What does it mean to be alive? How do we determine consciousness in machines? I love these stories about A.I. as they ask deep questions on the nature of humanity that I love to speculate on. So it makes sense I gravitate to media that talk about them. From Pluto to Ghost in the Shell, the line between man and machine has been drawn using many strokes. I’ve gobbled them up, though at times the strokes can seem familiar. But I’ve never seen the strokes drawn as they are in Robo Sapiens, both literally and figuratively.
In the far-off future, humans and “cyber-persons” co-exist within society. Though humans are still in charge of their creations, robots have gained a sense of independence and formed their own culture. Initially, it seems like you’re going to read a short story collection. The first chapter focuses on a human private eye on the search for a long-lost android. In the next chapter, they cover some history of the world and androids, and so on. But then the Chrononauts are introduced, and things change. They are a new advanced android built to accomplish some of humanity’s biggest challenges. What those challenges entail becomes the backbone of the story. Slowly, the characters and chapters are revealed to be interconnected. Chapter by chapter, they form a single tapestry of epic proportions. Not that there are large-scale battles you would find in something like Gurren Lagann. Instead, it's big in its ideas. This story spans across centuries in time and light-years in space, seeking to discover the heart of machines and humanity.
This is a manga that I keep thinking about long after I read it. The manga explores a variety of topics, not just about A.I., but time, humanity’s place in the universe, and how best to live. Those are some big topics that have an infinite amount of answers, and the writer understands this. So when they present these quandaries to the reader, the author does not give a clear opinion. One of the Chrononauts, Maria, is tasked with upkeeping an underground nuclear waste storage facility. In the dark, with little human contact, she repeats the same menial tasks for thousands of years. She seems okay with it, but as a reader, I felt sad for her. She loves humans, but she lives a lonely and isolated existence. Is this really how she should be treated? This is something the author lets you decide for yourself.
It’s not often that these big ideas are expressed with unique artwork. From top to bottom, the author, Toranosuke Shimada, approaches the world and characters with a retro-futuristic flair. The architecture is very geometric, made of various squares and rectangles to give the future a very orderly, sterile atmosphere. Even text on buildings is made in a blocky, compressed style. This is in direct competition with nature, drawn with looser lines and more variety in shape. It translates to the character designs, who look like they’re from the era of manga dominated by Cyborg 009 or Astro Boy. This gives them a more cartoony appearance that I found appealing. It gives them a sense of innocence and their simple look allows for a deeper connection. This retro-futuristic approach allows the manga to pay respect to the past but deliver it in a way that is modern. The art and story of Robo Sapiens show us a future that reminds us of the past. So not only are we thinking of the future problems, but also are reminded of the current problems that lead up to it.
A manga like Robo Sapiens doesn’t come along often. The art is both nostalgic and forward-thinking. The story’s bittersweet view of the world provides a deeper introspective look into the themes than other works are able to accomplish. The manga’s open nature allows you to come to your own conclusions. If you’re like me, those conclusions became epiphanies. I never expected Robo Sapiens to have a profound impact on me, but here I am writing this. Robo Sapiens has surprised me and is now a permanent part of my collection.
Robo Sapiens: Tales of Tomorrow Manga features story and art by Toranosuke Shimada and contains both volumes 1 and 2 in this special omnibus edition.
AIn the future, robots are more than machines. Autonomous “cyber-persons” with A.I. brains are part of society, interacting with humans and growing their own culture. In fact, they may be surpassing humans, as biological homo sapiens and their own world have begun to die out. But are humans truly disappearing, or are robots the new "humans?"Add to CartLearn More