Cyberpunk in Anime

K. Adam White '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University, Spring 2005

The primarily cyberpunk anime are still Bubblegum Crisis and Ghost in the Shell, but several other series deal with cyberpunk themes and incorporate speculation about the relationship between humans and their technology. Most notable is the series Serial Experiments Lain (Cyberia Anime, a Lain information site).

The world of Lain is very much like our own, to the point at which each episode begins with a text string and soundbite announcing "Present Day, Present Time". The story deals mostly with the "Wired", a term used in Lain to denote a vastly broader version of the internet with expanded virtual reality capabilities. Lain herself is an ambiguous entity, a shy, human middle-schooler who discovers the Wired and rapidly develops immense power in the virtual realm. The question of whether Lain herself is originally a product and integral part of the Wired, or merely a remarkably competent human user, remains in flux throughout the series. At times it becomes clear that there are actually two Lains, differing in personality and intent, but sometimes recombining as the Wired or the Real reasserts itself. A shadowy secret society of programmers called Knights works to achieve some hidden end in the network, working at times through Lain, later fought by her, as mysterious cyborgic men in black suits observe from the shadows. Slower paced and more psychological than the action-driven Ghost in the Shell or Bubblegum Crisis, Lain still deals with many of the same issues. At times the similarities are particularly direct, as when a computer programmer in Lain imprints his consciousness on the Wired as a sort of God, living on even after the programmer himself commits suicide. This scene evokes the opening of Max Headroom, where an attempted upload of reporter Edison Carter gives birth to the AI Max Headroom. The series primarily concerns itself with investigating a breakdown between the real world and the Wired, and makes for a more atmospheric alternative to the firefights and street samurai of Gibson and Blade Runner.

Other series that are less directly related to cyberpunk but nonetheless include some of the same concepts are the OVA (original video animation) series Sentou Yousei Yukikaze (series information) and the TV series .hack//SIGN. Yukikaze, based on science fiction author Chohei Kambayashi's novel of the same name, follows the antisocial fighter pilot and Air-Force Lieutenant Rei Fukai through an ongoing battle with an alien species known as the JAM. Having forced the JAM back to a planet called Fairy, humans built special combat aircraft to fight them. Fukai pilots the most advanced of these aircraft, a combat and observational plane called "Yukikaze". Installed with an elaborate computer system designed to detect JAM, Yukikaze develops an AI and the pilot and plane form a sort of emotional bond. Yukikaze even self-destructs in one episode in order to save Fukai, and often acts of its own volition during dogfights. Interactions between Yukikaze and other aircraft AI also occur. Although much more in line with pure science fiction, the series at least hints at some cyberpunk concepts about AI and man-machine relations, albeit removed from the idea of the machine in human form.

.hack//SIGN (series info) is a long-running TV series about an online, massively-multiplayer fantasy role playing game. One character, Tsukasa, awakens into the game world with all his senses, remembering nothing about his former life. His body lies in a coma, plugged into the network, as Tsukasa wanders The World in search of some sort of explanation. The series has expanded into a multi-media story, spanning several video games, the original TV series, a manga (comic book), and OVA. The concept of being plugged into a computer system while unable to log out should be familiar from other works, including Tad Williams' Otherland series of science fiction novels (author's site).

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Related Materials

Bubblegum Crisis Ghost in the Shell

Last modified 18 March 2005