Beatless – Winter 2018 Anime Mid-Season Impressions

Based on its posters, it would seem that Beatless’ main appeal comes from the stylish and attractive design of its main heroine called Lacia, who is a white-haired artificial beauty carrying a sleek coffin-like equipment that can transform into a massive cannon (the character designer is the same as Guilty Crown’s, so that nice design isn’t a surprise). Now that five episodes have been released at the time of writing, it can be said that the show wishes to offer deeper appeal than just pretty robot girls, as seen from its attempts to create intrigue and stir discussion about the impact of artificial beings on humanity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed.

Image source: TVアニメ「BEATLESS」1/12放送開始!

Beatless takes place in a future where school uniforms apparently function as wearable air-conditioners, and store counters are completely automated. In addition to that, human-like artificial beings called hIEs (which stands for humanoid Interface Element, according to Tokyo Otaku Mode) exist. They look like humans on the outside, and are even capable of showing emotions. Lacia is one of them. But despite their uncanny resemblance to humans, one of the protagonist’s friends remarks that they’re ultimately just “tools for humans”, although one of the hIEs comes across as more of a housewife than a servant to humanity. This suggests that hIEs are human inventions created by mankind for their own benefit, even as the synopsis offered by Tokyo Otaku Mode suggests a more alien-inclined origin.

“Tools for humans” is a view not shared by the protagonist himself. 17-year-old Arata Endo is a good-natured guy who treats hIEs kindly as if they were true humans. That’s an attitude he sticks to even when Lacia points out her lack of a soul or genuine human behaviour. Endo also seems to have a mysterious past – a dream sequence reveals that he was injured by an explosion during an operation of some sort on a hIE, along with a kid with a bandage staring at him on the hospital grounds. The flashback scenes have a palpable air of mystery and intrigue, but the events don’t get touched on again afterwards. Neither does the dream seem to have any visible effect on Endo or the story.

Image source: TVアニメ「BEATLESS」1/12放送開始!

Speaking of the story, it would be tricky to explain it to someone who hasn’t watched it because of the lack of one so far. That may not be as big a problem if Beatless were episodic in nature, but its episodes are clearly linked in a narrative way. Yet, the show fails to offer an idea of what its overall narrative is about, or if a narrative even exists in the show. There are many things happening, but they don’t feel as if they’re building up to a central plot. What’s for sure is this: five fancily-dressed Lacia-classed hIEs have escaped from the humorously-named Memeframe Corporation, which is stated to be a “leading hIE behaviour management cloud platform company” in a free chapter available on Tokyo Otaku Mode. Capable of independent complex decision-making and combat, these fancily-dressed hIEs are later revealed to be called Red Boxes, creations of a super-intelligent AI called Higgins. One of the Red Boxes is Snow Drop, who after her escape uses petal-like machines to cause hIEs and automated machines to go amok in a remarkably confined area. This results in Endo meeting Lacia – herself one of the escaped Red Boxes – and signing a contract with her. Aside from her wishing for him to be her master, this is because she requires Endo to take responsibility for some of her actions before proceeding with them, especially when it comes to unleashing her coffin-like device in order to save his life or battle her “younger sister”, Kouka.

Despite this interesting series of events, the mystery that is created from them quickly loses its intrigue. That’s because it’s not woven into the current proceedings and ends up feeling irrelevant after a short while. An example is the military-like force battling the Red Boxes during their escape but not appearing again, when they should logically be attempting to hunt down the Red Boxes. Instead, the circumstances of the escape and the consequences that should have arisen from it don’t factor into the show starting from the second episode. By the time Memeframe is mentioned again, this writer had actually forgotten about the corporation’s connection to the show, or how Lacia and the other Red Boxes ended up in the outside world to begin with.

Image source: TVアニメ「BEATLESS」1/12放送開始!

On the bright side, the ending of the fifth episode gives off the vibe that this might change. That’s because it provides a new mystery that seems just too big to toss aside for an indefinite amount of time. That mystery is Lacia’s purpose and motives. It’s been a source of speculation from the start (there has to be a reason why she sought a master/owner), but Beatless has now called proper attention to it by having the other Red Boxes reveal their purposes to the audience while Lacia has only a cryptic smile to offer. There’s also the matter of the red-haired Kouka  – the most prominent hIE so far aside from Lacia – telling her that she’s “leaving the rest” to her with no response from Lacia, despite their previous encounter being one of direct conflict. Providing attention to the rest of the Red Boxes again also seems to indicate that the show is starting to get into the main plot.

