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Exploring the Boundaries of Human and Machine: A Deep Dive into the World of Nier: Automata

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

Tomorrow, esteemed television networks including Tokyo MX, GYT, GTV, and BS11 will present the Japanese anime, Nier: Automata Ver1.1a, to audiences.

This anime was crafted from the highly acclaimed 2017 action role-playing game of the same name, developed by PlatinumGames and published by Square Enix. It was expertly directed by the esteemed Ryouji Masuyama, who also joined forces with the game creator Yoko Taro to write the script for the anime.

According to GlobalData, Japan is the third largest market in the video gaming industry with a value of USD 29 billion in 2021 and a CAGR of 12%. The country's market size is second only to that of the US and China, which both have market sizes of USD 48 billion. China has the largest number of players at 742.2 million, followed by the US at 197.2 million, and Japan at 78.1 million. The industry is led by mobile gaming at 78%, followed by PC gaming at 13%, and console gaming at 9%. Key players in the industry include Sony, Konami, and Nintendo.

Nier: Automata is available on a range of platforms, including PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The game has sold 7 million copies, and its sequel, NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139, has sold 1.5 million copies. GameSpot has hailed Nier: Automata as "the closest thing there is to a spiritual successor to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance," a tribute to the legendary techno-thriller stealth game series created by Hideo Kojima.

The Japanese anime industry, which is closely connected to the manga (adult comic) and gaming industries, has its origins in the development of film in the early 20th century. Before the emergence of film, Japanese storytelling and images were often conveyed through the mediums of Emakimono (hand-painted scrolls) and kagee (shadow plays, similar to "Nang Talung" in Thailand or "Wayang Kulit" in Indonesia).

The Japanese anime industry reached new heights of popularity in the 1970s with the emergence of iconic mecha (mechanical robots) such as Mazinger Z, Space Battleship Yamato, and Mobile Suit Gundam, as well as the beloved TV series Doraemon, which premiered in 1973 and was based on the first manga publication in December 1969. Japanese anime reached even greater heights of refinement and acclaim with the release of Studio Ghibli's 2001 film "Spirited Away," hailed as the magnum opus of its creator, the esteemed Hayao Miyazaki. This film was awarded the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards on March 23, 2003.

Japanese anime made a significant breakthrough when it was featured in the competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival with "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence," the first and only anime in history to appear in the prestigious competition. This anime has been adapted into various formats, including a video game (1997), a movie (2015), and a Hollywood film starring Scarlett Johansson (2017, Box office USD 169.8 million). Other highly successful anime adaptations include Alita: Battle Angel (2019, Box office USD 405 million), based on Yukito Kishiro's manga series Gunnm, and "Edge of Tomorrow" (2014, Box office USD 370.5 million), starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, which was adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka's "All You Need is Kill."

Japanese anime has a global reach and influence today, with fans all around the world. This is evident in the popularity of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) mobile games developed in South Korea and China, such as Ragnarok Online (developed by Gravity) and Genshin Impact (developed by miHoYo), which have been heavily influenced by Japanese anime. These MMO mobile games rely heavily on in-game purchases to drive revenue and allow players to distinguish their characters through unique abilities. These games' success is not just based on action, but also on the intricate and compelling storylines they offer.

Nier: Automata, which has been adapted from a console game to a manga (featuring "YoRHa Pearl Harbor Descent Mission Record," an event occurring 40 years prior to the events of the game) and now to an anime with Nier: Automata Ver1.1a (which follows the same complex and compelling storyline as the console game), is a prime example of this phenomenon. The story centers on tragic love affairs among the protagonists, the dialectic concept between duty (raison d'état) and the meaning of life (raison d'être), and the scientific evolutionary pressure on machine life. These abstract ideas interact and influence one another, creating a feedback mechanism that repeats itself until, in the creator's interpretation, machine sentience becomes a possibility.

