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Why, Why, Why?!? Are Robots Evil In America... But Heroes In Japan


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I think you have to look back as far back as the 1920s to see where the "evil robot" trend started. "Metropolis" from 1927 showed us a dystopian society where the role of humans and machines have been strangely reversed...humans acting like cogs in a massive industrial machine, while the robot is a status symbol by the rich and elite. These were common themes back during the Industrial Revolution...and many writers expressed the fear of machines making humans "obsolete" in their works here in the US.

Since then, we've seen this same tired theme played out in everything from Terminator to The Incredibles...

Since then, many American science fiction writers have made the "evil robot" idea a standard, though it HAS evolved somewhat over the decades. In Eando Binder's "I, Robot," the evil robot idea was taken a step further by making one of them "abnormal" in the respect that it respects humans and does not view them as obsolete meatbags. Issac Asimov actually disliked the whole "evil robot" idea and wrote several stories pursuing this "good robot" theme. His story "Bicentennial Man" was about a common household Threepio-like robot with a positronic brain who is allowed to break his programming and pursue creative endeavors over a 200-year period in his pursuit to become human...even grafting cloned organs onto his metal body near the end of the book. Yes, Gene Roddenberry "Carl Meceked" Data from Asimov. Asimov is responsible for the slew of "good" robots in modern American pop culture (C-3PO, WALL-E, Robby, Rosey, Data etc.). He disliked the idea of robots enslaving their creators or some other ulterior motive so much that he invented the famous "Asimov's Law of Robotics."

I was born and raised in the US, but have always had an Eastern view on all-things-robotic. I would love to live in a world where we stand side by side with artificial constructs. I'm also one of the few who believes that if robots gained sentience (artificial or not), then they should be treated as people and not property. But that's also a theme that stories like Bicentennial Man and the Animatrix have addressed. Would humans accept robots as artificial lifeforms with their own set of "human rights" and freedoms as we enjoy? For many Americans, the idea of having to show the same level of common decency to a "goddamned machine" as you would show to your loved ones or your boss is simply unacceptable. And it may very well be a combination of Hollywood and genuine American arrogance that fuels the "evil robot" genre nowadays. I just had this discussion with my wife and she said she would definitely have a problem if her boss was a robot that she had to answer to...

Besides, evil robots (like their evil human counterparts) are just more interesting to watch in movies than their kinder, gentler brethren. :lol:

Edited by Cyclone Trooper
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When super heroes become adapted to the screen, these colorful elements and adolescent trappings are often removed (X-Men, Batman, Watchmen, etc) and they are re-imagined for live action in a much more grounded, realistic visual presentation. There are exceptions (Superman, Spider-Man), but exceptions exist in Japanese anime as well.

Yeah, that's only a relatively recent thing brought about by the 1980's superhero deconstructions like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and the especally the 1989 Batman movie. Before that there were four Superman movies that were all brightly colored and garish, not to mention the 60's Batman movie, Zorro, et cetera et cetera.

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2 personification of nature - pretty common in English language users: boats and cars referred to as "she", weather having moods, etc.. By attributing emotions to things, including robots, it also allows for the lack of apparent emotions to become an emotion. Despite the common sense that machines are inherently free from emotions, they tend to be described as cold blooded, merciless, and so on. Therefore, it's easy to make the switch into being evil incarnate.

I think that you are kind of on the right track there. If you notice, a lot of robots that are "good" in western fiction are often trying to be more like humans (Data being the perfect example) or work in very close situations with humans (VINCENT in The Black Hole, with his telepathic link to Kate McCrae.) I think that the roots of the "noble synthetic seeking humanity" concept can be traced all the way back to Pinocchio.

Compare that to Japan (Korea, etc.), where a machine is a tool. Just as a hammer helps you build structures, so too can a robot help you (Patlabor). Which is why we tend to find the bad guys in anime the users of robots (mecha), and generally the ones that are disrupting social harmony (not always, but if one examines things close enough), and not robots themselves.

Interesting. One thing I have wondered about in that sort of area, and its not robot but is still mechanical, is some of the cultural adaptations that took place when Space Cruiser Yamato was brought to the West as Star Blazers. (I'm remembering some info here that I read years ago so I might not be totally accurate) In the original Japanese, essentially the Yamato itself was the hero of the series, the ship that always came through. But, for the Star Blazers version, the American producers shifted the heroic nature from the Yamato (now renamed Argo), to the crew of the ship (which the Americans called the Star Force), and this change was supposed to be due to cultural differences. Any thoughts on that?

