Free (Streaming), $2-5 (Download)
17 Jan 2009
A future world where humans and androids live side-by-side certainly isn't anything new from either a work of fiction or anime standpoint, and we've been regaled as to the good, the bad and the downright frightening aspects of intelligent robots for many, many years now. In that sense, Time of Eve (or Eve no Jikan to give the show its Japanese title) is nothing new, presenting us with just such a world where most humans share their homes with androids, with the latter serving as "slaves" (for want of a better word) - Cooking their meals, doing their shopping, and generally performing all of the chores that humans simply don't want to do for themselves.
We're introduced to this future via Rikou, a pretty typical high school boy, and his family's own android Sammy. However, Rikou is having a bit of a problem - When he checks out the movement logs of Sammy, he finds a number of irregularities and journeys that don't match up to the tasks which she is assigned by her family. These androids are designed and programmed not to act independently of the wishes of their owners, so what's going on? Surely Sammy must have some kind of fault...
What should be a purely technical issue does however hold deeper confusions for Rikou - While most of the populace treat their androids as mere tools, much as you might the microwave or coffee maker, and another (much frowned upon) subset revere and love their androids, Rikou seems torn regarding his feelings towards Sammy. He tries his best to treat her as a simple tool, but clearly feels awkward around her, and these revelations regarding her movements only serve to heighten this tension. He has to do something to put his mind at ease, so eventually (and bringing his friend Masaki along for good measure), he traces Sammy's movements, and ends up stumbling upon an odd little cafe. This cafe has one rule, and one rule alone - Humans and androids must be treated alike within its walls. Nobody is allowed to ask whether another is human or otherwise, and all androids must switch off the identifying "ring" which floats above their heads in the outside world to show their android status so that they are indistinguishable from humans. Thus begins the major premise of Time of Eve, and boy is it fascinating.
In essence, Time of Eve is an exploration of what it is to be "alive", a question that it attacks from varying angles in each of the series fifteen minute episodes thus far. It does this with aplomb, advancing the storyline quickly and concisely while bringing up some very deep and fascinating topics that you'll find yourself wanting to call up friends and debate for hours. While the first episode deals largely with the "discrimination" and bad treatment dished out to androids by their owners, the second focuses on the possibility of androids having emotions, and even the capability to lie (bringing Asimov's infamous three laws of robotics into the equation to boot) and the third brings up a love story of sorts that leaves you guessing as to who is human and who is an android until the very end. Each episode and topic is presented with a touch not far short of genius - It doesn't preach or lay it all out on the table for you, it simply presents its story while planting some subtle questions into your head. These plots that can stand alone on their own two feet are neatly meshed into a more contiguous plot via the mechanism of the cafe (which itself is masterfully designed to become almost a character and a major story-telling device on its own) and some of its other regulars whose lives we gain fleeting glimpses into.
It's difficult to describe just how wonderfully executed and written these first three episodes of Time of Eve are - It's been a long time since I watched anything quite so thought-provoking, be it anime or otherwise. It truly is the kind of thing you could write a whole book about to analyse it and the points it makes, while also not neglecting the overall viewing experience in terms of either the actual entertainment aspect of each episode or its visual aesthetic, which is a pretty seamless blend of tradition animation and CG.
If you're looking for something to get you thinking and the synapses in your brain firing, then you really can't go wrong with Time of Eve judging by its first half - Rarely has a short fifteen minute of anime watching felt so satisfying. The biggest disappointment is that we have to wait until April for episode four, although if nothing else it shows the dedication of the production team to creating a quality end product. Factor in the fact that you can watch it legitimately online for free over at Crunchyroll (with a small donation required to download rather than stream an episode), and what are you waiting for?!
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.