Tag Archives: Cyberpunk

A high-tech society with a breakdown in the social order.

Akira – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akira

 

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Spriggan

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror

Length: 2 hr. 4 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The art, especially the backgrounds.
  • World design.
  • That thing in the finale.

Negatives:

  • Vague research subplot.
  • Clumsy dialogue.

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There was a time when if you mentioned you were into anime, Akira was one of the first anime others asked if you had seen. Akira, Akira, Akira! It was everywhere. As it happens, I had not seen it until having been into anime for several years. Overhype resulted in a letdown. Then again, no one ever actually told me why they recommended it. Most anime at the time was recommended simply for being anime. We didn’t have a large selection.

In the year 2019, Neo-Tokyo has not yet recovered from the devastation of World War III, where an explosion had torn the city apart. Terrorism and riots are routine. Haneda is the leader of a bike gang, whose job seems to be clashing with a rival gang. One such clash leads Tetsuo, the smallest of the gang, to crash into a child that looks 100-years aged. This child is an esper with devastating psychic ability. Soon, Tetsuo starts to develop powers of his own.

The story is a simple one to follow – a psychic kid runs from the government as his powers develop faster than he can handle. The change in Tetsuo from a little kid who looks up to Haneda with the cool bike into a brat with a god complex is an interesting one, plot-wise. This arc raises the stakes to apocalyptic degrees, so tension isn’t lacking in Akira. Character-wise, it doesn’t give us much. Personality and depth are in short supply, rationed out like food after the war. Everyone in Haneda’s gang combined make up one whole character and the government officials and scientists merely fill the roles given. If Tetsuo were a robot slowly going out of control, there wouldn’t be much difference. Akira is no Ghost in the Shell.

Now the action, that’s more interesting. The destruction caused by the psychic powers looks fantastic thanks to the animation. When every surface crumbles away from Tetsuo, you can feel the invisible force pushing out in all directions. It’s visceral. Each action scene is more intense and crazier than the last, culminating in one of the most famous finales in film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for something different.

In truth, the art made Akira the famous anime it is today, and made me appreciate it more on further viewings. The parallax scrolling alone is worthy of an award. When you come across a long shot of the city with a character going across the screen, rewind to admire each background layer moving at a different speed, creating that visual depth you rarely see in anime. It’s not just the number of layers, but the attention to detail on each. Surely, Akira must have a ton of AMVs that take advantage of these scenes. I would be surprised to learn otherwise. Even if cyberpunk depresses you or if the premise bores you, give Akira some of your time to appreciate its artistry.

Art – Very High

Every long shot of Neo-Tokyo is a marvel. The depth of field obtained from parallax scrolling deserves praise. The animation is great too, except for the mouths, which are over-animated and don’t sync in any language.

Sound – High

The music and sound design are the notable parts of the audio. The clumsy dialogue doesn’t allow the otherwise good actors to get into the characters. Watch this is Japanese, but if you watch Akira dubbed, go with the 2001 Pioneer version, not the original from the 90s that exemplifies bad dubbing.

Story – Medium

A teen of psychic ability starts to go mad amidst a city in chaos. The straightforward story doesn’t flex its muscles, instead giving us characters with little exploration and a vague sub-plot about research involving the Akira entity.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for classic anime fans and lovers of art. Akira isn’t worth your time for its story. Instead, stay for the art and the spectacle of it all, the third act in particular.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost in the Shell STAND ALONE COMPLEX

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG (sequel – included in review)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (further sequel movie)

Ghost in the Shell (movie – alternate story)

Similar: Psycho-Pass

Ergo Proxy

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Crime Science Fiction Action

Length: 26 episodes (season 1), 26 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Engaging themes and philosophic questions.
  • Some of the most creative villains in crime fiction.
  • The music and acting.
  • High effort put into creating a believable future.

Negatives:

  • Tachikoma episodes.
  • Occasional pacing issues.

Having seen and loved the Ghost in the Shell movie, I couldn’t wait to begin the series Stand Alone Complex. My first impression was one of disappointment, however, for the style and tone from the film was nowhere to be found. Gone was the gritty, used future, replaced by a clean and polished Japan. Gone was Major Kusanagi’s introspective quality that enamoured me to the film – a brighter tone took its place, matching the shiny Japan. Though once I got over this disappointment, I found myself highly engaged in Stand Alone Complex’s sci-fi driven crimes.

