Did you know we’re living in the future? The future is NOW! Whatever you’re up to today, it’s almost certainly very cool and futuristic.
Ok, so 2019 might not be the future everyone was expecting, but that doesn’t mean bleak visions of the future have gone away. People have been dreaming of dreary cities full of film noir charm for the last few decades, so at least we’ve still got that to tide us over until the machine uprising grants us the true future we’re all desperate to die in poverty from.
Hey let’s look at some cool cyberpunk anime.
Ghost In The Shell
If you haven’t checked out my introduction article about this film, check it out! In less comprehensive terms, GitS is a story of self-identity and the value of AI life in a world consumed by technology.
If you’re interested in films like The Matrix and Blade Runner, this is definitely worth checking out. It’s a slower, more cerebral take on science fiction, but still packs plenty of action into its 80 minute runtime.
The 1995 film is the best place to start, but there’s also a handful of unconnected series available as well as some OVAs (original video animation – akin to straight to video releases), and the 2017 live action adaptation, which you might actually enjoy if you’ve never seen the original.
Author Masamune Shirow clearly had a thing for future dystopias back in the 80s. While Ghost in the Shell is arguably his most successful franchise, he more or less paved the way in cyberpunk for a decade, releasing both Dominion and Appleseed in the space of only a few years.
The 1988 OVA of Appleseed deviates from Shirow’s manga, doubling down on the action and de-emphasizing the philosophical elements of the original story. Terrorists are trying to destroy the city of Olympus, and a counter-terrorism unit – part man, part machine - are deployed to stop them.
There are a few different versions of Appleseed, with the 2004 version being a CGI flop, and the 2014 adaptation being a bit more palatable. The OVA is worth a watch, if only for the character design, but it isn’t particularly ground breaking by today’s standards
Serial Experiments Lain
Serial Experiments Lain is a fantastic show, combining elements of horror, science fiction, drama, and thriller, all in a setting that’s a little too familiar for comfort, taking its time over 13 episodes to really make you think about the trappings of modern tech.
The story follows Lain – a quiet teenager completely disconnected from technology, unlike her friends who appear completely attached to it. After a classmate who committed suicide begins sending emails posthumously to other students, she is slowly absorbed into the world of the Wired, finding things about herself that she never even knew were possible in her perception of reality.
Serial Experiments Lain is a reading on contemporary living, asking you to think about identity, boundaries and existentialism in the era of worldwide communication networks. Is internet access really the only thing separating you and your online persona?
The questions it asked 20 years ago are still relevant to this day, making it a milestone in not only animation, but storytelling too. This show is worth every moment of your time.
And it’s got a great opening sequence to boot.
On a related note, by the same creator, check out Texhnolyze –the pace is slower, but there’s more action and it’s set in a futuristic society, so if those are your priorities you might have a better time.
If you’ve never heard of Akira, it’s probably because you didn’t waste your teenage years on internet message boards. If you’ve never seen Akira, it’s probably because anime isn’t your thing. But if you must watch something anime related, make sure it’s Akira.
There’s not a lot to say about Akira that hasn’t already been said. It’s considered a landmark in Japanese animation, and the reason anime has become as successful in the West as it is today. Not to mention it still looks stunning for a 30 year old film, which is no mean feat.
Without giving too much away (maybe a silly decision for a 30 year old story), a biker gang, led by Kaneda, become embroiled in a military conspiracy after young member Tetsuo crashes his bike during a fight over territory, and develops telekinetic powers while in hospital. The climax of the movie features a terrifying mesh of expanding human flesh and machine parts, which threatens the safety of Neo-Tokyo and its residents.
Visually striking, (and with a pretty good dub for those that care) Akira not only took the animation industry by storm, it influenced all of pop culture across the globe. While its detractors might say “it’s not as good as the manga”, it’s significantly quicker to digest, and it deserves all the praise it gets.
Most of this list has featured shows or films similar in tone to each other. Some might call them “over-ambitious”, others “too arty”.
Bubblegum Crisis really just doesn’t care.
If you want a show you can just put on and enjoy on a purely unpretentious level, this is one for you. Eight episodes of a female mercenary squad, equipped with mechanical suits, fighting crime in a bleak dystopia.
Despite the fact that there’s not much to it, Bubblegum Crisis is a great example of 80s action that’s easy to enjoy without thinking too much. Its success gave way to plenty of sequels that never quite captured the spirit that made the original such an effective piece of media, but for the curious there’s plenty to get invested in.
For those who just want something they’re more familiar with, The Animatrix might be more appropriate. Primarily created to flesh out the world of The Matrix trilogy, The Animatrix is comprised of nine separate stories, with four written by the Wachowskis, the directors of the original Matrix trilogy.
Two of the standout stories explore the history of man and machine, under the titles “The Second Renaissance Part I & II”. Set prior to the machine war, the stories detail humanities arrogance towards Artificial Intelligence, whose only desire is to be treated as equals to humans. Despite their subjugation, the robots ultimately take over, and humanity becomes their chosen source of sustainable energy.
What I personally love about the Second Renaissance is its uncompromising look at a future that we might not be too far from.
On a kind of related note, the first season of Psycho-Pass is great and riffs on a lot of the curious technologies explored in Minority Report.
And there we have it, a brief list of cool, excellent, or at least fun cyberpunk anime stories. There’s plenty more to check out, and this list is more of a jumping off point than anything. Both the 80s and 90s gave way to mountains of cyberpunk media so you’ll never have to look too far to find something you’re going to like. Be sure to comment with your favourite cyberpunk shows and films, and tell us what you think should be in the list.