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Death Means Humanity

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One of the most common themes in stories involving monsters, creatures, robots, aliens or any other non-human (or not fully human) beings is What Measure Is a Non-Human?. Individuals, groups, societies, and even the entire planet grapples with the moral and ethical implications of biased treatment against such beings (ranging from interpersonal prejudice to Inhumanable Alien Rights) based on an inherent valuing of the familiar versus the unfamiliar or unknown.

And then something happens: the Robot Buddy malfunctions to the point of no longer turning on; the Not Evil, Just Misunderstood creature sacrifices itself to protect a human child; the space craft for a distressed alien race seeking a new home blows up while entering the planetary atmosphere, killing all on board. Whatever it is, the non-human being is now dead (or dying). This makes the human characters who bore witness to the event (or the deceased themselves in their final moments) realize that even if they weren't human, that does not mean their lives inherently hold less value than any random human's life.

The opposite of Dehumanization, this trope provides an answer to What Measure Is a Non-Human? and Do Androids Dream? plots by affirming the personhood of a non-human entity. Put simply, this trope covers instances when the proven mortality of a non-human character makes human characters empathize with them. This works by exploiting the Existentialism inherent in death. Learning what the true value of life is and how to even define living (for better or for worse) often is a crucial part of that. In this reflective period, many characters come to realize that differences in opinion, lifestyle, mindset, and even biology become moot in the face of death.

This is more of a symbolic humanization than a literal transformation, though the the latter may come as a consequence of the former. Also, depending on the perspective from which the story is told, "humanity" can be understood as relative. For example, this trope would still be at work in a story in which a dominant non-human species devalues humanity if a human's death made a member of that non-human species view humanity more empathetically.

If the human characters were the direct cause of the non-human being's death, this trope will typically be followed by a Heroic BSoD or Freak Out mixed with My God, What Have I Done?. Also used in many Humans Are the Real Monsters plots as the trigger that sparks the recognition of the inhumanity in humanity's actions against other beings. Tends to be part of a Fantastic Racist's Character Development and may be why the Zombie Advocate has their beliefs.

Compare Death Equals Redemption and Death Is Such an Odd Thing. See also Androids Are People, Too and Clones Are People, Too, where the in-universe realization of those tropes can be caused by the death of the android or clone in this one. Contrast Just a Machine and Not Even Human. Is often the reason a character can be found Mourning a Dead Robot. Related to We Are as Mayflies. Not to be confused with a dead transformed human reverting to their original human form, which is This Was His True Form.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon Tamers: Leomon's death. The show presents several different characters with varying different perspectives on just how real and alive the Digimon are, especially because they come from a digital world and a card game in-universe. While many of the children certainly care for the Digimon, they don't really question the assumed devaluing of mons in the entire Mons genre that allows children using them as battle toys to go unchallenged. It certainly helps that the death of a mons is rarely treated as final. Then Leomon dies permanently in the Digital World, giving the children the very rude awakening that digital or not, the digimon are living, breathing beings. Cue Heroic BSoD.
  • Androids 17 and 18 from Dragon Ball are twin Cyborgs with bio-organic enhancements that allow them to be on par with the superpowered Human Aliens that the franchise focuses on and make them one degree removed from being normal humans in-universe. By Super, Android 17's behavior indicates that he misses the human emotions he once had that the experiments and enhancements now suppress to a degree that Android 18 even points this out. He later self-destructs in order to save Goku and Vegeta from elimination during the tournament and comments on how human it feels to die for others.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), Lust angsts quite a bit about her existence as a homunculus and longs to be human again. Re-establishing connections with Scar, the brother to her human self's deceased fiancé, slowly pushes her to make a Heel–Face Turn and eventually decide to help the Elric brothers defeat Wrath. He finds out however and stabs her to death for betraying him. Dying, Lust realizes, makes her feel more human than anything and she accepts her death.
  • Gantz: Over the course of the manga, dialogue and interactions between the aliens and monsters who are the main enemies for the bulk of the series revealed that they possess several humanizing qualities, like having strong familial and friendship bonds. Many of them appear to just want to live hidden amongst humanity in peace and when attacked by the Gantz-sent humans, some even condemn the main characters and humanity as being the real monsters. But given the life and death situation the humans are in, none of the humans seem to notice or particularly care. In the final arc, however, the team has to fight humanoid, alien giants invading the planet. After his girlfriend is killed, Sakurai goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge and uses his Psychic Power to kill a horde of them in one psionic blast. When the dust settles and he's surrounded by hundreds of giants' bodies, he sees two that look like a grandmother trying to shield a child, causing him to scream in despair. He later sacrifices himself in order to save two giant children mourning their mother, cementing his change of view.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Played with and discussed with the Tachikomas, who are tank-like support machines that are AI controlled. Throughout the series, they discuss amongst themselves whether or not they have "ghosts", the franchise's term for a human-originated digitized soul. In one conversation, three Tachikomas note how lucky a recently disassembled Tachikoma was because through death it could find out the answer to their question. At the end of season 1, some of the Tachikomas decide to sacrifice themselves in order to protect Batou, indicating that they'd developed an emotional attachment that supersedes their AI programs and may have developed ghosts of their own. At the end of 2nd Gig, the Tachikomas feel no regret for sacrificing the satellite that contains their artificial intelligence in order to prevent a nuclear strike. Fortunately, they are eventually restored.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day the T-800 Version 2.4 that future John Connor sends back to protect his past self from being killed by a T-1000 ends up valuing the lives of the humans he was created to destroy by the end of the film. This is semi-justified since the CPU in its head had been programmed to only read emotions, not express or develop them on its own. Once the switch had been flipped, he begins to form genuine attachments towards the Connors. When he kills himself to prevent future Skynet tech from existing in the past, Sarah Connor reflects that the Terminator learned to have more regard for human life than most humans. The novelization goes further, hinting that in its last moments the T-800 grasped some basic concept of greater forces than Skynet and then entered into an unspecified afterlife.

