Category Archives: Television

Cyperpunk Dystopian Matrix Television Shows

Review: Sturgill Simpson’s Sound and Fury

sound and fury 2

Sound and Fury is what would happen if you added some Tokyo City LSD to Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Jack, and then made it into an hour-long country rock music video.

This is one of the most refreshing, and unusual, tales of a dystopian story with cyberpunk elements that I’ve seen in recent memory. It reminds me a bit of Love, Death and Robots, except the art and story is a lot more connected.

Here’s why Sound and Fury is not your average Anime tale.

Sturgill Simpson is a country singer. Who loves Japan. And decided to go all out in creating the coolest-ever Japanese Dystopian Future tale to go along with his new country rock album Sound and Fury.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this done. Daft Punk famously created “Interstella 5555” as an anime visual realization of their album Discovery. But Daft Punk is a lot more closely aligned to the typical Cyberpunk style. If you don’t believe me, just watch the latest Tron film.

A combination of different sounds and songs.

Sturgill Simpson’s “Sound and Fury” isn’t all Fury, and has many different sounds. Some are slow, for instance. His vocals are excellent, and the rock is great too, but it’s a very different kind of rock compared to the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077’s Samurai-style Punk Rock.

Listening to it on Spotify

Simpson’s album is up on Spotify, so before watching the entire film (which is now available for streaming on Netflix) I saw first a teaser trailer which consisted of a scene from the film, then a proper trailer, and then I listened to the album on Spotify before watching the film.

I would have never imagined the illustrious, imaginative visuals that go along with Simpson’s music. Much like I would have never imagined Interstella 5555, there is very little in way of connection between the actual music and the visuals. But they provide for one hell of a ride.

Unfortunately, the teaser trailer that got me so excited to watch the film probably oversold it, as in my opinion it’s one of the best, if not the best, scene from the entire film.

So what’s it about?

The film follows the story of a Japanese monastery and family within that are attacked ruthlessly by 2 foreigners, who seem to represent corporate greed or cruelty perhaps. The rest of the tale is mostly one of revenge. There are a couple side stories, such as one of a slave uprising in this dystopian future, and one of what appeared to be a homeless person seeking shelter before a bombardment on the city. All stories seem loosely connected, and I am still trying to piece it all together to be honest.

But my favorite tale, the one shown in the trailer, is the main story of course. The main character, a cyberpunk samurai, leads an attack against the corporate villains, with two katana blades forged from the blood and spirits of the blacksmiths who made them.

A Refreshing Surprise

And just as the climax of battle is about to be reached, with an all out battle between the hero and the two villains, what does the anime deliver? If you guessed an impromptu dance routine featuring literally everyone, including foreshadowing what’s to come before the battle even happened, then you’d be…surprisingly…accurate.

Needless to say, this was very confusing to me. After the dance routine more side stories are told, and then THE CREDITS, only after which the battle and its conclusion is finally shown. So don’t worry, the final battle WILL come, you just have to sit through the credits or fast forward to see it. I guess they really wanted you to appreciate the work that went into making this film. Its production value is outstanding.

Catchy tunes that will stick with you

What’s interesting is what happened to me after I saw the film. The music…REALLY stays with you. Things kick into gear with the driving percussion from Remember to Breathe, continuing along into Sing Along, which you might remember as the visual trailer for the film. Next the tracks speed up with a Good Look, also known as When Everyone Breaks Out Into That Crazy Dance Routine. The album then alternates between slowing down a speeding up, tempered beats and slow crooning served next to jarring electronic chords and discordant sounds in a wild feverish mix of electronic-infused country rock gone mad.

Final Verdict: Definitely worth watching and listening to.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the official trailer below:

 

And then see the music video for Sing Along:

And finally, check out the entire film on Netflix, streaming now. You know you want to.

Review: Psycho-Pass

I’ve seen on many blogs online that Psycho-Pass is high up on the list of must-watch cyberpunk pieces, along with Ghost in the Shell in terms of quality. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Psycho-pass.

What is Psycho-Pass?

