The Tragic Humanity of NieR Automata
Of course, I have to write something about the masterpiece that is NieR Automata. That being said, you, you know what follows: Massive Spoilerwarning! If you have not finished the game, you are not allowed to read any further. If you do not plan on playing the game: Plan to play the game and leave now. Nobody who has not experienced Ending E should read any further. Now that this annoying little necessity is out of the way, I can fully turn my attention to the topic at hand: The concept of humanity in NieR Automata.
Humanity is a central theme in NieR Automata, characterised primarily by the absence of any traditional humans. The extinct former residents of earth have become nothing more than a fleeting idea, a myth so to speak. They function as a motivational factor to keep the androids fighting. Androids who will eventually perish, thus erasing all traces of the entire charade ever taking place. However, a lot of characters, if not all, display an almost disturbing level of humanity, even though different sides are quick to assure themselves that humanity does not exist within machines or even androids for that matter. To start this discussion, a separation in different areas seems reasonable and starting from the bottom rings equally sound. Therefore, I will start with the machines still connected to the network. 9S mentions them only accessing random bits of data with no real reasoning behind it. This is quickly problematised not only by the fact that the chosen phrases seem to align too perfectly with given situation as to be random, but second, the seeking of offspring. 2B and 9S find a bizarre machine orgy during which machines mechanically (haha) reproduce sexual actions with the conviction of thus being able to reproduce. Their actions are merely performative and one might even say naïve. They reproduce physical interactions, ignoring any differences between human and machine in the belief of them not existing/not being of relevance. While the performative dry humping may not yield much results, a collective effort does indeed create something. During the sequence accompanied by the fittingly titled music “Birth of a Wish” the robots lament that “This cannot continue” in an almost ritualistic fashion. They form a giant collective womb out of which a seemingly organic being is born: Adam. Other than machines – who we later learn repeat mistakes over and over – he(?) is quick to adapt, learns and evolves in seconds. He races through human evolution at incredible speed. Acquires language, yet still lacks the human organs for reproduction. However, after being fatally wounded he is able to produce an identical being out of the wounds taken by 2B’s sword. Much like the bible counterpart, Eve is born from the midsection (rib) of Adam. While Adam seemed to have evolved a rapid intellectual capacity, it is Eve who displays emotions. He cries out at the sight of the seemingly dead Adam. The rest of the game confirms this as Adam is frequently seen reading and changing his clothes etc accordingly. Eve only wants to play with his brother, meaning connect in an emotional way and seek satisfaction not in a greater purpose, but the moment. We will return to these two later.
– Of course, it is also noteworthy that Adam bleeds, but his powers have this angelic vibe of waves of light. –
Since the network machines slowly but surely gain a desire for humanity as well, evident by the fact that machines split off the network in the first place and the evolution of concepts like religion (cult machines), loyalty (forest kingdom), sacrifice, reproduction, and thus future. To them, androids are the closest they can get to truly become human. During the frenzy caused by Eve’s rampage, the machines enter a state of extreme desperation. They tear open their heads and try to devour androids through it. Again, the physical side seems impossible, however, devouring the other to become like them, to truly absorb their essence transcends their understanding of their own bodies. They seek to become by consumption. Another very human concepts, found in basic advertising even. These human concepts are also the guiding themes for a lot of the bosses: Beauvoir seeks beauty as the human marker of attraction, ultimately twisting it into adoring herself with dead androids, another form of consumption. Which brings me to another group: The religious cults.
– Beauviour – aside from being a lovely capitalism critique – symbolises both consumption and the loss of self within it. The small round head is the actual original being, the rest is mere decoration. –
“Become as gods” is the catchy as well as haunting chant the machines ritualistically repeat. Yet the god-status is a simple one: death. Adam explains this during his fight that the mere concept of death is meaningless to them. Opposition creates meaning, thus without death, there can never be something akin to “life”. Kierkegaard (his grace) has seemingly died, how is never cleared up. Yet he is dead without having been destroyed similar to the forest king. The closest thing to a death by natural causes. The cultists view this as an ascension and mechanically repeat the act of dying as a means of rebirth (again, similar to the forest king). Once death has a meaning, life will have as well. In a tragically ironic twist, the followers who fear death are the ones who seem to have truly grasped the concept of life and death. To most, death is merely an action carried out like any other tasks, implications do not exist. Fear does not exist. Enter: Adam.
– The culture of the cultist is so advanced they even wear clothes, meaning they have a concept of nudity and shame. –
Adam has attained unrivalled knowledge among the machines, yet he is aware that empty concepts are shallow and ultimately meaningless. Meaning can only be created and never exists per se. This is his reasoning for fighting and risking his life. Additionally, he introduces a central theme of the game: Humanity is conflict. The paradox of loving and being able to kill the same beings is intriguing and ultimately impossible for Adam to grasp which thus forms the core of his understanding of humanity. Adam embraces death in its finality. Eve is driven mad by his death as it clashes violently with his world view. For him his brother is the world and there is nothing to be gained from concepts like life and death if he cannot be with his brother. Eve’s understanding of humanity relies on connection. Not a network connection, but a physical and emotional one. This is reflected in his way of fighting: Surrounding himself with metal chunks, pulling in parts of machines with an almost magnetic power. He longs for physical embrace and closeness even after the death of his brother.
