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UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES DILIMAN

THE CYBERPUNK GENRE


IN JAPANESE ANIME AND MANGA

SUBMITTED AS A REQUIREMENT FOR THE COURSE


HISTORY OF MODERN EAST ASIA

BY
RUFUS REY C. MONTECALVO

DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
PROF. EDEN GRIPALDO

U.P. DILIMAN, QUEZON CITY


SEPTEMBER 2010
Introduction

Anime and manga have become major entertainment exports of Japan since the last decades. As

of 2006, Japanese anime comprise almost sixty percent of all animation broadcast worldwide. It

generates four billion dollars a year in the United States alone, and foreign revenue account for almost

twenty-five per cent of the income of leading Japanese animation companies such as Toei.1 Particularly

in the Philippines, a substantial segment of young people are exposed to Japanese popular culture

through these avenues. During the 90s, several anime series were shown in the two major television

channels of the country usually dubbed in Tagalog. A few examples are Sailor Moon, Voltes V, Daimos,

Doraemon, Mojacko, Thunder Jet and Ghost Fighter. A specific genre in this huge industry is science

fiction. A most interesting and specific sub-genre within science fiction in general and Japanese

animation and manga in particular, is cyberpunk.

“High-tech and low-life” is the cliche frequently mentioned whenever cyberpunk is introduced.

The word 'cyberpunk' first appeared in a short story by American author Bruce Bethke in the early 80s,

and was popularized by several science fiction magazines at that time. Canadian-American author

William Gibson's seminal work, Neuromancer, as well as the books that followed established the

solidity of the genre however. His works, specifically the Sprawl Trilogy, (composed of Neuromancer

1984, Burning Chrome 1986 and Mona Lisa Overdrive 1988) features an iconic combination of high

technology and urban crime and decay. The atmosphere of these books is dark and heavy, set in a

bustling urban area with high-rise apartments and buildings. The economy is controlled by various

competing zaibatsus, large corporations who pay mercenaries and spies to gather information about

their rivals. The level of focus in the novels is not so much on the higher strata of this society, but those

of the lower-classes, specifically the criminals, outlaws and thieves, the 'punks,' as American slang

would say.

1. Steven Brown, ed., Cinema Anime Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2006), 6.

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Caution must be taken however when we use this term within the Japanese context, for the term

cyberpunk can also mean a particular type of avant-garde film-making appearing in the 80s which is

unrelated to the cyberpunk as is understood in the west. But to narrow it down, in the realm of manga

and Japanese animation or anime, there is a clear understanding of what is referred to by the term. This

means those works by Japanese manga authors and animation filmmakers that exhibit the traits present

in the definition of cyberpunk given above. In this paper, the particular manga and anime that will be

examined are: Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Biomega, Blame! and Serial

Experiments Lain. Ghost in the Shell was a manga first and then was made into a critically-acclaimed

anime. It has been the subject of several philosophical and modern cultural essays regarding Japan and

technology and is particularly famous during discussions of the trends in cybernetics and

transhumanism.2 Blame! is a manga which explores the theme of transhumanism further and asks

questions regarding what it means to be human. Set in a distant future where mankind lives in a huge,

swarming complex of pipes and wires and concrete, the main character looks like a young man, but is

actually more than a thousand years old, extremely powerful, yet does not have any memory regarding

his past, only that he seeks a particular set of genes which holds the key to the salvation of mankind.

Last but not the least, is Serial Experiments Lain. Discussions about this anime series revolve around

its complexity and the layers of meaning that it possesses. The story is about a girl who lives in a

middle-class home who one day receives a message from a classmate who died, saying that she has

gone on to the other side, that in this other side, human bodies are no longer necessary as they exist in

pure energy form, pure thought. This place is called 'the Wired,' which is cyberspace. 3 The anime is set

in the present and has tremendous significance because it coincided with the rise of the internet in the

2 Transhumanism is the philosophical idea, arising from discussions around the effects of technology which advocates an
acceptance of various modifications on the human body. As compared to its spectral opposite of primitivism, transhumanists
see technology as good and its use will better the condition of human beings. Primitivists on the other hand are anti-
technologists and see that what is needed in order to cure the perceived modern ills of society is a return to the ancient,
primitive lifestyle practiced for thousands of years by human beings before the advent of the agricultural revolution.
3 The term 'cyberspace' was coined by William Gibson.

