Author profile:
Toyoshi Inada / Editor, Writer
After working for a Film Distribution Company and a DVD magazine publication as an editor, he became a freelancer in 2013. He specialized in film, manga, anime and pop culture. He was the writer of “Social Theory of generations of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” by Subarusya Linkage.

The Extraordinary Evolution of Japanese Science Fiction

The Movie “Ex Machina” won the Oscar of Best Achievement in Visual Effects in 2015 at the 88th Academy Awards. While most movies try to achieve success by recycling stories from best seller books, making sequels of famous movies or by casting famous actors, this movie was highly rated for its original and bold script. The movie questions whether love between humans and artificial intelligence can exist or not.
The movie was released one year later in Japan, and I went to the theater since I am a huge fan of science fiction. However, although I anticipated it, the theme of love in a human-AI relationship of the movie was rather disappointing for a person like me who is in touch with Japanese subculture, because a lot of Japanese anime, mangas and games already have explored the same theme. It seemed outdated for a movie that came out recently.
In Japanese science fiction, creations with more complex settings and deeper thoughts about AIs are being created, and numerous master pieces that predicts the future of humanity with sharp insights already exist.
For example, the heroin in “Ex Machina” was an AI with a 100% robot body, but in “GHOST IN THE SHELL”, the story already touched deeper themes 20 years ago, like how much percentage of the body of an individual has to be biological in order to be defined as human.
If we talk about the theme of romance between female robots and humans, a lot of stories were created for the otaku audience between the 90’s and 2000, so there is nothing special about it. It is not particularly rare to have a robot among the young female characters, also known as “moe” characters.
A well-known example is the PC visual novel that was released in 1997 called “To Heart”. One of the main characters in the story is a maid robot named Multi. Other than her ears that look mechanical, she looks exactly like a human girl. Although she has emotions, she is somewhat unstable and seems to lack her own will because of her robot nature, but because of this personality of hers and the fact the she tries hard to get along with humans despite of her being a robot, the fans fell in love with this character. In other words, it was the moment that robots became a love interest for the otakus.
When you think carefully, a maid robot is truly attractive to otaku men, who most of them are introvert and not really good with women. Robots are artificial, which means that they are empty on the inside. That is, they can be put under an absolute control and taken advantage permanently. There are no better and more comfortable relationships other than this for otakus who have difficulty at communicating with women in real life.
Like the example of the “empty girl”, characters with no memories and premature characters are also targets that otakus can have a convenient advantage on them. Characters without memories are in the category of people with psychological problems and premature characters are in the Lolita complex category and both of them are high on demand. Rei Ayanami, a character from the famous anime that represents the 90’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, is empty because she was created, does not have proper life experience and is a 14 year-old girl, which makes her the ideal girl for an otaku.
As explained above, the Japanese otaku has accepted the concept of romance between human and artificial intelligence since a long time ago, and because there are so many stories with the same theme that the movie “Ex Machina” was no longer impressive for them.
It is pretty hard for an otaku man to satisfy their unhealthy desires only through fiction. Instead of earning real physical experiences, such as growing up with a partner or having a child, they have to consume one story after another, always looking to satisfy themselves with new and exciting content.
That is the reason why Japanese subculture contents are being created and consumed at a high rate, and leads the robot and sci-fi genre into a bizarre evolution that cannot be found in other countries.

Photo credit: Danny Choo / CC BY