Friday’s Feature – I Am Human

Anime does a lot of things. It shows us amazing places and takes us on wild adventures. It can make us laugh or cry or wince or groan. It can make our eyes widen in shock and it can bore us to tears. However, what it does every now and then is really make us think.

This is part of why I love stories. Even stupid comedies sometimes hold a much greater truth than we might realise and thinking about those themes and messages, while enjoying a great show, is really rewarding.

This week I want to look at anime that look at what it means to be human. And the list is huge and there are plenty of amazing quotes and gifs out there that deal with this and I’m sure that people will tell me I missed some of the most obvious in the discussion below. I will say I deliberately have avoided Evangelion. At some point I’m going to get into that anime on this blog and I’ll leave that discussion for that later.

Now, some anime are pretty heavy handed when making a statement or delivering a moral message. One that immediately springs to mind is Parasyte. This is a really enjoyable anime but the conflict of our main character, Shinichi, as he wonders whether he is human or not after his arm is taken over by a parasite and his ongoing moral dilemmas about killing people, fighting and the like is anything but subtle.

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Basically Shinichi wants to protect people from the parasites but is too weak to do this by himself. So he is forced to cooperate with Migi (the name he gave the parasite that is his right hand) in his attempts to protect his friends, family and occasional random stranger. However, Migi isn’t all that cooperative. He doesn’t see the point in risking his own existence for another. Cue long conversations about right and wrong and the value and meaning of life.

While it might sound like I’m belittling it, I’m not. I really loved Parasyte and at least it didn’t try to be smarter than it was. Both Shinichi and Migi evolved as characters through gaining insight into the others point of view. The blending of what is originally a clear binary opposition and what the compromise looks like really is the take-away from the show and leaves you wondering where you would have ended up if placed in a similar situation.

Then we have Gundam, a franchise that is so heavy handed with the morals and messages that at times it is difficult to see individual characters as anything other than the voice of whatever moral viewpoint they have been appointed at that point in the plot. While most of these revolve around war and the futility of fighting and dying while also trying to acknowledge the necessity of these things, they also sometimes dive headlong into the overall discussion of what it means to be human and what motivates us to act.

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Asking why sometimes seems incredibly futile but it is these questions and reflections that actually make up the stronger emotional side of several of the Gundam series (you know, the parts that aren’t giant robots shooting or stabbing each other). The strength of Gundam is the sheer number of characters which gives more or less every audience member someone to agree with in terms of how they feel about the essential weakness of the human character.

Yet life and death aren’t the only elements of what it is to be human. Golden Time tackles several questions about the human experience including a sense of self and personal identity as well as how we define ourselves through relationships. And it is on how we create and maintain relationships with others that Golden Time really manages to shine.

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The other questions the show asks always feel a little forced given most of us aren’t an amnesiac with a dual personality caused by the soul of our past self trying to bump out the soul of our present existence. It kind of makes it hard to relate to. However, the romance and the heart break and how we deal with others, that we can watch and understand and really feel for some of these characters even as we wonder how we would cope in such a situation.

But if you were after an anime that decided to tackle identity, Charlotte gives it a good go, though you may find this theme hard to follow as at times it confronts it head on and at others it leaves you to fill the gaps in how the characters respond.

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Although, reading the quote above I’m always reminded a little bit of Alice In Wonderland and begin wondering, “Who Am I?”

Then we have the sheer number of ‘inhuman’ characters who cast their judgement on the human race. Which of course leads to the I know that this character was actually created by a human so it’s a human pretending to be a demon/ghost/arbiter/god/whatever speaking about their views of humanity. We very recently had an example in Twin Star Exorcists of this when one of the Kegare asked Benio if she remembered all the ants she’d ever stood on. This probably would have been more affective if it wasn’t a reasonably clichéd line from an overpowered non-human character.

But this trope can actually be done well. Sebastian from Black Butler makes numerous observations about human nature, usually in comparison to himself. He generally views humans with disdain and so lumps most of humanity into very overly generalised groups but at the same time, it is difficult to argue with his conclusions at times.

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Though demons and devils in anime are regularly used to make us wonder who the real demons are as we frequently have human characters acting far worse than the demons within particular stories. Works symbolically but one has to wonder where all the good, old-fashioned demons have gone.

However, I don’t want this post to get too caught up in the ins and outs of philosophy in anime. Keep in mind, mostly it is a form of entertainment. So sometimes, even in anime that seem like they are working very hard to have a serious message, you get a comment so off the wall it just kind of sticks with you. Hence, Potato Girl from Attack on Titan.

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So what animes have made you think about what it means to be human? Or just made you laugh with an incredibly obvious observation (such as people die when they are killed). I’d love to know.

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20 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature – I Am Human

  1. An Evangelion piece – you and me both. Someday we’ll both get round to writing them 😛

    I liked Parasyte a lot and agreed it didn’t try to go above its station intellectually or philosophically, but there was still so much to get stuck into – pretty stimulating stuff! It might just be that I love body horror, haha.

    I’m a Gundam tourist, so while I’ve watched it as long as I can remember, it’s really the action sequences that stick out in my mind. My younger self preferred bit robots fighting to subtext.

