The Doll Archetype

I really shouldn’t be up this late writing rants like this, but I’m in the mood and this is a fairly interesting topic. Most of us are familiar with archetypes, at least the most basic ones like the unsure hero, the evil villain, the damsel in distress, etc. Then there’s the next level of archetypes that a little less broad, such as fiery hothead who always gets into fights, or the bookworm that has a 4.5 GPA and no girlfriend. In fact, there’s not a big difference between archetype and stereotype; you can pretty much take any stereotype you can think of and use it as an archetype in fiction. Anyways, today I’m here to talk to you about a different anime archetype, which has grown in popularity over the last two decades or so: the Doll.

There are variations,but I am going to define the Doll as a character, usually female, who bears almost no emotions whatsoever. She constantly wears a blank expression on her face, does not react emotionally to provocative actions, and can otherwise be described as a social retard. Often times she does as others say, simply following orders. Basically, she acts as if she were a doll, those small toys that never change facial expression and kinda just sit there as life goes by, usually at the disposal of a controller.

While this may sound completely creepy to you, this archetype is actually quite the popular one in anime. Japanese men are much more inclined to favor the Doll then the Doll’s opposite, which may be described as feminist, loud and abrasive. The submissive girl that won’t raise a single objection is very appealing to the male-dominated society of Japan. In much of our society however, we would be scared of something that shows no emotion and doesn’t react to a single thing, like those twins in The Shining.

One of the most popular examples of this archetype is Rei Ayanami from the acclaimed Neon Genesis Evangelion, and now the new Evangelion movies. This blue-haired and red-eyed Eva pilot fits the classic description of the Doll, and is arguably what made this archetype so popular today.She’s also completely loyal to Gendo Ikari, Commander of Nerv, meaning she’ll even die if ordered to. Asuka Langley Soryu, her counterpart, even directly confronts her about this, calling Rei a Doll. On many occasions, Rei Ayanami has been the most popular character in Japan, even long after the Evangelion series had finished and much before the new movies began coming out. To be completely honest, Rei is one of my personal favorite characters of all time.

Another popular Doll character is Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and related materials. Yuki is an alien, or, more specifically, an artificial human created by the Integrated Data Entity for the purpose of observing Haruhi. Unlike Rei Ayanami, who has ssuppressed emotions, Yuki was designed with a complete lack of emotions, not even reacting when pain is inflicted upon; in fact, Yuki makes Rei look like a pussy, who actually does react to physical pain. Needless to say, Yuki is an example of the Doll archetype taken to the extreme, nearing parody, having absolutely no emotions, and being completely logical in her actions.

The last example I’d like to talk about is Yin, from Darker Than Black, along with the rest of the Dolls within the universe. Darker Than Black doesn’t attempt to hide their usage of the archetype, and even uses the concept as an important aspect within the series. While you have the Contractors, you also have the Dolls, which fit the description of having no emotions and completely at the disposal of their handlers. These Dolls also have the perk of sending out Observation Ghosts through unique mediums; some can send the Ghosts through glass, and some can through electrical wires; Yin can send her Ghost through water. Through the series we learn that Yin has emotions, yet she’s unable to express them due to her Doll-like state; we also learn that she has opinions, which had been thought to be alien to Dolls. Like Rei Ayanami, Yin is associated with water, the Moon, and sometimes flowers.

In character driven plots, like in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Darker Than Black, we get the deconstruction of the Doll archetype. Both Rei and Yin seem to grow out of the Doll-like dispositions and into better individuals. This archetype is good for this sort of thing. It allows us to explore aspects of our personality, such as individuality and conformity, and how each of those affects our daily lives. Even though these characters may superficially seem completely different than what we think we are, the closer we look at them the better we see how tragic these characters really are, and how much we can relate to them. Sometimes we can relate to these dolls much better than others characters.

On the other hand, in moe shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the Doll archetype is used in the favor of creating a harem genre, and appealing to the fan culture. In these shows the Doll usually is the subject of sexual fantasy, or simply used to appeal to what we think is cute. While in both types of shows the Dolls are used for different purposes, they both work within the context of the show and succeed in serving their purpose, like good dolls should.

The Doll is become increasingly more popular among fans, however can this archetype really blow up to the point where it becomes common in every other show? Unlike the Maid or the Catgirl, two other archetypes that have been whored out over the years, the Doll seems like it would be much more difficult to fit into a wide array of plot lines. While they fit perfectly in the three examples I named above, and have fit in well enough in other examples, I don’t see a bright future for this archetype and am quite certain it will be trumped by other moe archetypes, but I could be wrong. I would personally be glad if this trend didn’t catch on, since too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Despite this though, I am glad that we got what we got out of this trend. Rei Ayanami and Yin are two of my favorite characters of all time; this has been clear for a while, especially if you glimpse at my MAL account. The Doll archetype may come and go, but it’s memory will live on. After such perfect use in a small group of shows a lasting impression has been made.

I love Dolls.