It was at the turn of the year that we last visited the Time of Eve cafe, as this ONA (Original Network Animation) of occasional episodes reached its half-way point. Now, with the series complete (or is it?), we can turn our attention to the final three episodes of this fascinating series directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura.
Just as with those opening episodes, the Time of Eve cafe itself is the centrepiece of the thought-provoking construct which constitutes the series - A world where humans, robots and androids live side-by-side, but with the latter sporting "halos" of light so that they can be instantly recognised as non-human. The cafe in question is the one place in this world where that rule goes out of the window, so that humans and androids are indistinguishable from one another, and indeed it's against the house rules to ask the "species" of a customer.
With every episode having its own particular focus that weaves into a broader narrative, this setup brought us some truly sensational stories within the first half of the series, and thankfully this second half of Time of Eve is no different at all. In fact, I have to pay particular attention to episode four, "Nameless" - At the risk of over-hyping it, this is probably amongst the best single episodes of any anime series I've ever seen. The story of an ancient and clunky old robot who visits the cafe is, quite simply, genius - For much of the episode it is probably the funniest thing you're likely to have seen in a long time, rich in visual, slapstick and more subtle comedy, yet suddenly the scenario turns on you in an entirely unexpected manner, leaving you feeling not only saddened but genuinely guilty for all the previous laughter that was elicited from you.
Indeed, Time of Eve seems to have no trouble in expertly treading the thin line between comedy and tragedy throughout, kicking off and closing emotional moments with jokes and visual gags in a way that only serves to enhance those moments - And believe me, there's a surprising amount of emotion to be found here for a series that is ostensibly about robots on the surface, but is in fact far more of a discussion on the nature of humanity at a deeper level. That said Yoshiura clearly knows his science fiction, with constant references to Asimov's three laws of robotics (which are put to brilliant use in the final episode in particular) as well as knowing nods to movies such as Blade Runner and THX 1138.
My one concern about this series was that, after spending so much time focusing on the micro, it might struggle to cope with pulling together the broader macro of the world it gives us a window on. However, even this is accomplished with relative ease, although only in terms of putting a framework in place for what looks likely to be a second series of this show, building up some major revelations and plot progression as to the wider context of the series.
Overall, it's basically impossible for me not to recommend to anyone and everyone to watch Time of Eve - It's a hugely well thought-out and in turn thought-provoking offering, but never to the detriment of each episode as a piece of pure entertainment. There are no Ghost in the Shell-like monologues here, nor does it get bogged down in the restrictions of the cafe setting; everything is revealed and progressed via normal and nuanced conversation, and it works superbly from beginning to end. I know it's far too easy to bandy the word "genius" about, but on this occasion it's very well-justified - Even beyond its unique visual flair, Time of Eve is a simply astonishingly accomplished body of work that deserves every single plaudit that it receives.
At the time of writing, Time of Eve can be viewed in streaming format from Crunchyroll - The entire series is now available to be viewed for free on the site by all users.