NieR: Automata and The Wandering Couple

Romeo and Juliet

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.

The Wandering Couple1.png

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.

The Wandering Couple2.png

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?

The Unromantic Couple.jpg

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.The End.jpg

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:

The Wandering Couple3.png

And if I may add, so can men.

One comment

  1. Hi, thanks for sending me this post on Curiouscat.

    I have just read this post and disagree with the premise that it’s about romance. At least, romance as I understand it. There are two types of romance: chivalry romance and plain ol’ romance novels.

    Chivalry romance is the stuff of great legends: Le Morte D’Arthur, Romance of the Rose, all that stuff. Adventure, idealism, the hero’s journey to instate order in chaos. When love blossoms, it is a pure “courtly” type of affection. Miguel de Cervantes found this all funny and wrote Don Quixote about how delusional knights of these stories are.

    Romance novels are the books that put love in the foreground. Your Nicholas Sparks, romance comedy movies like Music & Lyrics and High Fidelity, and more come into play here. They are either quite promiscuous or feature scandalous breakups and the couple coming back together again.

    I feel like this post mixes both types of romances and muddles it up. I could be wrong, but the reaction to a book closing or the credits roll isn’t what I expect from a voracious reader of chivalry romances or romance novels. Both would actually be satisfied at the endings and move on with their lives and onto the next book or film.

    Mentioning Romeo and Juliet is interesting because the play has appeared in a debauched form in another quest. I have never considered connecting R&J to the Wandering Couple quest because I never considered it a romance. It is a tragedy between two young people so devoured by lust and passion. When Romeo believes Juliet is dead — she is merely drugged to pretend she is dead — he drinks the poison and dies. Juliet wakes up, realizes her mistakes, and kills herself too. Catharsis ensues from the demise of this couple. None of that exists in the Wandering Couple quest.

    The two characters want to escape from the Resistance. However, they are weak and require the help of the player to pay them a godly sum of money. The ending for this quest is that the woman can rebuild the man to be even stronger and that’s fine by her. In her mind, this is a comedy (though it feels like a tragedy in ours).

    That’s why it is so shocking. The woman finds herself having a happy ending to all this madness when it is clearly inhumane. This is not how relationships, especially of a romantic kind, work.

    But it is. The woman wants a stronger man, so she keeps on repeating this quest a number of times to get the most perfect man. This would never have occurred in real life if not for the technology in Automata. But there is this deep instinctual desire to have the best life partner there is. This isn’t love. This is power. This is the sailor kissing the dental nurse except it’s the opposite and the guy believes he is in love with her. It resembles our conception of relationships as this power dynamic. And this is what they call love.

    Love isn’t romance but a fetishization of power. As Wilde said, “Everything is about sex. Except sex: That’s power.” To have the upper hand in a relationship — to dominate — or to succumb to someone is an act of love.

    Liked by 2 people

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