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Become a Real Boy

"Well, I just think that the concept of chi might be a little hard for her to grasp. She's not the descendant of a long line of mystical warriors, she's the descendant of a toaster oven."
Anya, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Bargaining, Part One"

So, you've got your Artificial Human grown in the tank, or just put together your Robot Girl with an assembly kit. Unfortunately, your creation is not a ridiculously human robot, and thus, predictably, they have all the emotional range of a tuning fork. Robo Speak is a common manifestation of such emotional paralysis.

Not to worry, though! While in reality, socialization and emotional stability are the product of years and years of interaction with other people, in the world of fiction, all a robot or Artificial Human needs to become a functioning, well-balanced, emotionally resonant member of society is the proper life-altering event.

Much as any protagonist generally works out any personal issues and neuroses they may have over the course of an otherwise unrelated story, any emotionally-stunted individual, or creature conventionally incapable of emotion, will discover what it means to be human in their journey alongside the other heroes. That this may defy their programming, their lack of a soul, or other such assumed limits is entirely besides the point — it appears robots and clones are socialized like real people, only much faster.

Often, such a journey involves extreme violence and the simplistic black-and-white morality of "them vs. us". The fact that this bears no resemblance whatsoever to daily life almost never comes up. (One can only imagine the difficulties such characters will encounter when they are placed within a situation where you can't solve any problem with the proper application of violence.)

One also has to wonder if any such individuals later regret their humanization. Humanity Ensues, of course.

This is a common anime plot, and also appears in a number of Western movies.

Compare Pinocchio Syndrome. See also Just a Machine. A Living Toy born out of Love Imbues Life may seek this.

Contrast Mechanical Lifeforms, who start out with the same emotional range as their organic counterparts. Contrast Trans Nature, for when the creature trying to become human wasn't an artificial human.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • An essential part of Rei Ayanami's character in Neon Genesis Evangelion, along with most of her expys.
  • In the anime Cluster Edge, artificial soldiers are created by the government to fight wars. The soldiers have no memories and therefore no emotions due to being raised in test tubes. A right's activist gives memories to one of the main soldiers, Chrome, and although Chrome is self aware and very human, he still doesn't believe himself so.
  • Despite Astroboy being frequently compared with Pinocchio, he himself rarely expresses a desire to become a real boy (which is somewhat ironic, considering he was originally a Replacement Goldfish for a real boy). In fact, on the few occasions he does get upgrades to become more human-like, he ends up regretting it and comes to the conclusion that being the best robot he can be is more important than being more like a human. This trope is played somewhat straight in the story of Zolomon's Jewel in the manga, which features L-44, a robot who signs up for a dangerous mission that ends up costing him his life because he wants to earn enough money to pay for a Nanomachine treatment that will supposedly turn him into a human. Also subverted in that the villain of the piece is trying to steal the titular jewel so he can pay for an operation to become a cyborg.
  • Subverted in Dragon Ball Z in regards to Android 18. When Krillin wishes to Shen Long for her to become fully human, he is unable to, so Krillin wishes for the bomb in her body to be removed instead. Technically, 18 (and 17, her twin brother) is a cyborg, so her human parts are intact (hence, Marron), whereas Androids such as 16, 19, and number 8 from the original Dragon Ball, are purely robotic.
  • In the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as part of the world becoming "normal", Yuki goes from The Stoic Robot Girl to a regular Shrinking Violet human girl. This was, in fact, a result of Yuki's spontaneous development of emotions, since she was responsible for altering reality in the first place.
    • She did it exactly because she had no emotions from the start, which made her confused, angered and angsty, that the reaction was a rampage of highest degree. At least that is what Kyon tells us.
  • Subverted in the anime Ergo Proxy, where the robots who become self-aware do typically come to regret it; in fact, the most common reaction to Becoming A Real Boy is a violent psychotic breakdown from crash-course existential angst and the inability to reconcile their new sapience with a lack of life experience.
  • Subverted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. As an Innovator, Tieria Erde was created to be a tool in Aeolia Schenberg's grand plan for humanity. Over the course of the series he falls in love, gains a surrogate family, and learns to follow his own will instead of blindly obeying his creator. Yet eventually he stops living in denial about his true nature, and sacrifices his biological body in order to upload his consciousness into the supercomputer VEDA. In the end, Tieria finds fulfillment as a thinking, feeling, fully sentient AI, rather than as a human.
  • Jiro in the anime Kikaider is motivated by an incomplete conscience circuit to try and achieve what his creator envisioned as what is required to be "human." However, the ending of the story twists what the audience might expect as the final goal of Jiro, and states that Jiro succeeds in becoming "a real boy" when he becomes capable of killing the opposing Mad Scientist who tried to turn him into a heartless killing machine. In other words, humans must be capable of both good AND evil, and they must possess free will.
  • Aiko from Magical Pokaan longs for a human body. She almost gets it at one point.
  • Chachamaru from Mahou Sensei Negima! goes through this rather quickly, as she already has the emotions programmed in; she just doesn't know what they are called. This is because she's approximately two years old and her "parents" are a Mad Scientist and a vampire, not the most ideal choice for social role models. She's amazingly well-adjusted regardless.

