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Next Gen is a gem. Full stop. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but once I sat down to watch it I couldn’t look away.
In a utopian future where everyone has their own personal robot and almost everything is automated, teenage Mai Su has an issue with the status quo. Her dad left her when she was little, and her mom turned to robots to keep her company.
Mai, feeling rejected, has taken this abandonment out on robots everywhere. When she runs into a military-grade machine her assumptions on AI are challenged. She and the robot must then work together to protect the ones they love.
It’s so good I cried. Like, twice.
I really, really enjoyed this movie beyond the fact that I’m biased towards robots. The animation is fantastic and the character designs are adorable. Think WALL-E meets Inside Out, but in a thriving utopian metropolis.
I will admit I was a bit shocked by how violent the film got in parts. Nothing with blood in it—because this is still a children’s film—but the robot battle at the end was a knock-down, drag-out brawl, full of ripped off limbs and missing eyeballs.
The story was engaging. Mai Su reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger and I felt like the world was against me. And while I grew frustrated with her at parts—she’s manipulative towards the robot who adores her—I had to take a step back and think about her predicament. When I did, I realized that she was reacting in a way that made sense for her situation.
As mentioned, Mai’s father left her when she was young, and her mother turned to robots to fight off her own crushing loneliness. Mai blames machines for this, and in a world where everyone loves them, this has led to people ostracizing her for shunning them.
The story behind 7723—the robot—is also great. As a military machine designed to kill, it’s incredibly touching to see how the robot rejects this programming once he gains a sense of self and turned towards pacifism. 7723 insists quite candidly throughout the film that we are more than where we came from. That we can become good if we choose to be good, and he does.
Even more touching is how the film pushes the idea that it is better to cling to the good memories of those we love instead of hanging on to old wounds. It’s an incredibly optimistic view of the future and a great message to send to children.
I was also happy with the dynamic between Mai and 7723. You can tell they are both lonely, and it was so interesting to see how they took that loneliness out on others. A robot capable of great violence eschews it, while a girl with no power desperately seeks violence in order to protect herself. It was a lovely juxtaposition.
There was very little I disliked about this movie, beyond the “Tech Bro” character of Justin Pin being too close for comfort with how much he echoed the Silicon Valley stereotype.
The show also falls into the dreaded Purple Hair Trope with the character of Mai Su, which is rightly criticized as a whole and is a critique I agree with.
The plot twist to Justin Pin’s arc was really good, and despite my dislike of the Tech Bro stereotype, I think they pulled it off well.
The film also got me thinking about the ethical implications of robotic assistants, and how we might be more susceptible to their influence if we’re lonely.