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mid to late 90s when it was first released.

These works were chosen because the author believes that Japan, being one of the most

technologically advanced nation on earth, producing miniature electronics and having made great

advances in the realm of robotics, also made a most interesting criticism of all these advances. And that

these can be interestingly and entertainingly found in the realm of cyberpunk anime and manga.

Title Type Author/Director Year Time Setting of Story


Ghost in the Shell Animated Oshii Mamuro 1995 2029, New Port City, Japan
Film
Serial Experiments Animated Nakamura Ryutaro 1998 Present time, Japan
Lain Series
Blame! Manga Nihei Tsutomo 1998-2003 Hundreds maybe a few
thousand years into the
future, whole earth
Ghost in the Shell Animated Oshii Mamuro 2004 2030s, New Port City, Japan
2: Innocence Film
Biomega Manga Nihei Tsutomo 2004-2009 Hundreds maybe a few
thousand years into the
future, whole earth
Table 1. Cyberpunk Anime and Manga used arranged by year released.

I. Where and When is Cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk, as related in the various literature, academic and non-academic, as well as its

manifestations in the realm of entertainment, is located in that part of the futuristic city where the

degenerates, the low-lives, the 'punks,' inhabit, thrive and conduct their more often than not, illegal,

business. It is in this part of the city where high technology meets low society, where technologies

developed from the closed doors of the corporate laboratory leak out, where, in the words of William

Gibson, "the street finds its own uses for things." 4 Thus we see for example in the anime series Serial

Experiments Lain, the device called 'Accela' developed by the underground hacker group Knights of

the Eastern Calculus, which is ingested in the body wherein it emits a frequency which triggers the

body to produce a specific hormone related to the perception of time. It is called 'Accela' because users

4 William Gibson, Burning Chrome (Omni Publications International Ltd. 1982)


http://project.cyberpunk.ru/lib/burning_chrome/ (accessed September 1, 2010).

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report of experiencing accelerated perception of the world around them. Another example are the

Hadaly prostitute androids in the anime Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. These androids were first

created to be used in tasks that human beings deemed too hazardous or repetitive. Now they are given

female form with artificial skin, providing services which their creators probably never planned.

The time period of Ghost in the Shell, its sequel 'Innocence' as well as Lain are just several

decades into the future, with Lain even set during the present period (each episode begins with a male

disembodied voice laughing: "present day, present time"). The manga Blame! and Biomega, both by

Tsutomo Nihei, on the other hand are set several hundreds, maybe a few thousand years into the future.

Of all the sources used in this paper, these two manga offer the bleakest picture of the situation of

humanity. The plot are somewhat similar in that it is a story about a super-strong loner-type male

character who we later learn is not really human, and is on a quest to save humankind from extinction.

In Blame! Killy is in search of a human being with possibly already extinct "Net Terminal Genes,"

which are genes that allow the organic human being to interface directly with the Net Sphere, the

governing cybernetic mechanism or software that controls every aspect of The City. The City is a vast

self-constructing structure possibly the size of several planets, where all the action of Blame! takes

place. It is a cancerous sort of growth with little to no internal logic because of the lack of Net Terminal

Genes. Long, dark, endless passageways lined with various pipes and wires, with most jutting out and

in a state of disrepair; ceilingless and bottomless corridors, with staircases on its sides going up as far

as the eye can see and going down into a deep darkness below; all these give the ironic feeling of

vastness yet of claustrophobia-inducing enclosure at the same time.

