Cyberpunk anime – past, present, future (?) Part 3.

(Continued from Part 2.) (For Part 1 click here.)

Ghost in the Shell the first movie that took a large step toward the direction of postcyberpunk anime while being much closer to the classic cyberpunk anime. Its successor, or rather, a more thorough anime exploration of Shirow‘s idea, Ghost in the Shell TV series season 1 and season 2 (the 2nd gig) firmly establishes itself inside the postcyberpunk territory. But before we completely venture inside the postcyberpunk territory, let’s take one last look at one of the best representations, if not one of the best known to many Otaku outside the US, of cyberpunk anime, the Bubblegum Crisis TV series.

(Note: there are many more fine examples of cyberpunk anime out there such as Appleseed, Armitage the 3rd, AD Police, Black Magic M-66 and so on. I have seen these that I’ve listed and I have not seen these that I haven’t. The Bubblegum Crisis varieties are the ones that left the deepest impressions on me. Anyway, many of the listed titles use pretty much the same concepts – human modification, marginalized loners, technology and either the alienating effect, such as used in cyberpunk, or the effect being in a complete technological society, such as in postcyberpunk, and so on.)

The Bubblegum Crisis TV series was funded by a US company that we all know and perhaps not quite love, based on the relative success of its predecessors BGC OAV and to a far lesser extend, Bubblegum Crash. As far as I know, even though the only part truly American about it was the funding, culturally it wasn’t well received by the Japanese Otaku and it simply didn’t do well on Japanese broadcasting. I suspect the Japanese didn’t even know about it. The original BGC OAV was pretty much unknown to the Japanese Otaku even back in the ’80s. Not to mention ’90s and today, with that in mind, it was doubtful that the Japanese would pay an attention to a TV series based on the almost completely unheard of OAV. When one watches these Otaku reference heavy shows made in recent years one does not see any references to anything BGC related at all, while older and sometimes what we (as the US audience) perceive as more obscure shows have been referred to.

In any case, what we have with the BGC TV series is a perfect representation of the cyberpunk theme – technology alienating people, technology that has gone wrong, marginalized people unable to make a meaningful difference on the society (for the most part), a serious take on the side effects of new cybernetic technology, and a lower level modification of people (combat armors). I categorize “boomers” as pure technology that affects and alienating people, btw, and not quite as modifications of human beings.

The technology in BGC TV series finally “Evolves” into something that not only seriously affects the condition of humanity, it evolves to such a level that the existence of humanity is affected (oddly, for a better reference, see Terminator and Terminator 2, where the marginalized people secretly influences the society in certain ways and saving it without intending that action in the first place). In that case, this technology is indeed a higher level technology – except it doesn’t modify human beings but tries to replace them (think Skynet in Terminator 2). Hence the seriousness of the issues involved. The seriousness of the BGC TV series also makes it a perfect cyberpunk anime by definition. In later shows as Black Magic M-66, and Appleseed, the destructive capability of technology were once again shown and explored.

With most of the 90’s passing away, we had also witnessed some shows that showed cyberpunk influences. The best example is Serial Experiments Lain. However, that show does not quite fit into the requirements of either cyberpunk or postcyberpunk, and hence it’s beyond the scope of this article.

The rest of the 90’s have passed on. We now come to the new domain that many know as postcyberpunk, and in the scope of this article, postcyberpunk anime.

Perhaps cyberpunk anime took themselves too seriously. Perhaps the paranoia of how the new technology would affect human beings has passed away with the Y2K issue relatively easily resolved (with a lot of money involved, sure) without much of a glitch. In any case, the view of the anime creators, and perhaps the audience on advanced technology that potentially involve the direct invasion of the human body and mind has vastly improved. But whatever the reasons are, shows like Ghost in the shell TV series have become the norm of today’s cyberpunk related anime, and Ghost in the Shell TV series firmly establishes itself inside the postcyberpunk anime domain.

The characteristics of Ghost in the Shell (GitS) TV series are as follows:

1. Characters that are clearly established to have direct or nearly direct influence on the society – especially in Season 2, where they deal with issues involving the national policy regarding refugees. And these characters actively try to save or at least preserve the society they exist in.

2. a society where high-level technology is common place – the use of the net, the direct implements into the skull and the brain being used by many lay people who we normally wouldn’t categorize as, for a lack of better term, Alpha Geeks. The usage of cybernetic technology and computer technology becomes essential and a person, such as Togusa, who doen’t quite adopt to all of it is seem as out of place. It’s a “common” cybernetic society.

3. Humor. GitS TV series interlaces humor with seriousness with its use of minor characters – the Tachikomas – working as a team; as a group of deflaters of the potentially deadly seriousness of the issues involved. While the main characters take the issues seriously, for the Tachikomas they are like games being played on a digital-playground.

4. Transhumanist themes. How have the people evolved in this technological society and how will they evolve from there?

The group of people known as Section 9 in the TV series play a very important role in the society, and they try to preserve the status quo as much as possible, as opposed to the characters in the cyberpunk anime such as the Knight Sabers in BGC OAV and TV, who don’t care about order and certainly have no interest in preserving the status quo.

In GitS TV, technology that we as an audience may see as futuristic is seen as common place and part of the integrated dataspheric society. But in a classic cyberpunk such as Black Magic M-66, the deadly android is a new and not already a part of the society and is destructive.

I don’t have to talk much about item 3 because it’s rather self evident. So let’s go on to item 4.

The classic cyberpunk characters are resistant to any of technological improvement/innovation/evolution to humans including themselves. For example, the use of boomer is treated as a precursor to crimes, conspiracies and other unwelcome complexities that these characters have to deal with. In Armitage the 3rd, the problem often involves the treatment of the technologically created specie (a type of evolution) – issues of prejudice. In GitS the first movie, the ills of brain implants are shown when a man’s memory is manipulated undesirably to his will. Finally, in Black Magic M-66, the android goes out or control and onto a killing spree.

The standard postcyberpunk characters, however, not only embraces the human modification through technology – also the main concept of Transhumanism – but use the technology extensively. There’s a general optimism that the human modification (cybernectics in GitS TV) can be used for good. Although ill side effects are shown, this technology is presented as something that can be put under control most of the time.

Human evolution is also a big theme here. When Kusanagi encounters the “god” of cyberspace, the feelings are much different this time around as opposed to the GitS movie – there seems to be a certain sense of hope and a longing of going beyond the state of human beings inside the GitS TV society. Perhaps some kind of evolution is possible; perhaps all the modifications that make humans into what the Transhumanists call “Posthuman” has been done. So what’s the next step up? A total disintegrating or abandoning of the human body, and the eternal inhabitation of the cyberspace after one last dive from outside? It seems the possibilities are endless.

The abandoning or disintegrating of the human body for the sake of something has been demonstrated in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain. However, neither of these shows truly qualifies for cyberpunk or postcyberpunk genre. It can be said, however, that the Transhumanist goal seems to be the ultimate destination that postcyberpunk anime has been heading after its struggles with its insecurities, doubts and suspicions in its cyberpunk phase and its transitioning phase from cyberpunk to postcyberpunk. With all that behind, the postcyberpunk anime heads toward the future.

(To be continued in Part. 4)

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