Monday, April 24


Hand Maid May

I just finished watching this series again. I watched it when it first came out back in 2000, and I've been busy since then (seriously) so I just got around to taking another look at it. It's a charming little show, with a great opening sequence.

It also has a much more complicated plot than ten (or even eleven) episodes can comfortably hold. There are significant time jumps between episodes. This is noticeable not just in the character relationships - a startling development at the end of one episode has become part of the background at the start of the next - but explicitly in that the seasons change over the course of the series; the elapsed time must be six months at a minimum, and possibly more. So there are some things that are simply never explained.

Many spoilers follow. Steven has another of too many words posts for this one, which covers most of the gaps, but misses a few minor points. So read that first, then come back here.

First, and most minor, we note that

Cyber-X and Commando-Z carefully prepared six cyberdolls (CBDs): a 1/6th scale G-99 (which we come to know as "May"), a full-scale G-99(D)JPS (which she is moved into later), a CF-3357L-JPA (Rena), an Af-444LC-JPK (Kei), an Af-773LC-CHN (Sara) and an Af-863LD-USNY (Mami).

"CF" seems to mean "child form" and "Af" seems to mean "Adult form". I think "G" is used for custom prototype units, because the two G-99's were modified to have USB interfaces, even though USB was long obsolete. ("G" doesn't mean "doll-sized". The full-sized version of May was also a G-99; and in the 11th episode Takuya is shown designing a new doll-sized unit whose model number is CF-6598DA-JPA.)

It appears that the number represents the basic model. I think the trailing letters refer to customer-selectable configuration choices such as hair color, hair length and basic costume.

Those aren't just configuration choices; they're country codes. May, Kei and Rena: JP. Sara: CHN. (Should be CN, technically, but we know what they mean.) Mami: US. (Mami frequently slips into English, and this is subtitled in Japanese on the DVD, something I found amusing.)

Second, on the subject of tears: We know cyberdolls aren't programmed to cry (by default), which is why May's tears are remarkable in the first place:

> And once the flashback is over, she gets tears in her eyes --
> something which is impossible for a newly-initialized CBD of her
> model.

Unheard of, in fact, which is what really solidifies Kei's interest in the subject. [which leads one to wonder why the bodies were built to be capable of crying in the first place, but that gets us back into all the problems with exactly how human their bodies are...]

Steven responds:
Actually, I think I can explain that. It is not the case that each model of cyberdoll was designed from scratch. Instead, there are three base body units (adult size, kid size, doll size) which are discrete designs. Each model of CBD begins with one of those three base body units. There would be a small number of computer modules available which could be plugged in, varying from expensive and powerful to cheaper and not so powerful.

A designer tasked with creating a new model would begin with one of the three basic bodies. He would select a computer module appropriate for the model role, would customize skin and hair and facial features, alter the parameters in the vocal unit so that the model had a unique voice, and design clothes and accessories as required. The core software would be common (especially the OS, Kazuya's MAID system), and the designer would add custom code (i.e. skills and personality) and data (i.e.knowledge) as needed for the model's intended role.

I would argue that "tears" are a feature of the base body, even though some models don't use it. The "tear ducts", the electronic link to the computer, and even the low level device drivers in the OS would all be standard just because it would be too much work to rip them all out, and because it's desirable for customization to be minimized. Thus when the high-level code in May began to evolve, May was able to access those device drivers and thus to cry.

But that's not right at all.

We are told explicitly that cyberdolls can have babies. They're biological, not mechanical. They have tear ducts for the same reason other mammals do: to clean and lubricate the eyes. (Although we know from Sara that their vision has been considerably enhanced over the human norm - indeed probably beyond the limits of physics, something we'll have to let pass.) (And the cyberdolls are certainly mammals. Emphatically so.)

[Update: I just realised that this takes place in episode eleven, which Steven regards as non-canonical. Well, I'll leave this discussion in place anyway.]

This of course makes something of a hash of some of the other story elements. The initial 1:6 scale May has to be recharged, and often. What's more, her charging unit is trashed when the shipping box falls out of Kazuya's window, so he has to hack her USB port to charge her through that. (Why this hackery is required I'm not sure, since USB is designed to recharge small portable devices anyway.) And yet we see all of the cyberdolls eating and drinking, most notably Sara, who downs 60 bowls of ramen at a single sitting. The original May is the only one we ever see needing to be recharged.

But this does fit in with the background plot of Kazuya being set up by Takuya (Cyber X) and Totaro (Commando Z). Kazuya has only just met May, and discovered what a wonderful and advanced robot she is, the sort of thing he dreams about creating, when she collapses - and he has to fix her. But the repairs required are something well within his technical capabilities.

