Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – Episode Nine – Clockwork Prisoner
February 27, 2016 Leave a comment
After all those episodes focussing on ship warfare, character interactions and growth, there is finally a chance to slow down a little and look at Analyser, the ships robot and sub-computer. I have a soft spot for robot characters, yes they can often be used to explore overly complicated interpretations of what it means to be human, but as characters they can be used to look at the way the rest of the cast behave and act. I particularly like this episode because of its use of the radio as a story telling medium, with narration carried out by Yuria Misaki in the form of a story about automatons, loneliness, and artificial intelligence. I particularly like its use of a classic 1950s style radio in front of books – something of a retro image given the series futuristic setting. While other characters play important roles in this episodes story, the central characters are Analyser, and a Gamilas robot, dubbed ‘Gamiroids’ aquired during episodes six brief stop on a moon of Saturn. While trying to learn as much about Gamilas as possible analyser creates a strong bond with this particular robot, known to him as Alter. In the case of Analyser he finally has somebody (and I think in this case it is better to say somebody, than something) else to talk to and teach. While Analyster is trying to teach Alter how to speak with words and pictures, Niimi makes a passing remark that since they are both robots and computers, it would be simpler to upload the entire dictionary, or encyclopaedia to Alter’s brain. Analyser retorts that the words are not enough, and only through conversation and context can a word or ideas true meaning become known and understood. I suppose we all occasionally take that for granted, simply assuming that something akin to rote learning is sufficient. But, by rote learning you may know a word or phrase, but the vast subtleties of language, and cultural concepts will be utterly lost, so you may only ever have a very basic understanding of the idea or subject.
Niimi is hardly unique in her somewhat flippant approach to Analyser and Alter, Sanada seems to initially view them both as little more than complex computer algorithms, while Itou is entirely dismissive of them as hunks of metal. I suppose it is incredibly simple to dismiss machines, creations that have been put together by humans as simply something without free will or understanding. And in this case it is perfectly possible to understand why Niimi, Sanada, and even Itou are initially very dismissive of Analyser, and particularly Alter. Although in the case of Itou, his character is so generally unpleasant, coupled with the sneering attitude he exhibits towards the very idea that a machine can have a heart makes it easier to dismiss his opinion as irrelevant. In the case of Sanada, he takes such a scientific approach to everything he encounters that he doesn’t consider it beyond the realm of possibility that both Analyser and Alter could develop a consciousness. That he is willing to think about machines in that way shows that despite his almost robotic nature, Sanada may well be one of the most open minded individuals on the Yamato.
As Alter searches for meaning in its existence Analyser slowly becomes aware of his own feelings, and appears to start contemplating what it means to be alive. As he chases Alter through the ship we see a robot who cares deeply for somebody he calls a friend, and although he is ultimately forced to shut Alter down, those final moments are heartfelt and emotional. It also results in a particularly striking image of Analyser standing on the deck of the ship, illuminated by the deep red of a nearby star, and holding Alter’s heart in his hand. In this scene I think Analyser has finally begun to understand who and what he is, and how much power he holds – as the Yamato’s sub-computer he is arguably holding the lives of the crew members in his hands. It is also a lonely scene, as Analyser is forced to shut down the one being who he can relate to, a fellow conscious robot who he can confide in, and who may understand his existence. A scene made all the more poignant upon the realisation that nobody else onboard seems to understand, or even acknowledge what they have asked Analyser to do. He has been asked to kill his friend, not simply shut down a malfunctioning robot, but to wipe a system that since its reboot, has developed a consciousness, and an understanding of existence, even if its mind is that of a child.
But, my favourite part of the whole episode has to be the radio broadcast used as a form of narration. The art is beautiful, still pictures, with a colour scheme that almost resembles pencil sketches, and puts me in mind of certain manga and other comics I have read. It is a story of loneliness, self-realisation, with the lighthouse keeper ‘No 9’ finally understanding that it doesn’t matter what others think, because even as an automaton, he knows he has a heart, he knows that he is alive. The whole episode is created as a radio play, with the crew listening to a ‘Clockwork Parable’ as the episode calls it, one that helps to illustrate the lessons that certain members of the crew have learned. At its best this is a wonderfully understated episode that continues to introduce new complexities to the overarching narrative of space exploration, while also suggesting that the crew themselves may be trapped in a clockwork prison of their own making. As a final thought, this episode deals with numerous themes on robotics and artificial intelligence found in the work of Isaac Asimov and Phillip K Dick, questioning what it means to be human, and what it means to be truly conscious of existence.