While Zen's search for his identity is for the specific purpose of finding out who is controlling him, the question of his humanity cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is a critical part of his search: is he limited only to his violent instincts and almost robotic logic, or is there a man inside him?
For much of the story, the former seems to be the truth. One instance in particular stands out: when Hakka questions why Zen doesn't react to the Amatans being hurt on his account.
Hakka: Zen... isn't there something you can do? If we don't help them soon...
Zen: It has nothing to do with me.
Hakka: ! Even though terrible things might happen to them on your account? Doesn't that make you stop and think?
Zen: I don't care about other peoples' problems. It's a drag to pit oneself against the army. Why don't you run away?
This aspect of Zen has been evident from the beginning, but seeing Zen openly acknowledge that he just doesn't care about other people stands out to me. To him, people are only relevant if they can help him achieve some sort of goal. Indeed, the strike he makes on the Ista Special Prison in the following chapter isn't to help the people Hakka wants to save: he simply wants to see Hakka's descent into evil.
The monstrous aspect of Zen is heightened as they begin to search for his identity. While the search itself is, as Hakka notes, the first truly human thing Zen does, what they find indicates he is hardly human. The leader of Zendo saw how incredibly detached he was from everything, and saw his unnatural abilities — rapid healing, superior strength and speed — firsthand. He was accepted among them and remained because his need for violence was satisfied, but when the time came for them to disband, he continued on the same path.
The facts of his history at this point imply that he's much more of a monster than a man, but Hakka reads into it further, wondering if because Zen has a past and connections to people, it means he's not really a monster. Zen dismisses him, but he realizes that he feels a sharp pain when he remembers something — a distinctly human thing to do, particularly with painful memories. More importantly, he decides to leave the fugitives from the prison with the leader of Zendo, who can help them out of the country. Despite what he says about not caring about others, and how he says he doesn't care what happens to them, he specifically points out how they might be saved. Furthermore, he accepts that he needs Hakka to help him achieve his goal of finding out who he was. There's a definite incongruity between what Zen says and does here, but I think it still falls within the scope of simply doing whatever is necessary to get what he wants. The fugitives couldn't follow the path for his identity, so he left them there to find their own ways, ultimately unconcerned with their fates.
Not much later, Hakka presses Zen further, asking if he has basic human emotions. Zen's answer is to the point: if emotions serve some sort of beneficial purpose. Once again, he indicates his mechanical view of the world. He cares only about what is immediately relevant to him, and nothing else matters.
Hakka: Don't you have any feelings... toward your friends?
Zen: ...What kind of feelings?
Hakka: Worry, for example... or dread of losing something.... In other words... love.
Zen: Is that something you need in order to survive?
I find it fascinating that the one who asks the probing questions about Zen's humanity is the very one who ripped it away from him. The very reason Zen is incapable of human understanding is because of his conditioning to become a human weapon, Zero, at the hands of Dr. Biggins. In turn, the doctor uses him as the instrument of his revenge, caring nothing for Zero's well-being and leading the entire special ops unit to death. To have Hakka actively question Zen about how human he is and if he's anything more than a weapon is really quite ironic. I feel like it serves two purposes: it helps carry the question of Zen's humanity further in the plot, and it adds another layer to Hakka's character once you know who he is and what he's done to Zen. Is he questioning what he did, even while planning to use Zen for his revenge once again? (This is explored in more depth in the Hakka section.)
As it happens, the truth of Zen's past does not provide a clear answer. As stated above, the reality of his existence is being raised and conditioned to serve as a weapon — a human weapon, but an instrument of destruction above all else. Because of this, his view of the world is limited to what little he has been exposed to. It's emphasized most in the flashback Gia tells about their destruction of an Amatan village. Zero had no grasp of the meaning behind Gia's trademark phrase, or any true understanding of life and death past his missions.
Zero: I... don't really understand. For us there is no daily life... not even family... to return to. There is only the continuing battle... and that is all we need to exist.
Gia: (The government... started the wars and may hope that all super soldiers die in them. They're not marionettes... they're human.) The fighting will end sometime. I... will put an end to your fighting.
Gia believes that the black ops soldiers are human, but I don't think Zen saw it the same way, either as a soldier or afterwards. Gia's ultimate goal of saving Zero is one he decided on himself, without respect to what the soldiers might actually want. Now, understandably, the soldiers would have no real understanding of what that would mean, but it's relevant to Zen. Zero might have had a chance to find his humanity had he been able to escape the black ops with Gia's help, but his life took a different course through Hakka's intervention.
Ultimately, whatever chance Zen had at real humanity was all but lost. By the end of the series, he understands his past, but his choice is not to try and change anything. Zen is neither concerned with his humanity nor compelled to find it. As with his identity, his only true interest is to find it if has any bearing on his being controlled.
Blank Slate © Aya Kanno. No infringement intended.
uncontrol © Larissa, 2011-2021.