I suspect that if the box hadn't fallen out the window, the charger would have been found to have been "damaged in shipping". This was done to bond Kazuya with May, and set him on the path to developing the original MAID system.

Now, for the trickiest part of the plot: The virus, and May's death and rebirth. As to where the virus came from, I don't know. It's not particularly plausible at first glance that Nanbara created it himself, given its effects - although we don't know that much about Nanbara, apart from the fact that he's rich and annoying and knows Kazuya well. Oh, and he's attending the same university as Kazuya, and indeed studying the same course. (In the first epsiode he complains that Kazuya's snoring distracted him during the Introductory Photonics exam.) There's a little more to Nanbara than meets the eye.

Leaving the origins of the virus aside, we have its effects on the cyberdolls to consider. We know that May is effectively immune, and it is strongly implied that the reason for that is her emotional development. And we know that her emotional development is due to the way Kazuya treated her (as a human), and made possible by the reserved memory space that is the secret sauce of the MAID system. Exactly why this makes her immune to the virus is not explained, but Steven's speculation is reasonable enough.

May cures the other cyberdolls of the virus by transferring their infections over the hand-optical link into her reserved memory. They problem with that (and the show is very clear on this) is that her reserved memory is already in use. By transferring the infected data to her own system, she is overwriting her memories of her time with Kazuya, and so wiping out her emotional development.

And there's a question of why this would cure the other cyberdolls completely (which is what happens) rather than leaving them with gaps in their memories and emotions. Steven again:

In order to defeat the virus, they decided to move it all into May. (That never totally made sense, but let it go.) She was the one to suggest that, and volunteered the use of her "hidden" memory area. Of course, that's where she had stored all her memories and all the extra programming she herself had spontaneously created that made her more than what she had been when she left the factory, and afterwards that was all wiped.


They were dealing with four CBDs which were malfunctioning and unconscious, and one working unit. Kazuya interfaced to the working unit -- May -- through a low speed line and she established a high-speed interface with the other four. What Kazuya was doing was to remotely control Kei, Rena, Mami and Sara at the level of their OS (the MAID system) to transfer the harmful information out of them.

And when it started working, we saw a graphical representation of pieces of the virus coming into May's memory area, and we also saw pieces of her memory peeling off and flying away.

But they were in pieces, which seemed to be coherent and self-contained. They didn't dissolve in a shower of bits; they seemed to be packaged, and they seemed to be going somewhere.


While May is downloading the virus-infected data to her reserved storage, we can see her memories peeling off and moving away. They're going to the other cyberdolls. Steven:

For her it would be a risk, of course. There was no guarantee that the data would be restored. And she had to manage it in a way that it didn't end up screwing up the others. That meant she had to package the data in such a way that they could not access it, because if they did access it then it would become part of their memories and they'd become schizoid. So she probably had to encrypt the data.
J Greely responds:
I think that gives her too much credit for planning. Putting the data somewhere in their systems is sufficient, if it's stored in currently unused space. The risk was that one of the other CBDs wouldn't link up with her before their OS chose to use those blocks to store new experiences.

The data could also have been packaged up the same way that they transfer information about their favorite tv show. That wouldn't have become a personal experience, and it matches up with the visuals as May recovers.

Right. May isn't packaging and encrypting data from her reserved storage; she's sharing her treasured memories with the other cyberdolls. I'm not sure that May even planned this as a way to survive the virus. It's just what she does. As she takes in the illness from the others, she shares with them her joys. She knows that they will be lost, otherwise, of course; she knows what she is sacrificing. But it wasn't planned. And it's many levels more abstract than encryption and storage blocks; it's memories in the human sense rather than memory in the computer sense.

Two more things. The virus is not a simple program either. We see that when it is all assembled in one place, in May's reserved storage, it acts completely differently. It's a little Nanbara. And it originally came on a double-sided DVD-RAM disk with a 5.2GB capacity. (It's explicitly and correctly labelled.) I think they really did need to load it into May to defeat it, though how May knew this is not made clear.

(Actually, there's something to this point in episode 9:

Kazuya: Then, the reason May isn't affected by the virus...
Totaro: Right! Because it evolved inside of her!

So May is the source (or vector?) of the virus, at least as it applies to cyberdolls; the original form was still Nanbara's creation.)

And when the four infected cyberdolls in year 2000 are cured, all the future cyberdolls are also cured - including the "dead" ones. The winged cyberdoll is, I think, the conduit for this, connected not only to all the cyberdolls in the future but also (somehow) to one or more of the cyberdolls sent back in time, though not specifically to May.

Finally, a couple of thoughts on why we find this series so appealing. Sure, there's the fanservice; there's the bouncy opening theme, the warmth, the humour. It's short, which is often to the good. It's also a closed-loop time-travel story. Kazuya wouldn't have been inspired to create the cyberdolls if May hadn't been sent back to him by Takuya and Totaro seeking a cure for Kotaro's virus (although they didn't know it was Kotaro's). Closed-loop time-travel stories are always fun.

