Watching this episode, only one question came to mind… Can I do it justice? Yamato 2199 is swashbuckling space opera, but that doesn’t stop it from sprinkling in occasional deeper bits. This episode, “A Clockwork Prisoner” is an extended look at what it means to human, to have consciousness. It’s one of the best episodes of the series, and I’ll try my best to talk about it.
One the surface, it’s a simple enough plot – the crew of the Yamato decide to awaken the Gamilas android they captured on Enceladus (ep 4) in order to gain intelligence about the Gamilas. Only… AU-09 (Analyzer, the ship’s droid) goes a step beyond, and Alter (the Gamilas droid) gains sentience. The two become friends… Eventually the droid breaks free of his bondage, and goes to seek the ship’s “Goddess” who appeared to him when accessed Yamato‘s computer network. The crew see him only as a rogue and a potential threat – and hunt him down and shut him down.
Along the way, there’s a lot of mediation on the nature of life and consciousness. Pretty ambitious stuff for a space opera – but 2199 has never shied away from being philosophical.
So, in my usual fashion… on to the details.
Before we get to the heavier stuff… I love this shot of the hangar crew playing cards (some form of poker I think) to kill time. On my submarine, we used to do the same thing (though only off duty). We used to play Uno too, to 10,000 points rather than the standard 500. What can I say? The nature of the crew, and the submarine force, was to create and challenge themselves.
Sanada and Niimi think it’s simple and straightforward. Just awaken the machines most basic functions and have it read the data out to Analyzer.
Parenthetically speaking… The conceit that we can communicate with alien intelligences with the mathematical language of the hard sciences is a common one. It’s formed the basis of a number of attempts to communicate with alien intelligences, such as the Voyager Record and the Arecibo Message. But it’s never sat well with me, because (as Analyzer himself points out) you can’t communicate abstract concepts and culture with such language. It’s interesting that there are folks trying to convey the dangers of buried nuclear waste to future generations – and mathematics doesn’t really enter into their plans at all. It’s an abstract message and one very difficult to convey.
Anyhow, back to topic at hand…
When Analyzer has a free moment to talk to Alter… He’s overjoyed. Finally, he has a chance to talk to someone much like himself. Don’t we all enjoy that? But it does bring up something that’s not really been talked about too much, what exactly is his role on the ship? He’s often shown pounding away at a keyboard on the Bridge, but it’s never entirely clear what he’s doing. Or why Yamato has a sentient android onboard, but the ship’s computer is hardly advanced at all…
Maybe it’s just the inherent conservative nature of all navies.
When Alter breaks free – we’re given two different viewpoints as to his actions. The human crew sees him as a threat to the sealed system that contains the ship’s autonomous navigation system. Without that system, they cannot find Iscandar. From his point of view Alter is seeking the ship’s “Goddess”… He thinks she has the answers to his questions. (The same questions we all have really – who am I? What am I? Why am I here?)
Hmm… What’s going on here?
In a final heartrending scene – Analyzer confronts Alter, and shuts him down (in a literal sense). In the end, Analyzer’s loyalties lie with his human makers (and presumably masters?).
Whew A heavy, heavy episode – and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. What do you think? Let us know down in the comments!
Yamato 2199 group watch:
– Mechanical Anime Reviews: Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 9: What is life?