Category Archives: Is this Cyberpunk?

An Exploration into What Qualifies as Part of the Cyberpunk Genre

Batman Beyond — Is This Cyberpunk?

Is Batman Beyond Cyberpunk?

Batman Beyond was an animated television series developed by Warner Brothers depicting a futuristic Gotham with an aged Bruce Wayne mentoring a new batman, Terry McGuiness. Spanning three seasons, the pilot was released in January 1999 and the final episode aired in December 2001. The series would later garner great acclaim, including two daytime Emmy Awards, and was named the 40th best animated television series of all time by IGN.com. It was an incredible series that was one of my personal favorite tv series of all time. I loved the futuristic element, the action, the characters, and the dark and gritty visuals. The futuristic Batman in his batsuit was also really well done, voiced by none other than Will Friedle (Boy Meets World, Kim Possible).

Back in the day, I simply watched it because it was good with a bowl of my Saturday morning cereal. But looking back, upon an evening of nostalgia, I started wondering…

Batman Beyond: Is this Cyberpunk?

In order to answer this question, I scoured through the episodes spanning all three seasons to try to find the most Cyberpunk episodes. While by no means a comprehensive list, below are the most Cyberpunk episodes I could find. I’ll give a quick overview of what happens in each episode, and then describe what Cyberpunk elements I found in each one. Then, at the bottom of this post, I’ll provide my personal conclusion as to whether Batman Beyond qualifies as Cyberpunk, and explain why.

So without further ado, let’s see how exactly

Batman Beyond

fits the Cyberpunk label.

Batman Beyond Season 1 Episode 4: Golem

In this episode, nerd Willie Watt is constantly picked on by the jocks of the school. After one too many times being bullied, Watt decides to steal his father’s construction robot which uses a headset to receive its instructions from its user. When the headset malfunctions, the robot becomes permanently bonded to Watt, making him a force to be reckoned with.

“Just another example of technology gone bad” is a quote that can be heard from the news commentator in this episode. Using giant robots to help us with construction is a fun and futuristic idea, for sure, so adding the cyberpunk twist that the streets may find its own use for one such golem makes perfect sense to me. Although I found the idea that a robot would pair with a human because of a headset malfunctioning a bit of a stretch, I enjoyed this episode nonetheless, especially with the power dynamics of the bullies and Watt before and after his connection is established.

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 4: Lost Soul

Robert Vance is a CEO who decides to digitize his consciousness before he dies. However, after his death, he is soon forgotten until 2 generations later he is turned back online. When his grandson asks for his guidance, the ghost in the shell has other plans. The digital copy of Vance instead tries to take over and get a human body, including using Terry’s batsuit without a body.

This was a really interesting and fun episode, perhaps one of my favorites. Not only were there clear connections to other cyberpunk media like Ghost in the Shell and maybe a Philip K Dick novel like Ubik, for instance, but watching batman fight his own batsuit and seeing the fighting style of an AI with no corporeal weaknesses was simply really cool.

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 8: Hooked up

An unknown entity named Spellbinder is getting teenagers addicted to virtual reality in order to use them as cheap labor for his own purposes. Once they spend too long in this VR, however, they end up in a coma. Terry will have to use his friend Max to help crack the case.

Although not as fun as other episodes, Hooked Up deals with themes of drug addiction, virtual reality worlds, and the interesting idea that one could get addicted to living in a fantasy world virtually.

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 13: Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot

An unpopular kid named Howard Groote has no one to come to his party, when all he wants is for people to notice him. While Terry points out he’s looking for the wrong things, namely shallow things, Groote’s interest is piqued when he finds a guy who can create a illegal synth girlfriend for him for the right price. Groote soon gets his robot girlfriend, but soon realizes he got more than he paid for. The synth malfunctions and becomes too possessive, trying to kill any woman who becomes interested in Howard.

This episode definitely had Blade Runner vibes during my first viewing, but if Blade Runner were happening in a high school. Groote’s robot girlfriend looks so close to a real human that her only tell ends up being her superhuman strength. However, other than her being a convincing synth, there were woefully few Cyberpunk themes truly explored in this episode, other than perhaps the Synth’s unrequited, preprogrammed love.

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 16: The Last Resort

Sold as a juvenile center to provide disciplinary therapy to unruly teenagers, this “Ranch” is anything but. Soon almost all of the teenagers at Terry’s school are sent there for “re-education”, and Terry must go undercover to discover what really happens in the ranch. Turns out torture and brainwashing propaganda wasn’t in the brochure.

