What’s it about? Arato’s friends think he’s something of an odd duck. In the largely-automated society where they live, high-tech androids called hIE’s do most of the menial labor and jobs. Most people regard them as the objects they are, but Arato insists on treating them like humans. One day, a shower of what appears to be flower petals falls from the sky, making all the automated systems go haywire. An hIE goes rogue and attacks Arato, but luckily for him, another hiE named Lacia appears in the nick of time.
I was beginning to wonder if Amazon would ever release Beatless, one of their acquisitions of the season. They finally did, but they also made it damn near impossible to find through their Prime service. Was it worth the effort to track down? One episode in, and I’m not really sure what the answer is.
Like DARLING in the FRANXX, Beatless feels largely like a pastiche of genre conventions and other series that came before it. Little happens for much of the episode, as it does more to establish the setting than actually drive the story forward. All the female-coded robots—and not a single male-coded one—give the world a slightly Chobits-esque atmosphere. Things do take a turn when a group of scantily-clad hIE’s attack some sort of research facility and unleash the petals, but the action isn’t especially compelling. It even gets interrupted by a lengthy sequence of Lacia making Arato agree to her terms and conditions in the middle of a fight! Realistic? I guess. But it sure interrupts the flow of the scene.
The series seems to be heavily hinting at a plot exploring the potential “humanity” of the hIEs. Arato’s softhearted approach to the androids is at odds with Lacia’s insistence that her human appearance is only a facsimile and that she doesn’t have a soul. It’s a plotline that has been done to death, over and over, since before I was even born, and the show’s writers will have to work very hard to make it feel even remotely fresh or interesting.
Or perhaps it’ll lean more heavily on the “sudden girlfriend” route, which is already presenting some major problems. Arato’s attraction to Lacia quickly becomes a factor when, in the last few minutes of the episode, he focuses on her breasts as she pours him tea. As an hIE, Lacia’s primary function is to serve her owner. Not only does she protect him, but she also cooks like a master chef, serves perfectly-prepared tea, and calls him “Owner.” She has no desires or will of her own, and wears an outfit that shows both ample cleavage and underbutt. She is, in short, what many otaku consider to be the perfect girlfriend.
Virtual assistants are already a thing that exist in our world, even if they don’t have human appearances (yet). Siri, Cortana, Alexa—they’re female-coded by default. Even though they have masculine voice options, the majority of their users stick with the default feminine voice. Although manufacturers argue that it’s because people find those kinds of voices more pleasant, experts pretty much universally agree that there’s much more insidious sexism at play.
Virtual assistants are, by their nature, subservient. Humans, by our nature, tend to anthropomorphize everything. So, when we ask our virtual assistants do something, we feel like we’re asking a person to do it for us. People are more comfortable asking women to do things for them—particularly the older male population that makes up the majority of virtual assistant owners. They may not be aware of it, but society is loaded with implicit biases that many people never realize they carry.
All that said, the show does have one major positive: Arato’s little sister, Yuka, is one of the more believable little sister characters of recent years. Her relationship with her brother doesn’t give off a whiff of incest like most imouto characters of the past few years. Instead, she does things like eat all the meat he prepared for the sweet and sour pork he was planning to make and watch TV while he cleans the kitchen.
She doesn’t worship her brother, or even really seem all that interested in him in general. Arato does not once pause to reflect on how kawaii she is—he seems more annoyed with her than anything else. I’m at the point where I cringe whenever an anime character has a little sister, so Yuka was a huge relief.
Beatless reflects all-too-real issues in our society, whether or not it means to. Female robots perform labor in place of humans as housekeepers, retail workers, and so on, without a male hIE model in sight. Perhaps the show will interrogate these biases, but considering Lacia’s outfit and Arato’s early lovesickness, I’m not holding my breath.