Tonari no Robot is a bittersweet little love story about a humanoid robot and her friend, a human girl.
The robot, known as “Praha” to her build team, is called Hiro by Chika. Hiro and Chika met when Chika was 4 years old. And over the years they stayed friends, Chika aging as humans do, while Hiro outwardly remains the same.
I say outwardly, because Hiro is not just a robot, she is meant to closely approximate human behavior and learning. Over time, her build team helps her be more and more like a human (although they themselves aren’t all that normal) and of course Chika helps. Chika is an example of human complexity every single day and while she does not age, Hiro does changes because of this.
And, when Chika tries to teach Hiro about things like love and physical intimacy, Hiro’s build team is forced to accommodate new, unexpected situations.
We learn in the second half of the volume that the Praha type is meant as one of several types of humanoid robot types, designed for generalized and specialized functions. As we spend more time with build team, and less with Chika, Hiro’s Chika-less life seems not nearly as fun as it was when she was attending high school along with her friend.
In the final chapter we learn why – Chika has moved on and become an adult. Now 27, she is no longer this child who befriended Hiro, or a schoolmate. And, although the ending is happy, I am reminded by the final panel why all such human/robot stories are doomed to be bittersweet. Aging gives the human existence a time-frame, boundaries, limits on what we have time to do.
Throughout this volume, I was constantly reminded of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou and how the humans in that story were almost markers of time passing, while Alpha’s one deep, abiding relationship is with another android. We do not have to be sad that humanity is fading away in YKK, Alpha and Kokone will always have one another. Not so Chika and Hiro. Even the build team will one day cease to exist, but Praha might continue on like my poor beater car, still chugging away long after it is obsolete. Or, worse, Praha will fail and the Praha team will be long gone, and old and no longer needed and no one will be there to help Chika in her old age.
And so, I call the book bittersweet. Nothing in the book itself is bitter, but as a human reading it, I can’t not think about inevitable loss that is to come.
I guess I’m feeling my age today, because the book itself is not at all depressing! ^_^ It’s sweet, it’s cute, it’s got moments of adorable embarrassment, and traditional “robot misses the point” cuteness and above all, Nishi UKO-sensei’s art is, as ever, exquisite.
Art – 10
Story – 8
Characters – Chika is adorable and Hiro cute in that dorky robot way, but I really liked the bitchiness and ranting of the build team members best. Completely real.
Yuri – 9
Service – 4 There is a bit in the middle
Overall – 8
Although I felt a twang or two in the heart region while reading it, the fault lay neither in our stars nor in Nishi UKO-sensei’s work, but my own fragile operating system.
Note of interest – Praha, and the other robot build names, are Czech.