The prison-like and totalitarian atmosphere on the inside felt very similar to something out of 1984, especially with its giant screens. What was particularly interesting was the torture device used on the students–long stints in complete sensory-deprivation chambers. Despite the brainwashing imagery, however, this episode was also a little light on the CP motifs.

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 20: Zeta

When an Android that can appear as a human is being hunted down by the NSA, Terry has to discover the intentions of the robot, and if it is really a killing machine gone rogue, as the NSA agents say, or if it somehow grew a conscience.

Note: This episode spawned a standalone series called The Zeta Project.

This episode was really interesting in that it explored the conscience of what a robot could have. When the robot Zeta is assigned to infiltrate a family, pretending to be a member of the said family, this is what causes its existential crisis. It was also fun to guess which characters Zeta was mimicking, and which were real. While similar to Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot but with the added bonus of the robot being not only completely sentient, but also on the run from the NSA, this episode is yet another one with clear Blade Runner references.

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 22: April Moon

April Moon is one of the only episodes I saw in Batman Beyond with serious body augmentations front and center. In this episode, a team of 4 bandits acquire body augmentations by blackmailing a local doctor. The gang use their powers to steal until Batman learns about the operation and decides to try to put a stop to the operation.

This episode reminded me a lot of Doctor Ido from GUNMM (Alita: Battle Angel). Unlike Ido, however, the doc is relatively helpless himself. What I found particularly interesting in this episode was the 4 different body augmentations the gang uses, how they use them to fight batman, and the technology the doctor has available to him.

Unlike any other cyberpunk film or episode I’ve seen, the doc has a failsafe phrase to destroy his mods. The themes in this episode were also darker than usual–particularly the ending when the doctor decides to take his revenge on the team and its leader who was blackmailing him. Super cyberpunk!

Batman Beyond Season 2, Episode 23: Sentries of the Last Cosmos 

This episode felt like…an ode to nerdy gamers everywhere. A virtual reality game developer uses his videogame to enlist the highest scoring players to create his own personal army, sending them on “missions”. But not everything is as it seems when one mission is to take out a fellow video game creator. There was also a fun reference to Philip K Dick: “The greatest writer that ever lived”!

This episode felt a bit weird to me. Batman faces off against…kids who are tricked into thinking the video game is real life. Admittedly, there are very few cyberpunk themes in this episode at all. It was probably my least favorite episode of this list.

Batman Beyond Season 3, Episode 12: Countdown

Countdown is the second and final episode featuring Zeta. He’s back in town, this time with his friend from the Zeta spinoff series, and once again features him and his friend running away from the NSA except that this time, there’s an additional antagonist by the name of Mad Stan, an anti-technology terrorist who likes to blow things up.

This episode definitely feels like a continuation from the Zeta episode. Mad Stan in hilariously, particularly because in the climax moment it’s revealed that he sedates himself to make sure he’s not hurt and stays out of the action while his master plan is in motion. That, and he has a hilarious little chihuahua protecting him.

Final Verdict: Batman Begins is Definitely Cyberpunk

But not in all its own episodes. Some are more Cyberpunk than others, but for the select few, they definitely hit all the marks. Of all the episodes, I would have to say that April Moon was the most Cyberpunk of all of them. The entire episode even plays out as a mystery that Batman has to solve, the mystery of who the augmented gang are and then, later, why the doctor would ever help them. But not just those episodes–the future setting of the series with its high tech elements, the depictions of future society with its problems with technology, the gang of “jokers” that roam the city, many on futuristic motorbikes, the dark color palette, the music, the themes of addiction and power–there’s a whole lot here that matches Cyberpunk very well. I highly recommend the series if you haven’t watched it.

Big Hero 6 — Is This Cyberpunk?

Big Hero 6: A Cyberpunk Entry? Let’s Find Out

Note: This is part of my ongoing series Is This Cyberpunk? where I look at different media in the Cyberpunk grey area, to help come to that ever-elusive definition of what Cyberpunk really is. In today’s post, I will consider if Big Hero 6 counts as a Cyberpunk movie, or not.

Big Hero 6 (2)

What is Big Hero 6 Anyways?

Big Hero 6 is a 3D computer animated Disney film that came out in 2014. It’s loosely based on the Marvel comic book series of the same name and tells the story of Hiro Hamada, a young prodigy in robotics who creates a technology that becomes stolen by a masked villain. With the help of the medical robot Baymax, Hiro founds a team of superheros to help fight the masked villain and reclaim his stolen tech.

Baymax - Portrait du Personnage Disney des Nouveaux Héros

Baymax, the Robot of Big Hero 6

Very early on we meet Baymax, a lovable inflatable medical robot that dispenses both physical and emotional assessments and treatments on any human within distance. He also learns and adapts pretty quickly to his environment, including how to fist bump.