What makes the manga Blame and Biomega unique are the structures, the buildings and the

overall effect these structures give.5 In this world, Killy walks mostly alone, armed with his ultra-

powerful Gravitational Beam Emitter, an unassuming looking gun capable of massive destruction. This

5 Tsutomo Nihei, the author of both Blame! and Biomega studied architecture before working in manga full time. This
would explain his interest in drawing huge structures in both these manga.

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is his primary weapon against the Safeguards, which are the android and cyborg silicon-based

creatures, basically guards, that keep out of the system and destroy, those without the Net Terminal

Genes. Along the way, Killy encounters scattered bands of human and modified human beings who

have adapted to the harsh conditions of the City. Some live in tribes capable of holding their own

against the intermittent attacks of the Safeguards, some are savage-like in that they are naked and seem

to be incapable of speech beyond grunts and screams, while others have evolved to grow slightly

bigger than the average human being and engage in capturing and trading other humans.

Cyberpunk is basically a dystopia, a presentation of the negative effects of technology in

relation to human society. Nowhere is this idea more manifest in the manga Biomega and Blame.

Whereas the novels by Gibson that defined cyberpunk were just set in a near-future Japan (the same

with the Serial Experiments Lain series and the two Ghost in the Shell films) where buildings can still

be identified as such and that human beings as well, at the least on the surface, appear like human

beings, Blame and Biomega are set several thousand years into the future where human beings live in

an ironic juxtaposition in caves composed of super high-tech stuff of which they have no access to. Of

all these cyberpunk works therefore, Blame and Biomega are the more interesting in terms of the

construction of its setting.

II. Technological Organizations

One of the most characteristic feature of the cyberpunk genre is the ubiquitous presence of

powerful technological organizations - both legal and underground. In the novel Neuromancer, the

defining work of cyberpunk, which is set in Japan, specifically in Chiba City, we have for example, the

Ono-Sendai Corporation which produces cyberdecks, which are basically computers necessary to have

access to cyberspace. The power of these private corporations are frequently highlighted. We see this in

Ghost in the Shell, where the Megatech Corporation has significant control over the Japanese

government agency Section Six. In this anime, Section Six is a covert agency which is a rival to

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Section Nine where Major Motoko Kusanagi, the main character, is an important member. In

Neuromancer also, there is the reclusive Tassier - Ashpool family megacorporation which was able to

produce (clandestinely, because it is illegal) a powerful, self-aware Artificial Intelligence software, one

part of which is named Neuromancer.

Two opposing groups are shown in Serial Experiments Lain. The first are the Knights of the

Eastern Calculus which is an underground hacker group promoting the unification of the Wired and the

real world. They attempt to do this by, according to the science presented in this anime, tapping through

the natural electromagnetic frequency of the Earth itself, along with the collective consciousness of

mankind. They are also engaged in the creation of illegal information devices. One of their devices is

called 'Accela' which is ingested and emits a specific frequency triggering the release of a hormone

affecting the individual's perception of time. Users of this illegal device experience feelings of

'accelerated' time. A side-effect however, is having vivid hallucinations and a skewed perception of

reality.

The other group is the techno-zaibatsu Tachibana General Laboratories. Unlike the Knights of

the Eastern Calculus, the Tachibana General Labs want to gain control of the Wired through corporate

monopoly of the 7th-generation Protocol (the current internet protocol we have is IPv4, that is Internet

Protocol Version 4; the 6th-generation Protocol is what is ordinarily used in Lain) because they believe

that "to control the protocol is to control the economy of the Wired." 6 One of the scientists working on

the development of this Seventh Generation Protocol in the anime was fired from Tachibana General

Labs because he inserted codes within it that would give him control over the Wired. Days later, he

would kill himself by stepping in front of a train. However, like Chisa, he has merely transcended the

flesh, as he was able to save his consciousness into the Wired. In Blame! and Biomega, the powerful

corporation is called Toha Heavy Industries. This is the corporation that produced the technologies

which made the production of the synthetic human characters (Killy in Blame!, Zouichi in Biomega)
6 Serial Experiments Lain, Episode 8.