Source: Reddit

It is impossible to overlook the striking appearance of the protagonists, particularly "2-B" with her Gothic Lolita fashion and distinctive large Japanese katana. "2-B" and "9-S" are both androids, a special type of robot designed to resemble humans. The codename "B" stands for "battle" and is assigned to androids specializing in close combat, hence YoRHa No.2 Type B. The codename "S" stands for "scanner" and is assigned to androids specializing in reconnaissance and computer hacking, hence YoRHa No.9 Type S. YoRHa is a prestigious military force of androids tasked by the Council of Humanity with fighting against invading aliens and their machine lifeforms. Their headquarters, known as the Bunker, is located on the thirteenth orbital base, and they are dedicated to reclaiming Earth for the human race.

Gothic Lolita fashion, a beloved subgenre of Gothic fashion hailing from Japan, effortlessly marries the delicate charm of Lolita style with the edginess of Gothic elements. Characterized by Victorian-inspired dresses and accessories adorned with gothic or horror-themed details, this unique fashion movement has gained widespread popularity and cultural significance within the Japanese fashion industry. Its influence has even extended to the realm of corporate fashion with the emergence of Gothic Corp, a style that combines traditional business attire with a Gothic twist, allowing individuals to infuse their personal style into their professional wardrobe. Whether expressing one's individualism through the delicate frills of Lolita or the sharp lines of corporate attire, Gothic Lolita fashion serves as a means for self-expression and personal identity.

Balenciga 360° Show Winter 22 Collection featuring some Gothic Corp

The game's storyline offers a wealth of interesting context and ingredients that are worth exploring, particularly for those interested in examining the relationship between humans and machines, and considering how robots may play a major role in shaping industries in the future - for good or for ill - and the potential impact this may have on humanity.

However, the use of the Gothic Lolita fashion (or its sister style, Gothic Corp) which is popular in Japan (and also featured in the game Resident Evil Village, specifically with Lady Dimitrescu) may seem at odds with the character of an android, despite adding a certain sexiness. Its creator, Yoko, claims that the eye patch on the android's face serves as a "military goggle," but this seems unlikely. The true intention appears to be the maintenance of a dress code in line with the Gothic Lolita fashion, as exemplified by 9-S's similar style. In this context, the Ghost in the Shell's thermoptic camouflage suit or a space suit might be more fitting and less likely to detract from the compelling background storyline.

It can be difficult to break the existing narrative between humans and machines, as exemplified in the Terminator franchise and the Matrix Trilogy, particularly the Matrix's use of Plato's cave allegory. In 2021, The Matrix Resurrections attempted to do so, but was unsuccessful.

The three abstract concepts featured in the story may provide a unique way to break through established narratives of the kind seen in the Terminator franchise and the Matrix Trilogy. This is reminiscent of the creation of an "isomorphic algorithm" such as "Quora," as described in Tron: Legacy: "They manifested, like a flame. They weren't really, really from anywhere. The conditions were right, and they came into being. For centuries we dreamed of gods, spirits, aliens, and intelligence beyond our own. I found them in here, like flowers in a wasteland." Or the similar wise conversation between Neo and the Architect on the cyclical nature of the matrix. Both seem to persuade us to believe in the storytelling.

Mentioning the names of great philosophers and thinkers like Hegel and Pascal in the story is only relevant if we are able to capture the essence of their ideas, which leaves ample room for Japanese anime to grow and develop. Its game engine is unique, separate from those like RE Engine (used in Resident Evil 7), Unreal Engine, Unity, etc. It is a strong foundation for the forthcoming "metaverse," a glimpse of which the Japanese anime industry has shown as a promising vision of the future.

Nier: Automata has yet to reach the same level of authenticity as "Arrival," which successfully demonstrated unique thinking concepts through the use of nonlinear orthographic linguistic by aliens, ultimately shaping their understanding of nonlinear time which is far different than that of human's. While the plot of Nier: Automata is based on three abstract concepts, it does not successfully showcase a different way of thinking from that of humans. Instead, it remains focused on human affairs, despite featuring android characters in machine decoration. This is a challenging plot to execute, as evidenced by the attempts of "Detroit: Become Human" and "I, Robot," which follow Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics." According to Theodor Adorno's concept of the "culture industry," Nier: Automata is the commodification of culture, lacking authenticity but still managing to establish its own authority. However, it is a more ambitious attempt at achieving this objective than Marvel and DC, and can be seen as exhibiting a certain level of aesthetic genius.



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