If you’re even a little bit familiar with sci-fi or dystopian anime, you’ve probably run into your fair share of androids, cyborgs, robots and a myriad of synthetic beings in between. While each may have a slightly different definition, they all have something very important in common.
These largely inhuman—at least in definition—beings have the uncanny ability to teach us more about ourselves than we might expect.
Perhaps most easily identifiable are the many anime that feature androids darker in tone or characterization, and there’s no shortage of dystopian societies, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic worlds featuring people and androids at odds with one another and their environment.
But no matter how dark or unsettling these worlds may be, the android protagonists in these tales teach us how to live our lives to the fullest. After all, nothing teaches you how to be human like a robot learning how to have a soul.
Ergo Proxy begins in the city of Romdo, one of the last strongholds of civilization on Earth. Living among humanity in this encapsulated city, protecting them from the inhospitable wilderness, are beings called AutoReivs.
Some AutoReivs are humanoid in shape, but remain very visually inhuman, like protagonist Re-l Mayer’s partner, Iggy. It isn’t always quite as clear as this, though. The childlike Pino is nearly indistinguishable from a real child, blurring the line of human and android. And when a mysterious illness begins ravaging AutoReivs, the line between organic and mechanical becomes blurrier than ever!
Pino and Iggy show us different aspects of emotion. Iggy feels emotion deeply, and acts on it just as passionately. He shows us what to do and not do when you care for another with your whole being.
His love for Re-l, no matter what fashion that love may take, pushes him to do both great and terrible things. He is, at once, an example of how to love, how to hate, how to be jealous and how to be kind.
On the other hand, Pino is the picture of innocence. She shows us a purer, more innocent look at the world, even one as dark as this. Things always look different through the eyes of a child, even—and maybe especially—when that child is an android. The mundane is filled with wonder for them, and the ability to see people’s goodness, or their ability for goodness, is near effortless.
Watch Ergo Proxy on Funimation!
The Earth is nothing more than a wasteland in the far future. Humanity is long since gone in Casshern Sins, leaving only sentient robotic denizens to wander the broken remnants of cities and the inhospitable landscape.
But even the androids and robots cannot escape the death that’s touched the rest of the world. The Ruin comes for all of them eventually, leaving robots to rust and decay before eventually succumbing completely.
Despite being inhabited by very few humans, the world of Casshern Sins is filled with more emotion and passion than many other series. What happens when those who would supposedly never have to deal with death suddenly find themselves facing down their unknown mortality?
The many individuals Casshern encounters show a wide variety of clashing emotions. People are pushed to their limits with their inevitable demise ever-looming. Nearly everyone is left to contemplate their existence as the world slowly comes to an end. Even so, Casshern Sins isn’t just existential debates on existence.
Many believe that Casshern himself is some sort of savior, able to save them all. This belief is strong in many of the robotic denizens of the world. What can belief push us to? Well, we get a wide smattering of possibilities here. Some are pushed to greatness and selfless acts. Others, driven by desperation instead of faith, aren’t quite so kind.
It’s the bonds we forge that are the most important, though. Despite being nonhuman, the wide array of characters find one another, building their own societies and families no matter what may lie in store for them.
Watch Casshern Sins on Funimation!
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is a long-standing series with tons of movies, multiple anime releases, and even live-action adaptations. It also features all manner of androids. In this near-future earth, humans can be completely transplanted from their flesh-and-blood bodies to machines. So, what does being human even mean when one can so effortlessly glide from one to another? And is there even a difference between the two at all?
Well, that’s what the plethora of characters grapple with. People can act robotic, and sometimes machines act more human than even full human beings.
But there’s one question here that’s explored just a little more than the others. What about choosing to do wrong? Is crime something that is cold and clinical—machine-like? Or is it filled with all of the passion, heart and messes of emotion that make up any human? Is one more prone to it than another? And what about those who are tasked with bringing in these evildoers?
So what does Ghost in the Shell teach us? Well, a lot of things, and in many ways too. Mostly, it leaves us with questions. What makes you a citizen of a specific place, especially when you’re not quite as human as others? And does that humanity matter the way with think it does in the first place?
Watch Ghost in the Shell: Arise on Funimation!
Chobits is definitely the most upbeat of this bunch, but despite its pastel colors, it isn’t always coming up roses. Hideki Motosuwa is a prep school student who finds a persecom, a very human-looking robot, who was thrown away. But this isn’t just any persecom, this is a chobit named Chi, a persecom capable of human emotions.
Chi and Hideki are very different. One is a robot with human emotions, but one who’s program disc fell out when being rescued from the garbage. While she can store information on her harddrive, things are still complicated. She has to learn by observing those around her now, or be taught just like any other flesh-and-blood person.
This is a much closer examination of what makes androids different—or the same—as humans. Instead of looking at what it means to be human in trying times or the end of the world, Chobits looks at humanity in a more mundane sense. It examines love and compassion through the lens of Chi and Hideki as they live together, learn about one another and maybe fall in love.
We learn many things from the story of Chi and Hideki. Love is shown in its myriad of different forms. What do you do when someone says something is impossible? Can you love someone who’s different from you? Well, of course! Especially so when you realize that maybe humans and androids aren’t quite as different as others would have you believe.
Sure, there are hardships. But it’s how you handle them that counts. Maybe it’s something minor as you and the one you love get to know each other better, or maybe it’s the looming problems of having a mysterious programming hidden deep within your OS. Either way, Chi shows us a way to face those hardships.
The greatest thing Chobits has to teach, though, is that no one is useless, and no one should ever be thrown away.
Watch Chobits on Funimation!