YKK Forum

Are the Robots Slaves?

Does Alpha’s “Owner” actually own her as a piece of property? If that’s the case he-or-she is obviously a benevolent master. But, if Alpha is owned, what about the other robots are they also property? Nai may belong to the woman at the airport in some way. In the translation she refers to him as “my kid”. (Note, I haven’t tried to read the Japanese text myself.) Does the delivery company that Kokone works for merely employ her or does it own her too? The same question would apply to Maruko and the stationary company and Alpha-in-Sky and the group of scientists.

That leads me to another question. How much free will do the robots have? Is Alpha programmed to be a food server? Besides running Café Alpha the only other work she is shown doing is serving food at other places on her trip. Is that the only thing that she is programmed to do?

- Chris Keck
Tuesday, June 8, 2004


This question bothers me more than any other in YKK. There is a fundamental contradiction here - all the robots are treated as fully human, and many are treated like family, yet the robots are "owned".

Now it's clear that the robots are using the word owner as we understand it in English. Alpha clearly refers to "my owner" in chapter one. Maruko refers to her owner in an upcoming chapter. But I suspect the notion of "ownership" may be more on a par with "guardianship".

I do believe the robots have free will, but that the owner is responsible for the process of guiding the robot through the "child-like" phase into functioning "adults". Perhaps once the robot is capable of normal adult behavior, the "ownership" is dissolved or voided, or the robot "graduates" or something.

As for the other robots, we know that Director Alpha had a special relationship with Sensei. It's not clearly defined, but since Director Alpha took Sensei's last name, it has a family like feel to it.

Nai is clearly in a family situation. The old woman at the airport refers to him as "my son". We are not shown what Nai calls her, but they sleep together on the same futon (not an uncommon practice in cramped Japan) which shown a mother/child kind of bond.

We know little about Kokone's owner situation other than she has a last name that *seems* like it was given to her by someone. We do know she chose her own first name. Kokone lives alone, works, pays rent (and falls behind) and utilities and seems to be without the family-like situation of Nai.

The upcoming chapter with Maruko has some tantalizing hints, but there isn't a clear answer yet.



- dDave
Tuesday, June 8, 2004

No fair...about the upcoming chapters. :(

If the Owners eventually "graduate" their charges, have we seen any evidence of Alpha-san's graduation? We did see her get earrings and clothes, but they seemed to mark natural stations in her development process.

We know that Owner simply left, maybe even unexpectedly. He has since passed through (leaving a note) and sent a camera by messenger (suggesting Alpha wander about a bit). Did he leave because Alpha was "done"... then why does she seem so purposeless?

I think Alpha has been tutored to some point, and that the rest of her instructions will "unfold" or be triggered as a result of her travels ("travel is stimulating"). Owner seems to have rushed off, perhaps back to where he came from. Maybe Tokyo and the remnants of authority? Could he have intended Cafe Alpha to be a hideout? Interesting that two engineers happen to live out in the boonies with her, one even equipped with a robot "hospital."

I'm not sure I agree that the word "slave" could ever apply to a robot. "Servant" would more accurately describe any simple robot-to-human relationship. For a robot with AI, it probably becomes a "partnership." Also, I haven't seen any classic evidence of a slave relationship (unless the earrings are the symbol, but that's pretty subtle).

- Steven Austin
Tuesday, June 8, 2004

It's interesting that this foreshadows an event that will (hopefully) occur for real, maybe in the not too distant future. When do we decide that an artificial intelligence is actually "alive". At what point do we grant them rights, grant them freedom. Seeing as how we still have difficulty in granting rights to other humans this may be a difficult road ahead of us.

Nothing new though, I mean, look at Data from ST:TNG.

- Andy Tucker
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Is it fair to talk about the Japanese text?

Nai calls the airport lady 'Obachan', which means "the lady" or "auntie". In the translation Nai does not say 'Obachan' ([v8, p54] panel 3), but later Alpha calls her 'Obachan' ([v8, p78] panel 2).

I don't think the relationship between Nai and Obachan is that clear.

Obachan describes Nai as 'uchi no ko' in Japanese.

The first time I read the phrase in the magazine, I took it as "We work together".
'uchi': "our company"
'ko': "girl"

A year later, the second time I read it in the tankoubon book, I took it as "We are family".
'uchi': "my family"
'ko': "kid"

Now, I don't know which is right.

Nai did not call her as "Owner" or "mom". He calls her 'Obachan'. It reminds me that Alpha calls the gas station owner 'Ojisan'.

And about sharing a "bed" or "futon", I would translate it as "bedroom", which is probably about 100 or 133 sq feet with some furniture. I'll bet they have each sets of futon.

Still, Nai may be in a family situation. I'm just saying we can talk about Nai and Obachan more.

- kGo
Sunday, June 13, 2004


I think it's fair to talk about the Japanese text. I read it in Japanese. The translations are based on it, and translations are always going to be biased to a greater or lesser degree.

I'll have to go back and look at the text concerning Nai/the old lady. I may have missed something there.

And I read the "uchi no ko" line as indicating family. I don't think a company would use that to indicate a employee. At least I have never heard it that way.



- dDave
Monday, June 14, 2004

[slightly off-topic]
I think it is completely fair to talk about the japanese text. For those of us who can't read Japanese (yet), it illuminates so much of what we are necessarily missing by only reading Damien's excellent scanlations.

There are times when I just sit with my kanji dictionary and the (two) Japanese manga I now own in front of the computer and compare the scanlations with what I find in my dictionary. Sometimes straightforward, sometimes very interesting. Like, oh I dunno, "enishi" which is translated as "bonds", but can mean marriage, karma, blood relation and so on...

- Ian Darrow
Tuesday, June 15, 2004


"(Uchi no Ko) Our child [my kid]" becomes "the young employee of my company" in the Japanese organization(A little airline).

Sorry bad english. Yoshi

- Yoshi
Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I recently saw another anime (Kaleido Star) where a character is addressed as "Owner" much in the same way that someone might be called "boss" in English. Are there any Nihongophones out there that can confirm my suspicion that in Japanese "owner" is more a generic term for someone's boss or manager rather than one indicating actual ownership?

Yoshi, your English is much better than my Japanese. Thank you for the contribution.

- Chris Keck
Thursday, July 8, 2004

Haniel wrote:

> Could you post a link for somewhere I can order a
> good japanese dictionary
> which has the kanji version of words and where you
> can look up the kanji?

This is the one I have and I have been very happy with it:

This is The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary: Based on the Classic Edition by Andrew N. Nelson. Blue cover with a red band.

> It seems more that the robots were made to preserve
> a record of the Human
> race and carry on after they are gone, as opposed to
> being servants...

This is the feeling I get also. It is hard to think of them as actual robot servants in the Asimov sense.

> Also considering the fact that Sensei was involved
> in the creation of the
> robots isn't possible that "Owner" doesn't exist at
> all and that Sensei
> left Alpha in the Coffe shop and gave Ojisan the
> task of checking after
> her? They have been good friends from childhood...

I lean strongly toward the idea that "Owner" doesn't exist except that Ayase seems to have met him. All the theories about implanted memories and "Owner" not existing are fun, but using Occam's Razor, I would guess that he does exist and he really is just gone somewhere. I imagine that he will return in the last frame of the manga when Ashinano-sensei decides to end it.

- Ian Darrow
Saturday, July 10, 2004

Thanks for the link, I will try that dictionary.

It would be sorta weird if the owner showed up in the last bit of the manga, wonder what he would look like? He'd be ancient, that's for sure.

- Haniel Goertz
Saturday, July 10, 2004

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