Cyberpunk in Anime: 5 Sobering Titles (I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK)

Cyberpunk is a style of hardcore science fiction that peaked in the anime industry from the late 80’s to early 90’s. Then, like an old pair of phat pants, it pretty much died. While there haven’t been any pure revivals of cyberpunk in anime, it is fun to go back (or forward…) in time if you feel like pondering your existence.

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The more technologically advanced we get, the more isolated we become.

Sprawling metropolises,
Crime,
Violence,
Technology,
Scientific evolution,
Rebelling against “the system.”
This is what cyberpunk is all about.

1. AKIRA

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Episodes: Feature Film, 2 hr. 4 min.
Aired: Jul 16, 1988
Producers: Tokyo Movie Shinsha, Funimation Entertainment, Mainichi Broadcasting, Kodansha, Bandai Entertainment, Toho Company.
Rating: 17+

The real first impact. Rather, the second.

Set in Neo-Tokyo, year 2019, Akira is a critically acclaimed cyberpunk classic that inspired the Anime Industry of the early 1990s. Young delinquent Tetsuo Shima has a complex friendship with the leader of his biker gang, Shotaro Kaneda. When his latent psychic abilities are awakened by the military, Tetsuo confronts his emotional angst, and place in society. Overall, this movie is about rebellion, rebirth, and the futility of one’s quest for knowledge.

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2. Ghost in the Shell

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Episodes: Feature Film, 1 hr. 23 min.
Aired: Nov 18, 1995
Producers: Production I.G, Production Reed.
Rating: 17+

Year 2029. In a world of advanced cybernetics, identity theft can be dangerous.

Tokyo’s Section Nine security force is looking to apprehend a hacker known as the Puppet Master. Leading the operation is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a powerful cyborg officer who questions her identity in a society where brain implants are the norm.

Ghost in the Shell was an inspiration for the creators of The Matrix, and is chock-full of intense, cyberpunk action.  It is an interesting approach to examining the nature of one’s existence. In an artificial body, how do you know your soul is real? …Lots of deep questions.

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3. Serial Experiments Lain

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Episodes: 13,  24 min. per episode
Aired: Jul 6, 1998 – Sep 28, 1998
Producers: TV Tokyo, Geneon Universal Entertainment, Genco, Funimation Entertainment, Triangle Staff, Pioneer LDC, TV Tokyo Music, Fuji Pacific Music Publishing.
Rating: 17+

Lain Iwakura is an average girl living in suburban Japan. After receiving a mysterious text, curiosity drives her deeper into the “the Wired”. This series takes an existential look at the essence of communication, spirituality, and loneliness in the internet age.

Although the written dialogue is sparse, the hand-sketched appearance of the characters, deeply contrasting watercolor-styled backgrounds, and eerie audio effects of  Lain combine for a truly unique atmosphere. (Btw, if you are a fan of atmospheric sci-fi anime, Yasuhiro Yoshiura‘s work is amazing as well). This series returned to US television on October 15, 2012 on the Funimation Channel.

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4. Texhnolyze

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Episodes: 22,  23 min. per episode
Aired: Apr 17, 2003 – Sep 25, 2003
Producers: Madhouse Studios, Group TAC, Funimation Entertainment, Rondo Robe, Fuji TV, Pioneer LDC.
Rating: 17+

Texhnolyze = (pron.) “Tech-no-lies”.  A mafia-style syndicate, a group of religious zealots,  and some young rebels fight for the crumbling city of Lux. Here, an injured orphan turned prize fighter named Ichise gains a second chance at life when a doctor fits him with experimental artificial limbs. When a young girl tells him his future, Ichise discovers a will of his own.

Although Texhnolyze is slow, reflective, morbid, and not for everyone, the gorgeous settings and disconnected view of the characters make for a realistic experience. As a viewer, I find it refreshing to be a neutral observer, and to be given the freedom to determine on my own what to think of the characters.

Speaking of characters, Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze both feature designs by Yoshitoshi ABe, and were worked by a lot of the same key staff. I feel ABe’s subtle, edgy style and cool palette lend nicely to the cyberpunk genre.

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5. Psycho Pass

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Episodes: 22,  23 min. per episode
Aired: Oct 12, 2012 – Mar 22, 2013
Producers: Production I.G, Funimation Entertainment, Fuji TV, Nitroplus, Sony Music Entertainment.
Rating: 17+

If you mix together Minority Report with the hardboiled action of Blade Runner, you get Psycho Pass.

This story takes place in a future where it is technologically possible to measure a person’s propensity to become a criminal. It follows the members of “Unit One”, a criminal investigation division of the Public Safety Bureau. While not a cyberpunk anime in the strictest sense (the characters fit in with society), the broad dystopian atmosphere & high technology qualify it. Psycho Pass presents a world where a positive mental state is valued. The main themes it explores are emotional repression, and moral relativity.

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Funimation has licensed and simulcasted this series from Fuji TV’s Noitamina programming block in North America. A hard copy release is planned for Spring 2014.

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Some Additional Titles:

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Finally, I’ll leave you with an insightful discussion of post-human ethics as featured on Sealab 2021. Don’t forget the prime directives.

About Anne's Anime Blog

I am an astronomical anime fan. I enjoy watching it, collecting figures & merchandise, assembling models, and attending conventions. California burrito glutton. Let's be friends:)

Posted on June 11, 2013, in Anime and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. These were the anime titles I grew up with in the UK back in the 90’s (with those so bad they are good Manga UK dubs). Armitge, Battle Angel Alita, Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, Akira, Bubblegum Crisis… All sorts of titles. I think cyberpunk is near enough my favourite genre. I think Akira near enough helped define sci-fi aesthetics alongside Blade Runner. I recently watched Serial Experiments Lain and I thought it was brilliant. The rigorous approach to direction evoked all sorts of emotions from me and I felt protective of Lain. I love Ghost in the Shell!

  2. I’m a huge fan of 2, 3 and 5. GitS opened to me conspiracies I never thought I could think of that can be concocted by ‘the system’ or anyone with the power and means (Laughing Man, Individual Eleven), while Lain just blew my mind back to a state of primordial substance. It’s so open-ended in so many instances, I had to watch it twice just to have a grasp of the story itself haha. Then Psycho-Pass, while still done by Production I.G., is pretty awesome in itself- playing around with the concept of morality on who’s good or bad, or who deserves this and that, and with that awkward twist in the end on Sibyl, makes the watching not just about entertainment, but it gives contribution with regards to learning and questioning oneself as well.🙂 Awesome review!

  3. Thanks for this list. I’d not heard of Psycho Pass before today. Seems really interesting.

    I hope Funimation dubs it soon. Can’t do subs because of my bum eyes.

    Ps LOVE the Sealab reference!!!

  4. I know many people will bitterly debate this, but I would also add Cowboy Bebop, as an example of “cyberpunk lite.”

  5. Hi and thanks for the follow! I’ve seen three of the titles above and out of them I’d say Psycho Pass is my favorite. I enjoyed Ergo Proxy, Ghost in the Shell and Akira a lot too. I’ve been thinking about checking out Serial Experiments Lain for a while. Do you recommend it?

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