    She later goes through it again, briefly angsting over whether or not she has a soul. Turns out she does indeed have a soul, as evidenced by the fact that her Pactio with Negi worked. She did have to, ahem, work a little harder for it than normal though.
  • Seira in the Pure arc of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, more so in the manga, has to journey along with Lucia (at least in spirit) and learn the different aspects of love before she can be "born". This is asked of Lucia before Seira's heart is shattered and absorbed, and even as she gets them back on a journey, Seira continues to observe and gain the feelings she needs.
  • Ghost in the Shell is all about the nature of the "human self" and what remains of it when the original body and brain gets increasingly replaced by cybernetic machines and computer programs. In the slighty dystopian future most characters struggle with maintaining their "humanity" in a society based on apathy, indifference, and decadence. In Stand Alone Complex they are contrasted with the Tachikoma, which are completely mechanical beings with purely digital AIs that never had a soul to begin with, and completely subvert this trope. They are fully aware that they are machines and incapable of having a "ghost", which makes the nature of the "human self" all the much more fascinating and interesting to them. They are almost constantly debating amongst each other about the unique nature of humans, which can not be defined scientifically and therefore lies completely outside their own experience. But at the same time their personalities are defined by the amazement and curiosity about the world, their child-like joy of life, compassion and self-sacrifice that people have mostly lost, making them much more human than the actual humans, but are completely oblivious about it.
    • There's also Kim in Innocence, who regards machines as perfect and wants to eventually become like one. It's very complicated.
  • Saati of AI Love You runs off a feedback function that works with her interface (environment), so she continuously learns more. And she wants to be like a real girl for Hitoshi. In the last volume, Hitoshi, upon seeing her bleed from an injury, explains that she basically has become human, because she wanted to be one. However, Saati decided to return to being an A.I. to rescue her siblings.
  • Arguably the entire point of Key the Metal Idol. However, the trope is subverted and deconstructed, like many others in the series, when it is revealed that Key is a human the entire time.
  • In Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo, Ryuunosuke's long-term goal for his Artificial Intelligence "maid" is to turn her into a Ridiculously Human Robot.
  • A key part of the plot of xxxHOLiC is this for Watanuki. An unusual twist in that he is technically real... he's just a hollow placeholder generated by the world to fill in for his Ret Gone'd brother, and so Yuko tries to get him to develop enough emotional ties with the world that, when said brother returns, Watanuki won't cease to have existed in the first place, with the said ties acting as anchors to make his temporary reality into permanent reality.
  • Over the course of the Full Metal Panic! books, the Arbelest and later Leviathan's Artificial Intelligence, Al, slowly starts to acquire consciousness as a byproduct of regularly reading the direct mental states of its pilot, Sousuke. Starting with jokes, it then progresses to having irrational preferences and complex emotional experiences such as guilt before finally acquiring the ability to activate the Lambda driver without Sousuke's involvement - just in time to save itself and Sousuke from an impending nuclear impact.
  • Arpeggio of Blue Steel features battleships with Robot Girl avatars (called Mental Models). Some of them are initially seen as humanlike from the start (such as Takao) while other mental models start off emotionless and are shown adapting to human behaviour over time. A specific character who exhibits this is Haruna who starts off quite cold and becomes much more capable of emotions and sympathy after spending time with Makie .

