Tag Archives: Science Fiction


Arpeggio of Blue Steel

iona-arpeggio-blue-steelIt is common to refer to ships as female. Now what would happen if warships and submarines were equipped with sentient artificial intelligence?

Arpeggio of Blue Steel is one of the more unique anime I’ve watched. The Fog is a fleet of sentient warships and submarines equipped with technology that is centuries ahead of anything nations can muster. The Fog quickly cut all undersea cables, destroy communication satellites, and trounce every navy in the world. Countries are now isolated and unable to trade over the seas. Now, imagine a world where there was zero trade between countries. No more Toshiba computers or Nintendo systems.  No bananas. No coffee or chocolate. Unfortunately, the anime fails to convey this point well. The impact of the Fog is profound. On top of that, many nations have lost all communications. The United States is cut off from all other nations. The Japanese government is uncertain if the US still exists until a single communiqué managed to be pushed through the Fog’s blockade.

arpeggio-of-blue-steel-ars-nova-submarineI am a sucker for stories that involve characters becoming human. Data and Seven of Nine from Star Trek are favorites. Eureka from Eureka Seven is another. Arpeggio of Blue Steel has several of the Fog’s mental models, as they are called, learn what it means to be human. These girls (ships are female after all) learn what it means to be something beyond a weapon over the course of the anime. Iona, the mental model of the I-401 is one of the stars of this development.

The production values of the anime are high. Action sequences are interesting and gripping. The technology used by the Fog is interesting as well. The tech is based on nanomaterials and energy fields. The nanomaterials allow the mental models to regenerate their ship bodies and create decoys. As long as the nanomaterials are in supply, anyway. In labs, there are self-healing materials based on nanotech, so this isn’t too far fetched. Although the anime takes this technology into the realm of fantasy when entire ships bind to each other.

iona-blue-steelA mental model is an interesting idea. Instead of interfacing with a console, you can simply tell the mental model what you want done. She provides feedback in real time. However, it would be difficult to see a girl wince in pain as her hull takes damage from attacks. The anime plays around with this idea.  Mental models can exist without her ship body, but her capabilities are reduced. She can generate Klein Fields, as the force fields are called, and use limited nanomaterials. However, the models are useful when they interface with other machines or with each other. One of the main limitations is processing power. Each ship class has different processing abilities.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel is refreshing, It has a unique idea and a realistic portrayal of a world without sea trade and communication. The mental models learning to be human is also a nice touch.  The action is well done, and the animation quality is high. It’s not a mecha or high school anime: more points in its favor. Check it out.

 


Akira: Changing the Face of Anime

akira-movieAkira is important for anime both in the West and in Japan. It seems odd, but Akira’s predecessor isn’t another anime.  Rather, Akira is the child of Godzilla.  So what does the teen angst of Akira have to do with the giant city smashing Godzilla?

Both Akira and Godzilla show the influence of World War II, the nuclear age, and the US Occupation. Akira, being from 1988, is further removed from all of this compared to Godzilla, but the anime is set in a world where Tokyo is nuked and World War III starts.  Both movies look at what nuclear war can mean (Cholodenko, 2014).

I will spare you the usual summary of Akira. There are plenty of summaries floating around the net. The film remains popular because it plays on the fears of a future outside our control (like that of Godzilla), and the film is the timeless story of an alienated teen searching for identity. It is full of stubborn adolescent resistance to what should be (Napier,  2001).  Who doesn’t like a story about someone who is able to go their own way? Especially when the person wins against a rotten society. While Akira takes a (then) fresh look at these ideas, the film changed anime in several ways that are more important than why Akira resonated with so many people.

Let’s take at look at why Akira is important beyond the themes of the film.

What did Akira Change?

Godzilla was the first Japanese film to make it into the Western entertainment market. The second? Akira (Cholodenko, 2014).  Now, the US was already familiar with anime. Speed Racer came out in 1967, after all.  However, Akira was something different. Something adult and violent.

Akira’s animation style contrasted to that of Warner Bros. and Disney. Akira’s hyper-realistic, hyper-violent, dark style had more in common with live action than what Westerners considered animation. Akira even makes fun of the idea that animation must always be cute. The film laid the groundwork for later dark, adult films like Ghost in the Shell.

