Tainted Love: Commentary on Blade Runner & Anime

Steve Cook [sbc@clark.net]

One of the weird things--the many weird things--about anime is people getting it on across species boundaries. Humans lust after robots (as in Bubblegum Crisis and Ghost in the Shell or, to more comic effect, in the series Sabre Marionettes), aliens (in classic anime comedy series Urusei Yatsura) or all-purpose cultural cat girls (there's no better way to describe the main character of the aptly-named All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku). The non-human female is accepted as a sexual creature and even fetishized.

This is among the most transgressive acts in popular culture, or it is among the least. Possibly it's both. As Liz once pointed out, there are people who have a thing for robots. The continuing media hype over "teledildonics" leads me to believe that there are a number of people out there truly fascinated with the idea of sleeping with their toaster. Obviously, the idea is both bizarre and somehow attractive to a lot of people. It's the ultimate zipless fuck. (Or, to paraphrase comic Dennis Miller: What happens when an unemployed steelworker can suck back a six-pack of Miller Lite and have virtual sex with Cindy Crawford? It's worse than crack!)

Which, inevitably, brings us to the question sex and humanity in Blade Runner. One of Ridley Scott's more interesting move was making Deckard a replicant. (Yes, I fall firmly into the Deckard-is-artificial camp.) In Philip K. Dick's brilliant book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, upon which the film is based, Deckard is a human. He is, however, a repulsive human, cold and affectless. Dick has created a world where the question "What does it mean to be human?" is meaningless. Instead, he asks "What does it mean to be a machine?" When one behaves in a flat and emotionless way, why does society still hold one to be human?

Dick's fiction deals with wild, ontological questions. These do not, in general, make for good cinema. Scott backs away from many of the issues Dick raises. The idea of Deckard's redemption still can be found in the film. Redemption, though, is through a simplified, normative relationship. Deckard makes his way out of the city (Los Angeles, never looking more like itself--Dick's city was San Francisco) with Sean Young. It's hard to be less transgressive than that.

Anime has already realized this. For all the strangeness, the Japaneseness of anime, the viewer consistently sees people pairing off. It may be a boy-boy couple, a boy/robot couple (Sabre Marionette), a robot-robot couple (Ghost in the Shell), a girl-boy/girl couple (Ranma 1/2), or something more unusual than that, but the way to defang the sexiness of the robot is to make it into just another cute person. No one could be confused as to why Deckard is supposed to find Young's character attractive. I still haven't made up my mind as to whether I think that anime (and cyberpunk) renders the idea of having a relationship with a non-human more or less palatable. Like Dick, however, anime has moved beyond the obvious first question by simply assuming its answer and seeing what that answer may bring.

[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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