray on Eve no Jikan and Its Issues

Another dialogue, this time about the issues raised by Eve no Jikan. As you can see this is going to become a regular series.

Mike: I have a question. Why would people create androids that had the potential for intelligence in the first place, when it’s clear they are so uncomfortable with it? You have to purposefully design a robot or android to have human-like intelligence. Couldn’t they have just made robots who could never turn their halo off and would never question their masters?

Ray: I think you found a plot hole more than anything. Unless somebody decided that the halo was the restraining device, but somehow somebody hacked it. But in any case, I certainly never thought about that.

Mike: I think this actually raises very interesting philosophical and theological issues too. Can you create a creature with free will? That seems to be a key idea that’s being kicked around, especially in episode 2. The main guy is clearly very disturbed by the idea that Sammy might have free will. Yet, they had created an android that was otherwise very human in every other way. It’s like they want to be stuck in the uncanny valley. Do we give these creepy androids rights?

Ray: Again, unfortunately I didn’t think about much of that. The only reason I can think of is a plot hole. In the attempt to make this philosophical, they forget about the fact that this whole thing can be easily solved with a hardwired mechanism or even just an administration rights change. I certainly think making them human-like is very useful, but could it be that they thought these androids would not develop their own free will? But really, what rights does anyone have except for something regulated? Unless it’s built-in that people have rights?

Would you turn this artificial moeblob off?
Would you turn this artificial moeblob off?

Mike: Actually that’s an age-old debate in politics: are rights inherent (“endowed by their Creator” to use the Declaration of Independence’s language), or given?

The thing is, though, those androids sure do seem to be getting more and more human by the minute. They go to a bar to at least for a day erase the distinction between android and human, and I think appearance counts for a lot especially in our emotional reaction to it. Like if it walks, talks, and thinks like a duck, is it a duck?

Anyways, what impresses you overall about the two episodes that have aired so far?

Ray: Well, the animation for one, is clear, gorgeous and has a very nice atmosphere. In addition, the seiyuu cast is fantastic, with Tanaka Rie, Yukana, Sugita Tomokazu (he’s not funny again!) and the rest. Rie reprises her role as robotic creatures with a mind, but Sugita Tomokazu really surprises me with his dry, unfunny reactions, which ironically, can be funny.

I think I’m somewhat impressed by the concept but as a Star Trek: the Next Generation fan, it’s nothing new.

Mike: Oh, I concur that the voice acting is quite good. Generally pretty subtle. And yes, we saw a similar thing with Data in “The Measure of a Man.”

Ray: Data argues his case as a being with rights, rather than a device that can be replicated by anyone in charge. Thus, does Sammy, the little girl played by Yukana, and the guy played by Sugita Tomokazu, have rights to shut their “restrainst” off? In the first place, who decided to open a cafe like this, a human, or an android?

Mike: Well that’s one of the questions that haven’t been answered yet!

Ray: Indeed. Perhaps we shouldn’t speculate on that yet. Does the concept work for you?

Mike: I think so. The writers behind this definitely have a good sci-fi sense, much more so than most anime writers. Like it’s clear that they thought a lot of these questions through. They’re clearly influenced of course by Isaac Asimov, with his Three Laws of Robotics.

Ray: Which are?

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Ray: My question is now this: Sammy is trying to make better coffee and I guess being a better android servant. Why? to help preserve itself in a human’s family? that it will not be discarded for making itself useless?

Mike: Perhaps–and notice that is an emotional reaction! The Three Laws say absolutely nothing about emotions.

Ray: Please clarify. Why is it an emotional response?

Mike: Well, to desire to not be excluded from the family—because one feels that one is a part of it—that’s a fairly basic emotional reaction.

Ray: I see.

Mike: The bit about not being discarded might fall under Law 3, but it definitely has a fairly obvious potential emotional component too.

Ray: There have been no signs that she’s unwanted, however. So perhaps my assumption isn’t correct. Clearly, she’s quite capable.

Mike: Yes. I take it Rikuo is going to go through a journey where he learns to accept his more independent android servant. Notice how his sister displays far more casual contempt than he does, so she probably won’t have that issue. He’s stuck–especially after visiting the cafe–somewhere in between.

