JUST A WARNING- this post will talk about a topic I realize is sensitive to many- Alzheimer’s Disease. I try to remain academic about it all, but if you think it may be distasteful, feel free to skip the post.
If you guys have read my post on five of the most emotional anime out there, you’ll know a little bit about the world of Plastic Memories. If you’d like to take a gander at that list, there’ll be a link right here, but if you’d just like a refresher on the whole thing, then here you go. Plastic Memories takes place in a futuristic world which is for the most part, peaceful. Technology has advanced to the point where one company, SAI Corp, has been able to create Giftia, androids that supposedly have “a synthetic soul.” They have verbal tics, distinguishable personalities, the ability to learn, and perhaps most significantly, the ability to feel, but there’s a catch. After 81,920 hours, or about nine years and four months, they suffer from “personality disintegration, memory loss and outbreaks of violence,” resulting in the need for Terminal Service, a group that retrieves old Giftia from their owners, and wipes their memories.
With such a system, numerous questions arise as a result, confronted throughout the story, and several very real comparisons can be made to real life. The three symptoms talked about in Plastic Memories reminded me of a very real diagnosis- Alzheimer’s Disease. With some research, some interesting parallels were revealed, putting the approach of the Terminal Service into perspective, and revealing a rather . It was all extremely interesting, and I’d like to share what I’ve found.
There will be some relatively big spoilers for Plastic Memories, but it won’t be drastic enough to take away from a blind watcher of the series. If you happen to read this without watching the anime, trust me, it’s a great, thought-provoking, and emotional series that simple plot details won’t do justice. Give it a shot! With all that out of the way, let’s get to it!
The World of Plastic Memories
Starting off, I’ll just give a brief synopsis of the main plotline of Plastic Memories, for the sake of context. We follow Tsukasa Mizugaki, a young man fresh out of college who gets a job with Terminal Service One, without being fully aware of what exactly they do. His father pushed him into it with a sparkling recommendation, and as a result, he ends up rather surprised at what his job entails. Partnered with his own Giftia, Isla, the duo must talk to the owner of the Giftia, and retrieve them before their expiration. Owners who have grown close to their Giftia end up sad, terrified sometimes at the prospect of losing the companion they’ve had for nine years, and as such, Tsukasa and Isla end up facing understandable complications.
At one point in particular, the duo faces a situation in which the Giftia they need to take, Marcia, has become a Wanderer: retaining their motor functions, but losing their memory and personality. The owner of said Giftia, Souta, tries to calm her down, but sadly, it only results in Marcia becoming more violent, attempting to strangle Tsukasa. He is able to escape the situation, even remaining relatively optimistic about the job, but Isla seems rather perturbed by it.
It’s revealed at this point that Isla’s lifespan is close to its end- one month, in fact. Her motor skills have become subpar, resulting in the clumsiness that distinguishes her as a character, and she realizes that, experiencing extremely conflicting emotions as a result. We see that Isla keeps on pushing herself physically, trying to perform optimally, yet in all physical tests, it’s shown that she’s not doing as well as she used to. When Tsukasa confesses to her, she refuses his feelings despite feeling the same way herself, simply because she doesn’t wish to be a burden doomed to disappear. Thanks to some support from her co-workers, she does her best to move on from this feeling, choosing instead to live with Tsukasa and enjoy her life as much as she can, while she can. Her expiration ends with her thankful, appreciative of what life she got.
With the spoilers out of the way, there’s a bit of analyzing to do. There’s quite a few details here that are extremely interesting!
Alzheimer’s in Relation
We all know about Alzheimer’s- that terrible life-changing disease that’s been prevalent in recent years. At its most basic, it messes with the brain, makes things harder to remember, and at its worst, it can destroy someone’s whole identity. But where exactly, if at all, does it relate to the lifespan of a Giftia?