SAC is a separate take on the Ghost in the Shell universe. The characters and concepts are similar overall, but you need to let go of any pre-conceived perceptions about the world and characters – Section 9 agent Bato is a lot more cheerful, for example, offsetting Kusanagi’s endless solemnity. We still follow Public Security Section 9, specialists in counter cyberterrorism, as they deal with a variety of unusual high-tech crimes.

Straight off, you should know this is a crime serial. If you don’t enjoy crimes dramas (not talking about garbage like CSI) then Stand Alone Complex won’t be for you. While it does bring an interesting twist with sci-fi, it’s still a crime serial through and through. If you do enjoy crime, then you are in for a great series that explores police procedure in a realistic future of advanced AI and cybernetics.

SAC has two distinctive episode types, noted during each title sequence: “Stand Alone” episodes, which are (obviously) stand-alone stories lasting an episode each, and “Complex” episodes that follow the main plot. One could watch just the Complex episodes without missing plot. However, the Stand Alone episodes delve into the characters and explore philosophical topics more than the main arc, so they are definitely worth watching.

Even then, SAC is at its best during the main story. The first season focuses on Kusanagi and her team’s efforts to catch The Laughing Man (name based on J.D. Salinger’s short story of the same name), a ‘hacktivist’ fighting against government corruption. He has the ability to hack everyone’s brain chips (more common than smart phones in the future) to cover his face with a smiley face logo; wherever he goes, and even on camera, all anyone sees of his face is this smiley. Only those unchipped – the poor, basically – can see his true face. What an excellent villain. He’s creative in execution, morally grey in actions, and thoroughly engaging throughout. 2nd GIG is similarly creative, though I like The Laughing Man best.

Smaller crimes for the Stand Alone episodes tend to target a philosophical concept, though always with a sci-fi slant (hacking, cyborgs, the digital space, etc.), which succeeds to mixed results. One notable episode early on explores the validity of androids to be seen as human. At what stage of artificial intelligence would we consider them human, if ever? What if a human has a deep connection with a robot, does that give ‘humanity’ to the machine? These episodes don’t lend to a binge watch ‘just one more’ feeling, but are engaging in their own right.

The Stand Alone episodes fail when they focus on spider tanks called Tachikoma, AI like hyperactive children. See, these Tachikoma, being young AI with the ability to learn (hence the child-like personalities), tend to gather around the cyber campfire to engage in long-winded philosophical discussions. Rather than show these conundrums through actions, as seen in other episodes, their philosophy is told to us to the point of boredom. The discussions weren’t even interesting. Add in those squeaky voices and it can become unbearable. Tachikoma are best taken in small doses.

In the end, while Stand Alone Complex wasn’t quite what I wanted after the film, I loved its philosophy, commentary on political correctness with cyborgs (“We say ‘mechanically enhanced’ – cyborg is racist!”), conmen taking the victim route of “racism” for financial gain, and real world parallels with radical refugee insurgents and terrorism. Stand Alone Complex left me with plenty to think about.

Art – High

A sharp, clean style renders SAC nicely. The CG for the vehicles isn’t bad, if noticeable, though the full CG opening looks strange.

Sound – Very High

Same psychedelic, ethereal music from the movie, for the most part. Yoko Kanno, of course – explains the great quality. Great script and acting. The dub team did an excellent job in creating a natural translation, so either language works.

Story – High

A cyber police unit battles criminals of a high-tech nature, most notably The Laughing Man. SAC is a crime serial in a realistic science fiction world implemented to great results. Heavy on philosophy.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must if you enjoyed the movie – start with the movie to see if you like the themes tackled. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a great anime void of almost all anime tropes. An easy recommendation unless crime serials aren’t for you.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Engaging DialogueGreat MusicPhenomenal VillainStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Ghost in the Shell – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost in the Shell

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (sequel)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (alternative series)

Similar: RahXephon

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

Akira

Psycho-Pass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 1 hr. 23 min.

 

Positives:

  • Detailed, dirty world.
  • Moments of cerebral peace and introspection.
  • Cool tech.
  • Making of a Cyborg sequence and music.

Negatives:

  • Too short.

In the year 2029, the human world has become one with the cyber world through the field of cybernetics. An unaugmented human is the rarity. This merging of worlds has brought a new vulnerability to humans – brain-hacking – and a hacker known as the Puppet Master is taking full advantage. Enter Major Kusanagi and her Section 9 group of cybernetic cops to investigate.

