BokuBen 2 – 02 – At Their Service

After focusing on the main tutee trio last week, we shift to the lives of Kominami Asumi and Kirisu Mafuyu, both of whom end up in Nariyuki’s debt; the lad is nothing if not useful and industrious. When her fellow cafe maids conscript him to accompany her on her new maid cooking and cleaning side-gig, the clients they encounter are one coincidence after another.

First, there’s Kirisu, who refuses to let Asumi in until Nariyuki has already cleaned her place within an inch of its life. Then Uruka’s sick mom hires them, unbeknownst to Uruka, who is so frazzled to have Nariyuki in her home she cleans and cooks a sumptuous meal for the three of them without thinking—such is the power of her natural domestic skills.

The final straw for Asumi comes when the third client is a hungry Fumino, who made a mess attempting to cook but didn’t expect people she knew to come to clean, so she calls Rizu, who arrives with enough noodles for the four of everyone.

With Asumi’s pride as a maid well and truly devastated, she ends up cooking and cleaning at Nariyuki’s house, impressing his younger siblings, who wonder when he’ll marry her. Asumi contents herself with having Nariyuki’s head in her lap as she cleans his ears, a “special service” she’s all too happy to perform for him on the house.

On to Kirisu-sensei, who gets furious at Fumino falling asleep in class, but after pulling an all-nighter preparing quizzes, ends up having trouble staying awake in class the next day. She convinces herself that no one notices the first time she nods off, but Nariyuki saw her and is pretty sure what’s up.

During an unplanned, lengthy, and extremely boring school address, Kirisu is again on the verge of appearing hypocritical and bringing shame to her fellow faculty, but Nariyuki again notices and fakes a loud sneezing fit to keep her awake. She suspects he’s helping her on purpose, but again chalks it up to overthinking.

When she arrives at her front door ready to pass the f out, to her dismay she’s misplaced the key. She runs into Nariyuki, and the two spend the rest of the afternoon into the evening searching everywhere for it, before Nariyuki suggests she double-check the substantial contents of her bag.

Sure enough, her sleep-deprived past self placed the key in her pouch of USB drives. But immediately upon opening her door, she passes out in the entryway. Being a scholar and a gentleman, Nariyuki can’t leave her in such a state, and so gently carries her to bed, noting how slender and light his teacher is and then apologizing to no one in particular for thinking about weird stuff.

Fumino, Rizu, and Uruka form the heart of BokuBen, but this week reinforces the notion that they don’t have to always be in the spotlight. Asumi and Kirisu-sensei bring their own energy and dynamics with Nariyuki, resulting in a thoroughly amusing and energetic outing.

Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 05

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If one believes we were made in our creator’s image, we do our creators honor by making robots in oursPlanetarian posits the possibility that we might’ve done a better job, as Hoshino Yumemi exhibits the kind of pure, unswerving selflessness and nobility befitting an angel; a kind not all humans are capable of summoning, for myriad reasons.

Unlike God with us, Yumemi’s makers kept things simple, both due to their limited budget and the more important limits to how human we can make robots. Because of this, Yumemi sacrifices herself to save her customer, following to the letter the Three Laws of Robotics.

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The Customer doesn’t run out to stop Yumemi from approaching the giant battle mech, and you can’t blame him. It’s a miracle he’s managed to stay alive with such an unrelenting mechanical monster firing high-caliber round after round at him, in addition to flinging and armored vehicle in the air as if it were a Hot Wheels.

Yumemi provides a diversion at a crucial moment that the Customer, down to his last grenade, cannot squander. So he fires his last show and disables the mech, but not before the mech opens fire at Yumemi, tearing her in two in a fraught sequence that’s painful to watch in its inevitability.

The balance of the episode is an extended, and at times unbearably sad goodbye, as the halved Yumemi only has 600 seconds of battery life left.

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The Customer weeps for her as he would a fellow human; no, moreso, as her following of her robotic directives bore the sheen of heroism, and at the end of the day it makes no difference whether she was artificial or not; she was a person to the Customer, and to us.

She’s a person because she’s utterly unique in her collected experiences, memories, and the evolution of her programming stretched across over 44 years—29 of them waiting, like Hachiko, for her co-workers and customers to return like they say they would. When they don’t, and she starts to think no one is ever coming back, she thinks she must be malfunctioning.

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The Customer’s arrival reassured her that she was not wrong to trust that someone would return. And while her body goes off-line, and it’s gutwrenching to hear her voice fizzle out and her green eyes go gray, the show fittingly leaves a sliver of hope by having the Customer retrieve her memories.

Perhaps, one day, when…whatever is going on with the world ends and peace returns, those memories can be put in a new body, and Yumemi can continue her job immersing customers in the vast, inspiring sea of stars.

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P.S. The stirring piece of music that accompanies the end credits of this final episode is stunningly, hauntingly gorgeous; melancholy and hopeful all at once. If I ever find it, it will surely be included in a future Weekly ED entry.

Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 04

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Yumemi has followed Mr. Customer out of the Planetarium, but only to escort him to his car. After that, she’s programmed to return and await more customers. If none come, she’ll still wait.

As Mr. Customer walks through the city with her, a part of him hopes her synthetic eyes will become open to the reality of the situation. There is no car, there are no people, there is no power.

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But for much of this episode, Yumemi remains blissfully unaware of the dystopia around her. A bump here, an accident there; the dearth of people can be chalked up to the rain…which will never end.

Customer sees an unbroken bottle of scotch and worries it could trigger a mine. But Yumemi picks it up and offers it to him, (correctly) believing it’s merely a bottle of scotch.

But for every demonstration that Yumemi is a dumb robot, there’s another moment when both I and Customer have to wonder, despite knowing what we know.

She even comes up with a wish to the robot gods: that the heavens be a place where robots can be with the humans they served in life, and can continue to serve in the afterlife. Very Asimov-ian.

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The show likes to play with our sensibilities about humans and robots – one minute showing Yumemi staring into space or falling on her face; the next saying something truly unique and inspiring or even simply flashing a look that suggests sentience.

This is compounded by the fact this is anime, so neither Customer nor Yumemi look all that realistic. But if I encountered a robot that looked and acted just like a human in a place like that, I’d want to get her out of there too.

There’s one last battle mech between him and the way out of the city. He hunts it while he lets Yumemi think about whether to come with him. Leaving means leaving behind any hope that the power will come back on, Miss Jena will operate properly, and customers will return. But she has a customer, right here and now. If they part, she won’t be able to serve him.

Assuming Customer didn’t die in the mech attack, I’m very interested to learn how she chooses…and if Customer’s comrade’s words—“Do not talk to it” were a serious warning the Customer is choosing to ignore…at his peril.

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