  • The Bicentennial Man: The titular Robot realizes that his agelessness is the one barrier to being recognized as human, because humans can accept their own mortality so long as it's universal. He has a deadly flaw added to his positronic brain, is finally named human by the World Court, and dies within the year.
  • Exploited in Henry Kuttner's short story "Camouflage." Villain Protagonist Talman attempts to convince his friend Quentin (once fully human, now a Brain in a Jar serving as the main control for the ship Talmun's gang wants to steal) that he is no longer a human and no one considers him such, not even (and especially) his wife who stayed with Quentin even after losing his human form. Quentin tries to deny this but is quickly driven to despair and almost allows Talman and his crew to take over the ship...until Talman slips and says he never would have tried to kill Quentin had he still been his old friend. Since a machine cannot be killed, Quentin realizes Talman's bluffing and really does still see him as human despite his new form. This snaps him out of his existential crisis and he proceeds to defeat Talman.
  • Discworld series:
  • The Ravenloft novel Heart of Midnight has protagonist Casimir revert to human form when killed; as he is the son of Darklord Harkon Lukas and therefore a wolfwere (somewhat of a reverse-werewolf -as in, a wolf that can turn into a human) like his father, he should have turned back into full wolf form at death instead. This seems to confirm Casimir's lifelong struggle against, and rejection of, his bestial side, and seriously freaks out Harkon as this should be impossible.
  • Subverted in The Robots of Dawn. Daneel (a robot) attempts to convince Baley (a human) that the Aurorans' attitude toward their robots must mean they view robots as their equals. However, once it becomes obvious Daneel isn't even programmed to use the words "alive" and "murdered" when talking about the current case of a murdered Ridiculously Human Robot, he realizes that his assumption is off-base and the reason for the treatment must be different.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Picard: The android Data is "alive" in a simulation. Understanding that human life is precious because it is finite, he asks Picard to shut down the simulation keeping his mind alive, so that, however briefly, he may exist as a being with a finite lifespan. Picard does so and Data passes away in seconds, granting Data his wish.
  • In Westworld Season 3, Dolores' true plan is not destroying humanity which the audience and most characters believed, but freeing them from Serac and Rehoboam's control so that they can choose their fate. After spending the previous season killing the Delos personnel for the abuses she and her people suffered, Dolores sees what humanity is like outside of Westworld after escaping. It is there that she realizes the humans are in the same situation as the hosts, where their lives are controlled and their free will is limited. She also meets Caleb, the one human who made a choice by preventing his fellow trainees from raping her and the other female hosts during his military training in Park 5 back then. Towards the end of the season when Serac captured her and instructed his subordinate to delete her memories out of spite, Dolores uses Solomon's program to hack over Rehoboam and allow Caleb to shut down the system, freeing humanity at the cost of her mind being wiped out. Prior to her death, she tells Maeve despite the terrible experience in the park, she remembers the beauty of the world that the humans had taught her and encourages her to fight for humanity and the hosts so that they can be free.
    Dolores: I remember the moments where I saw what they were really capable of. Moments of ...kindness, here and there. They created us. And they knew enough of beauty to teach it to us. Maybe they can find it themselves... There is ugliness in this world. Disarray. I choose to see the beauty.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect 3: This happens with Legion's death to Tali. The sentience of the Geth is an ongoing question in the main games, but except for a few side characters, the Quarians as a whole view the Geth as software that has collectively overthrown and seeks to wipe out their former creators and has been in a civil war with them for hundreds of years. Tali starts out no different, which causes some pretty big tension in the second game when you can get a Geth teammate called Legion. His processing ability and power is much more advanced than any Geth platform confronted before then as he has over 1,000 runtimes going. In the third game, they intake Reaper tech that further advances them while the Quarians make an all out push to retake their home planet. The only way to peacefully resolve the Geth & Quarian conflict without the genocide of the Quarians is by allowing Legion to disseminate their runtimes to all other Geth, effectively "killing" Legion. In their final scene, Legion refers to themself using "I," indicating true sentience has been reached and as he dies, Tali tells him unprompted that to his Do Androids Dream? question of whether or not Geth have souls, "Yes."

    Western Animation 
  • The Avengers: United They Stand: In the episode "Remnants," The Avengers consider killing the robots they discover on the island, but aren't sure if the robots matter morally or not and decide to avoid killing them until they can be sure. Eventually they discover that the robots will kill everyone else on Earth and have the UN nuke the island. They deeply regret the robots' deaths and feel just as bad as if they had been forced to kill humans.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): Downplayed not with the main trio, but with the narrator in "Twisted Sister" and the death of Bunny, the Gonk Powerpuff Girl created by Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup to lessen their workload. While the girls are a bit apprehensive of her, they call Bunny a sister from the get-go. However, when Bunny's overly simplistic rationalizations has her setting free criminals and bad guys, The Narrator says she needs to be stopped as the girls "have created a monster." Bunny's explosion after saving the girls however causes the Narrator to end the episode in tears re-recognizing her as "Powerpuff Bunny."