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God in the Machine: Perceptions and Portrayals of Mechanical Kami in Japanese Anime

Holland-Minkley, Dorothy Florence (2010) God in the Machine: Perceptions and Portrayals of Mechanical Kami in Japanese Anime. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Robots are an increasingly common staple of realistic science fiction. Summer blockbuster movies warn us of the dangers of giving in to hubris by creating machines that are as intelligent and capable as we are, and humorous books provide the wary with helpful tips on how to prepare for the inevitable robot revolution. In Japan, however, this trope is reversed. Instead of being coldly rational enslavers of humanity, unsympathetic to their creators, fictional Japanese robots are just as emotional as their human counterparts and often strive to defend humans and humanity. The roles for robots that are common in American movies almost never appear in Japanese works, and the reverse is true as well. Fictional Japanese robots tend to fall into three categories: being equivalent to humans, being god-like, or serving as a spiritual vessel for gods. For the first category, some robots are so much like humans that their mechanical nature is not even a particularly salient feature. Instead, it is about as important and emphasized as the blood type of a human character. Almost never are questions raised about whether the robot has a soul. This can be seen to be consistent with Buddhist and Shinto beliefs that treat animals as being spiritually similar to humans, while the Abrahamic traditions espouse that only human beings have souls. Since Japanese religions already accept animals as spiritual beings, the extension to robots is a small one. In the second category, giant robots in anime are frequently portrayed as being god-like. They are sometimes built by humans in need of protection, but they also frequently appear as ancient, unfathomable beings. They greatly resemble Shinto gods, being worthy of respect due to their impressive size and power, and existing independently of humanity while being willing to grant the requests of those they have chosen as worthy representatives. Finally, fictional robots that are not gods themselves may serve as spiritual vessels for them, as puppets can serve as vessels for gods in Shinto ceremonies. This allows even those robots that are not spiritual creatures themselves to touch the realm of the holy.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Holland-Minkley, Dorothy Florencedfh9@pitt.eduDFH9
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLukacs, Gabriellalukacs@pitt.eduLUKACS
Committee MemberChilson, Clarkchilson@pitt.eduCHILSON
Committee MemberFinkel, Mugemfinkel@pitt.eduMFINKEL
Date: 1 June 2010
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 19 April 2010
Approval Date: 1 June 2010
Submission Date: 21 April 2010
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > East Asian Studies
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: America; android; anime; Buddhism; fiction; manga; religion; Shinto; Japan; robot
Other ID:, etd-04212010-202103
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:40
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:41


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