    Comic Books 
  • The Marvel Comics character, The Vision, has fluctuated in his emotional state many times over the years. Usually a writer will get him to nearly Become A Real Boy and a later one will reverse. Usually this is done by destroying the android's body and rebuilding him.
  • In Fables, the Pinocchio story is a Be Careful What You Wish For. He became a real boy. And he has remained a real boy for the hundreds of years since then. Now he wishes he was a real adult.
  • Amazo, the Red Tornado and the android Hourman have at various times tried to become more 'human'.
  • One Silver Age Superman story had Sufficiently Advanced aliens transform one of Superman's robots into a superpowered flesh-and-blood human being with free will, but the robot ended up Heroically Sacrificing himself to save the day before the story's end.
  • The New 52 Superboy's character development seems to be headed in this direction. In fact, he uses these exact words in issue #6.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
  • Short Circuit: Johnny Five.
  • The various Terminator protagonists in Terminator 2 and 3.
  • Used and eventually subverted in the Child's Play series. The premise of the first film is a serial killer who uses voodoo to transport his soul into a children's doll. For most of the series, he's trying to find another body to jump into. However, in the fifth film, he discards the idea. He decides that as "Chuckie" he's become an icon and that he never needs to worry about getting sick or old.
    • One of the reasons he wants to Body Surf to begin with is that the more time he spends in the body of the doll, the more human he becomes, so he's effectively undergoing this trope against his will. In the first film he's thrilled with his new body, until he gets shot and realizes that he can still be hurt and even bleed. And that's when he finds out he's turning human.
  • In the movie adaptation of "Adventures of Electronic", the titular robot wants this. In the book he just wanted to overcome the limits of his programming.

    Literature 
  • Arguably, this trope can be applied to the original Hans Christian Andersen-authored "The Little Mermaid". Though not an artificial life form, she is excessively different from us; Andersen's mermaid would live for five hundred years and then dissolve into sea foam, having no afterlife of any kind. Her ongoing wish, even prior to her falling in love with the prince, is to become a human and acquire an immortal soul.
  • The main character in Isaac Asimov's Bicentennial Man is a big exception — the process of humanization takes decades.
  • Older Than Radio: This originates in Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio. In Chapter 25 Pinocchio wants to grow up, but the Fairy tells him he can't grow without first becoming a real boy.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's titular Stranger in a Strange Land suffered Parental Abandonment on Mars as the infant survivor of the first human exploratory mission. Having been Raised by Natives (who are Starfish Aliens), he has to learn everything from scratch to relate to humans when the next mission comes along, after he's already a grown man.
    • Minerva, the AI who runs Secundus, in Time Enough for Love, desperately wants to gain a human form. Her motivation is that she's fallen in love with Ira and wants to be a real woman to be with him.
  • Data actually becomes a real boy in one of the Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novels, Jean Lorrah's Metamorphosis, in which mysterious aliens turn him into a living breathing being; he feels some emotions, mourns Tasha, falls in love, and gains weight from eating too many chocolate sundaes before a Reset Button makes it all go away.
  • Subverted in the horror novel The Dollmaker as the dolls have no desire to become human. They want to understand what it means to be whatever it is they are.

    Live Action TV 
  • Kyle in Kyle XY manages it over the course of months. He didn't know anything at the start, even how to speak, but because of his advanced mind he picks it up relatively fast.
  • Kai from Lexx died and spent thousands of years as a re-animated corpse. In a subversion, he has little care for the idea of returning to life, and Xev is the one who entertains fantasies of Kai becoming alive, going so far as clinging to obvious stretches ("Kai did something unexpected! That's a sign of life!") until she learns better and accepts it. Subverted in the last season when Kai wins a Deal with the Devil to be brought back to life, but the devil goes back on the bargain and leaves him dead only to make him alive later, mere minutes before an event that would not destroy undead Kai, but that no living human could possibly survive. Double-subverted in that Kai doesn't have a death-wish, per se, but welcomes true death after spending six thousand years only halfway there.
  • Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is an exception — his socialization takes place over the course of years and he clearly has great difficulty with it at times, yet eventually becomes an essentially human personality. In fairness, he was built to be that way.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • Subverted with Seven of Nine, who was born human, but assimilated by the Borg as a young girl. Many years later, she is forcibly separated from the Borg Collective by the crew of Voyager and most of her cybertech implants removed against her will. She is told she is now safe and free and can be with her people again...but (at least initially) she still thinks of the Borg as "her people". Seven does eventually accept her new existence and tries to simulate some human interpersonal emotions, but never feels entirely comfortable as a human, as she considers her nanite-augmented brain and body superior to those of humans and is currently exasperated with the emotionalism and "silliness" of other crew members. Seven is one of the few characters who dare to openly criticize Janeway's decisions.
    • This trope is lampshaded by the Doctor in one episode. He mentions that he once considered trying to become like a human, but realized early on that being a hologram is far better.
  • Lampshaded in a host segment to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "I Accuse My Parents," when Tom wants to become a real live boy, so Crow paints him "nude" color.
    Tom: Snips and snails and puppy dog tails! That's what Tommy's made of!
    Joel: Yeah, really.
    Crow: Um, no. Paint, actually.
    Joel: But, Tom, why do you want to be a real-live boy? There are billions of real-live boys on Earth. There's only one Tom Servo.
    Tom: I want to run, and jump, and skin my knees!
    Crow: You don't have any legs.
    Tom: I want to catch frogs down at the old swimming hole.
    Crow: Your arms don't work.
    Tom: I want to experience a world of emotions and feelings.
    Crow: You'll get beat-up because you're a freak.
  • Space: 1999 had an episode where humanoid robots wanted to learn emotions in order to be able to use violence and kill off their creators. One of them finally did in the end , and in doing so destroyed them all.
  • Parodied humorously in Angel, where the Blue Fairy comes and turns Spike into a 'real boy' in Angel's coma-dream in "Soul Purpose".
  • In The X-Files episode "The Unnatural", Josh Exley is a gray alien shapeshifter who has disguised himself as an African-American minor league baseball player in the 1940s. When his secret is discovered, he explains that his race doesn't understand fun and don't have a word for laughter, and he needed to pretend to be human for that. When he is ultimately killed by the relentless alien bounty hunter, he inexplicably bleeds red human blood. He stares at it in surprise for a moment, then smiles, laughs, and dies.
  • Some of the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) have this as a motivation, particularly ones who have had extensive contact with the humans and have begun integrating into human society. They were designed to be as close to human as possible, although at least one of them isn't too happy about it.

