The year is 2217. Following a cataclysmic event 200 years prior, the global landscape has drastically changed. The female sex is extinct and all men have uploaded their consciousnesses into floating camera heads. While the worlds leading scientists tried to rebuild the human race, unfortunately, since they were all oligarchical men, the only result of their efforts was a poor inhuman replica of a young girl.
When humanity realized that this new cyborg companion could be programmed to fulfill the unsettling and one-sided “~onii-chan~” desires of the remaining men, they gave up on their research, content that their new creation would bring them into the next era. Now these young girls are mass produced, delivered worldwide and on-demand to your doorstep, complete with such outfits as ‘underage high schooler’ & ‘she’s supposed to be your adoptive sister, you know that right?’.
This is their story.
It’s truly masterful how One Room is able to build up an astounding amount of tension, dread and discomfort within the short few minutes the show has to work with. To think I could infer so much information about the setting of One Room just by decoding the interaction between the two characters is a testament to how well made this anime is. For all the failings of modern horror movies, with all their trope-filled predictable plot lines, One Room embraces the subtle rising terror that these other productions have long been missing. For such an accomplishment to be celebrated, I feel only a scene by scene breakdown would be an appropriate tribute.
One Room opens to three companion bots standing under a row of sakura trees. They ominously praise the protagonist for his hard work, promising him that a reward ‘encounter’ is not far round the corner. This is subtly referring to the fact that his backed up paychecks now afford him enough money to deliver one of these robot girls to his doorstep.
In the next scene our suspicions are confirmed. A doorbell rings and as our protagonist walks to answer it, we pass by a brochure, clearly demonstrating that his visitor was in fact mail ordered. When he does eventually open the door, he immediately starts checking out the product for any defects. In an automated fashion, the young girl presents herself, handing over a gift and delivering an unsuspecting reason for her to be moving in nearby. An obvious disguise.
While the previous sequences could perhaps be rationalized, it is the following scene that clues us into the notion that not everything is as it seems. The man clearly and deliberately disregards social etiquette in order to ogle the girls chest, even while she continues to apologize for being the rude one. In a shocking turn of events, rather than express disgust or a need to escape, the young girl appears happy, explaining how proud she is of her uniform and education, literally squirming with excitement. Now it is exactly because this could be cast-off as juvenile fantasy that we should be questioning it. Since these characters are unfeeling and robotic, the atmosphere here is intentionally uncanny. One Room is explicitly telling us that they are no longer human.
Interestingly, the camera then changes POV from in front of the girl to her backside. Given that up until this point the camera moved in tandem with the main character, I believe this supports the theory that the protagonist does not possess a body. Completely uncaring about the programmed lines the girl is processing, the man floats his robot head around to a rear angle, so that he can continue inspecting the design of the robot girls body. The fact that nobody is seen in front of the girl and that she does not react to his movement further proves that One Room is set in a dystopian science fiction world. After being sexually harassed the girl quietly apologizes, bowing to her
customer friendly neighbor.
Next comes a disturbing change in tone. The frame is filtered with a menacing red hue. The world is devoid of sound bar a passing train that is likely empty. The girl, having gone to collect her
owners shopping, pretends to be shocked to see the man from before. While the girl talks as if there is a natural back & forth conversation going on, we do not actually hear the man speak. Once again this is reinforcing the idea that the man does not have a body, and instead communicates through electronic signals.
Almost as soon as that scene starts, it ends, bringing us much closer to the apartments from the start. The red hue is still present, making the girls gratefulness seem manufactured and artificial. We also can’t prove that the man is actually carrying her shopping because of the choice of POV, which in my opinion is deliberately to hide the fact that man does indeed have no physical body. In exchange for the girls gratitude, the man takes an easy opportunity to look up her skirt as they go up the stairs, just barely missing out on a more risqué shot.
As they reach the front entrance, the girl (who is still talking to herself) acts surprised, as if the man had just asked her what her grades were like. This sudden dialogue change allows the companion bot to randomly generate a reason for her ‘senpai’ to help her study, and therefore a reason to get much closer together. The end credits then role, loudly glaring a eerily misplaced upbeat tune, creating one final juxtaposition between the happy tone of the music and the stark, horrifying reality of humanities decline.
Or so it seems
After the credits end we see the girl staring at an empty living room. The man is standing unannounced behind her. She takes one step in, then the screen fades to black….
So as I believe this step-by-step analysis clearly demonstrates, One Room is not how it appears to be on the surface. If you look carefully to the margins, you can unveil the true terror of what the story here holds. Where films like SAW and The Hills Have Eyes try to scare the viewer with grating sounds and violent/grotesque imagery, One Room takes a much more sophisticated approach, picking away at the viewers mind, cluing them in to oddities that are guaranteed to make them uncomfortable.
If you only watch one Anime this Winter Season, let it be One Room.
Thanks for reading. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.