“I will add ‘fist-bump’ to my care-giving matrix” –Baymax

He’s clearly a very advanced android.

The Other Characters

A very important character you meet early on is Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi. At the beginning of the movie we find Hiro lost, unmotivated, and participating in illegal robot  battles in his free time. In order to set him back on the right track, Tadashi introduces brings Hiro to his University’s lab, where he shows Hiro Baymax.

Big Hero 6 Tadashi Hiro Baymax - Movie Fanatic

This is the first important acquaintance that Hiro makes early on in the movie. Tadashi will also significantly impact Hiro’s motivations throughout the rest of the movie. But when Tadashi brings Hiro to his lab, he also introduces him to the rest of his friends: Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. These four will later become the rest of the Big Hero 6 team members.

Things only adults notice in Big Hero 6

The Story

Hiro becomes motivated to develop a new technology and present it in a conference meant to impress the judges enough to make them offer him an invitation into their prestigious university. During the conference, however, there is an incident that sets into motion the plot for the rest of the film. Hiro’s tech is lost, or so he thinks, before he finds it again years later in the hands of a mysterious figure wearing a kabuto mask. In order to solve the mystery of who this masked man is and reclaim his tech, Hiro teams up with the four friends and Baymax to form the Big Hero 6 team.

https://www.actugaming.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/san-fransokyo-kingdom-hearts-iii.jpg

An Interesting Setting: San Fransokyo

One of the first things that really springs out to any proper Cyberpunk fan is the very Cyberpunk-like aesthetic in this film, in particular in this film’s setting. The movie takes place in a fictional city called San Fransokyo, a rather obvious mix between San Francisco and Tokyo. It would appear to be modern-day San Francisco, but if the city had been taken over by Japanese inhabitants. This city kept the Golden Gate Bridge, but added Japanese architectural flourishes to it.

It turns out that there’s a reason for why San Fransokyo seems like a mix of the two cities. According to the city’s Fandom wikipedia page, San Francisco experienced a major earthquake in 1906 caused by the collapse of an energy amplifier created by the artist Lenore Shimamoto. The reconstruction of the city led to its rebirth, as Japanese immigrants combined the San Francisco and Tokyo-style architecture in order to mitigate the effects of any future massive earthquakes.

Cyberpunk Visuals

As a result of the massive metropolis that is San Francisco, combined with the neon lights at night time and a more tech-focused slant of the city, this movie seems to have taken very clear inspirations from Blade Runner. Take a look:

San Fransokyo at Night

San Fransokyo | Disney Wiki | Fandom

Unlike many Cyberpunk films, however, they show both the night and daytime. San Fransokyo in the daytime looks like this:

San Fransokyo during the day

The Creation of San Fransokyo | Wendel Rosen LLP - JDSupra

Throughout the city are floating blimp-kite things with fans. They look like Energy kites that provide wind power to whatever the kite is tethered too. That’s just a guess, however, as the movie never explains what they are. In an incredible stroke of good luck (for me, at least) the viewer is treated to a closer look at the city from the air as halfway through the movie, Hiro creates a suit of armor for Baymax that includes a jet pack. Hiro then rides Baymax up in the sky, eventually landing on one of these energy kite blimp things to enjoy a beautiful sunset. It looks like a lot of fun.

Baymax and Hiro atop an energy blimp thing.

Big Hero 6 Gif - ID: 12475 - Gif Abyss

But it’s not just the city itself that looks Cyberpunk as hell. Hiro himself could be counted as a little Cyber Punk, as he starts off the movie in illegal Black Market Robot battles that strongly reminded me of that short film Sonnie’s Edge from Love, Death & Robots.

Robot Battle In the Ring

Big Hero 6 - Robot Fight HD - YouTube

This was really interesting, fun, enjoyable, and different from what I was expecting. It was the Punk aspect that I had been looking for. But the movie goes well beyond just Punk. There’s a lot of high-tech nods that were really fun to see featured in subtle ways throughout the film. For instance, Hiro uses a virtual keyboard, and then later on designs Baymax’s armor in the air like Tony Stark modeling his Iron Man armor.

Designing Virtually

Hiro designing Big Hero 6

In the same frame, he alternates between an Apple standard physical keyboard, and a virtual keyboard projected onto his table using a little blue projector. The blue colors and green virtual screen also felt very Cyberpunk.

Projected Keyboards

Hiro VR keyboard Big Hero 6

Then, in what clearly felt like a nod to the Matrix Trilogy, Hiro programs Baymax to fight using Kung-Fu movies! He uses a program to capture the movements shown in the action scene, then maps them out into moves that Baymax can mimic. Baymax literally has his own “I know Kung-Fu” moment!

