Plastic Memories’ Isla as the Beautiful Premium Girl

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“Her character was locked in as translucent — like a shadow, or the air. The kind of girl you can’t touch. The girl you long for, but there is nothing about her that you can hold.”

– Yoshiyuki Sadamoto on Rei Ayanami’s character design in Neon Genesis Evangelion

So many have followed in her footsteps that it’s now difficult to believe that Rei Ayanami’s design was unique. While her specific character has stood the test of time, her appearance, along with her more superficial character traits, has not. Plastic Memories’ Isla is one of many expys attempting to capture the elusive allure of the original “premium girl.”

“Rei is someone who is aware of the fact that even if she dies, there’ll be another to replace her, so she doesn’t value her life very highly. Her presence, her existence, “ostensible existence,” is ephemeral. She’s a very sad girl. She only has the barest minimum of what she needs to have. She’s damaged in some way; she hurts herself. She doesn’t need friends.”

Hideaki Anno on Rei Ayanami

This outlook on Rei’s character from series director Hideaki Anno paints a similar picture of what Plastic Memories wants its audience to feel towards Isla. As a giftia android, her personality and memories – both false ones of a time before she came to be Isla and the memories she makes while living as Isla – have a distinct expiration date of 81,920 hours. There will be another to replace her, so to speak, when she expires. While speaking to one of their clients, she expresses the wish to never have memories at all. At work, she shows a distinct lack of self-preservation. Her character design fits the Rei Ayanami mold down to her striking red irises.

Yet Isla fails on several levels where Rei, and others who have also followed in the original premium girl’s footsteps like Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Yuki Nagato, did not.

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Countless essays have been written on Rei Ayanami’s characterization, her role within Evangelion, and even the process in which her most basic character traits spawned an entire archetype. For the sake of brevity, Rei’s personality is intrinsic to the narrative of Evangelion and is additionally informed by other characters in the series who are equally emotionally distraught. One of her key moments involves looking back on her own memories within the series’ timespan, asking herself what she is, and reflecting on how the people she has met have shaped her unique experience. Throughout the series, changes in her expression are slight as she grows into her own emotions.

In Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki Nagato is an alien observer, sent to gather data on Haruhi Suzumiya. She hardly has a past as tortured or significant to the narrative as Rei Ayanami does in Evangelion; however, she shares a similar visual progression through facial expressions. Every tic and lingering moment counts, culminating in emotional buildup so powerful that it alters reality.

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As an aforementioned giftia with limited time to be the unique entity of Isla, Plastic Memories‘ heroine certainly fits the Rei Ayanami mold. Unfortunately, the series spent more time on stereotypical romantic comedy mishaps than showing nuances in Isla’s character. While Plastic Memories has hinted at prior struggles that she has had – to the point where other characters remark that she’s trying to be a machine in order to avoid the heartbreak that accompanies the end of a giftia’s life – every other giftia in the series acts like a normal human. Within the Terminal Service where Isla works, there are three giftias, all whom blend in easily with the staff. Additionally, the giftias they meet while working are all fully functioning human personalities no different than the average person on the street.

So what makes Isla different? Why does she alone act like a robot?

One can make the argument for Rei, whose existence is significantly different than the humans she meets, that retreating into a nebulous shell under the realization that she is expendable, makes sense, especially within the context of Evangelion as a whole. Likewise Yuki’s detached coldness, within the context of Haruhi Suzumiya, is understandable. Haruhi’s protagonist, Kyon, even comments off-handedly that Yuki’s superiors should have given her more of a personality following his encounter with a similar being, Ryoko Asakura. The Haruhi franchise also offers an alternate, human Yuki Nagato in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan timelines. In these iterations, Yuki is a shy and quiet girl, but lacks the cold detachment of her alien counterpart.

Isla is a completely different case than either Rei or Yuki, because Isla’s circumstances are not unique.

Unless Plastic Memories follows a similar path to Chobits, making Isla a prototype of some sort, Isla is simply another giftia, much like male protagonist Tsukasa Mizugaki is just another human male. The series reveals that Isla’s expiration date is swiftly approaching, but also makes it apparent within the same episode that giftias aren’t programmed to forget or decline. In further episodes, it is revealed what happens following the end of a giftia’s lifespan, and while it’s not pretty, it is also completely different than Isla’s remote personality.

There are two primary reasons for Isla to act the way she does. The first is for the benefit of an audience who gravitates towards the Rei Ayanami archetype. The second involves Tsukasa’s role as a potential romantic partner for Isla.

