Common in science fiction and fantasy, the Emergent Human
is a character who is new to sentience, sapience, or human existence, and shown to be in the process of adapting to the most basic elements of life as we know it.
These can be robots, demons, clones, fallen angels, or nearly any other sort of being stuck in human form; any character for whom life as a human only began very recently
is susceptible to this trope.
What matters is despite appearing human and living among us, they are essentially naive newcomers
to the human condition. More than mere cultural outsiders
, they are treated as walking blank slates, largely free of any relevant or irrelevant knowledge, experience, or biases.
Expect this character type to have difficulty with figuring out how to handle everything from basic bodily functions
to common emotions
to complex philosophical or spiritual questions that no one will answer to their satisfaction
. Their stunning naivety is frequently matched with an insatiable curiosity and lack of inhibitions that puts their lack of experience on full display; however, they are rarely dumb. In fact, the Emergent Human
is quite frequently possessed of genius-level or superhuman intelligence, though this rarely helps their predicament as much as you'd think. In some cases everything
seems to come easily to them except for those things that come intuitively to most of us, in which case the message is that humanity is hard
, and by extension, Humans Are Special
. Alternately, this character type's tendency to be logical
, and ostensibly objective makes them great mouthpieces for the author's opinions on the shortcomings of humanity, or deliverers of punchlines regarding the absurdities of the same.
Though not commonly evil, in darker works, this character may commit evil acts without full understanding of the ramifications of their actions
. More commonly, they may be unfairly persecuted by heartless, otherness-fearing authority figures
from outside the main cast, or fall under brief suspicion from their friends in the face of overwhelming evidence of a otherness-induced Face-Heel Turn
, only to have their names cleared by the end of the episode.
It is common for an Emergent Human to start off with No Social Skills
. Usually adult in form to contrast with their psychological immaturity and lack of self-understanding, their character arc may mirror that of a child growing into maturity. Then again, if this is a comedy, or the character's usual way of seeing things makes them popular, or if their innocence
is sufficiently fetishized
, their progress as individuals is likely to be hampered by the fact that Status Quo Is God
May be an Alien Among Us
when a character's alien experiences are so irrelevant that they're more or less starting from scratch
. If this character just wants to be like everyone else
they may have Pinocchio Syndrome
; conversely, they may be working on getting along as a human reluctantly, because they haven't got another option
. Contrast with Become a Real Boy
, where becoming a fully fledged and well-socialized human is instantaneous following a suitably dramatic plot point, and tropes such as Ridiculously Human Robots
and Mechanical Lifeforms
, which revolve around beings who might as well be human in personality, if not physiology. Also compare/contrast with Humanity Is Infectious
, where the character's mindset is slowly becoming humanoid just by being around humans long or intimately enough.
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Anime & Manga
- The Beyonder in Marvel Comics' Secret Wars II
- Martian Manhunter whenever his early days are shown. In the present he's generally shown as having acclimated.
- The third Hourman, this one an android from the 80,000 years in the future. He has a somewhat human personality and emotions but falls into this trope when he chooses to limit his nigh omnipotence to a typical superhero power level and live in the 20th Century. He even falls in love.
- The Vision is all about this trope. Sadly, every time he starts making significant progress toward becoming a real boy, Executive Meddling comes along and destroys it for him, often in the cruelest and most preposterous ways possible.
- Marvel's other android hero, Aaron Stack the Machine Man, also went through this trope and has had a pretty rough time as well. He's become very bitter and cynical about it in recent years (though in his case it comes off as amusing instead of tragic). He and the Vision should form a support group. They could invite Marvel's version of The Frankenstein Monster, too.
- Played with in Paperinik: the android Lyla Lay is given regular psychiatric sessions by her Time Police masters to deal with this potential problem, but doesn't really worry about the big existential questions. She does have problems with such things as "what, exactly, is meant by 'enough salt'?" or "why are certain smells supposed to be good and others nasty?". The doctor's education hasn't prepared him for such simple practicalities, and he finally kicks her out of therapy for stumping him.
- Jeff Bridges played this role in Starman.
- Sonny, from the film version of I Robot.
- Edward Scissorhands from the film of the same name, arguably.
- Bicentennial Man: The android spends decades of his life becoming progressively more human first in mind then in body, up to and including self imposed mortality.
- In The Last Unicorn, Schmendrick's magic turns the Unicorn herself into a human, and soon after this, they arrive at King Haggard's castle. Prince Lir is impressed with her, and notes that she has "a newness". She doesn't understand Prince Lir's romantic overtures at first, but she becomes more human emotionally as time goes on, and soon returns his love.
- Andrew Martin in The Bicentennial Man. The film version, too.
- The title character of Raphael by R. A. MacAvoy.
- Lily from Argo starts to contemplate her "humanity" more as she's upgraded by Eo, leading to a lot of questions and confusion.