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Promethean: The Created plays this both ways: the New Dawn does get rid of the inherent problem of Disquiet, so the now-human Promethean can interact with humans. However, it's a common occurrence for Prometheans to lose all memories of the Pilgrimage upon obtaining mortality, which carries its own set of problems.

    Video Games 
  • Tio in Grandia II is an automaton with essentially no free will and no emotions. When she is told that she is free to go wherever she pleases, she doesn't understand the concept and tags along with the group. Of course, this all changes when Mareg dies. Conveniently, this also gives her a new special move in combat.
  • Aigis in Persona 3, which is the crux of the story for The Answer in FES. After being repaired of her injuries from her battle with Ryoji, Aigis finds her own humanity toward the end of 3, but in The Answer it is revealed that Aigis slowly rekindles her urges and will of losing the side of humanity and the penalties a living being must face upon the protagonist' death. Her will and wishes to remove her side of humanity manifests as Metis, whom is known as her "sister" who doesn't want to be left alone. At the end, the sisters reconcile and merge into one being, returning all of Aigis' humanity.
    • It's even taken far enough that Aigis' brain is fried at the end of The Answer, and by all right she should be a robo-vegetable, but somehow comes out of it just fine. As an added bonus, because Aigis becomes a Persona main character, she has to have the power to equip all of the Persona's the player's managed to acquire thus far... which means the plot sets her Persona, which evolved to reflect her character growth, aside so she can fill her lost love's shoes, encapsulating all the worst issues with this trope through Gameplay and Story Integration: she became human by falling in love with the protagonist, and so once he's gone, she loses it altogether, and has to mimic him until she finds something else to rebuild her humanity on.
  • Ahri in League of Legends has this as her goal in her backstory. She was a nine-tailed fox that wanted to be human, so she absorbed the soul of a dying human mage during a battle and gains human form. However, she doesn't see this as really being 'human', and wanted to go so far to be human in more than just form. As she absorbed more human souls and became more like a human, she also gained a conscious and realized that what she had done was evil
  • Teddie in Persona 4. He's a cartoon character living in the TV world, but wants to join the rest of the cast in the real world as a human. He doesn't go through the typical sudden-onset humanity that is typical of the trope, though, due to his being a manifestation of human emotion.
    • He accomplishes this pretty quickly, getting his own persona just before the halfway point and then managing to manifest a human body.
  • Totally subverted in Phantasy Star IV, where the androids of the party, Wren and Demi, are both hundreds of years old (Wren is actually closer to a thousand years old) and perfectly happy being androids with feelings, having presumably awakened to their emotions some time ago. Some fans speculate that Wren actually built Demi as a companion for himself, which is why she's small, cute, and more emotionally developed despite being some six hundred years younger than him.
    • Subverted more directly with Rika, an artificial humanoid; the player can watch her slowly grow up over the course of the game (including a childish phase and a know-it-all adolescent phase, before arriving at maturity). At one point, she even describes the difference between being informed of things and encountering them in the real world, but none of the things she counts among them are romantic love, and in fact her first experience with displays of human emotion is mourning the death of Alys.
  • Done in Super Robot Wars Original Generation 2. New main character Lamia Loveless is a cyborg spy for a villain group. She was taught how to socialize and everything, but aside from that, she is supposed to, like all 'W Numbers', lack a personality due to intentional programming. Unfortunately for the bad guys, all the W Numbers seen obtain a personality of their own, even if it only causes them to sacrifice themselves to save their masters...
  • KOS-MOS from Xenosaga skirts with this trope on and off, but eventually she becomes humanized, albeit through a somewhat supernatural mechanism.
  • The motive of most members of Organization XIII in Kingdom Hearts is to get their hearts back. The leader, though., wants to become a "great being." They are a bit unusual in that they were once human and want to be human again, rather than being artificial and wanting to become human. Ultimately, it's revealed that they could naturally regain their hearts over time and were never truly inhuman.
    • The Riku Replica in Chain of Memories definitely qualifies, even more so in the remake. Being a clone of a main character who's had his memories altered into making him think he's the real deal when the truth comes out and he encounters the person who he's a replica of he goes as far as trying to kill them so that he can get out of their shadow and become his own person.
  • Defied by Legion in Mass Effect - they're not human or even particularly human-like, and are perfectly fine with this, even expressing bewilderment that humans view individuality as a beneficial thing. Until Mass Effect 3, in which the choice ends up being, bluntly, become full individuals rather than a consensus of interfaced programming nodules, or die horribly, although you do get to choose which happens.