Psycho-Pass is a Japanese cyberpunk anime television series from 2012 about a dystopian future society where omnipresent public sensors constantly scan the mental states of citizens in order to determine their threat to society, which determines not only what freedoms they have but also what careers are best suited for them.

psychopass2

The story follows Akane Tsunemori (right) in her first assignment with the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation. The series is set in futuristic Japan where a powerful network of psychometrix scanners, called the Sibyl System, actively measure the minds and mentalities of the city’s population using a “cymatic scan” in order to give them their Psycho-Pass. If the coefficient is higher than an acceptable threshold, the individual is pursued, apprehended, and killed if necessary. One of the tools of the PSB’s Criminal Investigation Unit is something called the “Enforcers”, humans (such as Shinya Kogami, left) with higher-than-acceptable crime coefficients who are used as hunting dogs basically to find latent criminals. Both the Enforcers and the Detectives use large handguns called “Dominators” that change their lethality based on the crime coefficients of the targets they are aimed upon, in real time.

dominator

A second season was released in October 2014, with an animated film released in January 2015 and a third season is set to come out in October 2019.

Inspiration

A lot of the inspiration for Psycho-Pass came from various Western films, in particular L.A. Confidential but also from Blade Runner, Minority report, and Gattaca, with the director wanting to explore psychological themes in society’s youth using its dystopian storylines. This is clear as there are a LOT of monologues and long discussions between characters in the anime, which I suppose is pretty common among most animes anyways.

Review:

I liked Psycho-Pass enough to watch it to the end, but I felt it wasn’t as good as other animes I’ve watched like Ghost in the Shell. I liked that its story was more connected than other animes like Cowboy Bebop, and it had a good amount of Cyberpunk visuals. It had some interesting concepts that it explored, such as ethics and morals of delegating who decides whether a criminal is dangerous, and whether that is just. By using a crime-coefficient to judge a person before he or she commits a crime, it definitely felt reminiscent to Minority Report, but streamlined as that judgement is made in the gun itself. I also liked how the series tackles the question of how people would respond to violent crimes if they are not used to the idea of someone being able to do so in a supposedly utopian future where crime doesn’t really exist. But it doesn’t have that “cool” factor of the streets and high-tech of Ghost in the Shell, or of the devil-may-care attitude that Cowboy Bebop had either.

I felt sometimes that the anime could have used more action. It has a high level of detective work and it also has a healthy amount of time invested into developing the relationship between detectives and enforcers, somewhat mirroring different levels of society today. However, the use of the dominators, and the twists and turns the story took the viewer, was very entertaining. Also, the dialogues between characters on the nature of society were worthwhile and interesting as well.

My favorite random scene

There’s one particular scene that I would love to share with you that jumped out of nowhere on me during a not particularly important interaction between the villain, Makishima, and one of his partners. You can watch it here.

makishima physical books

Explained all patronizingly while enjoying some madelines with tea. How sophisticated.

The scene randomly references many different influential works of cyberpunk  (which ones? You’ll have to watch it to find out), and the villain’s love for paper books over datapad e-books because of the feel of turning the pages and the smell of the binding. This inconsequential discussion is one of many different philosophical talks that are sprinkled throughout the season.

So if you like philosophical discussions, you’ll like this series.

Overall, I would give this series 8/10. Its discussions, animation quality, detective work and world building were interesting enough, but its lack of action and sometimes slow pacing bogs it down a little. I also would have liked a little more tech-focused cyberpunk visuals, such as bionic implants or other advanced technologies past simply the dominator gun.

What did you think of the series? Did you like Psycho-Pass? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Broken Angels Review and Clues to Altered Carbon Season 2

broken angels 2

In preparation for Altered Carbon Season 2, this past weekend I finished reading Broken Angels. I highly recommend you read the first novel that started it all, Altered Carbon, as there are some changes between the novel and Laeta Kalogridis’ Netflix adaptation, which I have talked about previously.