- Ax from the Animorphs is really oblivious to the differences between what's food and what's not, whenever he's in human morph.
Live Action TV
- Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is probably the best known character of this type. His daughter Lal qualifies, too, though his brother Lore moved into Ridiculously Human Robot territory. Q also gets this treatment in one episode.
- The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager was a sapient hologram, treated similarly.
- Seven Of Nine, also from Voyager, proves that Star Trek is in love with this trope. In her case, she was assimilated by the Borg as a child, then liberated as an adult. In one episode, she becomes "mother" to a newborn drone who, like Lal, is even more earnestly innocent and curious than his parent. Also like Lal, he doesn't survive the episode.
- Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine although this is mostly his backstory. He goes through another round of it when he's forced to actually be a flesh and blood humanoid (as opposed to being a liquid being that appears humanoid most of the time.)
- Anya Jenkins from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was born as a human, but spent approximately a thousand years as a demon before becoming her old self again, forcing her to relearn being human. (Though she was always kind of odd.)
- Cameron from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and terminators in general.
- Kyle and later Jessi from Kyle XY, which seems to be an entire series built around this trope.
- Luke, from The Sarah Jane Adventures, who is remarkably similar in some respects to the lead from Kyle XY.
- When unimprinted, Echo from Dollhouse appears to be this... at least until she takes a level in humanity between seasons.
- The title android in Gene Roddenberry's The Questor Tapes.
- Cat from Red Dwarf.
- Illyria from Angel is this; she had her own experiences and values from before her return, but they're quite inhuman.
- Token ridiculously obscure example: 80s Canadian children's show Today's Special included a newly-living department store mannequin, and used his cluelessness about life as an excuse to discuss preschool-friendly topics.
- Cole, from Tracker. He had little experience with living as a human and had to learn by what he saw and heard.
- White Wolf's Promethean: The Created is all about artificial human characters looking to become human one way or another. Several refinements, particularly the Refinement of Gold, emphasize roleplaying this kind of character.
- Eberron's Warforged. Constructs created with sentience and sapience and designed to be soldiers. They run into this particularly after war when they are no longer all needed for the purpose they were created for.
- Cthulhu Tech gives us the Nazzadi, originally created as clone soldiers for the Migou before they defected to join humanity. They're currently dealing with the existential weight of being only two generations old as a species/culture, and the game line mentions that Nazzadi who pursue a career in the arts are extremely respected by their elders, as it means they're taking steps to set up a cultural identity.
- Vivienne from Phantasy Star Portable is this. During her introduction, she even mentions that she was manufactured less than three months ago.
- This happens with Aigis in Persona 3 and its related media, where it's shown she has some trouble understanding some basic social concepts. It's more developed in FES, though, where she develops a crush on the main character and later has to cope with his death, which culminates on her becoming more human.
- In Persona 4 Arena we get to see Labrys' train of thought quickly developing from the usual order-following computerized prompts, to questioning her relationships and the moral choices of her creators.
- The Sylvari of Guild Wars 2 both subvert this trope and play it completely straight. They are a very young race (The firstborn only awoke 25 years prior to the plot, and some including player characters are less than a year old), but they "Awaken" with a basic knowledge of language, morals, and the like. However, this knowledge is very basic and only limited to their own culture. As such they have a bit of difficulty interacting with members of other races. One Sylvari even managed to cause an Asuran Golem to malfunction simply by asking an innocent question about its mother. She nearly did the same to its creator (a MALE Asura) in a similar way. They seem to adapt just fine, though this may be due to the experiences of their already awakened brethren passing to new arrivals via The Dream.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Fairies and other creatures of Gillitie Wood can undergo a test to become human children; they then have to take classes to help them navigate human society. One fairy in particular, Red, finds the concept of friendship weird and has to resort to Buffy Speak to describe rooms and chairs.
- Grace from El Goonish Shive, who is a human/alien/squirrel hybrid shapeshifter with No Social Skills. Not exactly a blank slate, since she was partially raised by the human scientists who created her, but her proper education was abruptly cut short before she had a chance to learn why most people are uncomfortable with casual nudity.
- Crops up a lot in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Molly was a spontaneously generated lab accident who grew to maturity in a month; she was raised by Bob and came out sweet and innocent. A scientist cloned her to make Galatea/Golly, but raised her very badly and she came out as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Golly, in turn, cloned Molly again and accidentally produced the giantess Jolly, who has been raised by aliens and is gentle, if a bit lonely. All three girls are geniuses, allowing them to learn enough to survive in only a month's time. Molly also built a robot, Roofus, who surprised her by turning out sentient. Roofus is simpleminded but deeply soulful.
- Not an actual human per se, but close enough, is Frosty the Snowman in the classic Christmas special. His wife is much the same in the follow up, Frosty's Winter Wonderland.