The story opens with the taped playback of what appears to be the aftermath of a battle. Stalking into blasted landscape is it's cause: the "PPOR", a bipedal robot outfitted for combat. An amazed military officer mutters from off-camera, "Two fully-equipped platoons, wiped out in just 45 seconds...that's enough, stop the tape!" The PPOR pauses a moment, then turns toward the camera, adjusting one of it's weapons. Just as it does this, the tape is paused.
The gathered military officials discuss various aspects of the PPOR; most of them are concerned with the fact that an export license for such a machine would never be permitted. Ajo Jinsaku, head of Ajo Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. steps up to the podium. "We're here to sell oil refinery construction equipment," he states. "What you have just seen is merely an option. What my company is selling is what gives these PPORs the spark of life. Think of it as its heart and brain combined. The Powerbox." Ajo holds up a tea cup. "It is the same size."
As Ajo and his personal secretary, Assi, are leaving the conference, Assi asks why Ajo told them the powerbox was that small, when their current powerbox can't be made any smaller than a mini-van. Ajo replies that he knows the powerbox could easily be made the size of a teacup, even down to the size of a matchbox, "if that doddering old fool, Mima, feels the inclination, that is."
Assi then mentions his own personal discomfort about the PPOR demonstration, that being the part of the demo tape they've so far never had to show--the part where twenty observers are killed by the PPOR when it went out of control. Ajo, angered by Assi's mention of this (in front of a security camera, no less), silences the secretary with a sharp word just as the cell-phone rings.
The call is from Sergei at the company headquarters in Japan. Ajo listens a moment, then informs Sergei they will return immediately. After hanging up, Ajo pauses a moment, then smiles. "Way to go, old man."
Just for a moment, the scene switches to a schoolgirl stretched out and sunning herself on a rooftop...
Tomoyo Wakagi, walking down a country lane, steps aside as a limo passes by. Inside the car can be seen Ajo, glaring at Tomoyo while brooding over something. Tomoyo resumes walking, but suddenly a startled flight of birds cause him to look toward the sound of the disturbance.
At the nearby high school, the principal comes to one of the classrooms, looking for Mima Tokiko, who is apparently absent from class. Her classmates humorously debate about where she could be. One kid thinks she may be having an early lunch. Another boy replies by asking if robots even eat. Yet another boy notes he has never seen Key eat anything. Another student suggests Key is disposing of fuel waste, which another kid takes to mean the bathroom. At last, a girl stands, saying that Key is probably either up on the roof or out in the courtyard, recharging.
Key is on the rooftop, lying in the sun with her eyes closed and apparently listening to her heartbeat and the movement of her gears. The camera pans through her body, showing the moving parts. Suddenly, the scene changes, showing Tomoyo breaking an old man's legs with a stone.
Key awakens upon hearing her name being called. The principal uneasily tells Key that she must go home, that Dr. Mima, her grandfather, has passed away. The sound of the wind rises, and the scene shifts to Key stopping in the middle of a forest. Beads of sweat drip from her face and into her hands..and yet it seems more like an uncontrolled nervous reaction than from fatigue. The sound of wheels turning is heard again as Key remembers something from when she was younger.
A young Key drinks from a water fountain while some kids tease her that Key the robot can't drink water or she will rust and fall apart. She finishes drinking to the amazement of the kids, but then faints. Tomoyo picks her up and carries her away. When she regains consciousness she is lying on a bench in her grandfather's lab with Dr. Mima himself kindly explaining to Key that her battery had run down. He tells her to sleep again for a little while, and when she next awakens her grandfather asks her how she likes her new body. Dr. Mima then congratulates Key--it is her 13th birthday. The scene in the forest returns. Key says "If grandpa dies, then I..." A moment later, forgetting her bookbag, she runs the rest of the way home.