    I’ve been meaning to watch Charlotte for a while now and the fact it’s quite divisive is all the more intriguing.

    Sebastian is quite the insightful fellow, isn’t he?

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    1. Sebastian has some genuinely interesting insights at times in amongst the smug superior attitude.
      You really should check out Charlotte even though you might not think much of it. It’s one of those shows where everyone has taken it differently so you really can’t rely on the opinions of others. You have to experience it yourself. Just don’t get fooled by the first couple of episodes. It does escalate and quite quickly once it gets going.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post! I think this “Am I Human?” dilemma is a side of the same coin with “What is a Monster?”. Are you a monster because you’re not human, or is a human a monster because he/she is inhumane? Great topic of discussion. I also love your examples, particularly the Gundam series and “Parasyte”. I love Gundam anime so much, and like you said in this post, they’re really big on moral lessons and in depicting discrimination by race and species. Same with Parasyte. The fact that Shin’ichi and Migi’s evolution are simultaneous makes it even more special. Did Shin’ichi ceased to be human because he became one with Migi? It’s one of those questions of what makes a human “human”? I really enjoyed this post. Great job. Thank you for sharing it with us at my blog carnival. I appreciate it. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I really think I’ll need to revisit this topic at some point because this post barely scratched the surface when I wrote it, but I’m glad I revisited it for you carnival and got to think about why I wrote it again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Really nice write-up. I think a lot of people would point to storytelling as whole and literature as trying to tackle that lofty concept called the ‘human condition’. I liked your examples – especially Kiseijuu and Golden Time. Personally the more time I put between myself and the latter, the more I end up disliking it but the one thing I think Golden Time did exceptionally well was portray a certain sense of ‘self’. It was interesting to think about death through memory loss – You are your memories.

    As for my favorite shows that deal with the subject, I think Shinsekai Yori really nails it in a lot of ways. In exploring an alternate form of humanity it provides such a keen insight into what normally defines us and defines us still even within this greater, supernatural context. I also think Berserk has a lot to say on the subject – the idea of ambition and self-image is incredibly ubiquitous and I think has a lot to do with what it means to be alive. Thanks for the provocative post as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Golden Time does have a lot of issues from a story point of view but I like the idea at the centre of it and how that is explored.
      Shinsekai Yori delves really deeply into this subject and I find it incredibly hard to rewatch because it confronts so many ideas.
      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh, I’ve come here from Fujinsei’s blog carnival, and it’s nice to see a piece from your early days before I was following you. This was great to read for a new perspective on why I love certain anime so much. Like Nana (she’s unmistakeable) and Black Butler. The former is a great help for working through troubles from past relationships because it’s so real and true to life. And as for the latter, you’ve managed to pin down why I’m fascinated by Sebastian. He’s superhuman in that he has none of our faults or weaknesses, even though his very being is pure darkness and evil.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh I just love all of these examples. Your Golden Time example in particular resonated with me as I am a sucker for romantic comedies. Nana definitely was “voice of reason” in Golden Time, and it shows with the quote you chose.

    Another show I think is a good example of “demons/otherworldly beings commenting on human nature” is The Devil is a Part-Timer. Not only is Maou’s situation of being the devil forced to live amongst humans an interesting commentary, but Lucifer’s quote at the end of the show is my favorite. And that is “Heaven is a six-tatami, one-room, second-floor apartment on Earth.” That quote really stuck with me when I first heard it. I also think that it shows how humans can find fulfillment out of the simplest things in life, and how anything can be someone’s personal “heaven.”

    I am glad I was able to see this post in the Blog Carnival, or I might never have had the privilege to read it. Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that.
      Yeah, you are right, The Devil is a Part-Timer makes quite a few astute observations about human nature through its inhuman characters and that is one of the things I like about it. Particularly the way it manages to make these observations without breaking from the tone of the show in general.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is a character that has a special place in my heart for showing me a part of what it means to be human. He puffs himself above the powers of God, believing he can solve everything with alchemy, and it takes major humbling for him to realize that he cannot control the laws of life and death. He is merely a human and God is the only one with ultimate authority.

    Another anime character that has given me inspiration and shown me what it means to be human is Slaine Troyard from Aldnoah Zero. What struck me the most about him was a particular scene where he is beaten and tortured by his allies to disclose information on where the princess of the Vers Empire is located. He knows that they mean to betray her highness and he decides to stay silent, no matter what the cost. His loyalty to the one he loves and the sacrifice he is willing to give is tremendous and inspired me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was thinking of posting a thought of mine about animes that made me cry and tells me how life is precious and here I am reading your wonderful post. 🙂 Well, that PARASYTE really made me cry in Episode 18( if my memory serves me right, it was the episode when Sinichi cried again for the first time)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The 2 anime that come to mind for me with this theme are Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood (especially the Greed story line) and Death Parade, but I have to give it more to Death Parade: That anime definitely moved me and got me thinking about human nature a lot. Also, Your Lie In April is a really great one for watching how it is to bond with other people, and how one small thing from one person can alter your entire life’s path, so I’d throw it in there too (plus, it’s the only show that has ever gotten me to openly sob in it’s final episode, such a good show).

    Liked by 2 people

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