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.
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.
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.