In the broad spectrum of visual entertainment targeting a younger audience, the personification of nonhuman entities is a frequent and recurring motif. As evident in popular forms of media entertainment aimed towards children, such as cartoons and anime, the application of human feelings and actions to animals or inanimate characters has successfully established a large fan base.
For example, in the Japanese propaganda film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, a multitude of charming, floppy-eared animals serve as patriotic soldiers preparing for an attack. Likewise, in the Japanese anime series, Astro Boy, the protagonist is a captivating crime-fighting robot with large, glassy eyes. In both Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and Astro Boy, the use of cute and lovable nonhuman characters successfully appeals to a large audience, while simultaneously emphasizing the contrasting relationships that these characters have established with humans.
Similar to the original folk tale, the group of animals consisting of a monkey, dog, and bird, in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, comes together under the authority of Momotaro to raid Ogre Island. Although the animals represent the Japanese pilots that attacked Pearl Harbor, the film’s use of a multitude of animals directed by one central human leader demonstrates the unequal relationship between humans and animals. As the plot of the film unravels, the protagonist, Momotaro, safely remains on the ship while all the animals risk their lives by obediently loading onto fighter pilots and carrying out an air strike on Ogre Island.
As evident through the subservience of the animals to Momotaro, the film highlights the concept of human superiority over animals. The film’s depiction of the inequality in status between Momotaro and his crew of animals reflects society’s perception of animals as inferior creatures that have been domesticated and utilized to better human welfare.
While Momotaro’s Sea Eagles emphasizes human superiority over animals, the Japanese anime series Astro Boy demonstrates the growth of human fascination and dependence on machines and technology. In the pilot episode of the anime series, Astro Boy is introduced when a scientist creates him to replace his recently deceased son. Although the scientist proceeds to abandon the robot for lacking human traits and characteristics, the perspective of machinery and technology quickly shifts when Astro Boy utilizes his technologically advanced innovations including incredible strength and the ability to fly, to save a large group of people from a catastrophic fire.
This initial rescue sets up the premise for the rest of the series, creating an image of Astro Boy as a futuristic hero and role model for Japanese youth. By establishing the protagonist of the series as a technologically forward and lovable character who courageously fights crime, the series ultimately serves to reflect the modern growth of human fascination and dependence on technology.
As evident in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and Astro Boy, human relationships with animals and technology are highly dynamic. Presently, humans are shifting away from animals, perceiving them as inferior creatures available for manipulation and exploitation to better human welfare. On the other side of the spectrum, humans are increasingly gravitating towards the technological world. This shift away from animals towards machines and technology ultimately reflects the concept that in this modern day and age, the global growth of technological innovation has spurred a dramatic transition from reality to an obsession with the virtual world.