Well, let’s start with what is immediately different about the two. Whereas Alzheimer’s symptoms tend to be progressive over time, it appears that Giftia don’t suffer from such progressive symptoms, with the exception for some, of physical ability. Also, because of the nature of Giftia, the loss of memory and personality happens extremely quickly, unlike Alzheimer’s patients who have the experiencce prolonged over years and years. Lastly, the extent of the symptoms varies- Giftia tend to have at least enough motor control to function, indicated by Isla as well as Marcia, and are self sustaining, but lose all sense of self-control and restraint. Alzheimer’s patients on the other hand, lose enough motor control to warrant the need for others to take care of them, yet for the most part, they retain at least some core memories, and hold on to their personality much longer than a Giftia, who loses everything far more quickly.
Now. Let’s move on to the similarities. First, and most apparent, is the fact that despite the differences in the extent of the symptoms, the same symptoms, for the most part, still appear. As androids, Giftia naturally wouldn’t be able to experience really needing to be taken care of, but from memory loss, to physical degradation, lack of personality, and even outbreaks of violence, all towards the end of one’s lifespan, Alzheimer’s patients and Giftia have to generally worry about the same things- at least, the same well-known symptoms. On alz.org, it even notes that during the middle stage of the disease, patients have “an increased risk of wandering and becoming lost,” similar to how Giftia have been dubbed “Wanderers” for the exact same reason. On that note, something interesting to note is that violence in Alzheimer’s patients, although uncommon, has been documented, and is not unprecedented. And yes, the violence seen in Plastic Memories is certainly exaggerated to a huge degree, but hey, the parallels can still be seen.
Finally, the reactions of Alzheimer’s patients to their diagnosis is generally a process, understandably filled with many complex emotions. Looking forward and dealing with such a diagnosis is a dreadful thing- and, surprisingly, we can see many of these feelings in Isla. We see denial, in how Isla chooses to keep on testing herself, wishing to perform better than she is. Anxiety, in how she doesn’t want to become a burden, guilt, that she’s just holding her partner back. She shows sadness at the prospect of essentially dying, even crying at points, but in the end, she comes to accept her fate. It was quite the experience to watch throughout the series, but, I think it gains even more significance, knowing the real-life comparison that could be made.
The Moral Decisions
We know the way in which the world of Plastic Memories deals with the problem of creating self-sentient Giftia, and the comparisons that can be made to real-life Alzheimer’s Disease, but honestly, that’s where the explicit connections between the two stop. Morally, Terminal Service is unique in that they don’t have to worry about robots being human. In real life, it is agreed upon that Alzheimer’s patients, even if they lose their personality, their memory, they are still human, and it is our job as fellow humans to ensure that their lives are safeguarded as best as possible, whereas for the Giftia of Plastic Memories, such an argument is invalid. They have artificial souls, sure, but they are still artificial, still sub-human, still creations of a company, and so, if they pose a threat or drain on society, of course they would be shut down, essentially euthanized, first and foremost. It’d be less pain for both the people, and for the Giftia, even if they wish to stay longer.
The ethical question to ask then would be, what rights would a theoretical self-aware robot have? A crazy question to ask, perhaps, but such questions have already been considered by larger organizations. Throughout Plastic Memories, Giftia tend to submit freely to the idea of being shut down, knowing that if they were to survive past that point, their identity would be stripped away. A question that might be asked then, is whether or not that would be a fair decision to the android- gifting it with life, intelligence, feeling, and essentially making them human, but then cursing it with a life that is cut short, regardless of whether it wants it or not.
However, there’s only so far we could take these ethical questions, simply because, well, Plastic Memories is a short anime, and Earth hasn’t evolved that far yet. We don’t see any large-scale problems with the production of Giftia in the series, and although scientists have considered the ethics of artificial intelligence in real life, we certainly haven’t progressed far enough to make these questions extremely relevant; at least, not yet. That doesn’t stop these questions from being exceedingly interesting to think about, and hey, maybe someday soon, we might find that the Giftia of Plastic Memories, and the questions their existence prompts, aren’t exactly science fiction anymore.
That’s all I’ve got. I had a really fun time pursuing this topic, and I think it’s all rather interesting. I hope I didn’t go on too long, but hey, I just hope that you found it a good read. If you have any thoughts on the topic, feel free to comment down below!