Archive for the ‘Saturday Anime Blogging’ Category

…Or may be not.

I was going to write something completely different this week, but reading comments on We Remember Love got me thinking about the topic of AI stories and Sharon Apple in particular.

Ghostlightning writes,

I actually don’t favor ‘cautionary tales’ as the cases of Macross Plus and Macross Frontier
suggest. When the AI of Sharon Apple becomes too human, or when Grace O’Connor becomes too powerful via her ‘on-line’ existence and her robotic bodies — bad things happen. But these are cases where these characters are more plot devices rather than explorations so I’m not that bothered.

The “cautionary tale” plot about an robot/computer/etc. becoming too human or too intelligent or too powerful leading to “bad things” is modern-day mythology. It’s the type of story we tell over and over again. From the Terminator movies to half the sci-fi books ever published we see it used. This is such a prevalent yet simple myth that it can be used for various purposes. Sometimes you get explorations of what it means to be human when intelligence can come in non-biological forms (as is the case with the Puppetmaster in Ghost in the Shell) and sometimes it serves as a plot device for a compltely unrelated message (Grace O’Connor’s wacky plans in Macross Frontier). The former are interesting because of what AI brings to the table; the latter could work with almost anything replacing AI. It’s a fine plot, but too often it’s used as lazy writing by simply using the formula of “sentient robots = bad things” without explaining why that’s the case.

So what about Sharon Apple? Well — I have to say, I disagree with ghostlightining’s interpretation. I don’t see her as as simply a plot device. It’s just not as simple as that, especially not in the context of the Macross universe.

Music and love are the leitmotifs of the Macross universe. You can’t have a Macross series without singing. You can’t have a Macross series where love and romantic triangles aren’t a major plot point. And in almost all cases the singing reminds the us, and the various warring factions, of love and through that understanding. We’ve given culture back to the Zentradi through Minmay’s songs, we’ve made entire islands bloom with life through song, we’ve even made space whales listen to our song.

Seriously, he is singing to fucking space whale. How fucking awesome is that?

Sharon Apple takes on these characteristics and twists them into something ugly. There’s really very little to her aside from her being a singer and feeling love. She was made to do that, just that. And normally in Macross, love plus singing would be enough to save the world. However, Sharon is different because she’s not human. She might feel emotion, but she doesn’t act like any normal human being (If you think she does, I believe you might want to get your sociopathic ass checked). Despite her feeling love and pain and sadness, she’s missing something essentially human, something that prevents her from going through the usual “song + love = understanding”.

What I believe Sharon’s missing is the ability to understand others–a theory of mind and empathy. Sure she can understand other people’s simple desires, like Isamu’s desire for a thrill, but she’s not very good at the complex stuff. She simplifies Myung’s complex feelings toward Isamu and Guld into “I love Isamu a bit more, so who cares about Guld“. To Sharon this is a simple matter because she doesn’t seem to take anyone’s feelings into account; to the human Myung this decision is nearly impossible because she knows that whichever way she chooses someone will get hurt (including her). And her fulfillment of Isamu’s “desires” hardly taking his actual feelings into account. He clearly doesn’t want his thrill in the way she presents it, but she doesn’t care.

In the Macross world, where we’ve always been told that singing about love will bring about understanding between groups, a singer with the kind of power Sharon has (her song is drugs) not having the ability to understand others is more meaningful than a simple plot point. In a world where love songs are an effective weapon, we need to remember that empathy and understanding are also important. Sharon Apple, the AI that knows only personal emotions, is here to remind us of that.

I’ll leave you with my favourite scene from Macross Plus, while I go into a Sudafed and flu induced coma:


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Most mecha anime is equal parts male wish-fulfillment and a boys coming of age story. There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing shows like that and a lot of my favourites are just this type of story. There is a universal quality in the stories of Amuro or Kamille being trust into war, essentially adulthood, and realizing that their actions and inaction affect others, or Simon learning to believe in himself, or — Well you get my point. I like these stories, but sometimes the focus on men gets annoying.

The problem with a lot of mecha anime is what they do to the female characters. Since they are written about boys/men for boys/men, the women often end up being entirely defined by their relationships with men. For example, Lalah Sune isn’t important as a person because all that matters is her impact on Char and Amuro. Even worse is the tendency to make a female character’s entire inner life about romance or supporting her man (See: Ranka Lee. Everything I do or don’t do depends on how things are going with Alto).

The can sometimes become very frustrating to me as a woman watching these shows. Which is why I tend to fall in love with the few shows that do it right. One of these shows is Bubblegum Crisis. I can’t remember what made me love the show as a 14-year-old, it could have been the gritty cyberpunk setting or simply because rampaging robots are awesome, but I know that I keep coming back to the show years after because I get to see women who are as fully human as any cartoon character can be kicking ass. Priss, Linna, Sylvia, and Nene aren’t the cute girls sitting on the sidelines cheering their men. In fact, there is no romance for the lead characters. They kick ass. They have their own life, interests, and day jobs. They aren’t just there because the guys need a romantic interest or attention and I love them for it.

Oh, who am I kidding. The really important part of Bubblegum Crisis is the cheestastic 80s music:

P.S. If you are remotely interested in anime, check out We Remember Love. I’ve spend a good part of my day reading the archives of this blog and at this point I gotta say it’s my favourite animeblog.

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