I could listen to Mikoto, the android politician, and her human counterpart debate the merits and demerits of automation all episode. Like the anime says, automation is already here. Automation has already driven millions of people out of a job. We don’t just depend on robots simply because it’s cheaper. We depend on robots because they’re better than us in a lot of ways. They work faster, they don’t tire, they are stronger, so on and so forth. The only major hurdle — and major is putting it lightly — is that our robots can’t think for themselves. They can’t adapt. We still have to tell them what to do. Oh sure, some super expensive computer out there can beat our greatest world champions at chess, but life is a little more complicated than a board game. So sure, what are the pros and cons of taking automation to its logical endpoint? What if robots could one day not only make stuff or us, they could also make decisions for us? But of course, if some AI or system of AIs knows what’s best, then what’s the point of keeping us around?
It feels like Beatless is trying to get at this. “Trying” is the operative word. Kengo desperately hates hIEs because he can’t stand how they’ve ironically turned humans into unthinking drones. When a fire breaks out in the large assembly hall, Mikoto tries her best to help issue evacuation instructions. This absolutely infuriates Kengo: “Everyone has stopped thinking for themselves, just doing what the machine tells them to! Why don’t you all wake up? These human-shaped robots are trying to steal our very essence!” But don’t let Kengo fool you. His angst is not rooted in a mere evacuation. This is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is just some impassioned kid having a meltdown in the most stressful situation of his life. After all, just a week ago, he was a normal high school kid who is unfortunately bigoted against androids. All of a sudden, he’s terrorist. His rant just now is merely a culmination of all those factors. He has a point, but it is a very immature one.
Sure, super intelligent AI could conceivably tell us how to evacuate a building, and in that sense, we are letting the androids do the thinking for us. Sure, androids could even dictate public policy. But assuming an idealized world, this should give humanity freedom. The essence of humanity, as Kengo calls it, should not lie in the ability to evacuate oneself from a burning building. I jest, of course, but at the same time, this is just a small part of the bigger picture. Likewise, can we really argue that the essence of humanity is to sit around in a public forum and endlessly debate public policy all day long? Look at the state of our current governments all across the world. Look how many man hours are being wasted by politicians engaging in petty squabbles and never getting anything done. Can this truly be a part of the essence of humanity? Automation is supposed to free us from the drudgery of everyday life. Instead of having to labor for hours in the sun everyday to harvest our crops, a machine can do it for us. This should free us to pursue fruitful endeavors. In theory, anyway.
The problem, of course, is that our current world is not ideal. Automation hasn’t exactly freed the working class. It has merely driven a large portion of it out of employment. And without money in a money-driven world, we are ironically more enslaved than ever. So in that sense, automation has screwed us over… but not directly. At the end of the day, the root of the problem is caused by human flaws. One could argue that we’ll need something akin to a universal basic income to truly take advantage of a technologically-advanced society. So how does this tie back into Beatless? It’s hard to say what sort of society we have in this anime, because it hasn’t done a great job at world-building. We don’t know if every single human is cared for. We don’t know what people do with their free time if robots can do their jobs for them. We don’t know if there’s a large stratification of economic classes. Are there even homeless people in this alternate universe? We know very little about this world, so it’s hard to say how automation and androids would affect it. We have only seen that humans are easily fooled or “mind-hacked” by android models.
Still, if a handful of androids can do what hundreds of politicians can’t, then so what? Humans are highly adaptable, aren’t they? If you can no longer be a politician, then you can go find some other pursuit. You can find some other way to contribute to society. This is ultimately the essence of humanity, not some silly fear of technological advancements once it has reached a certain point. There has to be something that androids aren’t good at. Art, for instance. Culture. Or perhaps even moral and ethical quandaries. And maybe that’s why Lacia always reminds Arato to take responsibility for her actions. At the end of the day, she only feeds him information. Like Mikoto, she aggregates all of the data, then she lays out several ideal courses of action. Sometimes, she may advise Arato to go down a certain path. Nevertheless, he has to make the final decision, and he still has to accept moral responsibility. Can androids ever absolve humanity of its culpability? Maybe that’s another side to the essence of humanity.
Unfortunately, all these interesting points are cut short by the anime’s need to follow a teenage boy and his heart. So we have silly bullshit like him blushing at the fact that he has to hold hands with Lacia. We also get to see him stare at women’s breasts and asses and face no consequences since he’s invisible. We also have Snowdrop crashing the party and just doing dumb, boring stuff. Honestly, none of the action here is any good, so when Beatless interrupts its philosophical debate to engage in half-assed combat, I can’t help but groan. Then of course, the episode reaches its conclusion when Arato saves his dear bigoted friend from certain death, and I’m supposed to be emotionally engaged by this or something. It’s like we finally have something interesting to sink our teeth into, but nope, time to get back to the animeisms because someone out there knows what’s best for us! And what’s best for us is scantily-clad androids doing sexy battles! And cynically, I suspect we must cut the philosophical debate short because the author doesn’t really have anything new or insightful to add. They merely want to bring up the topic, then leave it hanging as we return to our regularly scheduled nonsense like Kengo’s stupid ass returning to his worried imouto. Who cares about those two?
At the very end of the episode, Lacia’s “sisters” all spout stuff like how Kouka is a tool to beat human competition, Snowdrop is a tool that is entrusted with progress, blah blah blah. By this point, I’m completely exasperated thanks to the combination of my long day plus my frustration with the show’s unrealized potential.