Cyberpunk Anime: Man and Machine - Anime Jinsei

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Cyberpunk Anime: Man and Machine

motoko kusanagi of ghost in the shell

spoiler alert: read at your own riskJACK IN!!! 

To log in to a machine or connect to a network, especially for purposes of entering a virtual reality simulation (leaving is "jacking out"). This term derives from cyberpunk science fiction, in which it was used for the act of plugging an electrode set into neural sockets in order to interface the brain directly to a virtual reality machine.


In the movie Bicentennial Man, Robin Williams starred as a robot with a heart. But not in the beginning though. He worked hard at being intelligent, always leading a questioning life. He wanted to live. Live, and be human. 

He excelled in biomedical science in his quest to be human. He acquired emotions, pain and ultimately, love, through various upgrades to his now nearly human physical frame. He wanted to be recognized as human. 

The ruling bodies, however, ruled that he can't be human. Why? For all his feelings and intellect, he is, for all intents and purposes, immortal. What did he do? He asked his scientist friend to modify his physical structure so that his body would degenerate like that of a human. But despite all this, he is still legally classified as a robot.

Speculative Fiction 

Cyberpunk /si:'ber-puhnk/ A sub-genre of Science Fiction. A term derived from: Cyber(netics) + punk. Originally coined by SF writer Bruce Bethke and / or editor Gardner Dozois. Launched in 1982 by William Gibson's ground-breaking novel Neuromancer

Its roots can be traced back through Vernor Vinge's True Names and to John Brunner's 1975 novel The Shockwave Rider. Cyberpunk is supposedly Tekwar, Teklords, The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, The Running Man, Total Recall, Terminator, Freejack, Robocop, Lawnmower Man and Blade Runner.

Cyberpunk is speculative fiction, a warning on a probable future. Originally, the term 'cyberpunk' was meant to be only a character-type name, meaning "a young, technologically facile, ethically vacuous, computer-assisted vandal or criminal". Nowadays, the term means much more, it's the name for a whole subculture and movement. 


When most people hear of cyberpunk, they think futuristic technology. A peek at the technology of cyberpunk reveals ultra-technology. Cloning and organ-legging are prevalent. Brain implants, embryo cultivation, and cloned organs are used. Bionic augmentation makes normal people stronger than others. Engineering at the gene level allows man to play god. 

Computers, media, and telecommunication devices are smaller, faster, more versatile, and more powerful, today's supercomputer performance and capability in the palm of your hand. The net is still vast and things may not only be in terms of tera and giga but beyond peta. Neural interfaces for computers are explored (think Johnny Mnemonic). 

If Al (Artificial Intelligence) starts trying to figure out how to improve their intelligence or transcend their hardwired limitations, they are usually terminated (something they weren't able to do to the Puppetmaster in Ghost in the Shell). Or they reach a level where they can kill their parents/makers. There's nano-technology, ultramicroscopic machines that can travel inside and either heal or kill. 

Vehicles are cheaper, faster, more maneuverable, and better overall than their predecessors. Besides ultra-fast cars and Motorcycles, personal tanks are a possibility. This performance may be attributed to onboard computerization, everything has improved performance, control, and firepower. Weapons are cheaper, last longer, jam less and fire faster. 

On The Edge

Ultra-technology, however, is not the only characteristic of the cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk works usually have this "life sucks" mood. The “high-tech” of cybercultures breeds "low life". 

In cyberpunk works, it is usual to have marginalized people in technologically-enhanced cultural systems. There is usually a "system” which greatly dominates or influences the lives of ordinary people. It may either be a government, a corporation, or a religion. These are enhanced by certain technologies, particularly information technology. Often, this technological system extends into its human "components" as well, via implants. Humans themselves become part of "the Machine". 

This is the "cyber" aspect of cyberpunk. There are, however, like in any cultural system, those who live on its margins, on "the Edge". There are criminals, outcasts, visionaries or those who simply want freedom for freedom's sake. Cyberpunk focuses on these people, the "punk" aspect of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is a "struggle".

Here are some cyberpunk anime to get you started:

alita of battle angel alita

The Setting: The world is split in two, Zalem (Tiphares) high above and Scrap Iron City down below.

The System: Life in Scrap Iron City centers on whatever discards fall from Zalem. Those from Scrap City look up to Zalem as greener pastures.

High Tech: Guns, knives, weapons, cyborgs, cyborg battles, and robots.