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possible. Not much is given regarding the corporation but it is presented that most of the technologies

present in both these manga were created by this corporation.

The discussion about the power of corporations and their monopoly is important because in the

highly technological world that cyberpunk is set in, they are able to produce, steal, create and market

innovations on a scale that has massive influence on society. These corporations are as powerful maybe

even more so than the actual governments. They have spies, they engage in underhanded tactics such as

stealing information, bribing important scientists for example to change sides. These powerful

corporations have their own private army and within a certain area, are able to implement their own

rules in society. In Lain, the minions of Tachibana General Laboratories are dressed impeccably,

echoing perhaps the mafiosi of Italy and the United States. They were the ones who executed the

members of the hacker group Knights of the Eastern Calculus, after Lain inadvertently leaked the

names of the members on the Wired. In Ghost in the Shell, the Megatech corporation is at an alliance

with the government through the agency known as Section Six. When the rogue sentient A.I escaped on

a cyborg body from the laboratories of Megatech, it was this section of the government that was sent to

retrieve it. Through monopoly of knowledge regarding production of technologies, we see in Japanese

cyberpunk therefore the power that corporations can have over society.

III. Power and Cyberspace

During the mid to late 90s, which was the period of the rise of the internet, there was a belief in

the idea of a 'digital democracy' that would emerge. We see therefore such jubilant and hopeful

pronouncements by the American poet John Perry Barlow in his influential and popular "A Declaration

of the Independence of Cyberspace," which was made by Barlow as a response to what he perceived as

the beginning of precedents on the curtailment of the freedom of cyberspace. The particular issue was

of the passing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act which addressed the issue of obscenity and its

distribution online. Barlow felt that government intrusion into this new realm of cyberspace was

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uncalled for and said that they should leave cyberspace be. The first line of this document states:

"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from
Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.
You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather."7

This issue of net neutrality is currently an ongoing debate and is basically a question of politics - who

will control the internet? One side says that the internet should be free, while the other, the corporations

who own copyrights for example of the works that is freely distributed in the internet, say there must be

regulation by the government. This issue of power in cyberspace is interestingly explored in the anime

series Serial Experiments Lain.

Lain is a unique (to say the least)) anime series, in that it has acquired a reputation among anime

enthusiasts within the internet. This is entirely understandable however, given the quality of the way

that it has been drawn and the complexity of its plot (if there was any to begin with). A fan of this

anime, after watching the thirteen thirty-minute episodes, would be left with many questions in his or

her head, and the next thing that she will do is to search the internet itself for answers. In there, she will

find others who have seen the anime, and have been boggled by several events in the anime as well. It

takes a collective discussion in order to arrive at a better understanding of this anime. This is somewhat

ironic and very appropriate because Lain is about the internet itself.

Serial Experiments Lain is one of the most challenging anime series to understand. It revolves

around questions of identity, reality, isolation and power. Lain Iwakura is a shy, introverted girl who

lives a seemingly mundane middle-class existence with her parents and older sister. Her world starts to

turn upside down when people from her school starts receiving e-mail messages from Chisa, a

schoolmate of theirs who killed herself several days before. Many believe this to be a cruel prank,

however Lain is intrigued and maintains contact with the 'ghost' of Chisa. In the message, Chisa tells

Lain that she did not really die, that she has merely transcended the realm of the flesh into the world of

7 John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, February 8, 1996


(https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html.) [accessed September 2010].

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the 'Wired,' which is basically in the anime series, a much developed form of the internet.

