It’s a theme that is explored time and time again in anime. What makes humans human?
(Spoilers for Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru – Washio Sumi no Shou, URAHARA, and UQ Holder!: Mahou Sensei Negima 2)
Whenever a series attempts to address such a topic, it’s very likely that there are human characters living with or fighting against inhuman characters (or monsters) within the setting. It is also (somewhat less) common for human characters to transmutate into something that isn’t inherently human at one point within the story.
Be that as it may, whenever humans discuss what it means to be human, it usually comes across as a source of pride or as a shaky acknowledgement of their frailty. Non-humans are just as likely to broach the subject and dismiss humans as being a lump of negative qualities, however. In the Fall 2017 season alone, I can think of at least three series that would qualify.
In episode 4 of Yuki Yuna wa Yusah de Aru – Washio Sumi no Shou, Minowa Gin resolves to fight off three Vertex by herself since her friends were rendered unable to fight. Despite facing a hopeless situation, Gin presses onwards to protect her friends and family. As she valiantly fights, she screams, “I’m going home! I’m going to protect it! Monsters like you won’t understand this power! This is the human’s courage, determination, and soul!!” In other words, Gin is motivated by wanting to protect her loved ones and is willing to lay her life on the life to keep them safe. These are feelings that she believes these inhuman beings will never comprehend.
That being said, this trait isn’t strictly something that only humans can do – there are mama bears who become very defensive and aggressive when it comes to their cubs, for instance. But compared to the Vertex, who only seem to want to destroy, Gin’s accusations against these monsters rings true. It is likely that the Vertex could never understand what pushes Gin to fight so hard to the very end.
Interestingly enough, the girls are put on the Mankai/ fairies system, which effectively makes them immortal (as seen in Togo Mimori’s tests in YuYuYu) at the cost of taking away their senses should they use Mankai. In a sense, these magical girls transcend beyond being “mere humans” since they no longer need to fear death and can launch stronger attacks, but they also permanently lose their senses and will end up being even more powerless compared to how they would be without the new system. Due to their superiors’ attempts to reject death and enable the girls to fight even harder, the girls are subjected to a cruel system that robs them of so much more.
In URAHARA, Rito, Mari, and Kotoko end up fighting against Scoopers, which are aliens who steal human culture since they lack imagination. As a result, it paints humans are these amazing, creative beings who can make something out of nothing. That is indeed a human quality that sets us apart from other animals (as well as the Scoopers). Be that as it may, it is also shown that Scoopers, given enough guidance, can actually create art, as well by imitating others. As imitating others isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it remains to be seen (as I’m writing this on 11/29/2017) if creativity remains exclusive to humans in URAHARA. I’m guessing that it doesn’t.
At any rate, the girls almost end up transforming into Scoopers due to being tempted by false promises and empty dreams (as well as mindgames), but they collectively decide that having inhuman powers isn’t worth losing their creativity and reject
Faust Ebifuruya. Creating things with your friends and having fun is simply priceless.
As for UQ Holder!: Mahou Sensei Negima 2, some of the immortals are cowed by how the regular human maidens are so aggressive with their flirting in episode 9. Karin then declares that these regular girls are like fresh flowers who only bloom for a short time but are magnificent. Meanwhile, she compares immortals to being like artificial flowers that may appear eternally young (unlike the very mortal humans) but are merely imitations of the real thing.
Such statements tie into the universal theme of transiency that pops up in any school idol series, high school titles, and coming-of-age stories. In fact, many things that appear both in anime and in real life are fleeting, such as sakura blossoms and fireworks in summer festivals.
And then it turns out that the main character is actually an artificially-created clone, so he’s essentially even more of an imitation than the others. That explains his propensity to grasp techniques so quickly as well as his sizable memory gap, but it also leaves him feeling (briefly) depressed over his unusual origin and lack of identity. Being a clone is rough, apparently.
But the same goes for being a human. Sure, we may be creative and we may push ourselves beyond our limits for the sake of our loved ones, but we are also short-lived compared to (nonexistent) monsters.
At the end of it all, everything is in the eye of the beholder. Being human may not be all that it’s cracked up to be in fiction, but I’m pretty happy to be a human in real life. Sure, we have to deal with anxieties and insecurities that probably wouldn’t plague us if we were animals, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.