Baymax knows Kung-Fu

Baymax learns Kung Fu

If that’s not Cyberpunk then I don’t know what is. The final thing I noticed in the film was Hiro’s use of 3D printers, technology we already have today, in order to create Baymax’s armor.

Final Verdict and Review: A fun family movie, it’s a Superhero Movie first, but definitely Cyberpunk second.

So yes, it’s cyberpunk, but it’s more of a Superhero movie with a Cyberpunk style. It just barely passes the sniff test to count as Cyberpunk, but it passes the hurdle nonetheless. With good pacing and a plot that’s not too predictable, Big Hero 6 shines in the development of its main character but loses a bit with the amount of characters it has (all 4 sidekicks are quite forgettable). With a solid soundtrack, incredible visuals, and a good amount of humor and fun, this is the perfect Cyberpunk animated Disney movie.

The Final Word?

So that’s how I feel about the movie. But what do you think? Have you seen it? Do you agree with my verdict? Why/why not? Feel free to have the final word in the comments below.

The Wolverine–Is This Cyberpunk?

The Wolverine: A Cyberpunk Entry? Let’s Find Out

Note: This is part of my ongoing series Is This Cyberpunk? where I look at different media in the Cyberpunk grey area, to help come to that ever-elusive definition of what Cyberpunk really is. In today’s post, I will consider if The Wolverine counts as a Cyberpunk movie, or not.

Logan / Wolverine | Wiki X-Men | Fandom

He’s certainly dark and broody enough…

Logan / Wolverine (the character)

The Wolverine is one of many Marvel X-Men movies, and one of several movies that focus specifically on Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman. Although Wolverine has claws and super-healing, he was enhanced using advanced technology to give him an adamantium skeleton augmenting his body.

The Wolverine (film) - Wikipedia

The Wolverine (the movie)

The Wolverine was a movie that came out in 2013 from 20th Century Fox and is both the sixth film in the X-Men film series and a sequel to the trilogy of stand-alone films focused on Logan / Wolverine’s character. It’s also a direct sequel to the 2006 X-Men film The Last Stand. Of all the X-Men and Wolverine movies, I took a particular notice of this movie because of its setting in Japan. The story follows Logan as he flies to Tokyo to meet an old acquaintance, which leads to him getting embroiled in a family power struggle involving ninjas, samurai, and a loss of his super-healing powers. 

Ichirō Yashida | Marvel Movies | Fandom

A Familiar Adage

One of the interesting things that struck me when watching this was an early line in the movie: “Yashida is old fashioned: one eye on the past, and the other on the future”. This reflects a lot of the Yakuza-style Cyberpunk that we’ve seen, including in such works as Altered Carbon, Neuromancer, and Snowcrash. Traditions and honor can last generations, while technology continues to develop and innovate at the same time.

The Wolverine — François Audouy

Some High-Tech

We get our first glimpse at high-tech with the cutting-edge sick bed that the company executive, Yashida, is using. Wolverine then glances at screens as Yashida takes some tea from his aide, and the viewers can see tiny robots repairing what appear to be X-rays of Yashida’s failing organs. “Yashida industries can do anything” Yashida proclaims, as he offers Logan the bait: an end to his eternity, to his both blessing and curse of super-healing.

Will Yun Lee as Harada (ninja) in the Wolverine | Movie ...

A Familiar Face

As the movie progresses, I suddenly recognized a familiar face I hadn’t recognized before: Will Yun Lee! Also known as one of several Takeshi Kovacs from Altered Carbon! And dressed in black as a modern ninja of sorts, he looks awesome!

Cyberpunk Elements

wolverine-yakuza - GWW

Sunglasses, leather jackets, tattoos, Yakuza, ninjas, and Taiko drums leading a parkour-style chase through Tokyo all make for compelling Cyberpunk action scenes and visuals.

The first movie of the movie "Wolverine: SAMURAI" trailer, the ...

There is even a fast-paced fight on top of a Shinkansen (bullet-train)!

47 minutes in, Logan decides to hide Mariko in a pod hotel that looks very cyberpunk indeed.

Love Hotel | X-Men Movies Wiki | Fandom

It turns out to be a love hotel! Between the three options of a nurse’s room, a dungeon, and a mission to mars: they choose the latter.

The Wolverine — François Audouy

The rooms ends up having even more cyberpunk lighting, and reminds me of the many Cyberpunk stories that do indeed feature the red planet. Examples include several stories from Philip K Dick, the original Total Recall film, and finally the Broken Angels novel and Altered Carbon Season 2. I wonder if it was at all inspired by these works or simply a coincidence!