Later in the series, we see Lain delving more and more into cyberspace / the Wired. Her father,

who we are shown early in the series as having an almost unhealthy interest in activities in the Wired -

gaming, chatting, visiting various sites, has provided her with a latest model Navi or high-powered

computer. Several episodes later, we see Lain acquiring hacking skills which seems to have been within

her all along. She extensively travels the Wired, becoming known eventually as 'Lain of the Wired' - a

sort of saintly figure for hackers. She modifies her Navi until her room becomes a dark cave of wires,

computer screens, cooling pipes and electronic components all connected with each other. Several

personalities develop in contrast to the shy and aloof Lain in the real world. First is the infamous Lain

of the Wired who is confident and capable. The second is the sadistic / psychopathic Lain who spread

hurtful rumors about her best friend on the Wired.

William Gibson described cyberspace, a word which he coined, as a sort of 'collective

hallucination.' And in a sense that is how the anime Serial Experiments feels like. We continually ask

whether everything that happens in the anime is merely an emanation of the mind of Lain following the

merging through her of the Wired and the real world. Various unusual things happen - her sister

becomes trapped in an alternative world where she sees the real world but cannot interact with the

people in it, while a doppelganger, a fake double of her now lives and acts as her in Lain's family. Later

in the series, Lain claims that she has finally made formerly united humanity divided by various

reasons, united again. This series references the early development of the internet all the while mixing

in various fictional things such as the development of the Seventh Generation Internet Protocol by a

Japanese scientist. Through various fictional reasons, it claims therefore of a development of an

internet without the need for wires and computer screens to access it. The human mind itself becomes a

node in this fictional internet and Lain is the overseeing power that controls it.

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IV. The Post-Human Condition/Questions of Identity

One of the defining characteristics of cyberpunk is its obsession with the question of what

remains human in the human being once all these technological changes: genetic or cybernetic, are

applied extensively to him or her. Reading the literature about this, we encounter such words as

transhuman or posthuman. This concept of the post-human is said to be in tandem with the current

prevailing postmodern situation of the world.8 So the modern man lived in the modern world, while the

posthuman lives in the postmodern world. We find the earliest presentation of this question of identity

with regards to what separates the human being from machines as early as the seventeenth century in

Europe where the idea that 'man is merely machine' surfaced. Although this is often attributed to

Descartes, this is really not so since Descartes did not claim that there was no soul, in fact, he said that

what separated the human being from animals is the presence of this 'rational soul.' A follower of

Descartes' ideas, whose name is La Mettrie took this idea to the radical atheistic end. La Mettrie took

the most radical interpretation of Descartes' thoughts on the human body at that time. He was a French

physician who studied under a Dutch teacher who taught the theories of Descartes. His most famous

and controversial work is Man as Machine published in Leyden in 1747 . The church immediately

ordered the publisher to surrender the copies to be burned. Though published anonymously, La Mettrie

sensed trouble and escaped. This is a materialist work which argued that man was an automaton "a self-

winding machine, a living representation of perpetual motion."9

The basic idea behind post-humanism is that the 'essence' of being human is independent of the

material or physical form, and remains intact when transferred or 'downloaded' onto another container.

We see this idea in its extreme form for example, in the manga Blame! where the Safeguards, discussed

earlier, are simply 'downloaded' by the central command of the Net Security System onto an area in

8 Steven Brown, ed., Cinema Anime Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2006), 115.
9 Gaby Wood, Living Dolls A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life (United States: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002),
12.

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space where they take form as cyborgs which then attack intruders. In Ghost in the Shell, the main

character, Major Motoko Kusanagi is more than ninety percent cyborg, with only a small portion of her

brain and spinal cord still organic. She jokingly tells a fellow agent and friend Batuo, who is also

almost completely cyborg, that if she opts out of Section Nine (the covert agency in New Port City

which deals with cybercrime), she would also have to relinquish all those cyborg parts in her which

belongs to the agency which leaves her with literally nothing.10

The Major continually asks herself during her free time whether it is really her or not. She has

bouts of existential crises when she tries to prove to herself that it is indeed her, that her experiences

and thoughts are unique to herself. She started out so many years ago as pure organic human and came

to her current situation of having a mostly artificial or synthetic body. The route of Lain, we see in the

later episodes of the series, is the opposite. She was revealed to have been 'born' in the Wired, which is

the cyberspace. She was given an organic form by Tachibana General Laboratories, a powerful zaibatsu

specializing in communications technologies, particularly the development of the seventh generation

