Finding the Culture of Life in A.I.C.O. Incarnation

A.I.C.O. Incarnation found itself on my watch list very late in the season.  Netflix is one of the last video streaming companies I look at—especially since they sometimes stream an anime after it’s aired.  One nice bonus with Netflix, though, is that it has interesting options for a lover of foreign tongues like me: I can stream an anime with a English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, or Portuguese dubbing.  (That said, I still watch 95% of new anime in the original Japanese.)  Subbing purists may be horrified to learn that I gave the French dub of A.I.C.O. a try and loved it enough to watch the entire series in that mellifluous tongue.  Somehow, the anime of a biohazard threatening to destroy civilization and a girl trying to regain her lost family does not suffer from listening to the French dub—perhaps because the plot and setting diverged so sharply from stock anime plots.

The Malignant Matter attempting to absorb one of our heroes.

A language brings with it an entire culture, history, and peculiar nuances.  While our heroes charged down the Valley of Death to the facility from which the “Malignant Matter” threatening civilization originated, the French could not but bring to mind the stories of Roland, Bayard, St. Joan of Arc, and French chivalry in general.  Speaking of St. Joan of Arc, A.I.C.O. included several strong yet very feminine characters.  Leiji Matsumoto once recalled in an interview that French cinema encouraged him to create strong female characters.  (Considering Maetel and Queen Emeraldas from Galaxy Express 999 and Miime and Kei of Captain Harlock, Matsumoto succeeded quite well!)  The heroine of A.I.C.O., Aiko Tachibana, certainly impresses the audience with her strength of character and perseverance despite being perhaps only fifteen or sixteen.  At the same time, she comes off as a rather believable character.

Yet another connection I feel this anime has to France is in keeping with that nation’s appellation of “Eldest Daughter of the Church”: this show falls solidly on the side of the culture of life.  The culture of life advances the idea that every human life is sacred from conception to natural death.  The opposite of the culture of life is the culture of death.  The culture of death denies that human life is sacred by denying that human life has God as its author and sustainer.  For which reason, the culture of death endorses things like hedonism, narcissism, euthanasia, abortion, cruel human experimentation, cloning, eugenics, and unjust war.  Capital punishment is sometimes included on this list, but there is plenty of justification for capital punishment in Scripture and in a people’s right to self-defense.

As the series plays out, a battle is joined between the culture of death and the culture of life.  Early on, we see Kyosuke Isazu, the chief doctor at Aiko’s hospital, making daily visits to his comatose daughter, Yuzuha.  A great deal of solicitude is shown to her, ranging from her father’s frequent visits to a nurse moving her limbs to prevent their atrophy and otherwise caring for her body.  I can’t recall another comatose patient being shown such care in an anime.  The anime even presents Yuzuha as being internally aware of the care and affection she is shown.  Though Yuzuha gives no external evidence of the rational functions associated with being a human being, her inner life is every bit as human as any other person’s.

The above is contrary to the response from the culture of death perspective, which sees such persons as being a waste of resources.  The news offers cases of people in comas or vegetative states being pulled off feeding tubes in order to hasten their demise.  The Catholic Church does not require using extraordinary means, like a respirator, to keep someone alive, but giving someone food and drink are not extraordinary means by any measure!  We would be appalled if a prison decided it was too difficult to feed it’s prisoners more than twice a week.  How much worse is denying a patient food and drink altogether until death by starvation?  While some people are arguing about how much kinder it is to snuff out the comatose and even those suffering depression, I am happy to see a show affirming the value of people like Yuzuha.  People do wake up from comas, even after many years, and it’s wrong to deny them that chance.

*Spoilers Ahead!*

Still the dividing live between good and evil runs down the center of every human heart.  Doctor Isazu learns that the hospital at the origin of the Malignant Matter outbreak contains clones of Yuzuha which lack independence of thought or action.  Isazu has a machine which can connect to these clones through Yuzuha’s brain and control them remotely.  He uses them to try to coerce Aiko into returning home so that he can exploit her connection to the Malignant Matter for the purpose of experimentation.  Even Kanzaki, our putative hero, plans to end the crisis with the Malignant Matter by killing Aiko along with it.  It’s very easy to forget the sacred value of a human being in the face of a crisis.

Despite all these obstacles, the story has a very satisfying end which upholds the value of individual human life.  Aiko offers to sacrifice herself in the end, but there is no sense of her being forced into it.  Not only is she not forced, but one discerns love as the primary motive behind her decision.  The world is not made better by forcing other people to do what’s right but by encouraging people freely to do right.  That’s another fine message of this very unique and entertaining anime.

3 thoughts on “Finding the Culture of Life in A.I.C.O. Incarnation

  1. Disabled people of whatever stripe have ourselves an interesting species of commentary on the culture of life. The main thing is that it becomes impossible to defend abortion the way it’s currently carried out, even if you aren’t religious, if you personally know the sort of people who are often aborted. People with Down Syndrome and known intellectual disabilities tend to be uniformly aborted when discovered in some areas. Yet I know very real, living people with intellectual disabilities. One is the colleague who shares office space with me. He is also a deeply gifted reporter and social media coordinator. Another is a parent of young children with a loving spouse.

    (Have to stop for work; More on this later)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it is very hard to defend the abortion of infants with disabilities. Eugenicists would be the most ardent supporters, and there are those “kind and compassionate” people (Kind and compassionate in the same way was the Furies were called “the kindly ones”) who argue that disabled persons suffer so much that their lives are not worth living. So, the former urge such abortions for the sake of the race, while the latter choose the decision they presume disabled people would have made for themselves.

      The non-eugenicist argument has so many flaws that it does not hold up to scrutiny in the way it’s presented. Life is a great gift, and most people choose to suffer–even to suffer very much–than to end their lives. Strangely enough, people whose lives are harder, such as those living amidst abject poverty in certain African countries, are often happier than people in the West who are materially better off. Happiness has the strange quality of being absent in places we would expect it and being present where we would not expect it. So, one cannot assume that disabled people will lead miserable lives–and you have personal experience of those whom are leading happy lives.

      The real basis for the non-eugenicist argument is probably along the lines of what I read in the Crisis Magazine article “Company Hates Misery”: that the right of the group not to have to deal with an individual’s disability outweighs the individual’s right to life. It is frequently the case that the people who take care of the disabled person suffer a great loss of personal freedom. Disabled people also frequently use more resources than they produce, so people can view them as a drag on society. If one doesn’t believe that each human being is a unique expression of God and of immeasurable value, aborting infants with disabilities makes perfect sense. But, people that push for this know that most people would be horrified by the assertion that certain babies are worth less than others, and so they argue on the basis of it being kinder for the disabled person. Maybe they actually believe it, but that belief is based on very bad logic.

      The eugenicist argument is not all that far off from the liberty of the group argument. The group is what matters. A society without disabled people is better than one with disabled people, so why not use an existing population control method to effect this?

      It all comes down to one’s philosophy. What is a human being? Is there a God? What is a human being’s relationship to God? What rights does the individual have in respect to the group? What rights does the group have over the individual? How one answers these questions determines how one sees this particular issue.

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