Ghost in the Shell showed me it was something special within minutes. I am not referring to Kusanagi’s camouflage skin, which is awesome, but the ‘Making of a Cyborg’ segment where we see her creation into a being far beyond that which is human. The sequence takes us through every stage of the process from her metal and muscle frame to her synthetic skin. Coupled with the ethereal music, I felt a genuine sense of watching an artist bring something to life, the creative process made manifest, the layers upon layers that go into a single human. Magnificent.

Kusanagi was bred to be the ultimate entity of justice – skilled, focused, and with a seemingly single-minded life against crime. She isn’t sure of her origins, and seeing the Puppet Master’s ability to implant false realities into the brains of others – similar to Total Recall – has made her question the truth of her own thoughts. Though she is more machine than woman, she shows a curiosity for the world. The film’s acts are punctuated by these moments where Kusanagi roams the city streets and lets the music, the environment take over as she absorbs what she knows is concrete, what is real, what will forever be real in her cybernetic mind. The world may be dirty, but it is alive to her.

I went into this film for the action and the futuristic setting, but I came out fixated on the calmer moments and the relation between organic and cybernetic. The way the villain manipulated people was an engaging and terrifying possibility. A civilian illegally hacks his wife’s mind to find his daughter after his wife took her away in the divorce; in reality, the man was never married, doing the Puppet Master’s work by proxy without realising it, leading the police to dead ends. Great idea for a villain plot – I enjoy seeing villains who rely on something other than strength.

Aiding Kusanagi is her partner, Batou, also augmented with the latest tech – grafted sunglasses seem to be a staple of cyberpunk augmentation. It isn’t cyberpunk if no one has built-in sunglasses. Kusanagi’s purpose for living does make her a little too eager to dive into enemy territory and Batou must act as the voice of caution to remind her of her limits. Regardless of caution, he will always enter the fight with her once she has decided.

My only serious complaint with Ghost in the Shell is the short length. So much of the world and the story had room for exploration. I want to know more about Kusanagi, about her history, the history of cybernetics. How does the world cope with this technology? What laws have they enacted? Great worlds and characters always leave me asking for more – I guess that’s why Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a reality.

Art – Very High

Ghost in the Shell’s grimy, rainy, futuristic world is brought to life with detailed art and great animation. The ‘Making of a Cyborg’ is one of my favourite sequences in anime. The attention to the mechanics of the cyborgs and the tech is a delight.

Sound – Very High

The music is unusual, psychedelic, ethereal chants, and I love it. The fit with the setting and humanity themes is perfect. Ghost in the Shell is from the era of great dubs for films, so the choice is up to your preference. The Puppet Master in English sounds like The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded – probably where the Wachowskis got the voice, having admitted Ghost in the Shell’s influence on their films. 90s bleeps and bloops made me chuckle.

Story – High

Cybernetic police investigate a ‘ghost-hack,’ which allows control of people’s brains. An introspective film set in a grimy world of tech and blurred lines between human and machine. Needed to be longer.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like cerebral sci-fi. Ghost in the Shell is a great film and Stand Alone Complex is there if you want to see more.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Engaging DialogueFluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Related: Bubblegum Crisis (original version)

A.D. Police (spin-off)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Blassreiter

Silent Mobius

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Mecha Action

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Powerful and sexy women who punch robot guts.
  • Nice electro-rock music.
  • The cyberpunk world design of Tokyo looks cool.

Negatives:

  • Noticeable animation budget techniques.
  • Not particularly deep.

I came across Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 by chance while watching SBS (Australia’s international channel) over a decade ago. In the late night block, they had a glorious trio of anime series: Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, and Bubblegum 2040. While Bubblegum 2040 was the worst of the three, I still made sure to set aside the time to watch it along with the others. I loved the vigilante women in power armour. So, how does it hold up after all these years? Let’s find out.

In response to a mysterious earthquake that crushed Tokyo, the Genom Corporation created organic robots called Boomers to rebuild the city and replace many lower level service jobs. However, some Boomers have been going rogue, mutating into cybernetic monstrosities that attack indiscriminately. Enter the Knight Sabres, a quartet of women in power armour led by beautiful Sylia Stingray, daughter of the Boomers’ inventor. The other three women are Priss the bad girl rock star, Linna the hardworking country girl, and Nene the plucky police officer. Genom, trying to suppress the flaw in their product from the public, doesn’t look at the Knight Sabres favourably and neither do the A.D. Police, jealous of vigilantes doing their job for them.