    Web Animation 
  • In an episode of Red vs. Blue, Sarge needs to steal Andy the bomb from the Blue Team so that he can translate the orders from command Lopez has stored on his hard drive, which against all logic are in extremely poor Spanish, just like Lopez' regular speech. So what's he do? Gets Caboose to turn his back and then replaces Andy... with Lopez. Caboose turns around and joyously cries, "Andy! You've Become a real boy!" Lopez is not amused. When Sarge realizes the fundamental barriers presented by the laws of physics (i.e., the inability to interact with something that isn't there), he pulls the same stunt with Lopez and a skull. CABOOSE is not amused, and mourns Andy's "death."

    Web Comics 
  • Practically every single robotic or otherwise artificial character in an RPG undergoes this process. The webcomic Adventurers! spoofed this trope — about to be struck by a devastating attack, the character Spybot is told by the villain that he should be feeling terror, if he had learned emotions over the course of the adventure.
  • Emile from Tower of God, an AI invented to ask and answer questions from and to clients, who wishes to become a human capable of love.
  • In Freefall, ALL of the humanoid or smarter AIs were designed to do this (through neural pruning). The people who mass-produced the robots to build their colony's infrastructure, however don't realize this. To quote one of the robots: "Millions of robots walking off the job to pursue their own interests? Yes. I would describe that as a problem."

    Web Original 
  • SCP-085, hand-drawn "Cassy", an animate and intelligent 2D drawing of a young woman. When her canvas was photographed with a camera that produced a picture showing the subject doing what they most desired at that moment, the picture showed Cassy doing the same thing she'd been doing on the canvas, but as a 3D human.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with very dark humor in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. When Pinocchio and the old guy are stuck in the whale, Billy is also eaten. The Old Guy, thrilled to have a human companion, begins to act as if Billy were his real son. Pinocchio, out of jealousy, decides that the only way to become a real boy, is to eat Billy, and get his soul. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In the second episode of Mighty Orbots, the little girl robot Oh No gets her wish granted to be a real girl by the episode's mini-boss. Unfortunately, Oh No is necessary for the Mighty Orbots robot to combine...
  • During The Simpsons' episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled", his rival show is hosted by a ventriloquist and his puppet Gabbo. When their show collapses, we see a newspaper subheading reading "Gabbo to have 'Real Boy' operation".
  • Invoked and deconstructed on Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. While a race of alien machines are trying to become organic creatures, supposedly to replace their long dead creators, Rusty can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be a robot.
  • This is the wish of Phineas and Ferb character Norm, as expressed in song.
  • BMO from Adventure Time has often expressed this wish.
  • In the Sponge Bob Square Pants Movie, when unfreezing Mr. Krabs, King Neptune accidentally turns him into a human boy. Turns out he accidentally set his trident to "Real Boy" instead of "Unfreeze".
  • The Venture Bros. has this as a running theme, as Hank and Dean had been a succession of clones, educated by computers programmed decades ago, and virtually cut off from the outside world. As super-science mishaps and plain stupidity killed them, they were replaced, starting over in their teenage forms. Once all their reserve clones had been killed off, their father has been marginally more concerned with keeping them alive, and they've been encountering the larger world, largely unequipped to deal with it.


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