Cyberpunk and the Cyborg: Introduction

For me, cyberpunk started it all. It was through cyberpunk (and shonen, to a degree) that I got into anime, so it has always been of sentimental interest to me, but has become increasingly fascinating academically, largely due to its attitudes towards the cyborg. Cyberpunk seems inextricably linked to, or at least concerned with, the creature of the cyborg. But how has this changed over time? And what are the implications of the cyborg as it relates to culture and the anime (and more broadly, science fiction) field? Over the next few weeks (months), I would like to attempt to answer these questions, but the scope is too large for one entry.

What I propose is to present a series of three entries attempting to offer a dual chronology of cyberpunk and the cyborg concept as it exists within the sub-genre. In the first entry, we will define the concept of the cyborg and the cyberpunk genre, offering a (crudely) brief literature review on their relationship. The second entry will deal with the first wave of cyberpunk, from its genesis in anime to its lull in the early 1990s. The third entry will deal with its life from the mid-90’s to the present, offering a comparison in attitudes and values regarding both the genre and the cyborg. I am yet to write these entries so I foresee consistency problems – it may not flow like an essay, but after all, it’s not an essay, it’s a blog. I will retain the same research questions, though, so hopefully what I write will be valid.

In terms of anime texts, I will be revolving most of my viewing around canonical anime. The reasons I am favouring the canon are numerous. Firstly, they are likely to be the texts that are more easily available. Secondly, canons are canons for a reason, it is these texts that have generally been considered in some way important and influential to the medium. Thus, these texts seem the pertinent choice for a study of changing attitudes and values. Also, I am not so foolish as to try and see all cyberpunk-related anime for the purpose of these posts, so I welcome limitations. I will also favour films and OAVs over TV series. I do not have time to get locked into a one hundred episode series for the purpose of three blog posts. But what is this canon? I will be drawing from a range of sources to assist in demarcating some sort of an anime cyberpunk canon, including my own tastes. The result will be a somewhat customised, single-purpose serving canon. The works I will examine will be an amalgamation of the anime reviewed on cyberpunkreview.com[1], ‘the canon’ as listed in The Rough Guide to Anime (Richmond, 2009) and my own dialogue with anime scholars and researchers (and if anyone has any further suggestions on texts or methodology, I am interested). I may as well throw my proposed canon out to the readers for criticism and/or approval. Please, feel free to throw in your two-cents. I may knock texts back on the grounds of relevance, availability, and the sheer fact that I don’t have enough time. This list is likely to mutate as the research goes on – lose a few, gain a few – as I have yet to see all these. So, the list:

Akira (Otomo, 1988)

Angel Cop (Itano, 1989-1994)

The Animatrix[2] (various, 2003)

Appleseed (Katayama, 1988)

Appleseed (Aramaki, 2004)

Black Magic M-66 (Kitakubo & Shirow, 1987)

Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 (Hayashi, 1998-1999)

Cowboy Bebop[3] (Watanabe, 1998-1999)

Cyber City Oedo 808 (Kawajiri, 1990-1991)

Dominion Tank Police (Mashimo & Ishiyama, 1998)

Ergo Proxy[4] (Murase, 2006)

Eve no Jikan (Yoshiura, 2008-2009)

Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995)

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Oshii, 2004)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Kamiyama, 2002-2003)

Goku: Midnight Eye (Kawajiri, 1989)

Megazone 23 (Ishiguro, 1985)

Metropolis (Rintaro, 2001)

Parasite Dolls (various, 2003)

Roujin Z (Kitakubo, 1991)

Steamboy[5] (Otomo, 2004)

I will endeavour to track down these titles in their subbed format.

This may be a bit ambitious for a blog, but I think it will be worthwhile. There is a substantial amount of research and viewing to do and it is sure to occupy me for the next couple of months. So, to keep this blog active in the meantime I will write a number of shorter, more acutely focused posts – probably interesting tangents from my former proposed research. Wish me luck.


