From the movie A.I. to D.A.R.Y.L. to HUMANS (if you want me to talk about why I included it, ask in the comments. I don’t want to spoil anyone), writers have explored what it would mean to invite artificial beings into some of the most intimate and enduring relationships we have. I wonder you think are the most memorable examples -even beyond just children and parents and in movies, tv, video games or anime? For me, I found one of the relationships on the anime series, Birdy the Mighty to be really poignant.

Now the entire series (which ran originally as OVAs in 1996 and then as a series in 2008-2009) is an often comedic anime with some major fan-service elements. Basically a young teenager is killed by an alien supersoldier who looks and acts like a beautiful young actress/idol and they have to share a body to allow both of them to survive. Cheeky! It does get a little more serious in Series 2, where because they are beginning to merge and Tsutomu fears annihilation, so they delve into her past to see if they can find a resolution.

There is a scene of Birdy on her planet as a child which shows her isolation, before she flees her home. They show her caretaker, Violin, as this warm and caring mecha (starting around 5:50 and then a bit around 15:00) and shows her becoming friends with Nataru. She holds her and makes her favorite foods and is this loving and generally nurturing being. However, in the next episode, they reveal something else actually about Violin that Birdy could not face (start around 2:38). Mainly that Violin was a barely responsive machine who could only attend to her basic needs. She was merely a marionette who only served the needs of those who wanted to raise a genetically engineered supersoldier and keep her isolated from the rest of society.

For me, who has studied and worked in child and adolescent development, particularly emotional and identity development, it seems a very poignant commentary on the realities that neglected kids face. Basically, the need for nurturance and responsive love is so essential for children that they’ll seek, project and beg for it from even the most unresponsive of objects. They’ll idealize the past to defend against the fears around the lack of love. Many therapists will say that if someone calls their mother a “saint,” you will often wonder if something bad really happened because they cannot get past a shallow idealization. (ETA: it’s not always true but it’s a dynamic that’s important to understand). I saw that too many times—children almost valiantly defending their parents because they were so desperate for the love and care they weren’t getting. They would weave stories of real love to defend themselves against the sad reality of their lives.

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Like everything else, these stories of robots are symbolic of our own non-mechanical fears. There are moments in anime that can hit you like a gut punch and for me, this realization stands out.

Share your own thoughts about mechanical families and what it might mean about our own lives.

PS. This was inspired by our Robot Week on Backtalk. Stop by and join us!