Every other giftia in the series acts just as the in-universe humans do. In the words of one of Tsukasa’s co-workers, you wouldn’t know a giftia from a human upon meeting them. That is, unless the giftia is Isla. Her circumstances aren’t unique but her actions are, and the dissonance it causes while watching Plastic Memories is striking.

11 comments

  1. Plastic memories certainly likes to lay down the emotions pretty thickly and quickly. And it does a good job of that. However the series, I feel has far too much connatations with chobits – than haruhi. Hence why I left this series, since I’m not a fan of Chobits. I also feel that it does take some elements from blade runner or the book; do androids sleep of electronic sheeps.

    1. I wouldn’t have minded if it had continued to rely on one-off emotional stories rather than the horrible romantic comedy elements. These are off-putting for me, and really drive the point home that Isla is an object of desire, both for Tsukasa and the audience, first and foremost.

      I’m not a fan of Chobits either. ^ ^;

  2. Hmmm, Rei Ayanami’s been this mysterious figure for me – her emotional development coincides with her self-awareness as a “replaceable” entity who already saw two reincarnations in the series proper. This makes me wonder: looking back at classic sci-fi literature, could Rei Ayanami be a spiritual successor to characters such as R. Daneel Olivaw, who draw attention to the complexities of personal identity and a collective human consciousness of what it means to be “human”?

    1. I’m unsure, as I’m admittedly not well-versed in sci-fi literature. I do love Rei’s character though, and I think her enigmatic presence provides much more than mere fanservice to the story of Evangelion. ^ ^

  3. I really do hope they aren’t relying on that connection to Rei as much as it feels. While she’s as important a character and represents as important an archetype as there is out there, she’s not exactly likable. She more begs pity and curiosity than anything, and that may be the exact reason why Isla acts the way she does. As much as I love the sci-fi aspects of this show, I can’t deny your commentary. Isla is certainly off even in comparison to giftia far closer to expiration than her.

    Maybe Isla is a really old giftia who has been through this process far more times than others? But I’d prefer not to make excuses and have the show explain it to us – something they better do.

    1. “Maybe Isla is a really old giftia who has been through this process far more times than others? But I’d prefer not to make excuses and have the show explain it to us – something they better do.”

      This is likely where Plastic Memories is leading us. The issue I take with it is that they haven’t really done much to develop Isla in this way thus far. Additionally, from the get-go, she was framed as an object of desire in the elevator when Tsukasa first sees her looking out at the city and crying. Now that we’ve seen what does happen to giftia upon expiration, Isla’s odd behavior stands out even more in context. Marcia didn’t act any differently until she actually expired. I hope they explain too, but I’m unfortunately pessimistic.

  4. First of all, fantastic post.

    I agree that Isla is yet another generic clone molded from the Rei Ayanami mold. While surface traits match, both physical and in demeanour, both characters are shaped and develop in completely different ways. To go over Rei in NGE would be to uselessly reiterate what you wrote so well above. Isla, however, is shaped by the demands of the generic (and misplaced) efforts for romantic comedy, which in turn are in demand by a general fan base. The irony in all this is while we desire the Rei Ayanami mold, we make it much more unattainable because our demand for both has the archetype placed in a series in which it has no place, thus being an ineffective replica.

    I’m also bewildered by the fact that no one has questioned the ethics behind the premise of Plastic Memories. It’s also completely unethical that giftias are given memories and a “soul” only to have it taken away after 9 years. To be made essentially human only to have it taken away from not only you, but the loved ones around you as well. I find it a little perplexing, but it’s just a side thought.

    Great post! Your blog is always a joy to read.

    1. Thank you. ^ ^;

      I actually had high hopes for Plastic Memories’ depiction of androids, especially following the first episode, as I thought it was a bit different than what we usually see from series that explore this subject. They basically become pets that look/act human for a very specific lifespan. The exploration between how a human reacts to a giftia – and the expiration of – would have been interesting, especially when compared to the manner in which people treat their pets. As you touched upon, it’s completely different when human emotions and memories enter the picture, and I would have liked to see the series really delve into this a bit. Sadly, it doesn’t seem particularly interested.

  5. Looking at Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s concept of Rei’s design, I’ve always wondered how you draw a character to have that kind of appeal. Is it in the face, the hair, the figure?

    What other shows are you watching this season? I hear Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon’s big this season.

    1. Presumably, according to interviews, Sadamoto drew inspiration from Kinnuki Shoujo Tai’s “The Girl White With Bandages” and then inverted the hair/eye color of Asuka, changing the eyes to a deeper red so that she would stand out.

      I am watching Sound! Euphonium, Kekkai Sensen, Punch Line!, Mikagura, and Ore Monogatari.

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