The reason “2B”: an overview of major themes in Nier: Automata

After finishing all 5 major endings of Nier: Automata, I had a discussion with my friend Hakuramen and we analyzed some of the game’s major themes, casually summarized below.


1. Raison d’être (reason to be/purpose of existence)

– Machines and androids are at an artificially perpetuated, zero-sum war, maintained by both parties because winning the war for either side would mean losing the purpose for existence. (This theme is touched on in Orwell’s 1984. Interesting note: YorHa itself is inherently Orwellian, as order is kept through propaganda, misinformation, and a figurative “Big Brother” in the form of the Council of Humanity.)

– “Peace-loving” machines such as the God-cult and Pascal’s village members are eventually infected with the logic virus and disposed of – because achieving peace is against their purpose of “fighting the enemy.”

– 2B’s purpose and duty is to keep killing 9S. Forced to repeatedly kill the one she loves, she tells him (and herself) that emotions should be avoided. She keeps distance from him and refuses to call him by his pet name until the very last moment before her death, when she is finally relieved of the duty she hates and allows her to become more intimate with him by calling him “Nines.”

– Eve’s raison d’être is his brother, and so when Adam dies, Eve goes on a destructive rampage.

– 3 robots in the game commit suicide after musing about the futility of the war and thus their reason for existence.

2. Identity and the sense of “self”
– How to define “self”? Is it a collection of memories, experiences, and thoughts in a physical body at a specific point in time?

– When an android dies and his memory backup on the bunker is transferred to a new body, is it still the same android? (This theme is touched on in Soma).

– When an android dies but he does not have a recent backup, he loses the “self” that exists at that very moment. (Ending A, where 2B protests, “We will lose ‘you’ at this very moment.”) Perhaps this is why 2B feels guilty about killing 9S even though he can always be backed up to the server and revived.

– The vendor in resistance camp refuses to replace his leg because he believes it’s the only original part of him left.

– Pascal, in reference to the machine children in one of the quests, says that their bodies can be replaced but they won’t be the same entity anymore.

3. The human condition, the human experience, and deification of humans
– Although no actual humans are present in this game, androids, machines, and pods have come to exhibit many aspects of the human condition, including emotion, close relationships with others, aspirations, and mortality.

– Pods 042 and 153 have developed relationships with each other and their android partners, to the point where they act on their own will and go against their duty in order to save the androids.

– In ending E, pods 042 and 153 remark that all things that live must die, but it’s struggling in existence that which gives life meaning, before reconstructing androids A2, 2B, and 9S. Even though in the big picture, all things that live are designed to end, the small personal struggles, aspirations, and relationships make up the human experience.

– The deification of humans by machines is reflected by their desire to recreate human behavior and history, even when such behaviors are flawed or unnecessary for machines. For example, 9S states that machines keep trying to recreate monarchies even though they continue to fail. We also observed machines engaging in copulation even though the activity doesn’t produce pleasure or offspring in machines.* The most striking example of human deification by machines is the factory cult’s desire to “become as gods.” Mortality is a human trait not shared by machines, and yet they artificially achieve it by committing suicide. It is ironic that immortality is perceived to be a godly trait in our culture, and yet machines are willing to sacrifice their immortality in order to “become as gods.”

*You might interpret the machine orgy as the event that produced Adam (maybe symbolically), but realistically speaking, machine sex doesn’t make new machines.

Lastly, remember: the future isn’t given to you! You must take it yourself, just like how the pods created a new future by fighting the credits!

Update (October 4, 2017)
Nier: Automata is even deeper than I originally appreciated it to be.

The only permanence is impermanence, and life is all about accepting and living with that impermanence. The folly of mankind is thinking that there is an end-all purpose, and if there isn’t one, to construct one (i.e. the war between androids and machines). What we don’t realize is that meaning is right in front of us; it’s how we live every second of our lives. This is illustrated by the small moments between 2B and 9S, and the personal stories in the side quests–they are the only truly meaningful events in the game (friendships and relationships are the only events borne of free will rather than false realities).

Everything that lives is designed to end, but it’s the small individual struggles that make life meaningful.

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