Set in the near future where human-like AI coexist with humans, Plastic Memories had the makings of a thrilling and dramatic love story. However, this widely anticipated anime fell flat due to an underdeveloped premise and highly predictable plot.
Plastic Memories is a studio Doga Kobo anime that ran for one 13-episode season in 2015. Here's why, despite so much excitement around its release, the series ultimately left many fans disappointed by its poor execution.
While Plastic Memories contains sci-fi elements to create a future with human-like AI called Giftias, the science aspect ends there. Despite a seemingly fascinating AI spin, these Giftias have no special powers, abilities, or superior intellect. Since humans and Giftias are seen as equals, viewers have questioned the reason behind them in the first place. The only thing that separates Giftias from humans is that they need to be retrieved and have their memories erased every nine years at the end of their lifecycle, or they'll become dangerous "wanderers" who forget who they are.
Since Giftias are only used as a dramatic plot device to put a time limit on their lifespan, the same conflict and suspense could be achieved with a terminal illness or deadly accident. Other than this caveat, no other sci-fi elements are explored or explained which leaves Plastic Memories' premise largely underdeveloped.
In this futuristic world, Terminal Services is the agency responsible for retrieving Giftias who have reached the end of their lifespan. This task proves difficult, as many Giftias are incorporated into human families who won't let them go without a fight. While this dynamic leads to several tear-jerking moments when humans are forced to surrender their beloved Giftia, awkwardly timed comedic moments are sprinkled into the retrieval process. These sporadic and unnatural tone shifts between dramatic sorrow and misplaced comedy is enough to give any fan whiplash.
Terminal Service One is the only unit that focuses on the emotional well-being of both Giftias and their owners during the retrieval process. This method is introduced by Isla, a Giftia coming to the end of her lifespan who works at the agency as a marksman. As retrieval teams work in pairs containing a human spotter and a Giftia marksman, Isla is suddenly paired up with Plastic Memories' protagonist, Tsukasa, who only joins because he was handed the job through a connection to his father. Since Tsukasa didn't even know what the agency did when he accepted the job, he acts painfully ignorant for someone suddenly put in charge of the most delicate moment in a Giftia's life.
Tsukasa first sees Isla when she's crying in the elevator, and he's instantly captivated by her looks. However, they don't talk until they're officially paired up as teammates and they're told they must live together. This plot device is both convenient and cliché, setting up an unrealistic scenario to push two love interests together. Whenever they're in their dorm room, Isla sits in a fetal position in her chair all night and doesn't say a word to Tsukasa, even when he's talking to her. This creates a heavily uncomfortable atmosphere where love is awkwardly forced upon a disinterested character.
While Tsukasa tries to win over Isla's affection, his reason for liking her is never fully explained or developed. His love stems from physical attraction as he continues to pursue her without making a mental or emotional connection with her. The pair say very little to each other for a large portion of the series before suddenly declaring their feelings for each other. Their relationship feels forced and unnatural, making it hard to root for them. Not only does their bond lack proper development, but most of the characters in Plastic Memories are shallow and defined only by their archetypes and cliched tragic backstories.
Plastic Memories has both a sad and ambiguous ending that frustrated viewers. After Tsukasa and Isla confess their mutual feelings and agree to date, she's soon forced to be retrieved by Tsukasa himself as he's crying on the ferris wheel with her. Since sad endings aren't necessarily a bad thing, it would've been greatly improved if it had simply stopped at this impactful scene.
However, the episode continues after the end credits to show an older Tsukasa continuing his work at the agency when his new teammate arrives. Tsukasa smiles and shakes the teammate's hand as the scene slowly fades out. While it's heavily implied that the new teammate is Isla reborn without her memories, this was never confirmed and left Plastic Memories hanging with an open-ended and unsatisfying ending.