In honesty, that speculation is also a silent plea to the show, because the lack of narrative direction combined with its average attributes has resulted in personal confusion at what the point in watching the show is, or why the show even exists. It would’ve been one thing if the action scenes offered a saving grace, but they’re frankly quite unexciting. There’s no eye-catching choreography, startling animation or engaging battle of wits to speak of, so they fail to stand out. Everything but the Red Boxes’ character designs isn’t exactly impressive, really. The music, for example, blends in so well that it leaves about as much of an impression as a barely noticeable chameleon camouflaging in with the scenes (although the opening is quite catchy). The scenes in the ending song, on the other hand, are a bit more noticeable due to them giving the spotlight to Endo’s younger sister Yuka for some reason.

Image source: TVアニメ「BEATLESS」1/12放送開始!

Perhaps the biggest let down by Beatless comes from its ineffective attempts to bring up thought-provoking subjects that feel like they matter. In the second episode, the concept of analog hacking is introduced via a live fashion advertisement involving Lacia as the main model. It’s basically social engineering or just plain old manipulating but with the human likeness of hIEs being integral in the manipulation of humans, a specific requirement that doesn’t quite justify the need for a nonsensical-sounding term like analog hack. Later, there is an experiment involving a political opinion-gathering hIE chairman called Mikoto (created by Endo’s father) that seeks to gauge politicians’ reactions to this first step in creating an automated government. The experiment quickly results in the politicians objecting and voicing concerns about having an artificial being involved at all in the government, despite Mikoto herself trying to assuage their concerns about AI completely usurping their jobs. She is also the target of Kouka and anti-hIE terrorists who are ironically led by the Red Box herself. The anti-hIE terrorists are aiming to eliminate Mikoto due to their belief that a hIE holding a chairman position would be a negative influence on humanity. Why Kouka shares that same goal is uncertain, and how the terrorists believe that the skimpily-dressed, massive-weapon-wielding redhead with unnatural-looking lines on her arms is a human like them, is another question altogether.

Image source: TVアニメ「BEATLESS」1/12放送開始!

While Endo is physically present in both of these events (though not as much in the case of the Mikoto experiment), they almost seem to exist in a vacuum from his story. The analog hacking concept provides some world-building, but doesn’t seem to have any further bearing of note on the rest of the show (the anti-hIE terrorists can be said to be a victim of this, but their obliviousness to Kouka’s obvious but unexplained inhuman traits deserves more credit than her manipulating skills). His friend Kengo’s involvement with the anti-HIE group motivates Endo to pull him away from danger, but it’s odd that Endo doesn’t feel much about the attempt to assassinate the hIE chairman as well given his pro-hIE attitude. When he and Lacia bear witness to the ongoing debate on hIEs and their involvement in the government after sneaking into the premises, Endo expresses his doubts on having a fully-automated world just for the sake of mankind’s convenience. However, it feels more like a throwaway line, and the debate between Mikoto and the politicians is so dull that what could (and should) be an interesting contribution to the setting and plot feels like an unnecessary time-waster instead.

Image source: TVアニメ「BEATLESS」1/12放送開始!

It just feels hard to care about the world of Beatless when the main character who inhabits this space isn’t convincingly invested in the politics and technology that affect it. Not helping matters is when those things contribute to an episode’s runtime more than they contribute to creating investment in the setting, or in helping to create discussion on the impact of the ever-increasing presence of machines on humanity. Endo himself is hard to feel invested in, not least because he lives his days as if his recent near-death experiences never occured.

Ultimately, Beatless doesn’t feel like an outright terrible show, but it has done a weak job of creating interest or giving a reason to care about its characters and story. Seemingly forgotten mysteries, questions on artificial intelligence and humanity that just seem there for the sake of being there and the absence of a plot just make it hard to feel invested. Unspectacular fights also means that the eye candy is limited to Lacia and the Red Boxes’ designs and costumes. Right now, the only incentive to watch is to discover whether Lacia is truly an ally of Endo and what her motivations are, and even that doesn’t feel like a particularly strong one. Still, there’s the chance that things might improve, even if only a little.

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a.k.a STARfisher

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