The Prequel: Altered Carbon

In case you’re unfamiliar, Altered Carbon is a Cyberpunk novel a-la hardboiled noir detective style, with lead Takeshi Kovacs whose consciousness, which is being digitally stores on a small circular disk called a stack, has been inserted into a human body “sleeve” in order to solve the mystery of the murder of an ultra-wealthy long-living man called Laurens Bancroft. Since in this world people can die but have their stacks stored in the cloud to download into other sleeves, Laurens has hired Takeshi to solve his own murder. The subsequent story is filled with action and intrigue as it describes in detail a super-hierarchical dystopian metropolis called Bay City (formerly San Francisco).

Broken Angels is…completely different.

If Altered Carbon was a noir detective story, Broken Angels feels more like a page from the Alien franchise, such as Prometheus. Kovacs arrives on the scene of a war in the mercenary unit of Carrera’s Wedge. In order to escape the bloody brutality of the conflict, he partners up with Schneider in order to find an archaelogue called Wardani in order to open a portal to a Martian dreadnought deep in space. No one knows much about the Martians, except that they were technologically superior and they disappeared, leaving behind all kinds of curious relics.

So how much of this will be in Season 2?

It’s been reported from Kalogridis that Season 2 of Altered Carbon probably won’t feature much from this book, since it takes place in such diverse places that it would be very costly to produce. However, book 3 (Woken Furies) has Carrera as the main antagonist, whose character is confirmed to be in Season 2 from the casting video released earlier this year, so this is a good book to get acquainted with the villain and understand why exactly he might have such a big beef with Kovacs. If the report from Radio Times is true that season 2 will be exploring identity and gender fluidity more, then it won’t be drawing its source material from Broken Angels, since there isn’t much of that present. So either it will be from Woken Furies, or Kalogridis will just deviate from the subject material entirely.

Revisiting Torture/Brutality

The book itself was very fun to read, and surprisingly linear. Unlike Altered Carbon with a wide plethora of different characters and intrigue and things happening at the same time, Woken Furies follows Kovacs slowly add members to his team one at a time. First with Schneider, then Wardani, then Hand (the corporate benefactor of the expedition) and finally the support team of about 8 or so special ops members they bring back from the dead.

The Mystery of the Martians

Like the first book, there are scenes in this book that felt very imaginative in its brutality. One of my complaints about both the book and the series Altered Carbon is the virtual reality torture scene. A similar scene happens in this book, which makes me wonder why Morgan decides to put these parts in. The mystery of what happened to the Martians and who/what they were was very interesting, and it’s a question that the book never fully answers (and rightly so).

The Disillusion of War and Soldiers

One interesting element to this book, which can be slow at times as the team waits for the portal to be opened, is in their interactions with each other. One team member, Jiang Jianping, is the idealistic soldier who doesn’t understand Kovacs’ aversion to fighting. In their discussions Kovacs is portrayed as being older and more experienced, having seen the pointless conflicts that rarely resolves more than corporate or political interests, and this was a nice introspective into why Kovacs is clearly “ex-envoy” and more mercenary than anything else. Despite being part of a mercenary unit, his choice to ultimately abandon them in order to escape the conflict is explored as well, which I enjoyed as a side-narrative to the mysterious expedition into Martian history.

Final Review: 8.5/10

Broken Angels is an excellent addition to the Kovacs trilogy, although it definitely feels like a standalone novel at the same time. Other than being a little bit more familiar with the titular Kovacs, there’s no need to read the first novel in order to read the second. I’m curious to see what the third novel entails, and if it connects at all to the first or second books. But Morgan has done an interesting thing here in shaking up his type of novel. The dialogues were interesting, the action fast, the pacing good although a little slow at times. There were moments of surprising sexual scenes like the first novel, as well as strong brutality and torture which I felt were both somewhat unnecessary. Although themes of the meaning of war and the role of soldiers who fight in them is explored a bit, there isn’t a lot of deep discussions in this novel. It really feels like a Cyberpunk version of Prometheus, without the Xenomorphs but with added dark tech. Still, very interesting, enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing what Woken Furies has in store.