[1] This is an incomplete list, but useful for what it is.

[2] May only use a select couple of shorts from this, ‘Second Renaissance’ in particular.

[3] Not traditionally cyberpunk but has cyberpunk elements – may be useful.

[4] Not sure if this qualifies yet due to its post-apocalyptic setting – still contemplating its relevance.

[5] May be referenced if steampunk enters the discussion. Many regard Last Exile (Chigira, 2003) another good example of steampunk but I can’t see myself getting round to watching this in time.

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About shumbapumba

Would-be intellectual keeping my brain busy. View all posts by shumbapumba

7 responses to “Cyberpunk and the Cyborg: Introduction

  • Valence

    Cyberpunk seems inextricably linked to the cyborg because the cyborg is what we envision in our ‘future world’, in my opinion. Since the cyberpunk movement was essentially born out of part of the post-modern movement, the cyberpunk movement started thinking big with our future.

    For instance, the architectural aspects they portray in the future serve as a good indication of this as well. While our building mainly consist of simple geometrical shapes such as rectangles, with no meaning, the buildings they portray as part of this cyberpunk movement contain many different shapes and most of the time, carry along with them a subtle meaning. I think you’d see such architecture if you watch those anime =D

    • shumbapumba

      Yes cyberpunk largely seemed to come to prominence in the 1980s and was concerned with ‘hard’ visions of our future. Of course, these visions were contextual, so it would be interesting to embark upon a comparative study of the then and now in terms of cyberpunk and how the genre – if it is in fact a genre – has changed, and with it, how the cyborg has changed. Japan is of particular interest because modern Japan has aptly been described as cyberpunk (Park, 2005: 60) and is at the forefront of robotic, and arguably technological, development.

      An architectural study of science fiction, or more specifically cyberpunk, texts would stand to make an interesting post in itself actually. What anime do you think would be relevant?

      • Valence

        Not really sure, haven’t watched much anime set in the future.

        I think Akira and Evangelion work fine, since I don’t really remember much else…

  • Anime/Manga Scholarship of 2010 « Chasing the Techno-Orient

    […] it will be relevant to my current research into cyberpunk and the cyborg (introduction available here). Also, quite a bit has been published on yaoi manga and one that may be of interest to the […]

  • ghostlightning

    I’m not as well-versed with the cyborg concept — the being must still be human or was human to begin with correct?

    Saikano, is another interesting show given its premise (though it is a love story relative to say, GitS).

    If you’re also considering manga, then Eden: it’s an Endless World has got to be part of this list.

    Lastly, however seemingly superficial, Macross Frontier should be worth checking out. Here’s something of a case for it:

    http://ghostlightning.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/the-third-impact-the-innovatornewtype-future-and-grace-oconnors-conspiracy-the-evils-of-unification-in-real-robot-anime/

    Otherwise, a minor theme of the show is the “other” colony fleet (Macross Galaxy) is filled with cybernetically enhanced humans. The villain of the show is a full cyborg.

  • shumbapumba

    A crudely simplistic definition of the cyborg would be that it is a being with both biological and artificial parts, but this spans anything from using a computer to AI. I use Donna Haraway’s postmodern feminist concept of the cyborg. See wikipedia for a GENERAL overview (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haraway#.22A_Cyborg_Manifesto.22) but her ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ is the place to begin if you are really interested in the idea.

    And yes SaiKano as a love story is interesting to consider – how perhaps one of the strongest human emotions holds up against technological/cyborgian development. Perhaps, Macross would be also interesting to consider in this light (although note I have only seen Macross Plus and bits of the original Macross – in its dubbed Robotech form).

    Will check out Eden and your link 😉

  • shumbapumba

    But in terms of including SaiKano and Macross in this particular study, they don’t fit the cyberpunk genre. But I will (and have in SaiKano’s case) surely include them at some point throughout this blog’s existence.

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