Low Life: Doc Ido, a talented cyborg physician, finds and reconstructs Alita who has lost all memory of her past. They find out she is a skilled fighter and she eventually becomes one of the top fighters in the city's cyborg battle arenas and, together with Doc Ido, one of the most feared bounty hunters paid to eliminate Scrap Iron City's most wanted and dangerous criminals. 

The problem is, the one Alita has feelings for has dreams. He wants to leave Scrap Iron City and climb the ground cables to reach Zalem. He tries and Alita doesn't succeed in saving him from being torn to shreds by Zalem's defense system.

Related: Battle Angel Alita (Gunnm) - Anime Review


tetsuo of akira

The Setting: 14:17, 16 July, 1988. Tokyo has been wiped out by a great white light. Years later, life is hard, life is fast and life is not the same.

The System: The all-powerful, iron-fisted government and its violent military want the "edge". They believe that in order to be powerful, they must control those who have the power.

High Tech: All the people have this power. The kids used by the Japanese army, Takashi, Masaru, and Kyoko, had some amount of power but not enough to meet the army's expectations. 

Drugs were used to increase their paranormal abilities which were planned to be used as weapons. Maybe it was drugs that made them look blue and old. Then they stumbled upon Tetsuo. Tetsuo and his gang who love the fast life on fast bikes. 

Cool bikes, lots of cool firepower.

Low Life: Tetsuo registered great potential and drugs were also used to regulate his power. Tetsuo possesses power comparable to that of Akira, a previous experimental test subject of the army. 

When Tetsuo refused the administering of drugs by the scientists, his powers went out of control. Proportionate to his increase in power was his increase in size and mass. It took the intervention of Akira to prevent another catastrophe.

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040


The Setting: Megalo City, formerly Tokyo. The year is 2040, more or less six years after the most devastating earthquake that leveled Japan. The city has bounced back on its feet after the catastrophe thanks to the help of cutting-edge technology called boomers.

The System: The Boomers are manufactured by an all-powerful corporation called Genom, led by Quincy Rosenkreutz and his right-hand man Brian J Mason. The AD Police are called in to curb boomers gone be berserk.

High Tech: Boomers are not just robots or machines, they are considered semi-humans, substitutes for human beings. But some boomers are running amuck, doing more harm than good, which should not be the case. 

Dr. Stingray, Sylia's father, was killed while working on this boomer technology during the quake. The AD Police use high-powered weaponry. The Knightsabers use superior hardsuits based on boomer technology.

Low Life: Enter the Knight Sabers, a ragtag band of vigilante heroines equipped with the skills and technology to take down the rampaging Genom Corporation boomers. 

Bike riding band vocalist Priss seems to dislike authority figures, especially Genom and the AD Police. 

Country-gal Linna is a "sarariman" (salaryman) or office worker for a Genom subsidiary company who dreamt of joining the Knight Sabers and got her wish. 

Nene is not only a dispatcher for the AD Police but is also a hacker. 

Lingerie shop owner Sylia is directly involved with the development of boomer technology (her body was used a couple of times as host). 

The group's chief wrench, Nigel, is a former Genom engineer. 

Some disturbing scenes are that of a human asking a boomer servant to lick the spillage off his shoes and Mason's relationship with his boomer assistant.

Ghost In The Shell

motoko kusanagi of ghost in the shell

The Setting:  The year is 2029, the world has been made borderless by the net.

The System: Corporations and governments have become powerful. Manipulation of data and stock is rampant. So are terrorism and violence. Police turn to superior firepower and technology in their fight against crime.

High Tech: Major Motoko Kusanagi and her highly trained, cybernetically-enhanced secret service unit called the Shell Squad are trailing this criminal code-named the "Puppet Master". He is called as such because of his habit of taking over the minds of human beings in order to manipulate information from them and others. 

As it turns out, the Puppet Master is not a hacker, nor is he human. It is a computer program, a virus. While members of her team are augmented humans, Major Kusanagi is, in fact, a "ghost" in a "shell". Her "being" can actually be downloaded into super-powered, human-looking, crime-fighting mecha "shells". They all struggle with their humanity... or whatever is left of it.

Low Life: The ultimate secret agent of this era is not human. With no physical manifestation, it can freely travel the information highways of the world, connecting to all computer networks, hacking, and manipulating whatever and whenever required. This agent is named "Project 2501". 