Taksraven

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I think you have to look back as far back as the 1920s to see where the "evil robot" trend started. "Metropolis" from 1927 showed us a dystopian society where the role of humans and machines have been strangely reversed...humans acting like cogs in a massive industrial machine, while the robot is a status symbol by the rich and elite. These were common themes back during the Industrial Revolution...and many writers expressed the fear of machines making humans "obsolete" in their works here in the US.

I think that you could take the concept back further than that, all the way back to Frankensteins monster (OK, not a robot, but a misunderstood and destructive creature) and even (Ok, links getting more tenuous here) back to the Golem in Jewish folklore.

Since then, we've seen this same tired theme played out in everything from Terminator to The Incredibles...

Since then, many American science fiction writers have made the "evil robot" idea a standard, though it HAS evolved somewhat over the decades. In Eando Binder's "I, Robot," the evil robot idea was taken a step further by making one of them "abnormal" in the respect that it respects humans and does not view them as obsolete meatbags. Issac Asimov actually disliked the whole "evil robot" idea and wrote several stories pursuing this "good robot" theme. His story "Bicentennial Man" was about a common household Threepio-like robot with a positronic brain who is allowed to break his programming and pursue creative endeavors over a 200-year period in his pursuit to become human...even grafting cloned organs onto his metal body near the end of the book. Yes, Gene Roddenberry "Carl Meceked" Data from Asimov. Asimov is responsible for the slew of "good" robots in modern American pop culture (C-3PO, WALL-E, Robby, Rosey, Data etc.). He disliked the idea of robots enslaving their creators or some other ulterior motive so much that he invented the famous "Asimov's Law of Robotics."

I was born and raised in the US, but have always had an Eastern view on all-things-robotic. I would love to live in a world where we stand side by side with artificial constructs. I'm also one of the few who believes that if robots gained sentience (artificial or not), then they should be treated as people and not property. But that's also a theme that stories like Bicentennial Man and the Animatrix have addressed. Would humans accept robots as artificial lifeforms with their own set of "human rights" and freedoms as we enjoy? For many Americans, the idea of having to show the same level of common decency to a "goddamned machine" as you would show to your loved ones or your boss is simply unacceptable. And it may very well be a combination of Hollywood and genuine American arrogance that fuels the "evil robot" genre nowadays. I just had this discussion with my wife and she said she would definitely have a problem if her boss was a robot that she had to answer to...

Besides, evil robots (like their evil human counterparts) are just more interesting to watch in movies than their kinder, gentler brethren. :lol:

I think that the idea that robots are inherently evil is an absolutely ridiculous idea in SF. Very few SF programs show the only way that robots would do evil things would be if they were given instructions to do evil things or if they were given conflicting instructions that caused inner turmoil and/or malfunctions. (HAL was one of the best examples of this, not evil but just given different instructions that he could not reconcile)

Actually, one of the best portrayals of robots I have seen was the Dr Who tale from the 70's, The Robots of Death. Even though it "borrows heavily" (ie steals) a lot of ideas from Asimov, the ideas are effectively combined into an interesting story that not only looks at robots being corrupted by humans, but also looks at the nature of a lot of the fears that people have about robots, particularly the "walking mechanical man" type. (It considers the possibility that in a society where humans and robots work very closely together, some humans would not cope well due to the fact that robots do not use non-verbal communication methods in the same way that humans do and would seem like "walking dead")

Taksraven

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Interesting. One thing I have wondered about in that sort of area, and its not robot but is still mechanical, is some of the cultural adaptations that took place when Space Cruiser Yamato was brought to the West as Star Blazers. (I'm remembering some info here that I read years ago so I might not be totally accurate) In the original Japanese, essentially the Yamato itself was the hero of the series, the ship that always came through. But, for the Star Blazers version, the American producers shifted the heroic nature from the Yamato (now renamed Argo), to the crew of the ship (which the Americans called the Star Force), and this change was supposed to be due to cultural differences. Any thoughts on that?

Taksraven

Doubt it has anything to do with cultural differences and more with World War 2 sensitivities. I doubt many networks would have been overjoyed with a show that was named after an enemy warship that was destroyed while performing a suicide mission.

The ship as a heroic character is not uncommon in the West look at Star Trek or Star Wars, the Enterprise and Millenium Falcon being household names.

