In the wake of RealDolls and robots gaining citizenship the war between humans and machines is heating up. The commentary surrounding Artificial Intelligence and objects coming to life is as old as the tale of Pygmalion whose sculpture was brought to life by the gods due to his…devotion deemed as love. While some accept this story of wish fulfillment, others are quick to point out the obvious flaws and repercussions that come with creating new life and designing your ideal lover.
This story is told and retold through all forms of media and the only thing that changes is the tropes and setting.
Sources of reference:
- Chobits – CLAMP
- Doll –Mitsukazu Mihara
- Franken Fran
- Ghost in the Shell
The topics I’ll be exploring include:
- Relationships between humans and A.I.
- Tropes: Born Sexy Yesterday, Pygmalion Plot,
- Algalmatophillia and similar fetishes
- Plastic surgery and dollification
- Lust versus Love and psychological responses
- Needs for companionship and relations between humans
- Digital Ghosts, Brain Uploading, and the Future
This will likely be a multi part work seeing as this is a content-heavy discussion. I’ll make sure to post as many sources as I can, make links, and try to keep a sense of humor in all of this. However, themes concerning what it means to be human are hardly humorous. That said, I’ll get started.
Does Chii Dream of Electric Sheep?
CLAMP, a world renowned manga artist team famous for their works such as Card Captor Sakura, Angelic Layer, and XXXHolic, explores the idea of relationships between human and machine. These themes show up poignantly in the highly favored manga series Chobits:
The story explores a future where Persocoms (personal computers) take the form of humans with many options available. The protagonist, Hideki finds a discarded Persocom in an alleyway and takes her home. He turns her on and discovers she has no data and can only say “chi”. He names her Chii and hijinks ensue.
Across several volumes we learn the stories of other people who have had their lives touched by their experiences with Persocoms:
Yumi Omura: A high school student who has a complex about Persocoms and wonders if she’ll be able to measure up. She’s in love with a man who married his Persocom, and she happens to resemble her. This does get touched on.
Takko Shimizu: A cram school teacher whose husband leaves her for a Persocom. Falls in love with one of her students.
Hiromu Shinbo: Cram student and friend of Hideki. He marries Shimizu. Owns Sumomo.
Hiroyasu Ueda: A baker who married his Persocom. She passes away protecting him.
Minoru Kokubunji: A Persocom expert who created a Persocom to replace his lost sister.
Chitose Hibiya: Wife of Chii’s original creator. She’s actually Chii’s original mother.
Without going into too many unnecessary details the story explores human/persocom, persocom/persocom, and human/human relationships. The story itself is surprisingly optimistic and falls heavily on the idealistic scale, believing that humans and machines can have actual relationships.
My experience with the series was rather emotional and the outcome was unexpected. It explored Persocoms exploring their own feelings and figuring out what life means to them as machines. The story within a story “A City With No People” asks the overlaying question if humans can truly love Persocoms and whether or not our second protagonist, Chii, will be able to choose the “someone just for her” and be accepted.
While people experience attraction to fictional characters and that is seen as odd, but somewhat normal; what happens when you bring those characters to life? What happens when you give them physical bodies? What happens when you give them a free range program complete with emotions? What if? What if? What if? First Hatsune Miku hologram concerts, then what?
IC: In a Doll
On the cynical side we have a much darker and dare I say, realistic (?) point of view from Mitsukazu Mihara. Her stories are steeped in tragedy told through stunning illustration and fashion design. Stories like Dokuhime and Beautiful People rip into the gut and nibble on the heartstrings of those not expecting the content to be so heavy. A warning to any who dare to read: death is a VERY common feature in these stories and the artwork contains gore.
I own the first volume of Doll and I’ve read it several times. Online I’ve read up to about 3 volumes myself but have not revisited them. The stories range from comical to disturbing as the story of Dolls, beautiful androids, and their place with humanity. The most touching story comes from the first book where the doctor who created Dolls has come down with a non-reversible form of dementia. Her memories degenerate very quickly and soon she’s unable to head the project. Her husband decides to try to replace her with a doll replica and well…:
He ends up leaving the project to take care of his wife, but not before leaving some very important rules:
- Never create in the image of a living person.
- Never blur the line between human and doll.
- And the third rule: Never transplant human memories into a doll.
These rules get exploited and loopholed as the series goes on, as one might expect. One story tells of a young boy who gets a doll that looks like his mother. There’s another story of a man whose hatred of women (and underlying mommy issues) compels him to buy a doll and customize her to—you guessed it—look like his mother. Dolls are also easily discarded, another story shows, and are scrapped in favor of new ones.
Dolls are sometimes seen as a menace and some people are reluctant to have them. Others have their lives changed in positive ways–often before their certain demise, or the demise of others. This manga doesn’t shy away from the grim realities that face both humans and dolls alike. By the time Dolls hit the shelves, the economy is a wreck, jobs are scarce or poor-paying, and humans trust each other less and less.
The uncanny resemblance to our current culture should be disturbing, but really isn’t as I’ve been conditioned to accept these kinds of horror through my consumption of Nightmare Fuel. This manga raises all sorts of saddening and uncomfortable questions of agency, identity, and what it means to be truly human. With reality and fantasy seeming to come closer and closer together, will the lines blur and disappear completely? Or, will we manage to make some kind of distinction between the two?
Tune in next week for Part 2!