Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 2.

(Continued from part 1)

The definition of postcyberpunk, taken from Wikipedia:

* Cyberpunk typically deals with alienated loners in a dystopia. Postcyberpunk tends to deal with characters who are more involved with society, and act to defend an existing social order or create a better society.
* In cyberpunk, the alienating effect of new technology is emphasised, whereas in postcyberpunk, “technology is society” (including more transhumanist themes than traditional cyberpunk).
* Includes a sense of humor, as opposed to the frequently deadly serious nature of cyberpunk.

I should probably state my definition of postcyberpunk anime (emphasis added to distinguish it from the standard definition): higher level of technology than the classic cyberpunk anime, and involves obvious mental, and perhaps, “spiritual” manipulation, highly advanced ways of interaction with information (notice that I said interaction with information and not accessing information) more complex issues such as discrimination, politics, economy, global terrorism and warfare, and in some cases, conflicts that involves near apocalyptic destructions and effects on the society, not necessarily because of the outcomes of wars, but perhaps because of introduction of new policies, new ideas, new races of people, and so on, and lastly, some kind of humor or relief from the potentially deadly serious nature of the above mentioned elements.

One of the lesser known anime is Angel Cop, which I’ve finished watching recently. It was made in 1994, in the middle of the Japanese economical depression.

Angel Cop has the classic cyberpunk elements such as a cyborg, futuristic weapons created on earth, a huge government and a secretive organization. It also adds a couple of things such as telekinesis, psychic powers that generates fire, and other good stuff that made anime what it was. However, it is not quite a cyberpunk anime, but a step taken in the direction of postcyberpunk anime. Let me explain.

Instead of having characters whose actions probably don’t contribute to huge changes in the societal structure, or characters that don’t care to improve or at least preserve the status quo, we have a group, the SSF, created by the Japanese Minister of Defense. The SSF has the power to arrest anyone and detain anyone or kill anyone using any force necessary without probably cause. What makes Angel Cop Cyberpunk-like is the fact that one of the main characters gets made into a cyborg, with all the technological trappings and so on. We get to see technical specs, weapons that are not of our time but probably can be made in the near future, and again, a huge governmental structure (the Japanese government). However, Angel Cop is not a cyberpunk by the strictest definition, because it doesn’t involve anything that actually changes the society, and the technology that’s featured has nothing to do with impacting the society in general. Also, the addition of Psychic powers doesn’t necessarily belong to Cyberpunk unless the powers are generated by cybernetic implements, which in this case, it’s suggested but not explicitly stated. Most importantly, there isn’t a dystropia of datasphere suggested.

It takes a step in the direction of postcyberpunk anime. The characters feature in this anime have the potential power to change a lot of things (secretly, sure) in the society depicted in the anime. Also, they are trying to do something to preserve the status quo.

Why isn’t “Angel Cop” a full-fledged postcyberpunk anime? The main reason is that it contains no sense of humor and it’s rather paranoid. Now being paranoid doesn’t disqualify it from being a postcyberpunk anime, but as far as I know (corrections are welcome) that quality isn’t an essential element in any cyberpunk and postcyberpunk anime. However, the total lack of humor and the deadly overtly seriousness tone of this show completely stops itself from diving into the next phase.

Speaking of diving, my next encounter with anything cyberpunk related was Ghost in the Shell, the first movie (note: I haven’t seen Innocence or Solid State Society, and I’m not going to talk about Akira either because I found too many elements similar to supernatural elements in other shows without enough references to technical/cybernetic enhancements, or even suggestions of these elements relating to the supernatural elements).

Ghost in the shell is a philosophical movie in many ways, hence its serious tone. It also takes a direction toward the next phrase of cyberpunk anime – the technology of the real world at that time has progressed forward, and hence the ideas being used in this movie are more advanced than the ideas before. The paranoia element is still there – the fear of the memory manipulation, and the essential elements are there – the invasive modification of the human body, the advanced technology in everyday use, and the information dystropia. However, some of the elements are very different from classic cyberpunk anime. For example, in Bubblegum Crisis OAV (and even the TV series later), the protagonists are marginalized people. In the BGC TV series, its version of Priss fits the classic cyberpunk character mold even better than the Priss in OAV – a loner, not much to say, almost anti-social to a certain degree. But in the GitS movie, Major Kusanagi, Batou, and the rest of the Section 9, including chief Aramaki, have some kind of influence on the society – underground influence, to be sure, but some. Also, the technology – the cyber diving, the net searching, and the ultimate encounter with the “god”, is also very different from the classic cyberpunk anime.

The GitS net “diving” often requires a mental state of concentration, and mental modification, whereas the classic cyberpunk anime, most of the modifications are done on the body. Yes, there is an exception to that phenomenon. In BGC OAV episode 3, I believe, the driver of the cybernetically modified car “Griffin” wears a helmet that helps his mental power and the helmet ultimately ends up manipulating his mental state. In the cyberpunk genre that’s not unusual, but in cyberpunk anime, that’s not a regularly featured element. The GitS movie takes that to a higher level – direct manipulations inside the brain, or even a complete brain replacement – the cyberbrain – is used as an component to the GitS world. The extension of that, the net diving, takes the human’s “soul” (ghost) out of his or her body and inputs it directly into the network. Again, high level mental manipulation in cyberpunk genre is often seen. But in cyberpunk anime, a high level of mental manipulation or even temporary disassociation from the body was not a common technological element at all until Ghost in the Shell the first movie.

Do all these elements make Ghost in the Shell the first movie a postcyberpunk anime then? No. A post cyberpunk anime has higher technological level – check, characters more involved with the society – not quite check, and humor – no check. The movie is quite serious, and sometimes take itself too seriously. It has taken a large step toward the postcyberpunk anime, however.

(To Be Continued in part 3)

5 thoughts on “Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 2.”

  1. I really like the point you make about the generally more optimistic stance of post-cyberpunk stuff, especially it’s link to the whole “transhumanist” movement. I’m going to be looking into that in the paper I’m writing about GitS vs The Matrix. Oshii definitely takes a more positive view of the idea of becoming united with the Net than the Wachowskis toward the Matrix, and it’s directly related to some of the ideas spread by the transhumanists.

    I wonder if anything Oshii ever does will have a sense of humor, actually. That man takes himself waaaay too seriously. :)

    Looking forward to the next part!

  2. Oshii took out the humor of Shirow’s original work.
    You guys should watch Dominion Tank Police, it’s cyberpunkish with lots of humor. ^^

  3. Hideki – Yes, I have. It is certainly more amusing both in Manga form and anime form, with the classic anime humor elements added. Good call!
    …You don’t happen to work for Gainax, do you? XD Just kidding.

  4. I would have to say that if you think the Ghost in the Shell TV series are postcyberpunk (which I agree with) then the movie Solid State Society would have to be postcyberpunk as well. Since it takes place in the world of the GiTS TV series not from the movies – GiTS movie and Innocence.

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