In her 2005 book Cyborg Cinema and Contemporary Subjectivity Sue Short argues that “science and technology become the equivalent of magical totems equipped with the ability to transform entire worlds without the need for struggle”[1]. The dystopia of Konaka Chiaki’s script for the 2001 OVA (original video animation) series Malice@Doll combines Japanese ningyo (人形, puppet) culture and cyborg conception, and creates the robotic character Malice@Doll that provides emotional and physical comfort to human beings. This anime film is an example of cyborg cinema films that fuse magical elements with the depiction of robots dreaming to transform into humans. This post navigates and examines the trans-/formation of cyborg subjectivity of non-/human entities in Malice@Doll.

Malice is a prostitute robot-puppet trapped in a dystopia where human beings are extinct while the robots still function well but purposelessly. The story begins with Malice searching for clients in vain (since humans no longer exist) and starting to leak coolant from her eye. Malice then goes to the repairer, but instead of being repaired, she is assaulted by an unidentified entity and mutates into a living creature[2]. This sudden mutation not only destructs the order and system of the world, but also forces Malice to face her identity crisis. Though physically Malice now has a human body, her robotic consciousness has not fully transformed since traumatic memories of her experiences as a prostitute puppet-robot occupy her. She is therefore neither a human being nor a puppet-robot anymore. The boundary crossing in this anime film is useful for contemplation on the definition of cyborg and how the cyborg forms its subjectivity.

For Donna Haraway, cyborg is “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”[3] She believes that the cyborg creates the possibility to negate and redefine the boundary between human and machine and has the potential to reconstruct society. What Malice@Doll displays is exactly what Haraway describes, but the anime film presents it in a much more nostalgic and pessimistic way. Instead of celebrating the longevity of the high-tech system, the robots are presented in a humanist angle in a post-apocalyptic setting in which the robots have lost their purpose to function. The viewing experience of this anime film is one of crossing a boundary, an attempt to form a cyborg subjectivity. The leaking coolant from Malice’s eye is not just a malfunction of a machine. With the mise-en-scene, the affect of the audience is aroused since the semiotic symbol of a teardrop falling from a robotic eye is presented in the frame.

Fig. 1. The symbolic meaning of teardrops is emphasized in the scene where Malice’s eye leaks coolant.

Through this boundary crossing, the hybridity of cyborg and its negotiation of constructing subjectivity can be found. There are at least three layers of boundary crossing in the film: (a) Malice’s ability to dream and her supernatural experience of “seeing” a ghost girl; (b) Malice’s mutation from human-like machine to “human”; (c) Malice’s kiss that leads to the deconstruction of the system/society of the machines/bodies.

Fig. 2. Malice traumatized by her past of being a sex toy.

Malice is able to pass on the mutation through her kiss, but the mutation, instead of passing on as a blessing[4], causes monstrosity and sadness to other robots.[5] The masculine robots transform into Bosch-like horrifying creatures, while the prostitute dolls, whose perspectives remain restricted to the sexual activities and functions for which they were designed, are forced to suffer the consequences of their actions after mutation (see fig. 2 and 3).

Fig. 3. The kiss of Malice turns robots into Bosch-like monsters.

When Malice mutates and spreads her kiss, she is putting Haraway’s theory into practice. She is a hybrid of machine and organism, obtaining human affect and robotic memory at the same time. Her subjectivity is built upon her past of being a robot and a sex toy. Her past memory traumatizes her after her mutation. The kiss of Malice, in a contradictory and perhaps ironic sense, used to be a function meant to comfort people.

Fig. 4. Malice kisses a robot as a programming robot-puppet.

However, this same kiss is no longer a function of programming but now becomes a key to stimulate machinery mutation, opening robots’ horizon of senses and feelings. Seemingly being closer to their “god,” their creator and clients, the robot machines initially appear to celebrate their state of being “reborn,” but Malice’s kiss seems to indeed be a source of malice, causing pain and death of these new creatures.

Fig. 5. After the mutation Malice kisses in her will.

The kiss of rebirth is in fact a kiss of death that destructs the world, both on an individual level where robots transform into mortal beings, but also on a social level, since the entire system that once functioned differently crumbles. This example also foregrounds an anxiety surrounding the feminine body, which on many levels parallels the anxiety surrounding technology.

As technology advances, it challenges the social framework, the concept of non-/human, the boundaries between dreams, reality, and virtuality. Through watching anime, a creation of fiction, cyborg subjectivity has the possibility to be formed, experienced, and contemplated. The adventure depicted in Malice@Doll might be chaotic or even destructive, but it is via this depiction of transgression that the idea of the cyborg and its many potentialities, as well as what it reflects regarding current society and its assumptions about gender, religion and technology can be examined. Malice@Doll displays a system/society in which cyborg subjectivity is a possibility to deconstruct the social reality and to re-explore different boundaries.


Ai-Ting Chung is a first-year PhD student in the department of East Asian Languages and Literature at University of Oregon. She is interested in how anime display the subjectivity trans-/formation with the imagination of media and technology and how this transformation influence social reality.


[1] Short, Sue. Cyborg Cinema and Contemporary Subjectivity, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 32. Short argues that cinematic depictions of the cyborg provide a chance for people to bridge existing social divides and to reconsider humanity as well as ethical issues with our spiritual and material growth.

[2] This mutation causes Malice to transform from a machine doll into a human being. However, I would rather call her a cyborg that crosses the boundary between human and robot machine than a human being. Her search for belonging is a humane side of her, but her search for belonging as a robot-puppet is a sign that in her consciousness she still regards herself as a robot.

[3] Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York, Routledge, 1991, p. 149.

[4] Malice could be seen as spreading a blessing, acting in a divine way of evangelism.

[5] The human Malice kisses every robot she encounters in order for them to mutate into human beings. However, the rusted robots fail to mutate into good-looking human as Malice does; instead, the robots become monstrous and suffer both physically and mentally.