Do you sometimes feel the episodes could be longer? Or do you think they are just right at around fifteen minutes?

Ray: I think everything is tight enough and I don’t feel hurried. It’s interesting enough that I often sat back and feel amazed when the episode was over. I think everything is tight enough and I don’t feel hurried. It’s interesting enough that I often sat back and feel amazed when the episode was over.

Mike: How were you amazed? Like what aspects–the animation quality, the voice work, etc.? Or all of them put together?

Ray: Well, I’m just drawn to this by the great animation and the light atmosphere. It’s a warm and fuzzy intellectual exercise. I always forget the time. I think somebody figured out that that 15 minutes is where the average Otaku loses attention! XD

Mike: Heh, yeah. Plus, it’s never heavy or ponderous at all. In fact, it’s often quite funny, like the “cat girl” in episode 2. Most shows of this sort like to endlessly talk about it. With 15 minutes per episode, too, there’s time to polish every last detail and I think that shows in the visual quality, which is outstanding.

Ray: Most shows are about 20 minutes in length these days. I guess they used the extra 5 minutes to polish things.

You talked about theology aspects, can you elaborate?

Mike: Hmm. Well, when human beings create other beings with free will, that kind of puts them in the position of being gods to the androids. They’re the creators, after all. That has a direct implication on android rights: in theory, any human has the perfect natural right to shut off an android for any or no reason.

But I think the similarity between the two makes this emotionally very difficult for the characters–and probably much of the audience–to accept. The gut reaction of many would be to say, well, aren’t they more like equals? Or something close to that? That seems to be the premise behind the cafe.

If androids are getting very human like, then at some point they will worship something or someone(s). Who? I’m reminded of the weird irony how in the new Battlestar Galactica: the humans worship the Greek pantheon, while the Cylons, created by humans, actually worship One True God and see eradicating humanity as their religious mission. Religious robots! Now that would be interesting.

Let’s not also forget the title, “The Time of Eve.” Eve in Genesis is called that because she is the “mother of all the living.” Is this a sly way of hinting that androids are the start of a brand new race?

Ray: With Sammy as the Mother?

Mike: Well I was actually thinking of the cafe owner–if she’s an android herself. 🙂 But perhaps Sammy, as the first or one of the first to demonstrate independent will.

Ray: Yeah, well, maybe they can worship the Cafe owner. Actually, is that woman behind the counter the owner?

Mike: Ah! Good question. Maybe she’s just the barista/bartender! I can easily see a conspiracy-like plot form around that, though I don’t think this kind of show wants to go in the X-Files type direction.

Ray: The possibilities are endless, but with the show’s atmosphere, I don’t think much would evolve. They can always make it “the boy meets Chi.” I mean, Sugita Tomokazu and Tanaka Rie (Hideki and Chii) are both in this show. But that would be such a shame!

Mike: But see! Even in Chobits there was in fact a master plan/conspiracy all along! The atmosphere of Eve no Jikan is much more “slice of life” with sci-fi elements.

Ray: Hmm…Well, this can go anywhere philosophically. The question remains that where is everything taking us?

Mike: Actually, don’t you find it interesting that the introductory words go like “The future. Japan, probably.” Why “probably”? I guess it’s a way of saying that this sort of thing would probably happen in Japan first before heading out to the rest of the world? So Japan will lead the way in android acceptance?

Ray: Well, they’re trying to make female robots that look like women and talk with a woman’s voice. But so far they look creepy to me. The uncanny valley there is freakish at best. It may also be a social statement that, yeah, Japan would be quite accepting to this idea.

Mike: I get the feeling that if this kind of robotics and AI were possible, Japan would totally go for the Chobits/persocom route.

Ray: Yes, and I would be one of the first ones to get one! You know they said in Japan that by 2013 they will have the first crop of robots available for use, right? I meant, commercial and home use.

Mike: Hah. Figures. This series is going to become relevant in due time. Personally I think this sort of thing would be much slower to catch on in America. I think people here would be a lot more creeped out initially by human-like robots.

Ray: That’s it. Also there would be so many moralists declaring the fall of humanity and all that junk.

In any event, what else did you think of the show?

Mike: I was surprised how little impression the music made on me. I think the score aims for something a bit more background, and the ED is very quirky and perky.

