In the near future, "probably Japan", robotics technology has advanced to the stage where androids indistinguishable from humans exist. These androids are subject to a series of strict laws, including the requirement to display an 'identification ring', a halo projected above their head to mark them out as artificial lifeforms. One day, teenagers Rikuo and Masaki discover a secret cafe named The Time Of Eve. The cafe's one rule is that discrimination between human and android is forbidden- and nobody can disclose their true nature.
The idea of using robot/human relations as an analogy for discrimination is a long-standing trope in science-fiction. In Time Of Eve: The Movie, the robots are essentially slaves, and treated as objects by the majority of humans. It quickly becomes clear that they are much more human than they appear, however.
Rikuo stumbles on the cafe when he discovers his family android Sammy has been sneaking out of the house. The idea that androids can have a life and existence outside their function becomes clear to him for the first time. The cafe is frequented by a number of regulars, who are quite a mixed bunch- as well as Sammy, there's a young girl and her doting guardian, a young couple and a spirited girl apparently a few years younger than Rikuo.
Over the course of the film, Rikuo gets to know all of them and tries to discover their stories. It has a very episodic structure, without much in the way of of an overall plot. There is a good reason for this, because this is actually a movie-edit of the original Time Of Eve online series, which began life as six individual episodes from writer/director Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Patema Inverted).
Despite it's non-cinematic feel though, this is compelling stuff. While the mystery of whether characters are human or not can in most cases be guessed pretty easily, there are still some surprises in store. More importantly, the characters (human or android) each have interesting back-stories that are well told in a short space of time. Their reasons for coming to the cafe are varied, and the characters are sympathetic and full of pathos.
It has very funny moments too- most notably there's an outdated broken robot that tries (unconvincingly) to pass itself off as human and nearly walks away with the whole film. His story too turns out to have a rather poignant twist in the end.
The character designs are fairly generic and not especially memorable, but they do have an unmistakable charm. They don't do much more than conform to the standard cute look of many anime, but they are cleanly designed and appealing. The designs of the non-humanoid robots are pretty great too (especially the previously mentioned broken 'bot).
The standard 2D animation of the characters is well-blended with some impressive CG backgrounds. This is a technique Yoshiura has been pursuing for some time and it leads to some mightily impressive visuals here.
The question of whether robots should be treated the same as humans is one that sci-fi has returned to time and time again. This owes considerable debt to classic sci-fi writing, directly acknowledged by the use of Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics.
Time Of Eve takes a pretty unique spin on it though- and the idea of the cafe is itself pretty inspired. It works surprisingly well in movie form too. There's something of an attempt to add a more overarching narrative (perhaps to make it more cinematic) but it feels a little superfluous and half-hearted. Not every film needs an existential threat to have stakes- sometimes the emotional journey is enough.
Ultimately, Time Of Eve is something of a gem- a beautifully made sci-fi that will appeal as much to your heart as your brain. We're pretty sure you will enjoy your time with Time Of Eve.
TIME OF EVE: THE MOVIE is available on DVD and Blu-ray from ANIME LIMITED in the UK and PIED PIPER in the US.