Akira changed the way anime was made. Anime was long thought to be a primitive style of animation. Well, it was for those in the West who knew about it.  Americans were used to the stilted animation of Speed Racer and Voltron. Both were kids shows too. Then Akira burst onto the scene with a ¥1.1 billion budget (Hennum, 2013).  In US dollars today, that is about $19,087,958.  Land Before Time (which came out the same year) had a budget of $12.3 million – $24.6 million today (The Land Before Time, n.d.).  The budget was on par with the American animation leaders of the time.

Akira also laid the foundation for how anime is products today (Hennum, 2013).

akira-sceneFirst, the film raised the standards of anime. It used 160,000 animation cels. Gone were the still frames with speed lines and other shortcuts.

Next, it was the first anime to prerecord its dialog. Before Akira, animation was done first, then dialog was recorded. This was cheap and often led to odd slips in dialog and animation. I’m sure you’ve seen anime where the lip animation didn’t match what was being said. Akira put quality ahead of cost and set the standard for most anime produced from then on.

The film explored cinematography in ways not handled in most animation. The camera zooms and pans like a live-action camera would. While we take this for granted today, the camera work of Akira made it feel closer to live-action than animation. The camera moved smoothly with the action rather than mostly stay stationary.

Most importantly, Akira opened the door for adult targeted animation. Anime like Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell.

The Influence of the Manga

akiraAkira came out before the manga that inspired it was finished. Katsuhiro Otomo’s style influenced Neon Genesis Evangelion’s character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Before Otomo, only the Osamu Tezuka school of Japanese cartooning was taken seriously (Hennum, 2013).  Otomo, along with Shotaro Ishinomori  (Cyborg 009) and Akira Toryiama (Dragonball) laid the foundation for manga storytelling post Tezuka.

Tezuka favored simple backgrounds and character designs. Otomo, on the other hand, drew detailed environments and more detailed characters. Otoma’s work influenced many American comic artists such a Paul Pope and Jim Lee. (Hennum, 2013).

Akira continued to be enjoyed because of its exploration of dystopian society. It is also just a good story that is full of action. Akira changed the face of anime in the West, and showed us how animation is not just for children. The film laid some of the standards anime viewers take for granted today, such as animation quality and cinematography.  The filme, and Otomo’s work on the manga showed us how manga and anime are story telling mediums on par and often surpassing live action.

References

Cholodenko, A (2014). Apocalyptic Animation: In the Wake of Hiroshima, Nagaski, Godzilla, and Baudrillard. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. 11[2].

Hennum, S. (2013). Started from AKIRA Now We are Here: Katsuhiro Otomo Affect on Comics and Film. This is Infamous. http://thisisinfamous.com/started-akira-now-katsuhiro-otomos-affect-comics-film/

Napier, S. (2001). Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experience Contemporary Japanese Animation. Urban Media Comics.

The Land Before Time. (n.d.) IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095489/

 

 


Sword Art Online II – Thoughts on Social Technology

SAO-2-ALO-YuiNot since Ghost in the Shell has an anime series stirred my inner technologist. Sword Art Online plays with some of the same ideas as Ghost but in the opposite direction. Instead of only pulling people into the digital realm SAO plays with the idea of pulling the virtual world into ours. At first, I was hesitant about the second series. I mean, what else could be done now that the threat of dying for real in a game was gone? I was pleased to see the series focus on the after effects of the original SAO series and the implications of the technology. The second seasons looks at Asuna in particular.

Now I know the series has problems. It has drawn a fair level of hate from many as well. However, I enjoyed it for what it was. I won’t really focus on the anime itself in this article. There are enough reviews floating around the net like that. Rather, I will take a look at SAO’s view of technology and our relationships with it. Much of the commentary buried in SAO is relevant for the Internet Generation.

The Virtual Influences the Real

As Kirito says in the first season, the virtual world changes how a person behaves and thinks in reality.

