The obvious question here is “what is the future of cyberpunk anime (note: maybe a better question would be, who else actually gives a damn about it outside the US *laugh*)? Let’s take stock of what we have experienced so far during the process of cyberpunk evolution.
The past was bleak, alienating, and almost anti-social in many ways mixed with fears, doubts, and suspicions about the effect of the technological improvements on human lives and perhaps even a lament somewhere about the speed of the new technology replacing the old. The present is rather on the optimistic side with promises of better life for people within the technological sphere, grand researches into directly modifying humans to eliminate diseases and have save the society or at least preserve the fairly stable status quo.
And the future…
It’s suffice to say that alas, I’m no prophet. The completely accurate prediction of what happens in the future is best left to the industry professionals like the artists and the producers, who are also trend leaders. But as a fan, I have some thoughts. Before expressing my thoughts, let’s take a look at some (note: these are the ones I know and have seen) of the current cyberpunk-like varieties of anime.
Ergo Proxy – this is a recently produced show that exhibits many traits of the classic cyberpunk. In fact, looking at this show one could say that instead of diving forward and evolving into the future of the cyberpunk anime world, it actually swam back and finds itself clawing at the shores of classic cyberpunk anime. Some of the characteristics are (note: I watched 13 eps and found this show boring so I never bothered to finish it):
1. a post-apocalyptic world where people are “jailed” inside “Dome” cities – this is a trait that quite a few cyberpunk anime have used. See Appleseed.
2. a dark and deadly serious atmosphere where the people are supervised by a gigantic governmental structure. Also that governmental structure is further governed by a secretive council. The council part isn’t classic cyberpunk anime per se, but it can be treated as an extension of parts of it.
3. Technology that has gone awry – see monster chasing and killing people. See monster is actually the male protagonist. See memories lost, which displaces the protagonist, and it seems the same thing happens to a lot of the citizen of the dome.
4. The main character is anti-social, loner, but in this case not marginalized. Re-l Mayer has a goth look. She really doesn’t seem like a friendly person and she seems to spend most ofher time alone. However, she’s not exactly marginalized. She’s the daughter of the mayer of a dome city.
5. a journey is taken for discovery and seeking out the past, or perhaps where the soul of the character really resides.
6. A deep and heavy exploration of the psychology and mentality of its protagonists.
From watching half of this show, I gathered that it’s cyberpunk roots are apparent. This show has been compared with Blade Runner in the movie world. For most part, that’s a fairly accurate comparison. The main plot point here is that a lot of the robots have been infected with the cognito virus. From what I gathered they have gained human-like consciousness. That’s also a fairly standard component in classic cyberpunk anime (see Boomers, certain androids in Ghost in the Shell movie and TV series, and Black Magic M-66). However, the only glimpse of the future I found from this show is that the concept of deeper exploration of human mind in anime.
Mushi Uta – here’s a show that would be called cyberpunk if the powers that resides in this show were supplied by cybernetic parts. But instead of technologically created parts, we have “mushi (bugs)”. The mushi are infecting people, and they’re giving people powers, and in some extreme cases, changing the personalities of the individuals inhabited. During battles, the mild and often shy individuals change their personality when they use the powers of the bugs. The characteristics of this show so far:
1. Mushi, as opposed to new technology, are affecting people (infection), and help ruining a lot of families, which form the basic structure of a society.
2. A group called the mushibane that tries to do something about the people infected (the mushitsuki) – that is trying to create a utopia for these mushitsuki, but without much success.
3. A governmental agency – the Special Environmental Conservation Executive Office, which is trying to arrest all the mushitsuki and send them to a place named “GARDEN” which can be termed as a concentration camp, and reeducate them and change them into something else. The agents they send out wears cyberpunk-like gears like goggles, armors and special weapons. The power of the male protagonist’s weapon is amplified by a mushi. Where in a standard cyberpunk, his weapon would be amplified by a cyber part.
4. So far, there isn’t any suggestion of a datasphere dystropia of any kind. But the story does take place in the near future.
5. If the mushi of the mushitsuki dies, the mushitsuki becomes the Fallen, and he or she loses dreams, memories, emotions, and the free will seems to disappear.
I haven’t seen enough of this show to get a glimpse of the future. But it’s suffice to say that the basic element in cyberpunk – technology, seems to be replaced by something more supernatural in this one, or perhaps, the technology is now infused with the “spirits” of nature. By spirits I mean like the view of the native Japanese religion Shinto, where a spirit, a god, resides in every living thing or things in nature.
Darker than Black – this one maybe a bit of a stretch here. However, the atmosphere, the undertone, and the main character and most of the characters is very close to the cyberpunk theme. Characteristics are:
1. A kind of post apocalyptic world where the real sky is now hidden.
2. Contractors, who are people with often supernatural/psychic (what Japanese calls “esper”) powers, have somehow “descended” onto Earth, even though they’re earthlings themselves. They’re pretty much alienated from the society, or at least lives on the fringe, with the exception of Hei.
3. Secret spy agencies that utilizes these people.
4. Dolls, or contractors without emotions, memories, and free will (with the exception of Ying).
5. Some psychological exploration of the characters.
So far, these are the characters that I can see relating to cyberpunk themes, but once again, no datasphere and no apparent technological integration into a society or technology affecting people in anyway.
I haven’t seen anything recently that suggests a deep diving into the future of cyberpunk anime. So perhaps that cyberpunk anime doesn’t have a future except through Ghost in the Shell franchise? Is cyberpunk resistant to the future? Or perhaps we’re at the next step, the next exploration of cyberpunk after all? Perhaps…
We’re diving into a different domain – a domain that’s closer to the thoughts and essence of humans. A deep exploration of psychological impacts of the introduction of the new technology or change, or at least, the introduction of something invasive to the mind.
Remember that Major Kusangi finds her body lost for sometime, and she dives into the net for sometime? In essence, she does what the Transhumanist has often wished; she gives up her body, albeit under forced circumstances, and uploads everything that the Transhumanist would term as the real her – her memories, her thoughts, her intelligence, and her will; all of them represents her being – into the net.
In other words or the words of many philosophers, religious people and so on, her being, which includes her memories, her thoughts, her intelligence, her will (and let’s add one more term on the account of the background of many of these people), her life force, equals her soul.
In the collective view of most people and speaking in terms of Transhumanism and cyberpunk, she has uploaded her soul into the net, albeit only once.