The characters are solid, fleshed out and have enough drama and flaws to make them interesting as they balance vigilantism against ordinary jobs and personal matters. Like the characters, the story isn’t groundbreaking, hitting many of the standards in cyberpunk sci-fi such as pleasure robots, philosophical questions about robot consciousness, and corporate overreach. Hell, the Genom CEO is an old man stuffed with cables hooked to an electronic throne atop a skyscraper. Even though these tropes are common to the likes of Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, A.I., and many cyberpunk works, Bubblegum 2040 uses them well to create a fun action series with girl power. There is also enough in the philosophical questions and drama (one of the A.D. officers has a crush on Priss – drama!) to prevent the action from becoming repetitive and blending into one.

I know that if I hadn’t watched this all those years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance today due to its age. That is why I urge you to give Bubblegum 2040 a shot in spite of its aged visuals, just as I would want someone to urge me if I hadn’t seen it. Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 is what I describe as the most solid of the solidly good series; it plays it safe and delivers its promise on the tin.

Art – Medium

Dark visuals to match the cyberpunk setting, and the Boomers and Knight Sabres look cool. The budget animation is noticeable, however. In establishing shots, background characters are frozen and action scenes often use streaks and action flashes (charge, swipe arc, flash, and damage with no transitions in between). All considered, the art isn’t poor, but if you need modern visuals, this won’t be for you.

Sound – Medium

The better voice track is up to personal preference, as both are equally good. When Priscilla sings, the lip flaps are out of sync in either language, strangely enough. I thought the heavy metal and rock most appropriate to arse-kicking.

Story – Medium

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040’s story is as straightforward as it gets – vigilantes fight robots from an evil corporation. Though this plot is not particularly deep, it hits all the right notes for an enjoyable viewing experience.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch this for solid sci-fi action with vigilante women tearing the cybernetic hearts from robots. Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 is an anime I like to watch when I don’t want to think deeply about the subject matter and just relax. It doesn’t have any grating problems to irritate either.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Kaiba – Review

Japanese Title: Kaiba

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Weirdly creative in design.
  • A strange tale of memories and mental manipulation.

Negatives:

  • You have to love the abstract art and surreal narrative to enjoy.
  • Little music, repeats often.
  • Though the world and monsters are creative, they aren’t detailed or explained much. The weirdness simply is.
  • The child-like art makes the few promiscuous scenes creepy.

Kaiba is a man on a mission to be the best at children’s card games, and he’s going to do it with or without the rules because he’s got money! …wait, wrong anime. Actually, Seto Kaiba entering into Kaiba the anime wouldn’t be the strangest thing that happens in this show. Kaiba is a surreal trip into a world of memory manipulation expressed through abstract art that you will either love or hate.

Kaiba (hole in his chest) lives in a society where the wealthy barter and trade for memories. After death, a person’s memories are stored into a chip, whereupon it can be implanted into a new body to live again. Memories can also be deleted or added as needed – out with bad, in with happy – to improve one’s life. In essence, you could theoretically live forever. Authorities kill people on a whim, bodies turned to sludge and their memories transferred to the mainframe in wait of a new body.

Kaiba wakes up in a strange corner of society, suffering from amnesia and embarks on a journey to recover his memories, the pendant around his neck with the picture of a girl his only clue. On his journey, he encounters a variety of characters from a memory smuggler to a space sheriff. Kaiba isn’t sure which memories are real and which have been altered.

The art in Kaiba is unusual, wildly different from what people expect when they think ‘anime.’ It is inspired by old anime – very old – like Astro Boy old, and you must love this style in order to enjoy Kaiba. The abstract art matches the abstract narrative. The style and themes hold consistent throughout the series. My major complaint with the art is the child-like character design being dissonant with the events of the narrative. These characters look like infants, yet there are several promiscuous scenes that some may find disturbing (others will probably laugh). We are told that they are adults, but the character look and sound like children. Using female voice actors for almost all male characters really didn’t help with convincing the audience of character age.

Ultimately, Kaiba is a difficult anime to discuss without going into spoiler territory. If you love the surreal or just want to watch one of the stranger shows out there, then Kaiba is for you. One episode is all you need to decide if it’s worth your while or not.

Art – Medium

Weird abstract art that you must love to enjoy this anime. I would personally never use it.

Sound – Medium

A serviceable voice track accompanied by slow, psychedelic music. Most tracks consist of 10-15 second clips that loop endlessly to create a song. It feels as if each track makes an appearance every episode, which gives an air of…cheapness.

Story – Medium

A strange tale of a boy searching for his lost memory, which succeeds at its core, though the world at large, the lore is left unexplored.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Only for those who love the weird and surreal. One could either love or hate Kaiba within a single episode.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None