But I don’t have too much else to add beyond that. It’s a very well-produced piece of actual speculative fiction, something we don’t see too much of in anime, and it deserves attention because of that.

Ray: I have to say it’s probably a little light to be Sci-Fi and in truth, doesn’t really challenge anyone to the face, but it’s a pleasant show to watch. With everything it’s doing right, I’m enthusiastically recommending this.

Mike: I can add my enthusiastic recommendation as well. Next to Kaiba, it’s one of the genuinely thought-provoking shows of the year.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

5 thoughts on “Face Off 2: Mike and Ray on Eve no Jikan and Its Issues

  1. I just wanted to point out something…

    “The Three Laws of Robotics” is NOT suppose to work. The whole point of the original novel, is that the Three Laws are inflexible and useless for its purpose.

    Robots who have the intellect to comprehend the Three Laws, would be smart enough to circumvent them if they so wish. And Robots without the intellect to comprehend the Three Laws would be too dumb to follow the rules.

    Asimov never intended his “Laws” to be taken as gospel; indeed, he intended it to be the exact opposite. Creatures of true free will will do harm OR good of their own choosing, regardless of what “Laws” you wired into their brains.

  2. Mizu no Kotoba is 9 minutes long and Pale Cocoon is 23 minutes long, at least watch the former, Ray. :<

    This comment will contain “spoilers” of Mizu no Kotoba.

    Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (my favorite manga by leaps and bounds) holds a few similar themes to Mizu no Kotoba and Eve no Jikan. In YKK, Mizu no Kotoba, and Eve no Jikan, the robots seem just as (if not more so) human as the humans themselves, however it seems limited (so far, at least) to the inside of the cafe with Mizu no Kotoba’s surprise robot attached to cafe and Eve no Jikan’s policy against discrimination, whereas YKK’s robots are human no matter where they are.

    None of them really explain why they were made that way either. Eve no Jikan may or may not go into that, the robot of Mizu no Kotoba being part of the shop seems to imply that she was made that way for the sole purpose of dealing with the customers, and it is implied that in YKK the robots were built to live as the humans were dying out.

    On the “The Future. Japan, probably.” thing, Anyone else thinking BLAME!? “Maybe on Earth, Maybe in the Future.”

    On another note, artificial moeblob is now my favorite term.

  3. The author of YKK (Yokohoma Kaidashi Kikou) uses the concept of “robot intelligence” as a plot device so that the main character could stay young forever. The big theme of YKK is that while she stays the same the people around her change.

    A better story for exploring the concept of a “robot future” is PLUTO by Urasawa, the author of MONSTER. PLUTO is a remake of the classic original ASTRO BOY but with a megalomaniacal twist.

    PLUTO is about a future where society has evolved to the point where robots have equal rights as humans. The robots can do everything that humans do: vote, work, go on vacations, marry one another, cry adopt HUMAN children, become judges, police officers, and pro wrestlers, etc.. The only restriction is that they cannot harm or kill humans deliberately, though they may destroy each other. Urasawa was clearly influenced by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s when he wrote PLUTO. PLUTO is odd in that the robots are more angsty and emotional than the humans.

    If you liked MONSTER or 20th Century Boys check PLUTO out (and YKK, and Vinland Saga, they’re very good too). I probably should write a full review of it. You can find it online. It’s going to be licensed in February so catch it while you can.

  4. You guys have missed the whole point. It isn’t necessarily talking about “rights”, but rather about society and intelligent self-aware sentient beings. To deny such a being dignity and rights is ethically atrocious. There is a medium-level “deconstruction” going on, clearly bringing to surface the polyvalent prejudices that the characters have, and we as the audience may also have with our culturally informed phenomenological and metaphysical accounts of what it is to be whatever we are. The clincher here is that “man” is just an idea.

  5. @Anon – I wasn’t part of the initial discussion, but let me ask something.  You’re basically stating that the concept of “inherent rights” – something that Mike brings up very early on, above – is the correct conclusion.  Why would you necessarily assume that inherent rights are the only resolution to the deconstruction?  We could just as easily conclude that our tendency to think in terms of “rights” is what is flawed.  After all, that is just an artificial idea as well.

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