Arriving home, the town doctor and a constable offer their condolences but Key runs past them into the house. Inside, she kneels beside the body of Dr. Mima, who is laying in state. Key tries to gently shake him awake, explaining, "Wake up, grandpa. Don't die. If you die, grandpa, so will I." Tomoyo comes in with a portable tape player and tries to get Key's attention. He gives Key the walkman and tells her that it has Dr. Mima's last words on it. Key put the headphones on and listens:
"Key? Can you hear me, Key? If you're listening to this, it means that I'm no longer with you. This may be difficult for you-- Right, you don't feel pain or sadness, do you? Bear with me for a while and listen to your grandfather's last words. I did something incredibly stupid...On the path that leads to your mother's grave, my foot slipped, and I fell down to the riverbed below. If Tomoyo hadn't found me, I wouldn't be leaving this message for you now. There's one thing that I have yet to do, Key, and the thought that I'm going to die before I can do it is so frustrating I can't stand it...! That one thing is to make you human, Key. To make you my real granddaughter. That's right, Key... I couldn't let you stay a robot your whole life... You can become human, Key...! That's how I had hoped to make amends to you, your mother and your grandmother...I'm so sorry that it's come to this. But please understand... You are the only one in the world who can do it. You'll have to become human after I'm gone. You'll need power... Great power... Find friends... You need the power of friends -- true friends -- who think only of you, who cry for you and only you, and you can be born again as a human. You will need...about 30,000..."
The grandfather clock in the room suddenly strikes twelve. As the chimes end, a doll of a shinto priestess begins walking across the floor, toward the door. Key and Tomoyo watch in silence; just as the doll is about to tumble over the threshold Key tries to catch it, but she misses and it falls.
Key is sitting on the ground, resting against Dr. Mima's gravestone. She seems lost in thought while we hear the last of Dr. Mima's message: "There's not much time. You have to do it before your battery runs out... It's time for me to say goodbye, Key... Key, listen... Find those 30,000 friends...!" The last sounds on the tape are of Tomoyo agitatedly trying to get the doctor to hang on, but it is too late. Dr. Mima is dead.
While Key is sitting there, Tomoyo arrives and gently chides Key for resting on her grandfather's grave, that Dr. Mima would be angry. As Key stands and looks up at the sun, Tomoyo asks Key if she really believes what Dr. Mima said to her, about her becoming human. Was Dr. Mima delirious, or was he serious? Key responds by asking if the same sun rises in Tokyo as here; that there are only a hundred people in the village, but in Tokyo...
The camera next shows the sun, dimmed by smog, as Key looks up from a Tokyo crosswalk. She becomes concerned that the sun is too weak, maybe she won't make it here. The traffic signal changes, but Key doesn't react. A cloud of exhaust blows by her, causing her to cough and then consider if her filter can handle the air. A Maserati barely manages to stop in front of her as she is still standing the middle of the crosswalk. She finally moves.
As the camera passes the crowds of people on the sidewalk, the muttering of a priest is briefly heard, "and then a serpent appeared before me in my moment of weakness." The camera zooms in on a crowd watching a mime. In front of the mime, however, is Key, standing perfectly still. Three hours later, the mime gives up; Key has not moved at all! As she walks through the Tokyo evening she says to the memory of her grandfather, "I tried and tried, but I could only get a handful to watch." She becomes concerned that finding 30,000 friends will be a very difficult task.
As Key walks the darkening streets, a rude hand reaches out of nowhere and gives her a push in the back. She stumbles forward into the chest of a seedy-looking ruffian, while his cohort leeringly asks if she'd like a little company. As Key tries to leave, a large, cloaked human-shaped bulk begins slowly clanking down the street toward them. Key, her eyes dilating in sudden fear, suddenly screams "No!" At the same exact moment she screams, the cloaked figure--a PPOR--lurches as if in reaction and suddenly stumbles into one of the punks. The punk bellows in pain, speculating that his arm might be broken. With the punks distracted by the cloaked figure, Key breaks away from them and runs off. As she round a streetcorner, looking behind her, she runs headlong into a man.
The punks are irritated. "Hey man," one calls after the staggering PPOR, thinking it is some drunk, "you cost us our girlfriend!" They decide to vent some of their anger by following the "drunk" and jumping him. When they arrive at the dead-end of the alley, they taunt the cloaked PPOR. In a nearby van, a monitors shows the PPOR's view, looking first at one, then the other. As this is happening the van's driver and another man discuss the scene on the monitor. "Think he'll kill 'em?" "Probably not." "Yeah, he will." "Will not." The first punk makes as if to throw a punch, but the PPOR suddenly lashes out and punches the ruffian so hard it crushes the man's face in, at the same time catapulting the body a dozen feet to lie crushed in a ball between two buildings. An agonized yell comes from the van, where a large, silver haired man, Sergei, or "D" as he is called, is sitting in a sort of console straining to control the berserk PPOR. In the alley, the remaining punk backs away, but the PPOR delivers another punch, knocking the punk's head through a brick wall. The PPOR then collapses while D screams in agony, pulling himself free of the control harness.
