Why I was Afraid to Watch Rozen Maiden: The Uncanny Valley

December 31, 2006 at 6:34 am (Anime, Movies, Theory)

If you’re a total weeaboo, you might already be familiar with Asian Ball-jointed Dolls. If you’re not, you can read up on it elsewhere, but here’s a picture!


Super Dolfie is slightly creepy

Personally I think they’re slightly creepy. But only slightly. Now if you showed me a video of one walking around, well, then I would elevate that to FUCKING CREEPY. And I’m not alone. There’s actually a scentifical term for the trend of this kind of reaction: The Uncanny Valley. The wikipedia article on that one is actually good, so you can check it out, but basically there’s a curve that goes, well, actually, I’ll just steal the diagram from wikipedia…


The Uncanny Valley (yes I just posted a graph on my anime blog, I know)

The axes are a little confusing I guess. The x-axis is basically a measure of how “human” an artificial human (robot, doll, drawing, actual person, mutant, humanoid alien, etc. etc.) is, going from not human at all on the left to an actual healthy normal human on the right. The y-axis is a measure of typical emotional response to the artificial human, where lower is negative and higher is positive. Actually I suspect the graph isn’t totally accurate; assuming y=0 is a neutral emotional response, then while it makes sense for totally not-human stuff (like industrial robot arms) I doubt the valley curve on the right actually intersects, so there should be a discontinuity there, but it shows the basic idea well enough:

The more human / life-like something is, the more positive the emotional response people generally have to it, up to a certain point where the response dips soundly into the negative for a while, until another certain point where things are so human the reaction improves even more.

The Uncanny Valley is just an observation about how people react; I’m sure there are more detailed theories on *why*, but I won’t get into that here. You should also note that there are two different curves on the graph: one for moving things, and one for non-moving things. Both movement and appearance have a human / life-like factor to them, and movement seems to effect people even more than apperance. So I’m certainly not alone in thinking a moving Ball-Jointed Doll would be FUCKING CREEPY.


Not as creepy as Super Dolfie

And that’s why I didn’t want to watch Rozen Maiden for a long time, but if you think about it for a second you’ll see why it doesn’t matter. Rozen Maiden is 2d animation, so the dolls actually look a lot less real than real ball-jointed dolls, even though they walk and talk. It’s also worth pointing out that their movement is not distinguishable from the movement of the humans in the anime. So it’s not even inhuman on the micro-scale relative to the fake anime humans.


Not creepy

It also partly explains why I don’t tend to find horror anime scary. You might notice that “Zombie” is on the trough of the graph. Beyond zombies, a lot of horror film scares people via the Uncanny Valley, but when you try to do the same thing with anime, you tend to get stuck outside of the Valley, because 2d just isn’t that real to begin with. Sure there are other ways to scare people, but it’s a big tool anime doesn’t have.

Actually, another reason I didn’t want to watch Rozen Maiden was that I was worried it was just made to pander to doll-fetishists. If you can’t figure out why the doll-fetish freaks me out, maybe you haven’t read the rest of this entry. Though it is also creepy in additional psychological ways: wanting people to look “perfect forever” is kinda fucked up to me.

I didn’t think Rozen Maiden was that great anyway, but it didn’t creep me out like I thought it would, and it was decent enough that I’m gonna watch Traumend soon. I would also like to say that Shinku is Quite A Lady. So it works out. Hopefully this was an “educational” blogpost.

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7 Comments

  1. Lenners said,

    Don’t forget to watch Ouvertuere after Traumend, it’s pretty good :D

  2. ik said,

  3. Tess said,

    Go watch episodes 4-6 of Ghost Hunt.

  4. sethjohnson said,

    @ik,

    Yeah the Heavy Rain demos are pretty impressive. The face is still, ya know, not quiiiite right though.

    @Tess,

    Why?

  5. vbritton said,

    That looks a little like a doll I chewed the head off as a child.

  6. shiken said,

    My little sister is obsessed with these dolls, and thinks they’re the greatest things ever made.

  7. betty said,

    dolls are scary. they are things that exist without anyone noticing

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