There are often highly praised—or in the case of Time of Eve, even award winning—anime that I don’t hear about in equal amounts to that praise. They are not the ones introduced to new fans. They are not the ones shown in the mainstream. But if you stick around a community long enough, you are bound to see these titles appear now and again. Recently, I took the time to watch one of them.
Time of Eve
“In the future, probably Japan. Robots have long been put into practical use, and practical use of androids has just begun.” This is how Time of Eve begins.
Time of Eve is a series of ONAs released in 2008. Across its six episodes, this starting phrase plays, and introduces you to the vague, even unnerving, yet casual atmosphere of the show.
As the opening states, androids have long become commonplace in Japanese households. They act as housekeepers. Nannies. Even teachers. They could almost look human. However, society holds strictly to The Three Laws of Robotics. And under the guidance of the Robot Ethics committee, people treat these androids with all the same respect as you would a fridge or toaster. The small minority who don’t are labeled “android-holics” and generally looked down on.
Rikuo, our main character, falls into the majority. He accepts humans as humans and androids as androids. But one day he notices an unusual entry in his “house-droid,” Sammy’s activity logs. He distrusts an android acting on its own and this leads him to discover a Time of Eve. It is a strange cafe where there is just one rule: no distinction between humans and androids.
Time of Eve does a lot in its short runtime. By that, I don’t mean every moment is geared toward a complex plot or conclusion. When a small series does that it usually feels overcrowded. This one on the other hand, keeps it quite balanced and well paced. Instead what I mean by “a lot” is the impact it leaves after.
Whenever a story asks “does something nonhuman deserve to be treated the same?” it’s really asking “what is a human?” What makes us different? Special? By presenting us with someone who doesn’t fully understand us, we’re also forced to rethink things that are meant to be innate. Most especially, love. Hate. Hurt. The obligations that come with every type of relation. As well as whether or not we are the only ones who can truly experience those emotions. Time of Eve does an especially good job of it.
Each episode is focused on the storyline of an individual character or set of characters while Rikuo’s own develops around them. This somewhat episodic nature let it cover a variety of topics within the same concept. And because of the cafe’s rule, it’s not clear from the beginning whether a character is human or not. This doesn’t eliminate prejudice, but forces baseless assumptions to bite back more quickly and questions whether it is better to ignore differences or recognize and learn from them.
It was easy to sympathize with both Rikuo’s plight to understand the cafe’s patrons and his fear and guilt over previous beliefs about androids being challenged. The characters were not all very memorable by themselves. There were a couple, such as the little girl Chie who likes pretending to be a cat, that had more distinct personalities. But in the end it was their stories and purpose for being at the cafe that stood out. Masaki, Rikuo’s best friend, had a particularly touching tale that came to head in the finale. And despite the overall serious atmosphere, there were actually a lot of a funny and well normal interactions that allowed the cast to grow on you.
The animation had a very unique feel to it. The CG was an especially nice surprise from an anime that is over a decade old. It blended well both in art style and robotic theme. Odd camera angles made for a close, almost uncanny experience that really added weight to the characters movements and helped to create a distinct environment for inside and outside of the cafe.
The show’s few locations mostly shared a similar muted color scheme and monotonous design. Time of Eve itself broke up this theme with its warmer tones. Not to mention the greenery in the cafe that we don’t seem to see anywhere else in the series.
Likewise, the soundtrack, while limited, does well in conveying the tone where needed. And the voice actors put on a stellar performance.
Time of Eve sets itself apart right from the get go with a very distinct ambience. The story does well for itself by feeding into the idea that this is still just everyday life even while the main character undergoes so many new affronts and additions to that everyday. My biggest complaint is that it’s incomplete.
The series leaves us with a very open-ended finale. There’s literally a question mark on the “end” card. Rikuo’s developing opinions on and interactions with the androids was excellently executed. But still left something to be desired in the conclusion of his personal history with them. It was all a bit sudden.
However, I can’t entirely hold this against the series creators because they probably didn’t have much control about the anime getting a second season. And nevertheless, it was well worth the watch and earns a much deserved 4.5/5 miso soups.