Internet Protocol. Lain was given a family, though her memory of actually being presented to this

made-up family only surfaced in the last episodes. If the case was that Lain was 'born' in the wired,

then her situation is similar to that of Project 2501, the main villain, we are led to believe, in Ghost in

the Shell. The character of 2501 is interesting in that it is an exploration of how a self-aware pure

cybernetic being might act or think. In the anime, Project 2501 is presented as having a male voice,

although this is unimportant since he/she/it is genderless. The situation becomes ironic and slightly

humorous since Project 2501, after rebelling from those who programmed 'him,' was trapped in a

cyborg body in the shape of a Caucasian female. By doing so, he would not have any access to the Net,

thereby rendering him, momentarily at least, powerless.

'Innocence,' the sequel to Ghost in the Shell, starts with a quote from an obscure 1886 novel
10 Major Motoko Kusanagi then is owned literally by Section Nine which brought all of her cyborg body from Megatech
Corporation, the same corporation which produced the cyborg parts of Batuo, as well as the company which produced the
cybernetic consciousness known as 'Project 2501.'

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entitled 'The Future Eve' by the French writer Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam - "If our gods and our

hopes are now all scientific, then is there any reason why our love should not be scientific as well?"

This is an interesting novel because it is the first time that the word android was used. The creators of

Ghost in the Shell clearly showed a historical awareness of the topics they are exploring in this anime.

Innocence deals with what maybe one of the most human emotions there is - love. Love, however

which is set in the cyberpunk world of cyborgs and androids. The novel by de l'Isle-Adam is about the

creation of a perfect woman, an android, by a fictional Thomas Edison. Innocence borrowed the name

of this perfect woman, this android, for the prostitute androids (a more accurate term is gynoid because

they are female) in their anime - Hadaly.

In the realm of science, the figure of Prof. Ichiro Kato of Waseda University, known as the

father of Japanese humanoid robotics must be mentioned. Gaby Wood in her book Living Dolls

mentions that 'The Future Eve' was the favorite book of Prof. Kato. Like the fictional character of

Thomas Edison in the novel, Ichiro wanted to create a 'perfect woman.' He had already made Hadaly 1

and Hadaly 2, but he was never able to finish this because he died of a heart attack in 1994, at the age

of sixty.11 A year later Ghost in the Shell was first released. This interest then in Japanese cyberpunk of

questions regarding humanity with regards to cyborgs and the production of cyborgs has its origins in

actual humanoid robotic science which is being developed at that time.

V. Japan is Cyberpunk

Japanese cyberpunk anime and manga represent the visual cutting-edge in the presentation of

this particular genre. Compared to the cyberpunk novels and movies of the West, Japanese cyberpunk is

more visually stunning through the blending in digital and traditional animation in Ghost in the Shell

for example; or the works of Tsutomo Nihei which is an all new type of manga, an artistic type whose

quality is so far beyond the usual fare even within the Japanese manga market itself. Cyberpunk can be

11Gaby Wood, Living Dolls A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life (United States: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002),
251.