Gun-Gale-Online-SAO-2-SinonThis is a profound idea that even gamers without full dive technology need to consider. We all know that the Internet and online gaming is often a cesspool of backbiting, immaturity, trolling, abuse, and general disregard for others. These behaviors impact who we are in reality as well. After all, these things have to come from somewhere. Although there is a screen between you and the other person, there is still another person on the other side of that screen.

Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with sensuality, abandoning thinking imbued with renunciation, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with sensuality. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with ill will, abandoning thinking imbued with non-ill will, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with ill will. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with harmfulness, abandoning thinking imbued with harmlessness, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with harmfulness.

-Dvedhavitakka Sutta: Two Sorts of Thinking

As the Buddhist quote points out, how we think over time influences how the mind develops. Regardless of where that thinking happens, it bends the mind in that direction. As Kirito in SAO points out, virtual reality is still a reality.

This idea extends into the second season with the introductions of Sinon and Yuuki. Both characters are changed by their interactions with Kirito and Asuna.

The Technology of SAO

As I mentioned, SAO has interesting ideas about technology. Full dive virtual reality allows people to work toward overcoming traumatic events (Sinon) or overcome limitations of illness (Yuuki). Kirito is also trying to develop technology that pulls Yui, Kirito and Asuna’s virtual daughter, into the physical world. We see this blurring of digital and analog in our world. Increasingly, the digital world interacts with our physical reality. We control our houses using phones, for example. What we post on social media has real world consequences. Abuse on social media coupled with offline abuse has driven people into suicide. Poor social media behavior can cost you a job.

sao2-kirito-asunaSAO portrays virtual reality technology as overwhelming positive despite some of the horrors that happens in the series. It allows the characters to have a life that is often more real than what they experience in the physical world.  Such as the scene with Asuna and her mother in SAO II. I particularly liked the scene of everyone working on homework in the virtual world. It illustrates how there are few real boundaries between virtual and physical. Again, we see this today with how pervasive the Internet is in every aspect of life.

SAO notes that technology does not change people. The interactions the technology provides changes people. Technology also brings out ways of thinking that already exist. Think Suguo in the later half of the first season. The core message of Sword Art Online is about humanity more than technology. Kirito sees zero differences between an AI like Yui and a real person. Asuna interacts with people in the virtual world as she does in the real world. That is because those interactions are real even if the environments are artificial. This too is something we need to consider.

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.

-Matthew 15:18-19

Each comment, tweet, and post reflects upon us. It is an interaction with other person.  They come from our hearts. We carry our hearts with us everywhere, online and offline. Technology is only a vehicle of interaction. Of itself, it will not change a heart that is corrupted or pure. Those interactions with other people are what change us. Asuna and Kirito’s interactions with Yui changed them. That interaction drives Kirito to figure out a way to bring Yui into the physical world. She is his daughter, after all. Asuna’s desire to help Yuuki is the same: to share the physical world just as they shared the virtual.  Technology is only a facilitator. It brings out what already resides within our hearts.

Ghost in the Shell wrestles with what it means to be human in a world where the body does not matter. Sword Art Online wrestles with questions of the human heart.

asuna-kiritoSAO resonates with me as a gamer.  The series itself has its problems, like poorly timed Sinon fan service, plot holes, and other issues. Despite the storytelling issues that are common to anime and manga, SAO gives us ideas worth considering.

I am not a competitive person (I dislike first person shooters with only a few exceptions), nor do I seek to harm or exploit other players. I play exclusively as a healer in MMORPGs and tend to give away most of my  wealth to new players. I am me both online and offline just as Kirito and Asuna are. I seek to help others (JP is also part of this) and don’t seek my own gain. Just because I don’t see a person does not mean I can take advantage of them or act less toward them even if I will never see them again.

SAO suggests a message that everyone who interacts digitally with others needs to keep in mind. There is no difference between an online interaction and an offline interaction. There is still another person behind the text or avatar.


Space Dandy – It was a Dandy of a Ride, Baby

Space Dandy

Space Dandy, like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo before, is  genre to itself. It plays with and breaks themes found in scifi and anime. The series lacked  a cohesive plot, and it was sporadic at times. Yet, some episodes were the stuff of legend. Other episodes were the stuff of meh.  Where Cowboy Bebop was episodic, but Space Dandy took it to the extreme. It seemed as if zero episodes were related. The final episode explains the structure and pulls everything together, just barely but enough.

