The Gene of AI Episode 1, “Backup,” is a lot to take in. Produced by Madhouse, the series is a heady, dense, science fiction story that refuses to spare a moment for an in-depth explanation. Based on the manga series written and illustrated by Kyūri Yamada, the series is set in the future where 10% of the population is made up of humanoids with artificial intelligence. With an eerie premise built in a world with an existing, crumbling foundation, the series asserts itself as one meant to deal with greater questions of what it means to be human, or, rather, what it means to be alive, and the agency given and then taken by technology.
Directed by Yuzo Sato and written by Ryunosuke Kingetsu, the series begins with a flashback set 25 years in the past. Sudo Hikaru’s mother, in jail in the present, is seen being given an offer that would allow her son greater treatment but would require making a copy of her neural net. It’s the first sign that Hikaru, our protagonist, will be neck deep in the AI conversation, and it’s delivered on greater still when, in the present, we learn that he’s become a doctor, one who takes on illegal medical procedures under the name Moggadeet. While he harbors no ill will towards humanoids, he casts a striking amount of cynicism over technology’s grip on society. From deliberate attempts to refute modernized products to using outdated technology, his personality works in contrast to his actual work.
Hikaru’s day job as a doctor involves placing implants into children so that they can activate online modules through their brains, being able to participate in online gaming through their thoughts alone. The scene is brief and highlights the excess of tech and how in order to keep up people must undergo drastic procedures and life changes so as to not fall behind. Compare this to his work as Moggadeet and the vanity of tech turns into something much more sinister, as we watch humanoids suffer from the same fears of death and loss of self as humans they share a community with.
It’s in these moments where the premiere strikes the best balance of creating a futuristic setting while making it so the character moments are still the more prominent. Reminiscent of last year’s extraordinary Pantheon to the 2015 independent film Advantageous, the moments are laced with bruising introspection. Hikaru has taken on a case where he’s helping a family where the humanoid wife has been infected by a computer virus after her husband in a fit of panic tried to illegally back up her data. Hikaru tells them that without operation she will be dead within two weeks — a shell of herself. But the procedure in question that could save her would require her memory being rewritten using backup data, something that wouldn’t strip her of all of her memories, but would at least get rid of the last week.
The writing shines as the wife grapples with what this procedure means to her, and the agony she’s presented with while hooked up to machines ready to rewrite her and make her someone new, even if her husband believes the shift won’t be anything drastic. How the series handles the outcome is devastating, and honest to the human condition. The humanoids might not be made up of flesh and blood but their existence is of being human, experiencing hunger, developing new skills, and suffering loss.
The show however can’t marry its strong writing with equally strong animation. The character designs handled by Kei Tsuchiya are one note, and the animation is jarring in its stiffness. Even the opening is weighed down by a bizarre combination of animation effects which results in a final product that doesn’t have a clear sense of tone. There needed to be greater depth and shading to the world to help illuminate the pressure felt by the protagonist and the lurking darkness of the world. Everything is too bright, too lithe, and lacking the depth that allows the writing to take center stage.
Regardless, while there’s been a few premieres that haven’t quite established themselves as an anime must-watch this season, The Gene of AI Episode 1 at the very least raises the curtain of curiosity. There’s enough intrigue in the premise and questions regarding where the story is going to take us that those who watch the premiere will follow up with the subsequent episodes. If the animation could reach the suggested heights of the writing, the series would be a lock for being a summer must-see.
The Gene of AI Episode 1 is available now on Crunchyroll.
The Gene of AI Eppisode 1
The Gene of AI Episode 1 at the very least raises the curtain of curiosity. There’s enough intrigue in the premise and questions regarding where the story is going to take us that those who watch the premiere will follow up with the subsequent episodes. If the animation could reach the suggested heights of the writing, the series would be a lock for being a summer must-see.