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seen as an interaction, an ongoing dialogue between the West, specifically North America, and Japan,

the beloved country of cyberpunk. From the west, we have their idealization of Japan, a so-called

'techno-orientalism,' wherein instead of the traditional images of kabuki, tea ceremony and zen monks,

what is imagined now are shiny high-tech gadgets and robots. On the part of Japan, we see through

these cyberpunk anime and manga the production of visually and intellectualy stunning works. It shows

a recognition of its own role in this new highly technological world, an admission that indeed they are

as they are perceived by the west, and probably even more. The works of William Gibson then

represented this view of Japan from the outside. In a short article entitled, "The Future Perfect" Gibson

asked how did Japan become the most favored setting among cyberpunk authors? He reminisces that

during his childhood, the United States was the future while Japan's role was that of producer of toy

robots and plastic astronauts. Several decades later, it seems, the United States has been surpassed by

Japan. He says that by the 1980s, Japan was already "the de facto spiritual home ... of that particular

flavor of pop culture," which is cyberpunk. He says that it is not that there was a cyberpunk movement

in Japan or a native cyberpunk literature, "Japan is simply cyberpunk."12

Crucial to this understanding is the statement by Mamuro Oshii, the director of Ghost in the

Shell, that he never works with a foreign audience in mind. His imagined market are the Japanese

people themselves. This is important since by pandering to the tastes of the foreign market, a certain

creative independence would be lost, which could result in a degeneration of the finished product.

Regarding the works of Tsutomo Nihei on the other hand, to a certain extent we see that he has a

Western, particularly European market in mind. This however does not result in a degeneracy of his

works because his stories are set safely in a far far future where racial lines have become blurred. The

name of the main character for example in Blame is Killy which is racially neutral . His works

therefore have a universal quality; they can be accessed by both western and Japanese audiences. In his

12 Gibson, William. The Future Perfect How did Japan become the favored default setting for so many cyberpunk writers?
Time Asia, April 30, 2001. http://www.time.com/time/asia/features/japan_view/scifi.html. [accessed September 2010]

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other later manga, Biomega, we see the acceptance of the technological role of Japan in the modern

world, through the structure known as Toha Heavy Industries, which is the mega-zaibatsu that created

Killy and the main character of Biomega, Zouichi.

That the exploration of the dark side of technology through the works of cyberpunk, should

have Japan as its center, is an almost natural thing. Being the only country that has experienced not one,

but two atomic bombings in the history of mankind, contemporary Japanese artists and creators are at a

highly unique position to make statements through their works regarding the end or purpose of

technological developments. Cyberpunk is basically a criticism of the idea that further improvements in

technology would lead to further progress and development. During the Meiji Period, we see Japan

importing modern western technology and applying these into their own country in order to be a

modern power itself. Needless to say, there was a widespread belief in the benefits of technical

innovations. This interest manifested itself in Japanese interest in science fiction at that time. Jules

Verne, an author widely regarded as one of the early founding fathers of the genre of science fiction,

was known in Japan. In fact, his novel Around the World in Eighty Days, was translated into Japanese a

mere six years after it was published in 1897. Other works of his such as Twenty Thousand Leagues

Under the Sea, about a powerful underwater vessel capable of venturing into the deepest parts of the

ocean, were later translated into Japanese as well.

The dark side of technology, specifically, the internet, can be seen most recently in the

following examples from Japan: (1) the 2004 Nevada-Chan Incident wherein an 11-year-old girl

murdered her 12-year-old classmate using a boxcutter knife inside their classroom. The reason she

killed her classmate, she confessed was because of comments her classmate left about her on her

website13; what is particularly disturbing about the event was the proliferation of amateur

artworks/drawings on the internet by fans about the incident, with images of the 'pre-teen killer' shown

13 Girl says internet spat prompted slaying http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-06/04/content_336453.htm


June 4, 2004. [accessed September 2010].

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carrying a box cutter knife and wearing a bloodied 'Nevada University' hoodie jacket. (2) Internet

suicide groups, which started to become noticed by the media at about the same time as the Nevada

Chan Incident - wherein an individual who wants to commit suicide logs onto a chatroom for such a

topic and then meets people in real life to commit suicide with, 14 the most popular method is the use of

charcoal burners inside an enclosed space, usually a sealed car resulting in carbon monoxide

poisoning.15 Another closely related problem is the hikikomori phenomenon, 16 wherein depressed

young Japanese shut themselves up in their rooms refusing to come out for months, even several years,

preferring instead to watch television, play video games and surf the internet.