I wasn’t expecting the last episode to be able to pull that off. I won’t ruin the last episode beyond that.

It's all about the booty, baby. Actually, even this is a subtle plot thread.

It’s all about the booty, baby. Actually, even this is a subtle plot thread.

It is interesting how subtle this rockabilly anime was. Oh, not in the lavish, varied animation. The show was quite in-the-face about that. Rather, the subtle threads laced in every episode that the finale yanks together. Of course, in one episode QT makes an offhand comment about Dandy’s changes in female tastes. Dandy starts out preferring the booty. Several episodes later, Dandy makes a comment about boobs being the best. Then back to the booty in the High School Musical spoof episode.  Events with Dr. Gel also point to goings on. His personality shifts from mustache twirler to absent minded professor and back again. Space Dandy’s tie together is worthy of Star Trek’s convoluted timeline arcs.

Dandy being dandy wth  Adelia

I quite enjoyed the romp. Dandy is a dandy guy. Interestingly, his love for the ladies and their various gifts does not fall into misogyny. Rather, he treats women with respect in an old fashioned, 1950s sort of way. Dandy fits with the 1950s time period in every way – from the Greaser look to the cheesy science fiction movies.

Scattered throughout the series are references to modern issues and cultural norms. Meow is constantly screwing around with his blog or Twitter. His smart phone is always in his hand. It often distracts him from goings on around him. Sounds familiar? Honey is also a reference to attitudes toward women. Honey works at Boobies where she wears not much of anything. Despite coming off as a bimbo at work, she is actually a genius and capable pilot. This reflects how women who work at places like Hooters are often looked down upon.  Many are working their way through college and are far more intelligent than the tight shorts and shirts suggest to people. Space Dandy alludes to how we make (wrong) judgments of people based on surface interactions and the clothes they wear.

Space Dandy

The series is unlike any other I’ve watched. It is refreshing to see storytelling be daring and strike out into new ground. Although, at its core, Space Dandy’s storyline is straight out of Star Trek, the execution is what sets it apart. It doesn’t try to tie anything together, but offer threads in every seemingly unrelated episode to pull together at the end. The series doesn’t try to be something it is not: it is just a fun ride through space in a Hawaiian themed space ship.

Adelie is one of the more memorable and cute characters Space Dandy encounters.

Adelie is one of the more memorable and cute characters Space Dandy encounters.

I am a little disappointed that the cute Adelie failed to make one last appearance. I expected to see her appear as a adult to torment and perhaps marry Dandy. Hey, weirder things happened!

It is interesting how Space Dandy played with String Theory and the multiple universe hypothesis without becoming overly confusing. Star Trek tends to get lost whenever it plays with the same ideas.

At the end of the day, Space Dandy doesn’t have much of a message. It plays with sci-fi tropes and ideas from the fringes of science. It doesn’t get itself lost in lofty serious messages about existence. Space Dandy sets out to entertain. The anime isstuffed with visuals that massage the retinas and zany action that remind me of the more playful days of animation. It is also very western and wonderfully funky. Anime often takes itself too seriously. Space Dandy is everything but serious. Space Dandy is a nice break from the tired high school anime that clutters what we see here in the US.

See you, Space Rockabilly

See you, Space Rockabilly

I am sad to see Space Dandy end. It was a dandy ride, baby.


.hack//Quantum

.hack QuantumI have yet to watch the famous .hack anime series. So, I was a little lost when I jumped into the 3 episode Quantum original video animation. The series caught my interest. It follows Sakuya, Tobias, and Mary as they play the latest MMORPG, “The World R:X.” Their adventures quickly take a turn for the worst when the three girls run across a player called Hermit and strange events in the game world.

The reality of virtual reality gaming hits home when Mary doesn’t wake up from the game world.

