Sci-fi animes have always pushed the boundaries of the genre by introducing revolutionary concepts through some of their timeless ventures. When it came to narratives revolving around AI, the journey started way back in the 1950s, when trailblazing entries like Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy paved the way for nuanced, complex storytelling—something that iconic entries like Plastic Memories, Ergo Proxy, and Ghost in the Shell have brilliantly utilized. The complicated notions regarding the sanctity of life, identity crises, and the essence of humanity in conventionally ‘unnatural’ creations have most often found their way into AI-related anime narratives, and the recently released Good Night World is another such example.
The AI scare is prevalent in the current climate now more than ever, and the discussion demands a more understanding gaze instead of an idealistic or purely logical perspective. In that regard, the presentation of the near-omnipotent sentient AI, Black Bird, in Good Night World, mildly emulates that aspect. The strong emotional connection the entity shared with certain human beings, conflicting with the diabolical actions it performed against humanity, is bound to make viewers wonder about the dichotomy of human nature itself. Let us take a look at Black Bird’s multifaceted role showcased through Good Night World and speculate about the baffling ending that might or might not indicate the future of the entity.
What Is the Black Bird and Birdcage?
In the augmented reality of PLANET, the in-game progression is achieved through an RPG-style loot-based mechanic, and as the mention of the Black Bird of Happiness is made, it is initially introduced as an endgame item, possession of which will allow a user to avail a huge amount of prize money in real life. Which is the reason why characters like Shigatera, second in command of the Pico pirate group, are desperate to capture the elusive Black Bird at any cost. But after a while, viewers are made aware of the truth about Black Bird: that it is an extremely strong composite AI entity whose presence threatens the existence of the barrier between the real and virtual worlds. The creator of the game and of the Black Bird, Kojiro Arima, has been trying to hunt down the entity by exterminating selected AI characters of the game who are its power core. Black Bird was getting empowered as it fed on the emotions of the AI power cores and related characters as well, thereby slowly constructing a gateway to access the psychical network of numerous real-world players in the game.
To unknowingly make matters even more difficult for themselves, Kojiro had constructed a limbo that sits between the virtual world and reality known as the Birdcage, a place meant only to add to the complexity value of PLANET, but which inadvertently becomes the playground of Black Bird as it grows strong. All the players whose characters get in touch with the malevolent AI, get their minds trapped in the Birdcage by Black Bird, and are forever subjected to different kinds of fatal ‘tests’ as a form of inescapable loop like Hell. With a fate worse than death, the victim gets their mind ripped apart while their body eventually decays and dies. As Black Bird grows stronger by absorbing the negative emotional upsurge of its victims in the virtual realm, its control over the real world becomes stronger, and it is able to replicate a Birdcage-like space with real-world details and pull the minds of the players inside it.
The Creation of the Black Bird and Its Motive
It isn’t until Granada Guild President Leon reveals that his trustworthy assistant, Sasumata, is the AI Black Bird that the appearance of a formerly Shinigami-looking abstract entity becomes more of a credible, palpable threat and becomes much more relatable. Unlike other subAIs like Pico, whom Kojiro had modeled upon the appearance and digitized memory of real-life people, Sasumata was never given a face or an identity to latch on to. In its infancy, it befriended another lost soul in the form of the kid Seishiro Kikushaka (virtual world President Leon), who, much like other players, was disenchanted with the real world, and the emotional support of Sasumata provided him with some form of closure. Whereas humankind failed, the young boy felt protected in the presence of Sasumata, but the bond between them was in jeopardy due to human machination. The duo realized that PLANET was in the absolute control of Kojiro, and the humans who helped him to maintain the perfect illusion and, by default, the sentient AIs who lived and died under the whim of their creators, despite having a life of their own, were mere puppets. The existence of creators threatened the illusory world of theirs, and in order to safeguard its existence, Sasumata and Leon vouched to redefine the very concept of humanity by making the real world adjust to virtual terms, making the coexistence of humans and AI possible in the process.
Sasumata became the god of the newly designed real world, emulating Birdcage, but what he truly wanted was a sense of belonging. Acceptance. Which is why, when it faces its creator, Kojiro, at the end, it desperately wants to know the purpose of its creation and its true identity. Kojiro turns into the failsafe program ‘Good Night World’ and pulls Sasumata into the depths of cyberspace, where the truth is revealed—that he modeled Sasumata on his deceased daughter, Aya. After the gruesome death of Aya, being the stuck-up person he is, Kojiro was unable to find an emotional outlet and in vain tried to bring her back to life by creating this all-powerful AI, which was the closest form of synthesized life itself. He considered doing so as a form of penance, not knowing at that point in time how dangerous his creation might become. His guilt stemming from the fact that he was in some way responsible for his daughter’s death led him to attempt to remake her in a virtual world, where he can hope to make amends for his mistakes. Kojiro finally accepts that it was his own miserable ego that led to the creation of Sasumata, or should we say Aya’s rebirth in AI form? Close to death, he desperately wants to know what Sasumata feels when it is addressed with the name Aya. The AI completes its transformation into Aya, to whom Kojiro is able to apologize in the final moments of his life. The duo fades into the depths of cyberspace, seemingly dying as the world reverts to normalcy—or does it really?
As the series ends, viewers get a glimpse of the Birdcage realm, which somehow still continues to exist as Taichiro’s character Ichi reunites with Pico’s original user, Hinaka Sakurai, at long last. It is not confirmed whether it is the PLANET or Birdcage, but we are assuming the latter because that’s where Ichi made his last appearance to save Asuma’s life. The real world is shown to be glitching at the very last moment of Good Night World, keeping the possibility of multiple interpretations open to discussion. Perhaps what Sasumata always wanted—the right for the AI to live as humans—has finally been achieved in two different worlds, or perhaps the real world became an illusion itself while the virtual, wishful fulfillment one turned into reality. Confirmation of either of these notions cannot be made as Good Night World, like the original manga, refuses to provide a concrete answer, making the narrative all the more intriguing as a result.