The Cyberpunk-like movie shots are really piling up at this point. There are two dark rain-set scenes already, with somewhat neon lights–just like the iconic “tears in the rain” scene reminds us of from Blade Runner.

The wolverine Jean Grey Rain

Logan keeps on having hallucinations of Jean Grey. She visits him in the Love hotel as well, as an apparition in the rain illuminated by neon lights outside his window. It’s beautiful.

Cultural Commentary as a Sub-Theme

The Wolverine is also a beautiful movie at times because it’s both a subtle and not-so-subtle commentary on the differences in tradition between Japan and the United States, which is similar to many movies where one of the characters travel to a foreign land with different customs and has to acclimate himself or herself to the new culture and customs. Moments where Logan has to be told to bow, or to not stick his chopsticks in his bowl, are more obvious than other moments where a subtle sense of tradition and proper order permeates everything the Japanese do.

Wolverine chopsticks it's culture :) - YouTube

Some Bio-Gore

The movie then settles down, before turning to a bit of bio-gore as Logan has to heal himself in an undeniably gruesome way. I won’t spoil that part with any pictures.

THE WOLVERINE - Concept Art for the Silver Samurai | Silver ...

Concept Art

Mecha-Samurai

The giant electro-mechanical Samurai robot is somewhat reminiscent of the Terminator. It’s a giant, fearful thing, both Japanese and Cyberpunk in vibe.

Non-Cyberpunk Elements

Ultimedia : Premium Videos by Digiteka - We match premium videos ...

Mutants with various abilities, like being able to see the moment of someone’s death or having viper-like abilities, add a dose of fantasy that is decidedly not Cyberpunk. Also, on the whole the film is not very futuristic or high-tech at all. There is also no mention of a dystopian world, it’s rather centered on the present day. This is probably one of its biggest detractors from being a considered a Cyberpunk film.

Final Verdict and Review: Great Movie, Many Cyberpunk Visuals, but not Cyberpunk

This is not a Cyberpunk movie. The high-tech elements are too few and far between, there is very little punk about this, and there is no hacking or virtual or online internet elements at all. Despite one giant corporation appearing in the film, the conflict is completely self-contained within the company itself–it has no social commentary or dystopian society–and is thus ultimately just another Wolverine adventure.

The Final Word?

So that’s how I feel about the movie. But what do you think? Have you seen it? Do you agree with my verdict? Why/why not? Feel free to have the final word in the comments below.

Is This Cyberpunk? A New Series at Cyberpunk Matrix

 

In the Pursuit of Defining Cyberpunk

isthiscyberpunk2

Here at Cyberpunk Matrix, I talk about Cyberpunk a whole lot. To do so, it’s important that I keep in mind my ability to recognize what Cyberpunk is, and what it’s not.

Finding Clear Boundaries

Sometimes it’s very easy to recognize what is and isn’t. For instance, when I see Blade Runner, I think, yup, Cyberpunk!

Blade Runner [Director's Cut] [Import USA Zone 1]: Amazon.fr: Ford ...

Yea, definitely Cyberpunk.

Then other days I come across a movie like Maid in Manhattan, and I think to myself, ah, now that’s definitely NOT cyberpunk.

Maid in Manhattan - Wikipedia

Bet you never thought you’d see a movie like that mentioned in a website like this, huh? Life’s full of surprises.

When one is so invested in a genre, it’s natural to walk around the world wearing mirrorshades and seeing everything in hues of Cyberpunk or not.

Finding the Grey Area

But sometimes, it’s not that easy.

I find a lot of great content online that looks close to being Cyberpunk, but not quite. It resides a sort of grey area. So naturally, I wonder: Does it pass the smell test of being Cyberpunk?

The Terminator - Wikipedia
Some, for instance, think The Terminator isn’t “Cyberpunk” enough a movie to qualify. I beg to differ.

In order to celebrate this ambiguity, I will be doing a new series called “Is This Cyberpunk?” So feel free to debate these pieces of media with me. It will mostly be movies in the series, but may be a TV series as well, or the occasional book or video game. Of course, in order to successfully debate whether something is Cyberpunk or not, we need to have a really solid understanding of what Cyberpunk is. For my interpretation of what Cyberpunk is, check out the page defining it here.

Petition · Do not end The Man in the High Castle. · Change.org

While being dystopian and having origins from one of Philip K Dick’s most popular stories, The Man in the High Castle is Alternate History, and decidedly NOT cyberpunk. It’s still cool though.

Also, if you know of anything that sits squarely in the grey area and can’t figure it out, post it in the comments below and let’s analyze it together!