There isn’t much time for character development in just 3 episodes. Quantum relies on character stereotypes: the ditz, the calculating serious one, and the cautious protector for the girl’s in-game persona. hack-quantum-girls

.hack//Quantum was an interesting watch. Although, I was lacking background from the other .hack series I could follow what was going on. I find series that look into virtual reality and how it affects reality quite interesting. Before going into librarianship I studied computer programming and video game design as an undergraduate. Of course, I grew up playing video games too. I was an 8bit and 16bit console child.

The short episodes briefly explored what would happen if a person could “fully” enter a game: feeling pain and have the game affect you in reality. Sakuya, for example, receives a wound in the game that made her hand in real life continually tingle. I can see events like these being remotely possible. Virtual reality interfaces wouldn’t even have to stimulate the brain directly to do this.

sakuyaThe mind is easy to trick. Think about the last time you woke from a nightmare. However, stimulating the brain and body with electric impulses could certainly lead to problems. I tend to get fragged often in first person shooters. I rarely play them because I tend not to like them and get motion sick playing them. Now imagine feeling something uncomfortable every time you get shot or killed.

Of course, there is the pleasure side of the equation that Quantum doesn’t have time to delve into. Sword Art Online touches a little on how virtual reality could affect sexuality. As you can tell, the idea of virtual reality and how people would use the technology fascinates me.

In any case, Quantum shared many elements with Sword Art Online. It definitely makes me want to look into the other .hack series.

 


IS: Infinite Stratos

Infinite StratosWhat would happen if only women could pilot the most advanced weapon system in the world?

They would all attend a school where they use high yield explosives in sporting events!

Infinite Stratos (or IS) follows the only male in the world who can use these powerful mechas: Ichika Orimura. He attends the only school in the world where women train to use these machines. It is also the testing ground for the latest models. Yep, one guy in a school populated by go-get-em girls used to blowing each other up in competitions. Obviously this is a harem anime.

Why doesn’t anyone get killed from these competitions you ask? IS are equipped with energy shields. Once the shield is drained, the match is over…unless some type of accident happens in the safety mechanisms.  By the way, no one knows exactly why Ichika is the only one who can pilot an IS. It may have to do with the fact his eldest sister (and his teacher at the academy) is one of the best pilots in the world. The IS have ushered in an age of world peace because IS tech is equally given to all nations by its inventor and sister of Ichika’s childhood friend Tabane Shinonono.

Infinite Stratos MechaIchika, being the only guy, has to deal with the attentions of an entire school. Apparently all girls are out to  fight over a guy according to harem anime.

Infinite Stratos is pretty typical in the harem department. Ichika is a clueless brick when it comes to the girl’s advances…at least when it comes to those that matter. The cast is the usual, the childhood friend and love interest, Houki Shinonono; the Westerner elite girl, Cecilia Alcott; the other childhood friend, Huang Lingyin, and the mysterious quiet girl (who happens to be German), Laura Bodewing.

Antics involve the usual fare of girls fighting over who will date Ichika (in and out of the mecha) down to Ichika waking up beside a naked Laura who already “married” him. Of course, other antics involve sharing a room with a girl and other problems for a guy attending an all girls school.

Infinite Stratos Fan ServiceThe storyline felt tacked on since the focus was the conflict between the characters. It had to mainly do with some mysterious unregistered IS units showing up time to time. The IS did lend an interesting dynamic to the usual harem fights. The mecha fights were done in CG, but they looked nicely seamless compared to the regular animation. It is pretty much the norm for mecha fights to be CG anymore.

Infinite StratosThe fights were interesting and dynamic, but I wasn’t really surprised to find there wasn’t much in the way of actual danger. This is a romance story after all. Ichika, as usual for harem protagonists, was often annoying with how clueless he was. Out of all the characters I thought Laura stood out despite the limited screen time. She was different and interesting. Not to mention she was one of the few who wasn’t, well, top heavy. Large bosoms tend to detract from character designs much of the time.

There wasn’t any panty fan service luckily, but there was a fair bit of breast jiggle as the IS clamped over each girl when they were activated.

Being a harem, I wasn’t expecting too much from Infinite Stratos. It kept me amused enough to watch all 12 episodes.