NSFW animated anthology Love, Death & Robots coming to Netflix

It’s being hailed as “the next best thing since the Animatrix”, and judging by the cut-up slices of what we can glimpse from the trailer, I believe it. The Animatrix was revolutionary and visionary, an amazing mix of different artists and different views connected by the unifying theme of The Matrix as subject content. Love, Death & Robots looks like it’s less thematically connected, but it’s taking the animated anthology concept to the next level, and finding the proper home it deserves on Netflix. Coming from Tim Miller (Deadpool, Terminator: Dark Fate) and David Fincher (Mindhunter), the anthology promises “sentient dairy products, werewolf soldiers, robots gone wild, garbage monsters, cyborg bounty hunters, alien spiders and blood-thirsty demons from hell – all converge in 18 NSFW animated stories”.

Check out the teaser trailer for yourself and get back to me, because it’s that good. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiUARnClx80

Take a look at the variety of different formats here! Just like in Animatrix, we have 2D and 3D formats in both anime and full CGI. Apparently the full list will include 5-15 minute segments broaching the topics of racism, government, war, free will, and human nature, and provided from filmmakers from Hungary, France, Canada, Korea, and more. The anthology will be made available on Netflix March 15th, so this is the next Cyberpunk media content to put on your calendars after seeing Battle Angel Alita this weekend!

http://collider.com/love-death-and-robots-trailer-netflix/

 

Cowboy Bebop: Genre-bending Classic Anime with Cyberpunk elements

This is a review and brief analysis of Cowboy Bebop. There seems to be a lot of discussion in the Cyberpunk realm regarding whether Cowboy Bebop counts as Cyberpunk or not. But first, a little bit about the anime itself.

After having seen it often referenced and after having been recommended to me multiple times by various friends, I finally took the time to watch the entirety of Cowboy Bebop’s 26-episode series.

Unfortunately, part of that experience was marked by my move to France, which resulted in me watching the first half of the series in English, and the second half in French. Good thing I can speak French! Although I do feel like the difference in language  changes the experience a bit.

Anyways, Cowboy Bebop is an anime that aired in 1998-1999 directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, written by Keiko Nobumoto, and with music by Yoko Kanno. The story centers around a team of bounty hunters that are aboard the spaceship Bebop, comprised initially of Spike (the main character of the series) and Jet, a jaded ex-cop. Later characters that join them on the Bebop include Faye, a flighty hustler who uses her sensuality to her advantage, Edward, a childlike wacky ace-hacker, and Ein, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi with human-like intelligence.

Each episode is able to stand alone, with a loose plot centered on Spike’s departure from the mob and his past that eventually comes back to haunt him. This theme repeats itself with Jet, Faye, and Ed, as many episodes are centered on having them explore their past as well.

The beauty of this series lies in its relaxed form of asking philosophical questions paired with its jazzy music, which results in the effect of combining a lot of different genres into one, making the anime a truly fun genre-bending experience. Loneliness and purpose are explored a lot, as well as the importance of the past in how it shapes someone in the present.

I personally really enjoyed Cowboy Bebop. The stand alone quality of the show allowed me to stop watching and pick up whenever I wanted, which was great. However, after being treated to different shows on Netflix and elsewhere where each episode really builds on each other, I felt that my interest lower than other shows I’ve watched, which also included what I felt was a somewhat anticlimactic ending.

One thing I did like was how different each character was from each other. Going into the anime without knowing anything about it, I was always surprised when a new member joined the crew and actually stuck with them until the end.

The style of the crew, of all characters they encounter, of the different worlds they visit, it’s all very interesting. Some episodes are more cyberpunk than others, with tvs controlling minds (a la Snowcrash) or hacking issues, or AI that seem like they’re humans but aren’t. There is also definitely a punk element with these bounty hunters who live paycheck to paycheck, often going hungry or running out of fuel, but always trying to catch their bounty in their own way and sometimes pissing off the authorities in doing so.

Do yourself a favor and watch this anime, and then check out the great music from the series as well. Describing it will only go so far. I’d give it  9/10 as an anime, but I wouldn’t quite qualify it as a cyberpunk anime since there are too many other elements in it at the same time.