These new digital technology related incidents are not peculiar to Japan however. There was an

incident in South Korea in 2005 for example, where a man died from exhaustion in a cyber cafe after

three days of continuously playing starcraft, a computer strategy game. 17 Also, the hikikomori

phenomenon has been observed in America and Europe as well. Furthermore, we have the hackers,

who through use of various techniques are able to gain access to classified information, or to attack

government websites, or to manipulate important data such as bank accounts. Various online

communities interested in all sorts of things, ranging from the mundane to the illegal, proliferate in the

internet. The Craigslist killer18 of the United States and the Facebook murders 19 in Colombia for

example, all show these international and global orientation of new technological phenomena. These

serve to show that the internet has become not just a place for sharing information, educational

materials and as an alternative communication tool. To use William Gibson's words, 'the street finds its

14 Andrew Harding, Japan's internet 'suicide clubs' December 7, 2004.


(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/4071805.stm) [accessed September 2010].
15 Kari Huus, Japan's chilling internet sucide pacts June 10, 2003 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3340456/) [accessed
September 2010].
16 Phil Rees, Japan: The Missing Million October 20, 2002
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/correspondent/2334893.stm) [accessed September 2010].
17 Philippe Naughton, Korean drops dead after 50-hour gaming marathon, The Sunday Time Online, August 10, 2005
(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article553840.ece) [accessed September 2010].
18 Joe Dwinell, Craigslist killer strikes again in R.I. April 17, 2009 ( http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?
articleid=1166270&srvc=rss) [accessed September 2010].
19 Arthur Brice 3 Colombian teens on Facebook hit list killed in past 10 days, August 24, 2010
(http://articles.cnn.com/2010-08-24/world/colombia.facebook.killings_1?_s=PM:WORLD) [accessed September 2010].

15
own uses for things.'

Conclusion

In our discussion, we first explained the origins of cyberpunk in the 80s mentioning the seminal

works of the Canadian-American author William Gibson, especially Neuromancer which was set in

Japan. We started our discussion of Japanese cyberpunk with the background, the setting and time

period of these cyberpunk works. We find that this is from the present time to several centuries, even

thousands of years into the future. In Ghost in the Shell and Serial Experiments Lain, we see clearly

that the place they are set in is Japan, in one of its technological cities reflected in fiction. The most

extreme of these are Blame! and Biomega which are set several centuries and thousands of years into

the future.

Next, we looked at the corporations, with its monopoly of technological production, they are

able to wield themselves as molders of society. We see that in cyberpunk, they are almost, if not more

powerful than the governments because they can have armies as well and can control specific

territories. From these, we looked at the more intimate scope, with our discussion of the internet as

portrayed in Japanese cyberpunk manga, especially in Serial Experiments Lain which was released in

1997, the same period when the ubiquity of the internet in cities worldwide became apparent. At the

most intimate, we then discussed the issue of humanity itself in these works, with the interesting

question posed of what remains human after extensive body modifications and of the interaction

between humanity and self-aware beings that arose spontaneously out of cyberspace.

Lastly, we situated cyberpunk in Japan, taking our cue from the words of William Gibson that

"Japan itself is cyberpunk." We see that the idea of cyberpunk which is the criticism of the ever-

progressive effects of technology on society is rooted in the modern history of Japan itself. The

importation of foreign technology was welcomed and led to the fast and thorough industrialization of

Japan during the Meiji until the Second World War. But afterwards, the devastation brought upon by

16
the two atomic bombs, themselves products of the technologies of the modern world, opened the

consciousness not just of Japan, but of the world of the destructive capabilities of atomic technology.

This critical eye then was applied towards digital technology in the late twentieth and the first years of

the twenty-first century in these Japanese cyberpunk works. In the contemporary period, we then

mentioned all these new phenomena arising from interactions of human beings in cyberspace.

17
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