– Note how this image aligns Eve with the organic and thus more emtional side (apple, ruined soil, and shirtless upper body, pants akin to lizard scales) and Adam with a cold calculating intellectual personalitly (books, cubes, more “advanced” clothing). –
With the start of the second half of the game, the focus shifts somewhat. It does no longer seem to be of question whether androids can display humanity, but the game now deals with the consequences of this. 9S clearly has feelings for 2B, their exact nature is clouded, however. Even then, the way for androids to receive the most pleasure is through killing, a necessary adjustment to secure the drive to kill within the soldiers. So when Adam asks 9S whether he wants to **** 2B, he is actually referring to “kill”. Murdering and sexual intercourse are not interchangeable, but rather juxtaposed. 9S is driven mad by a desire he can never fulfil. His mind seems to work with a human frame, desiring proximity, touching etc. all very similar to Eve’s understanding, represented by the distorted data of Eve left in 9S. However, he cannot derive pleasure from such actions, as his body is built differently. When he is seen murdering 2B’s projection in his mind he, on the one hand, experiences pleasure, but it is mixed with the horror of watching her suffer. Not killing her is also not an option as his unfulfilled desire slowly drives him mad. He shouts about desiring humans even though they no longer exist during the fight with A2, yet what he desires is their humanity, or rather to experience it like they did. Something that is impossible due to his programming, something he cannot overcome. The only option he can see is destruction. Driven to the brink of insanity by irreconcilable desires, he vows to kill A2 and destroy what remains of the humans. Thus, he attains humanity, in a way.
– The red eyes are a signifier of the deranged lust for humanity present in all machines, Eve, and finally 9S. Also note the corruption indicated by his dirty face. –
Adam said the core of humanity is conflict and 9S displays this transformation and paradox at every turn. The fusion of love and hate in equal portions, a mixture 9S is forced to endure. His pod even mentions that fighting A2 by the end is pointless since there is nothing to be gained from this fight. YoRHa is gone, 2B is gone, the entire mystery is long solved, yet 9S insists on fighting. Motivated by a twisted desire which stems equal parts from a lust for revenge and a desire for the android that served as the prototype for his 2B. Come to think of it, 2B’ affection was in all likelihood also due to the fact that she repeatedly had to kill the 9S model. With the dualism of love and destruction, the game makes it clear that both ways will only end in death. A2 is held back by the love of 2B still lingering in her system which leads to her demise. 9S is driven by a lust for destruction and consequently is killed as well. Humanity is conflict and conflict can only end in death, seems to be the final message of the game. However, there is more to be found and this is Ending E.
– It is clear that 9S does not actually desire the actual humans but humanity, since he is not interested in saving the server on the moon, but only aims to kill A2. –
Another faction is able to attain a small flicker of humanity, the pods. They started to develop feelings for their androids and wanted them to survive. Together with the player they refuse the finality of the last message and aim to change what seemingly cannot be changed. Represented by the final battle against the credits. It is a revolt against the grim endings C and D to change what appears impossible to achieve. Ending E, aside from being one of the greatest video game moments, shows the potential of humanity to defy even the strongest determinism. A battle against all the creators of the world, meaning the designers, programmers, etc. Alone the task is insurmountable, but with the sacrifices of others, fate can be changed and the story ends with an open ending with the possibility of a different outcome, even though the odds may be slim, the chance alone is what matters. “Not every question needs an answer” and “a future is something you must make for yourself” are the final messages of the game. While the first one may seem like a cop-out, it is actually a bittersweet note to end on. While the possibility of the same outcome over and over again is there, since the parts – meaning the basic set up – will always remain the same, the chance to break the cycle is there since the chance to defy is present within as well. Driven by conflicting desires to seek an answer that may not even exist causes conflict and ultimately death, but accepting that not every question needs an answer – or sacrificing all your data, all your progress, for a person you may never know, who may never thank you, and you might even hate – might just lead to a future devoid of such a tragic end.
– A final note: The eyes of both androids are covered again, indicating that they may just give up to look for an answer and thus fall into the spiral of death. –
NieR Automata is a story of humanity without humans. A lot of the problems are merely posed and never answered which in my mind makes the beauty of this game, since you do need to seek answers yourself or accept them as open without an answer. The future is up to you after all. By the end, I believe humanity does not only stand for conflict caused by love and hate, but also change is found in the interaction with others. After all, one girl cannot carry the weight of the world.
Image sources in order of appearance:
• Screenshot from video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUil2ARK-8o&t=82s (6:40) (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)
• https://i.ytimg.com/vi/zwEZ7DtrOto/maxresdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)
• https://i.ytimg.com/vi/qHcLJdAog5Y/maxresdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)
• http://drakengard-3.com/blog/stuff/uploads/2017/02/countdown-12-funahashi-eiji.jpg (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)
• https://i.ytimg.com/vi/WqFPTF66GAA/maxresdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)
• https://i.imgur.com/UvsSSQR.png (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)
• https://i.ytimg.com/vi/HxmOa5su7O4/maxresdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 20.04.2017)