But there's one more thing: It's a story about engineering. Kazuya is an engineer. The problems in the story are resolved with engineering solutions. And the product of his work is, you have to admit, some damn fine pieces of equipment.

And one last last thing: There's a Hand Maid May OVA series that is some sort of sequel to the original. Or part of one, anyway. Apparently the distribution company involved went bankrupt when 3 of the 4 planned episodes had been produced, but only the first episode released, and the remaining two episodes are still, it seems, in legal limbo and not available anywhere. I haven't watched it; I suspect that seeing one episode of a four-part series and knowing that the rest would likely never appear would be too much of an punishment for whatever reward it might bring. (Oh. J Greely says: whatever you may have heard about the sequel, Hand Maid Mai, the reality is worse; ’nuff said Okay then.)

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 01:09 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
Post contains 2213 words, total size 13 kb.

1 I'm kicking myself for not having spotted the country codes. It just never occurred to me.   Regarding the CBSs eating, I always assumed it was like Data eating: something that was engineered into them for social reasons, but something which doesn't actually matter. As to what does power the full sized units, they charge from the wall just like the miniature does. However, they're big enough to contain their own charging units, and can move to wall outlets and take care of it themselves. The miniature units require an external charger and the human owner has to plug them in.   The problem with the 11th episode is that it includes a lot of things which contradict stuff we're told, or shown, in the rest of the series. Even without the 11th episode the underlying plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but adding the 11th episode makes it even worse. So that's why I deliberately excluded it and decided it wasn't canonical. (In fact, it doesn't even work totally in character terms. Why would Cyber-X and Commando-Z remain in the past after their problem was solved?)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Monday, April 24 2006 04:52 PM (+rSRq)

2 Good work on all points. I still disagree with two of them, though. :-)

I continue to insist that the CBDs in the future were retroactively never infected; they all wake up without showing signs of being reset, and several of them died onscreen. The implication is that most of them were already "dead".

Also, I disagree that the "it" in the quote from episode nine refers to the virus. I think the next line makes it clear that "it" is her program: "If we can figure out how she's evolving...we'd get a hint on how to design a vaccine program". She's the one evolving.

Stepping outside the rules established for this game, here's the Japanese dialog from that scene.

Kazuya: Ja, May ga virus ni kansen-shite nai no wa... (Then, May wasn't infected because...)
Commando-Z: Sou da! Kanojo ni henkan wo okita kara da! (That's right! Because inside her a transformation had occurred!)

Ikariya is the original vector for spreading the virus to all CBDs; it got established in the MAID System first, so all of their later anti-virus protection couldn't see it (it hijacked the BIOS calls, so to speak). Admittedly, Ikariya wasn't hooked up when the virus was destroyed, but his infected source code was on the computer Kazuya was using. He'd either be fixed in the next update, or else he's become "aware" enough that Kazuya no longer feels comfortable modifying his mind, and will continue MAID System development on other platforms.


[by the way, this fancy entry form doesn't seem to work with Safari]

Posted by: J Greely at Monday, April 24 2006 07:25 PM (0/vcb)

3 By the way, the angelic figure associated with the CBDs I've always considered to be symbolic, not literal. She's actually a statue out front of the university that Kazuya and Nanbara attend. Those pictures from the future of all the CBDs laying on beds dying, and then later of all them waking up, I also consider to be symbolic, not literal.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Monday, April 24 2006 08:02 PM (+rSRq)

4 I got the first DVD a little while ago on SDB's rec.  Sadly, with the fight between time for Victor Hanson's "A War Like No Other," Glenn's book, WoW, Starcraft, various novels by Stross, John Barnes, and S.M. Stirling, blogging, girlfriend, and oh yeah my 4 actual jobs, I've only gotten through two episodes so far.   So many addictions, so little time.  When is that Singularity going to get here and allow me to spawn multiple consciousnesses so I can enjoy everything at once?    

Posted by: TallDave at Tuesday, April 25 2006 10:19 PM (H8Wgl)

5 This is the Singularity.  Or at least the on-ramp to it. Remember back in the old days when sometimes you actually had time to be bored? Gone. And it's only going to get worse better.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, April 26 2006 01:47 AM (X4y/B)

6 Regarding the CBDs power needs, why assume that both the full-scale and the 1/6th scale models use the same power sources?  I can see the minis using direct-plug power, while the larger models use some kind of chemical-combustion energy conversion process like humans do (with maybe a plug-in backup system).

Posted by: Jason Bontrager at Monday, May 01 2006 04:42 PM (00lzh)

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