It all started with a flight back from a holiday where I watched I’m not a Robot and got completely hooked. Then I became fascinated with robot dramas and started on Are You Human Too? (AYHT). It just happened that the time I got hooked in AYHT coincided with an extended public holiday, so I completed the drama in a few days.
While there were many flaws in this drama, I found it extremely charming and thought-provoking. Let’s get the flaws out of the way first.
First of all, I personally took a long time to warm up to So-bong because she was incredibly wilful in the first few episodes. Things got better when we started to understand her back story and then started defending Nam-Shin III. However, I have to say I never warmed up to her dad, his two side kicks and reporter Jo. It came to a point where I even fast-forwarded through their scenes because the supposed comic effect of their characters just never quite worked. It felt over the top and forced.
Secondly, the show adopted a very lazy way of moving the plot forward by having people lurking behind walls while other characters were sharing important secrets. So-Bong found out about the kill-switch while overhearing a conversation between Young-hoon and Ro-ra; Ye-Na finds out about her dad’s involvement because she’s somehow in the office when he tells his assistant about it. Shin finds out about that Chairman Nam has known all along about Nam-Shin III being a robot because he’s behind a pillar when NSIII is telling David. It’s incredibly convenient and lazy way of revealing things to different characters.
My final beef is the rushed ending of the show. There was way too much plot jam-packed into the last two episodes that we did not get to see how Shin transformed from evil to good. Most of it took place offscreen. There was so much going on with the Shins that I also felt So-bong got sidelined and became rather bland as a character.
Now, on to what I liked, and there’s a lot to like.
First of all, I loved the thought-provoking and deep points raised by the series about what makes us human. Of course, most of us would say it is emotions that make us human and robots will always be inferior because they cannot feel and thus relate to others. However, as shown through Nam-Shin III, emotions do not necessarily make humans superior and it is in fact Nam-Shin III’s unflinching devotion to his rules and principles to help humans that result in him making the right decisions. When I first started watching the series, I thought it’d be about how the robot becomes more ‘humanized’ as he learns feelings. While that happened, the show had a larger point to make about self discovery and realisation. Ultimately the journey for NSIII was not to become human, but to embrace his identity as a robot and not be ashamed of it. He also had to learn to emerge out of the shadow of Shin and realise he was not just supposed to take the place of Shin, but to be his own person/being. That eventually happened when he was able to override Shin’s manual mode and release his hold of So-bong on the roof-top. This also leads to another strength of the show, which is in its characterisation.
I found the show’s characterisation of NSIII and Shin to be extremely layered, profound and complex, especially once Shin woke up. While Shin only truly emerged as a character after the halfway mark, it never seemed like he was absent and his appearance was built upon the impressions we had of him when NSIII tried to integrate into his world. Shin was certainly a very dark character, but all through it, I always felt we could see where all his hatred, resentment and angst came from. He had already developed a cold, hard exterior from having to hide his emotions from a young age. Upon awakening and realising that a robot had taken his place and was in fact excelling in his place, his only reaction was to rebel against it by turning even darker and causing pain to those around him. Ye Na said it the best when she tells him to live his own life, rather than obsess over NSIII’s life. The show did very well in never condoning his actions or causing us to sympathise with him, but it never felt like he was just being evil for the sake of it. While Ro-ra’s death was sudden, it was the only thing that could truly serve to wake him up, that and the message from NSIII that she was sorry to leave him alone again. This is also partly why I’m resentful that we never got to see his redemption story or his reconciliations. There are apologies needed definitely to characters like Young Hoon and Chairman Nam, but all this happened off-screen. What a waste.
Having said all this, Seo Kang-Joon’s performance is nothing short of stellar in this show. In fact, his performance along kept me engaged through the entire series. As a robot, he is such a delight to watch and his attempts to pretend to be Shin in the early episodes provided much laughs, especially when he suddenly changes his facial expression from his usual genial appearance to a more surly, curt look. He plays the innocence and simplicity of NSIII with such charm, yet also in such a mechanical manner that you know he’s still a robot. When Shin appears, he’s able to convey that dark, cold-hearted nature in such a convincing manner that every scene with Shin sends chills down your spine. He’s certainly proven himself to be not just a pretty face, but someone with genuine talent.
Last of all, while I did criticise the rushed ending of the show, I found the series overall to be very well-paced, with always something happening in each episode to keep us on the edge of our seats. There were many genuine shockers along the way – the most impressive one being that Chairman Nam was the sponsor of Ro-ra and was aware of NSIII’s existence the whole while. I loved that reveal because it raised the stakes and showed that NSIII had bigger goals than just to fulfill Ro-ra’s need for her son’s comfort. Of course, I also never saw Ro-ra’s death coming, but upon hindsight, that was inevitable. Weighty moments were balanced with more light-hearted moments, especially when NSIII decided to kiss So-bong to escape marriage with Ye-Na. This was a series that had found that sweet spot between balancing heartwarming moments with steady plot development. Just for its entertainment value, I would highly recommend the show. As icing on the cake, the OST for this show is also fantastic with a great mix of sentimental ballads and light-hearted energetic pieces.