Home > Asobi ni Iku Yo!, Episode Reviews > Asobi ni Iku Yo! Episode 9 – Do Assistaroids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Asobi ni Iku Yo! Episode 9 – Do Assistaroids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I’ve been rather harsh with the show lately, mostly because it’s been pretty terrible. But because of its run of dud, fan service-heavy episodes, I’d forgotten how good this show can be when it wants to.

The basic premise of this episode is that one of the first generation of assistaroids, Lawry (that’s probably a scifi reference I’m missing), is visiting Earth for the first time. She was on a voyage that was supposed to be the first to visit Earth, 1000 catgirl planet-years previous, but the ship was lost in hyperspace and only rescued 800 years later.

Lawry looks more like an elegant catlady than a cute pet

This causes an awe-struck reverence among the current generation of assistaroids, curiosity from Kio, and an awkward shyness from Eris. You see, the first generation machines looked vastly more catgirlish (felinohumanoid?) than the current models, which caused a number of social problems for the Cathians, who were split on whether or not highly advanced robots with catgirl-level intelligence should be considered tools or sentient creatures deserving of the respect and moral caution one has when dealing with equals.

After war broke out over these questions, assistaroids were forced to change. They were shaped into their current cutesy, pet-like forms and forbidden from being given the ability to speak. In order to be socially acceptable and not cause conflict among Cathians, they were made less like equals and more like pet-servants.

Eris’s awkwardness stems from her guilt about her species’s treatment of these creatures: stripped of the ability to speak, forced into a life of slavish subservience to masters who aren’t necessarily as benevolent as her. It’s a combination of her guilt over the sins of her forefathers (foremothers?) as well as a sadness for what could have been, had her people been a little more understanding: a partnership of equals with a newly created form of life potentially completely alien to your own.

I've noticed this before, but Eris has two sets of ears. It's typically not noticeable, but when it is, it disturbs me greatly. Does she have quadrophonic hearing?

Her people had the chance to do exactly what she has always wanted to do: explore, intermingle and live life with a radically other form of life—created in their image, no less—and they chose instead to cripple that life before it had the chance to blossom. Not only is that a cultural shame for her to bear, it also has to make her fear her people’s reaction to Earth, since Earth also bears more than a little resemblance to her own people, yet is several hundred years behind in terms of technological development.

If the Cathians showed such closed-mindedness before, why would they welcome the people of Earth with the welcome arms she is hoping they will? It means her mission could lead not to the understanding and mutual discovery she is hoping for, but mistrust, or even war. Lawry is a symbol, not just of a troubled period in her species’s history, but also that the mindsets that birthed those troubles have not gone away. By neutering the assistaroids, the Cathians also lost the chance to change as a culture.

This episode also answers a question that has been kicking around in my head for the last 9 episodes: are there catboys? Or, given this guy's rugged jawline and gritty facial hair, catdudes?

The relationship between humanoid robots and human society is one that’s been explored quite often in anime, by far more mature writers and animators. But, by treating the event as history rather than something futuristic, Asobi makes interesting connections between the Cathian’s treatment of their robots and how human societies have treated less advanced societies.

Japan in particular has had a rather tenuous relationship with some of its neighbors, especially concerning their treatment during World War 2, when Japan’s industrial and military superiority led to some serious abuses. There’s also the treatment of its own home-grown ethnic minority, the Ainu, which is similar to the United States’ treatment of native Americans.

Perhaps Asobi’s interests are purely speculative and I’m reading too much into this, but if my reading is correct, it’s pretty interesting. Japan, especially the Japanese government, has historically been reluctant to even mention its treatment of the Ainu or other East Asian cultures. If Eris’s thoughts here are a way of mirroring the author’s own feelings toward his own cultural history, it’s something worth pointing out, especially considering its rarity.

Regardless, I still find Cathia’s solution to the question of the robot sapience fascinating. Most fiction that deals with this question forces robots with human-like into an android shape. This makes the robots seem more human-like to us, more relatable, and makes us more sympathetic.

But robots that lack a human shape are rarely treated as equals. C-3PO might be able to speak and lament his cruel status in life, but R2D2 is limited to a few bleeps and blorps. They’re relegated to a subservient state. They’re not equals, but servants, or pets.

Even the most progressive example I can think of this (another anime, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) still makes its non-android robots, the Tachikoma, more cutesy children than equals.

Tachikomas (pictured, middle) are awesome

So, the idea of intentionally using our anthropocentric bias towards robots in order to make them acceptable to society at large is novel, at least to me. People are already accepting of robots-as-pets. Look at the bomb-clearing devices used by soldiers in Iraq to remove IEDs. They aren’t even autonomous, but the attachment soldiers in these units form to these devices is well-documented.

Except that robots intentionally stripped of their human-like qualities to be subservient must also be subservient in their mental abilities as well. It’s worth noting that, for all Eris’s hand-wringing, Lawry is relatively non-plussed by the Cathian’s treatment of assistaroids. She just wants everyone to get along and be happy. It’s never explicitly stated in the episode, but I think this is because she’s physically incapable of resentment. She just wasn’t programmed for those kinds of emotions.

I ran out of screenshots for this post, so consider this a sneak peek of the other post, which is about product placement and pop culture references, and how weird that is to see in anime. This is a poster in the film club room for 'The Grandfather, Part VI'

So, there’s more thought-provoking ideas in this episode than the rest of the series combined. That has to be the only thing worth writing about, right? Not hardly. In fact, I’ve got an entire other post just for this episode. This one’s less about robots and more about a subject you’re used to reading about: the things Asobi ni Iku Yo! does that are either bad, or just plain bizarre.

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