Qualia the Purple Review

To Marii Yukari, all humans look like robots. That is an essential part of her cognition that cannot be changed no matter what. And I am her friend.

The light novel Qualia the Purple, written by Hisamitsu Ueo and recently translated into English by Daniel Komen, combines a short story that the author originally wrote as a stand-alone work for a magazine with a later follow-up that further develops the world the characters live in, as well as the central relationship between main characters Marii Yukari and Hatou Manabu. Part one of the novel begins with the quotation above, establishing the unique condition that sets Marii apart from others: she sees all humans, apart from herself, as robots.

This isn’t just a figure of speech to describe a solipsistic worldview—Marii Yukari very literally sees herself as the sole organic being in a world of androids, composed of mechanical parts with varying functions. Her friend Hatou, the narrator of the story, is one of the few people she can be open with about the isolating experience of having a totally different perception from everyone else. And despite Hatou’s initial confidence that what Marii sees isn’t real, Marii’s comments on differences in their classmates “designs” do seem to reflect some insight into those people’s personalities and skills—and the whole neighbourhood can’t help but notice Marii’s inexplicable genius at building and repairing model toys and technology. Real or not, seeing robots all day appears to have made her an expert. But as much as her talents are appreciated in her community, Marii lives in fear that if anyone else discovers her secret, they won’t understand, and they’ll likely feel hurt and devalued by her inability to see them as human.

My first impression as the story established these traits was to understand Marii’s condition as an analogy for autism—complete with a total reversal of the negative stereotype of autistic people as “robotic.” Marii sees the world in a way that other people don’t understand, and she also sees herself as the odd one out who can’t fit in with everyone else. This makes it difficult for her to form close relationships, as she has to hide a big part of herself and put effort into acting normal so as not to reveal her atypical nature. However, her unique perspective also has a positive side in the way that it contributes to her expertise in a field that interests her. That description could apply to many real people on the autism spectrum just as well as it does to Marii Yukari. So this isn’t really a story about robots, I concluded to myself—that’s just an image the writer is using in a fictionalized exploration of a real-world experience.

And then part one of the book took a shocking turn that made me question that interpretation of Marii’s perception—and part two evolved into a fast-paced sci-fi thriller. I don’t really want to reveal much detail about the direction the plot takes, because it’s the kind of thing that’s best experienced as it comes, but it’s an absolute wild ride. I’m going to have to read the Qualia the Purple manga sometime, because I’m curious to see how the complexity of the narrative is adapted visually. It also struck me as the kind of story that would be well-suited to a visual novel, with multiple routes expanding on some of the endless possibilities the story raises. Really, I’d love to see any further takes on the unique universe of Marii Yukari and friends.

But despite how crazy it all it gets, I think that in the end, Qualia the Purple is really still a story about how no one perceives the world the same way as anyone else—how we can never truly share the exact same experience as others, so we should embrace those differences and the varied perspectives that friendships with those who think differently can provide. And it’s also about loving someone so much that you’d sacrifice everything to save them—and yet still giving them the freedom to navigate danger on their own. So if any of that intrigues you, I highly recommend you to check out the book and see if you draw the same conclusions, or if our perspectives are as different as Marii’s is from everyone else’s.


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