The men in the van try to help D. D angrily commands them to leave him alone and go retrieve the PPOR. The remaining engineer asks D what happened; he thought D had been controlling the PPOR very well. D says that the PPOR threw those punches on its own--he wasn't in control. D asks what the readings showed. The engineer informs him that for a moment the gamma-1 and gamma-3 intersected above 1000. The engineer is concerned over what they'll tell the boss. D says to worry about it later; right now he wants to go back to Dr. Mima's house. In the alley, the figure of Tomoyo is crouched over the inert PPOR, taking some readings with some sensors and his notebook computer. As the voices of the men from the van draw closer, he withdraws, wondering who had done this.
Meanwhile, the man that Key ran into is introducing himself. He is the proprietor of V & A (Visual and Art), Tamari Seiichi. Tamari is a photography & video producer and takes an interest in Key. He asks if she wants to do a photo compilation, and perhaps an image video. She would get an allowance. Key replies, saying she doesn't need an allowance, she needs 30,000 friends. Tamari is rather flabbergasted at this remark, but recovers his cool, saying that "if it'll sell, you can make thirty of forty thousand friends, easy!" Key is wonders if it is still OK if even she is a robot. "Robot, mannequin..no problem," he says. Tamari dons his sunglasses, making him look about 500% sleazier, then after reminding Key not to forget her bag, they go offto his office.
On another street, a girl on a pizza-delivery scooter narrowly avoids running down a pedestrian. She tells him to be careful and watch where he's going. The figure, lighted for a moment by the scooter's headlights is seen to be Tomoyo. He runs off, offering a quick apology while the girl stares after him a moment, trying to place him.
At V & A studio, Tamari is going over Key's personal info. He determines that it will be OK with her parents and school, and even though she is only 17 he'll list her as 18 or better yet 19. Tamari asks here about being a robot, does she have any bolts or seams? Perhaps she'd better take off her clothes and show him. Key says that no, that's all right. Tamari decides it's time to get started, and shows Key into the actual studio where she is welcomed by the beefy cameraman. Key takes one look at the cameraman, then at the bed and ropes and says she'll be leaving. The cameraman moves to obstruct the door while Tamari explains to Key that it would be bad manners to do that.
Just at that moment, there comes a loud knock on the door. Opening the door reveals the pizza delivery girl, delivering her slogan with plenty of energy: "It's a shock that it's so fast! It's a shock that it's so cheap! It's a shock that it's so good! Pizza Shock! It's a pleasant shock to the system!" Tamari irritatingly tells her to leave the pizza and scram. As Sakura comes into the room, she recognizes Key. Key seems abstracted for a moment, then slowly turns her head, asking, "Sakura-chan?" Sakura grabs Key and dashes out of Tamari's office. Tamari tells his cameraman to go bring her back. "I ain't talking about the fruitcake, I mean the pizza chick," he says.
The scene shifts to Ajo, who is watching a video of Miho's last concert tour. The video image is paused as he talks briefly on the phone built into his home theatre chair, learning that Sergei has not yet returned. Hanging up the phone, the video playback automatically resumes. Ajo seems to be pleased with the idol singer.
The van containing the team led by D is driving through the city; the engineer seems concerned about what they will tell their boss as Ajo has been trying to contact them repeatedly. D appears to be unconcerned. A moment later, D spits something like a marble out of his mouth, the marble ricocheting off the frozen arms of the PPOR.
Sakura stops after reaching the street with Key and pauses to catch her breath. Sakura says it has been a long time since she last saw Key and hopes that Key is allright. "Do you still think you're a robot?" she asks. "When are you going back? Can you stay?" While Sakura is talking Key tries to point out that they are being chased. Frightened, Sakura grabs Key's hand again and they run off into the night.