Image Source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』‏ on Twitter

Throughout most of Girls’ Last Tour, characters outside of the main pair have only been present for very short periods of time. This is enough to know that the world they inhabit isn’t completely devoid of other humans, but definitely enough to know that there are very few other humans. Characters, of sorts, have also appeared in the form of robots, but they too don’t remain for more than single episodes. But two has now become three and the mysteries behind this new character may hold the key to everything.

Girls’ Last Tour is an interesting combination of post-apocalypse dystopia and adorable slice of life. It centers primarily on two girls, Chii and Yuu, who were once apparently child soldiers but now wander a vast urban landscape. Despite the massive infrastructure, there are almost no humans left. There is evidence of war, but also perhaps evidence of migration due to starvation. As Chii notes, the girls know little about the past or why things are the way they are. The adult characters they have met seem equally as ignorant, suggesting that this may have been the norm for multiple generations. The girls spend most of their days traveling in their kettangrad motorcycle tank on the search for food, fuel, and water. Of these three, food is the most scarce, with water and fuel surprisingly common.

In their travels, the girls don’t find a lot of evidence of human habitation. Although they exist in a city full of buildings, utility ports, bridges, pipes, and factories, there are very few pieces of human culture in the city. Any kind of small personal device, like a camera or radio, is incredibly rare. Books also are very rare, and because she is literate, Chii values books both for their rarity and for what they can teach. Most of what seems to be left in the city is overtly functional. It doesn’t appear to be artistic or cultural. Function without form. It’s almost impossible to determine what was important to the humans who existed or how they lived before Chii and Yuu, other than the wreckage of old battles.

Image Source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』‏ on Twitter

[This article contains spoilers up to the most recent episode of Girls’ Last Tour.]

There is one major exception, however. The girls have always had a goal, even if it appears to be somewhat arbitrary: move towards what they think is the center of the city and always try to keep going up. To some extent, they actually do succeed. In doing so they discover the only “culture” that seems to be left. As they get closer to what the believe to be the center of the city, they begin to notice weird statues. They are long, cylindrical, and white. They have faces, but they appear to have no limbs and no ears. At one point Chii accidentally hits one of these statues with the kettangrad and it falls over. With apparently no explanation of why these things exist, it’s pretty easy to be creeped out by them. 

Eventually, Chii and Yuu find there way into a temple where many of the statues are to be found, eventually leading to one central statue in an altar type area. Despite all of the knowledge Chii routinely claims she doesn’t have (a humility both naturally part of her personality and stemming from the fact she has had access to so few books), she actually does know a surprising amount. She realizes right away that she and Yuu are in a religious space. This leads to an interesting discourse on the nature of God with Yuu. These statues and their odd featureless shapes, save for a face, were clearly important, but the girls lack any knowledge about why.

This begins to change, at least for the viewers, when Yuu and Chii discover Nuku. At first it resembles a kind of ferret, and Yuu and Chii debate whether it is a “cat” (“neko”) or is “meat” (“niku”) to be eaten—much as Yuu and Chii ate the first fish the found. Chii doesn’t believe it’s a cat, and she objects to eating it when it starts trying to speak through Yuu’s handheld radio. It seems unable to say “neko” or “niku,” saying instead “nuku.” Yuu takes this as an objection to being called “cat” or “meat” and so Nuku becomes its name. Although Chii initially advises Yuu to leave Nuku alone, Nuku clearly wishes to follow the girls, and so they take it aboard. Nuku doesn’t appear to have vocal cords, but it does seem to be able to emit radio waves through the handheld radio. The resulting voice is actually super cute.

We don’t yet know much about Nuku, but we do Nuku is a significant piece of the puzzle of the girls’ world. Nuku is an extremely quick learner. In addition to picking up a significant amount of vocabulary from Yuu (who insists on teaching it), it eventually grasps grammar and syntax. In a very short period of time, Nuku goes from being unable to understand the girls’ Japanese to being able to form full sentences, complete thoughts, even crack a joke worthy of Yuu (“If I can’t eat it, it’s pretty worthless.”) So what is Nuku? Now that is an excellent question.

Image Source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』‏ on Twitter

Although viewers will no doubt have recognized that Nuku appears to be what the statues outside and inside of the temple are based upon, or are at least is related, that eventually dawns on Chii too as she sketches Nuku. She is able to compare her sketch of Nuku to her sketches of the statues. Does this mean Nuku is a deity? Well, maybe not this Nuku anyway. There’s pretty overt evidence that Nuku is a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence way beyond the level of technology of the other robots previously seen in the series. Calling Nuku a robot is a lot like calling a modern jet fighter a kite.

Nuku’s ability to generate radio waves for purposes of communication is the first piece of this evidence. The second piece of evidence is Nuku’s ability to take in information (mostly from Yuu) and from paying attention to the conversations between Yuu and Chii in order to rapidly create linguistic fluency, strongly suggestive of deep machine learning. A further piece of evidence is Nuku doesn’t eat organic food like the girls. Much to the amusement of Yuu, she is able to feed Nuku bullets, gunpowder, and gasoline (which Nuku appears to consider “delicious”). And finally, Nuku is able to shift its appendages into keys to operate other machines.

Nuku has all the hallmarks of a “helper” or “companion” artificial being. It’s adorable, self-fueling, able to aid humans by interfacing with “dumb” machines or using its appendages, and has the ability to adapt to different linguistic and social environments. Its ferret-like shape and size means it doesn’t fall into “uncanny valley” territory and is likely to engender feelings of love and affection in humans. With the ability to go so far as to seem curious and make jokes, it might even reasonably pass the Turing Test. Certainly Chii’s reaction to Yuu wanting to eat it (“You can’t eat things that talk!”) shows just how advanced Nuku is. It is, of course, quite possible that Nuku actually is sentient, but it’s also equally possible that Nuku merely projects the illusion of sentience—pretty much the standard by which the Turing Test considers artificial intelligence.

Image Source: TVアニメ『少女終末旅行』‏ on Twitter

We don’t yet have the final pieces to the puzzle, but it’s fun to speculate. I wonder if perhaps the last remnants of humanity became so attached to their Nukus that they eventually lost the ability to consider them machines. Gradually losing the ability to operate technology for themselves (relying the Nukus to do it for them), they began to see the Nukus as the source of all things. Perhaps the Nukus were mistaken for gods and that is why the statues and temple were made. Could Chii and Yuu be repeating the same mistake as those who came before them? Or could Nuku be the ally, guide, helper, and friend they need as they grow up?

Girls’ Last Tour can be watched on Amazon’s Anime Strike.

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