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The premise might be a bit off....

The examples the OP mentioned of "hero" robots are all actually "piloted" mecha, and should not be confused with AI-driven robots. Valkyries, gundams, and other piloted mecha cannot be good or evil per se, since they are only driven by the humans that pilot them. The mecha are, more or less, neutral until placed in the hands of the pilot.

On the other hand, the examples of "evil" robots in the OP are all automated, AI robots. they are generally not directly controlled by a human, and act on their own volition under a set of directives given by their creator/programmer.

That being said, japan also has its share of "evil" AI robots (i.e. sharon apple/ghost), and america has its share of "good" AI robots (i.e. data from STNG). I can't say one culture has a preference for the morality of its robots over the other, but i can at least say this.... Japan designs its robots way cooler. :p

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The premise might be a bit off....

The examples the OP mentioned of "hero" robots are all actually "piloted" mecha, and should not be confused with AI-driven robots. Valkyries, gundams, and other piloted mecha cannot be good or evil per se, since they are only driven by the humans that pilot them. The mecha are, more or less, neutral until placed in the hands of the pilot.

On the other hand, the examples of "evil" robots in the OP are all automated, AI robots. they are generally not directly controlled by a human, and act on their own volition under a set of directives given by their creator/programmer.

That being said, japan also has its share of "evil" AI robots (i.e. sharon apple/ghost), and america has its share of "good" AI robots (i.e. data from STNG). I can't say one culture has a preference for the morality of its robots over the other, but i can at least say this.... Japan designs its robots way cooler. :p

i should have said astroboy... but i mentioned macross and gundam since they are more well-known.

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(...)

Interesting. One thing I have wondered about in that sort of area, and its not robot but is still mechanical, is some of the cultural adaptations that took place when Space Cruiser Yamato was brought to the West as Star Blazers. (I'm remembering some info here that I read years ago so I might not be totally accurate) In the original Japanese, essentially the Yamato itself was the hero of the series, the ship that always came through. But, for the Star Blazers version, the American producers shifted the heroic nature from the Yamato (now renamed Argo), to the crew of the ship (which the Americans called the Star Force), and this change was supposed to be due to cultural differences. Any thoughts on that?

I'm not sure if you're asking for my personal opinion, or if it was a general question to the membership... so here goes my opinion:

I haven't seen the original, only bit's and pieces of the translation ("adaptation"), and the majority of my knowledge of it comes from magazine (Protoculture Addicts? Mecha Press? Other?) articles. Nevertheless, I feel that it's not so much the ship that is heroic, but that the ship represents the ideals and team spirit of the crew (the Americanized version of this is the soldier's quip, "You do it for your buddies").

The Americanizers probably felt that the ship has too much quasi-nationalism/Imperial Japanese Army connotations to become anything but a villified show, "as is". Though, in retrospect, it is a bit baffling, as it was targeted at children, and the adaptors changed the doctor from drinking sake to fight the pain of a terminal disease (cancer?), to drinking mineral water for health reasons, amongst other changes. So... maybe I'm over-analyzing things, and the heroic nature of the ship was changed because, for the target demographic, the crew are heroes, is a lot easier to comprehend.

So, blame it on simplification and the tendancy for Americanizers to underestimate kids, and to baby children. (Robotech, I'm also looking at you!)

Edited by sketchley
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NO DISASSEMBLE!

Actually, my bigger concern is why there is few piloted robot in western culture compared to Japanese? Sure, there is MechWarrior/BattleTech and Megas XLR, but compared to Mazingers, Getter Robos, Gundams, Valks, and much, much more, it seems that no one in US like to pilot a giant robot. :p

Not only that, but pretty much ALL piloted western robots are influenced by Japanese robots. It's like no one in America even thought of it until someone saw Mazinger or something and said, "Hey, look what they're doing! Can we do that?"

I think the general problem is more that american sci-fi as a whole is a relatively small market. Getting a sci-fi show off the ground at all is difficult. One with a special effects budget is almost impossible.

Beyond that...

What's the defining american sci-fi show? Star Trek.

The defining japanese sci-fi show? Probably Gundam, if I had to take a guess.

That explains your general lack of giant robot shows right there.

Star Wars had some highly visible piloted robots, though.

Yes, folks... the American Gundam is an AT-AT. George Lucas not only raped your childhood, he killed giant robots too.

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