Mitsukazu Mihara’s Early Works
The third story, “The Sunflower Quality of an Integrated Circuit”, revolves around Vanilla, a mechanical servant or “doll” in the employ of a rich old man and his younger gold-digging wife. The old man buys Vanilla because she will do the housekeeping tasks that his wife won’t do and she shows him an innocent loyalty that his wife refuses to. The old man treats Vanilla as if she were a person, talking with her and having tea with her in the sunflower garden. A quiet, trusting relationship between the two develops, mostly due to the fact that the old man doesn’t feel judged by Vanilla. Meanwhile, the young wife physically and verbally abuses Vanilla, and even lets her boyfriend use Vanilla sexually. Because she is a machine, Vanilla takes all of this ill-treatment without complaint.
Eventually, the old man demands a divorce from his greedy wife so that he can live in peace with Vanilla. Enraged, his wife kills him and orders Vanilla to bury his body in the garden. Vanilla obeys as she has been programmed to do. At this point, the reader almost feels betrayed by Vanilla for having followed her programming. But how can she help but betray, when she is only a doll, a smarty dressed automaton? The reader is left with some comfort, however; Vanilla confronts the wife about what she has done, asking “That was Master, wasn’t it?” sparking a jarring look of guilt on the face of the wife, a character that had, up until that point, been emotionally unburdened by her horrible actions .
Interestingly, Mihara’s robot servant Vanilla seems less like an Asimov creation and more like a little girl’s doll come to life – she changes from one adorable outfit to another and one cute hairstyle to the next in the course of the story, perhaps fulfilling the female reader’s fashion fantasies much like a Barbie doll. This constant wardrobe change is characteristic of Mihara’s work, and it serves to emphasize Vanilla’s femininity – for she embodies the perfect woman, intent on housework and pleasing her man, the foil to the old man’s wife.
But the end of the story does not really advocate for one or the other; the beautiful but vain wife is not the ideal mate, but neither is Vanilla, for although she represents ideal femininity, she is inhuman, indifferent, and, due to her inherent nature, she ultimately betrays. Perhaps what Mihara is suggesting is that neither of these women is truly real. Perhaps even the condition of being gendered as female is unreal as it is, for the most part, a social construction that is apart from biological function.
There are other wonderful stories in this volume that explore equally jarring science fiction realities, and I highly recommend this volume to anyone who loves speculative fiction and strong visuals. I will be discussing more of Mitzukazu Mihara’s work later, and share with you some beautiful doll-related pictures from some of her art books. Look forward to it!