Project 2501 seems to be the perfect virtual agent but it becomes self-aware, reaches sentience, concludes it is a life form “born in the sea of information” and requests asylum. Its ultimate objective: to become truly human with physical existence in defiance of its creators. All it needs is a host.



The Setting: Humanity has expanded to the stars and humans have developed a colony on Mars.

The System: Despite the seeming human appearance, robots are still discriminated against. Humans are regarded as "1sts". Robots are either "2nds" or "3rds". Despite the presence of the Martian Police Department, which keeps the peace, an assassin is killing off all the 3rds who ironically are well-known personages in the Martian society.

High Tech: The 2nds and 3rds can be preprogrammed as artists, craftsmen, writers, and even as assassins. The 2nds are robots who can look and work like humans but are devoid of emotion and creativity. The next-generation / nearly-human 3rds have organic bodies meaning they can physically function like humans, they can even conceive) and electronic brains as complex as that of humans. They can laugh, cry, think, and feel.

Low Life: Newly transferred Detective Ross Sylibus is paired with MPD Officer Naomi Armitage, probably the best officer in the department. In the end, SyIibus accepts the fact that he is not less human despite all the mechanical-cybernetic replacements he has to undergo because of injuries he sustained while in the line of duty. In the end, he accepts Armitage what she is, a 3rd.


tima and kenichi of metropolis

The Setting: The Ziggurat is the arcology, Metropolis is the scrawl. Romeo is human, Juliet is a robot. He lives, she dies, all are punished. Do robots really die?

The System: The power in Metropolis resides with Duke Red and his Marduk party (which is dedicated to destroying out-of-zone rogue robots). 

Metropolis is divided into Zones: the surface level where the skyscrapers are; Zone One slum dwellings where robot-displaced humans stay, no school, no jobs, no food; Zone Two where the power plant is and Zone Three where all the sewage goes to. 

There are two types of individuals: humans and robots. Robots are cheap labor, often replacing humans in their jobs. Humans displaced by this technology are displeased. A totalitarian state leads to revolution then dictatorship ending in catastrophe. Catastrophe here leads to freedom.

High Tech: Robots can do a lot of tasks as well as show some form of emotion. Shunsaku Ban's robot guide and Albert II model robot Fifi both show some form of concern and loyalty. Tima cries and probably loves. 

She was commissioned by Duke Red to served as the superhuman control center for his Ziggurat. The Ziggurat is actually a weapon of mass destruction, it can make sunspots which release electromagnetic waves and cause electronics all over the world to malfunction. Robots can turn against humans.

Low Life: Duke Red is after Tima. Tima is in the care of Kenichi. Tima and Kenichi share a bond, despite him being human and her being a robot. Tima thinks she is human but is proven otherwise when Duke Red lets her take the throne on Ziggurat. Then she goes berserk, saying they should never have toyed with robots.

Notes: Metropolis is CG noirish with touches of 20s to 60s music. One may consider it as steampunk (a sub-genre of cyberpunk dealing with Victorian era / Industrial Revolution romance, discovery and invention) at first but it really seems cyberpunk. Look for allusions to Karl Marx's proletariat and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.

Serial Experiments Lain

lain iwakura of serial experiments lain

The Setting: The "wired" future.

System: The "wired" future is so wired that everyone has to be constantly "jacked-in". So much so that everyone has a Navi. So much so that it seems everyone is too dependent on them.

Related: The Weird Wired World: Serial Experiments Lain

High Tech: The Navi. Everybody has a Navi; there are even portable versions. Navis are computers that people are very dependent on. Why does this sound so disturbingly true even today? Navis even allow one to connect to the Wired, sort of the future of the Internet where people can actually go inside their computers. Creepy

It seems everyone has to have one, and Lain has the newest model. There's also Accela, it isn't a drug, but it is called a sort of "smart supplement". It helps people connect, sort of. It increases brain speed and lasts for one day.

Low Life: Lain Iwakura is surprised to receive an email from a "dead" girl, explains in the letter that she did not kill herself. She has merely abandoned the flesh and is very much alive in the "wired". 

After getting a new Navi and adding a 'psyche' circuit, Lain spends more and more time in the Wired. She decided to investigate the "leaving of the flesh" that seems to be spreading around. She also looks into Knights, a cult wishing to rule the Wired. Jeezus! What else can Lain bump into exploring the nooks and crannies of the Wired?

These anime shows should set you off to a great start of cyberpunk anime goodness.

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