Romance is a lovely thing, isn’t it? The thing is lavished with plays and films, be they tragic or soaring. It’s found in the suicide of two star-crossed lovers, in a couple kissing in the middle of celebrating streets after a war, and in the little glances of a high school boy directed towards a corner of the eye, or perhaps loose tendrils of hair, belonging to a someone he has dubbed, “The One”. It’s found everywhere.
In NieR: Automata, romance is at its peak in a sidequest titled, “The Wandering Couple”. In Automata’s setting of android resistances and machine wars, this Wandering Couple just has one goal — to elope and find a place where they could live happily ever after. The two used to belong to a resistance group, and are now labeled deserters because of this, but no matter. They search for ways to escape the war and find their peace. When they come across 2B and 9S in the machine village, they actually ask whether the two can assist them escape from the resistance members hunting them down. And 2B and 9S are strangers to them. They know it’s shameful. They know it’s pathetic. But it’s a request they’re willing to make. Twice even. Their first one is for 2B and 9S to gather an elaborate gadget to repair the locomotion functions of the man in the couple.
Their second request is the more interesting one. Apparently, someone called, “The Emancipator” is willing to send them across the sea at the cost of 50,000 G. That’s quite a lot and an amount I, as the player, actually had trouble gathering. It’s an even more shameful request than the previous but they go through it anyway. “Put your pride aside, you foolish man!,” the woman says. “We need the help and you know it.” Nothing should get in the way of romance. Nothing.
Things get problematic when The Emancipator is revealed to be a scam and beats the couple just to get away with the money. They make a third request. This time, to fix the girl’s wounds. When things are said and done however, the woman reveals something. She’s tired. Tired of eloping. Nothing seems to be coming out of their romance and returning to the Resistance becomes more appealing than running away. She makes a proposal and a fourth request. The couple should get themselves reformatted by 2B and 9S and erase their memories to ensure that the Resistance will take them back.
But what of their romance? The couple will forget about each other and will definitely not recognize each other the next time they see each other. Strangers again. A true tragedy. But the woman pins her hope all on one line.
Such is the heart. If this were a play or a melodrama on TV, then this would be the line that would take the audience’s tears, hook; line; and sinker. I remember telling this story to my sister and when I reached this specific line, she said, “Awww, GG, game over.” And so the man gets himself reformatted first.
But when 2B approaches the woman, she’s told she doesn’t want to be reformatted. She says that to properly run away, one of them needs to be reformatted and turned into a combat model. While she’s at it, she could rewire his personality too. Someone a little more forceful, perhaps? Yes, that’s what she needs in life. It’s what she needs for their romance to thrive. 9S is shocked, but she shrugs off his incriminating pause and gaze by saying it’s something she’s already done 5 times.
The Wandering Couple is indeed a story of romance. From beginning to end, its romantic underpinnings and clichés are present throughout. Even when the woman reveals her plans, the romantic sentiment is still present. No matter how many times the woman erases the man’s memories, he still falls for her. And what could be more romantic than that?
I bring this photo back to attention because there’s something so sinister about it. The narrative surrounding it is that a sailor, coming back from a war, returns to his lover to embrace and kiss her. But a look at the body language betrays that. Her arm is stiff and blurred, implying surprise and discomfort. The man’s arm supports her neck and his wrist and hand are awkwardly stuck there. The real story behind this picture is that of a man grabbing a random woman, and kissing her in a celebratory high.
But it’s still romantic. And so is the psychology of a playboy and a crazed woman committing suicide to properly be together, and so is the gaze of a random boy objectifying a random girl. Romeo and Juliet is a classic romance to this day. And that photo is a revered element of our pop culture. We are unable to escape the high that romance brings. We revel and wallow in it, for better or for worse.
What do we do when the book is closed? Or when the staff roll scrolls down and the words, “The End” flashes by? The curtains close and the actors bow, and then we wipe our tears away to the next stage to let it all out. We all look for our next drug dose of catharsis and wonder, and maybe remember the last one through a pretty quote, or the hum of a song.
But “The Wandering Couple” pierces and sticks with you for how sobering it is. It is a romance, yes, but it makes it clear that hot shit of “I love you”s, and the like is all artifice and little more than an extremely dizzying shot leaving you with a puzzled sense of vertigo. At its end, it strips that high — that romance — all away and leaves its conclusion:
And if I may add, so can men.