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Some years ago, my owner left his shop in my care and suddenly went on a trip.
I wonder where he is, what he's doing, and whether he'll be back someday.

I think I'm glad I'm a robot.
No matter how long it takes, I can wait.

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (AKA Yokohama Shopping Log, Yokohama Shopping Trip Diary) is a manga by Ashinano Hitoshi originally published circa 1995 in Kodansha Afternoon. It was later reworked in 1999 into a 2 episode anime produced by Sony.

The story revolves around a model A7-M2 android named Alpha who is running a deserted coffee shop, craftily named Cafe Alpha, while the owner, Hatsuseno (usually just called "Owner," as bar/cafe managers often are), is away.

The other lead character is the background. It all takes place in a somewhat post-apocalyptic Japan, where the once bustling metropolis of Yokohama is up to it's streetlights in water, and the surviving area has become a "town of the people." Plenty of smogless horizons, lush vegetation, worn-down buildings, weeds growing in the broken roads, and other things that urban Japan probably won't ever see again. (*)

The plot, however, is the opposite of what one would normally expect from a Japanese android apocalyptic sci-fi story. It's the era of "yuunagi," or "twilight calm," and people (androids included) are relaxed and enjoying their now simple lives. Alpha makes coffee, drinks coffee, goes to the neighborhood meeting, visits the nearby gasoline stand owner (known only as "ojisan"), and so on. Other things happen as well, and other characters are brought in, but there's always the underlying quiet - waiting at a deserted train station or watching the sun set into the telephone wires draped across the ocean, always reminding the reader/viewer of how much it differs from the real Yokohama.

Alpha's character adds to the relaxing feeling of YKK. She's called "Alpha" because she was the alpha model of the A7-M2 series of robots, but out-humans the rest of the cast. Like saying "my tear ducts were made only to moisten my eyes, but this feels good too" while crying, recuperating after getting struck by lightning.

The anime does a fairly good job of capturing the calm and beauty of the manga, enough to have been given it's own genre ("healing anime") by it's fans. It's far from complete, though it serves as a good introduction to the comic, retelling a few of the more dramatic chapters. The more die-hard fans of the manga often state otherwise, claiming that popstar Hekiru Shiina's voice didn't fit Alpha's personality, or that a scene was wrong, etc., though that may be more proof of the story's cult-like following than a strike against the adaptation.

As of this writeup, there is no official English language version of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou in either of it's forms. There are bits and pieces of manga translations scattered across the web, and the now-defunct Odyssey Anime fansubbed the anime in English. On the non-English side of things, the anime is compiled on a single DVD from Sony and the manga is published in 8 volumes by Afternoon KC (volume 1 is ISBN4-06-321050-2, for a start).

(This is part of my required reading/viewing list for anyone who likes art, non-traditional science fiction, or the small details that make life worthwhile. Or anyone who wants an excuse to slow down for a bit - it's like casually abusing muscle relaxants without the side effects. Better than aspirin, even.)

(*) - there are several cities called Yokohama in Japan. The name means "on the shore," which, considering Japan is a bunch of islands with a lot of coastline, is a fairly common thing to call whatever you're standing on. The Yokohama here refers to the big one (2nd largest city in the nation with approx. 3 million residents, about a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo), though it's become more like one of the rural Yokohamas in the story.