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2019: A Year in Review for Cyberpunk

breathtaking

A Time to Look Back

We are lucky that the end of the year brings us two weeks of holidays, for Christmas and New Year’s, where we can sit down and take a minute to reflect on what the year has brought us. My last Year in Review, for 2018, described how I learned about and became obsessed with the genre of Cyberpunk. While different from 2018 in that I now know what the term means, 2019 has been a year of incredible growth for me personally and for the genre of Cyberpunk in general. On the first few days of 2019 I wrote the following:

I wonder what 2019 will bring, but one thing I know for sure is that my love for everything Cyberpunk will continue. I will carry on consuming and writing about cyberpunk media, starting off with this new year with watching the newly released Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, and then hopefully from watching Replicas and then Battle Angel: Alita. I’m also excited to read the newest addition to my cyberpunk library, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, as well as learning more about Philip K Dick–his life, his writing, and his philosophy.

Bandersnatch ended up being a creative new way to watch a series, but the ideas that came with it proved insufficient to warrant writing a review yet.

Replicas ended up being good, but it took me a lot longer to watch it than I expected. Alita: Battle Angel was amazing, as expected, but Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was so boring in the first 30 pages or so that I couldn’t even finish it. So that was a little disappointing.

So Many Great Surprises!

Nonetheless, I was happily surprised by a myriad of interesting new Cyberpunk releases that 2019 brought, many of which were things I could have never in my wildest dreams predicted (like Keanu being in Cyberpunk 2077 or Matrix 4 being announced!)

So now, dear reader, let’s take a look at each month and what cyberpunk news or media production was released.

Replicas

January 2019: Replicas

The year started off lightly with the indie production of Replicas, released on January 11th in the US and featuring Cyberpunk legend Keanu Reeves, who plays a neuroscientist who tries to bring his family back to life via digitizing their consciousness into clone bodies. The movie was pretty good! More of a solving-a-series-of-problems thriller a la Da Vinci Code than action or horror film. I definitely recommend seeing it though, if you haven’t already. You can check out my more in-depth review of it here. The film got very little press coverage or mention, and I think was mostly ignored by the general public due to funding. The cyberpunk genre still hadn’t grown into its own at this point.

alita battle angel release

February 2019: Alita: Battle Angel

February 2019 came with the long-awaited GUNNM anime adaptation called Alita: Battle Angel. This movie did pretty well at the box office, and put the Cyberpunk genre back in the spotlight for the general public with its high production value and marketing. Released on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, the movie did an amazing job displaying both Motorball and Parkour in its film, while giving an overall palatable romance between the cyborg Alita and human Hugo.

Love Death and Robots

March, 2019: Love, Death & Robots

As the picture above describes, this was a NSFW (Not Suitable For Work) animated Anthology series of short stories all related loosely to the themes of Love, Death, and Robots. While some stories showed just science-fiction, and others showed just fantasy (like vampires and werewolves), there were a total of six clearly Cyberpunk episodes in this Anthology. They were Sonnie’s Edge, The Witness, Suits, Beyond the Aquila Rift, Zima Blue, and Blind Spot. For my favorites and a more in-depth review of each episode, you can check it out here. This Anthology was very interesting because it made clear, in my mind at least, the different kinds of Cyberpunk sub-genres that exist: Action, Horror, and Mystery/Drama.

Uyghur photo

April: Organ-Harvesting and the horrors of the Uyghurs

After seeing a report of this on CNN and then later on the news, I shared the horrors of what sound like basically concentration camps for ethnic Uyghurs who are being targeted by the Chinese government. Very dystopian indeed. This story, sadly, is still developing.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu

May: Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Despite probably not officially Cyberpunk, I shared my views on how Pokemon Detective Pikachu had some decidedly Cyberpunk themes in it. It was also an all-around fun movie to watch, especially with Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu.

cyberpunk 2077 keanu

June: Cyberpunk 2077 Trailer with the legendary reveal of Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand

This is the moment where internet fandom went into overdrive. At E3 fans first heard Keanu Reeve’s voice, then saw his digital likeness come on screen during Cyberpunk 2077’s newest official cinematic trailer for their video game due to be released in April of next year. Few will forget the moment when Keanu himself then comes onto the stage to announce the game’s release date, and that fateful fan who yelled “you’re breathtaking!” to which Keanu responds “no, YOU’re breathtaking! You’re ALL breathtaking!” This, along with John Wick 3, officially hailed the beginning of what some are calling the Keanussance. August’s big announcement didn’t help in this regard.

July: …I’ve got nothing.

Keanu and Carrie Anne

August: Matrix 4 announced

This was perhaps the one biggest announcement that I couldn’t have even ever imagined happening in my lifetime. Matrix 4 was officially announced, with many of the actors from the original trilogy returning, including Carrie Anne-Moss and Keanu Reeves himself. Since the original announcement I have been following any further updates as we have been getting them, such as concept artists, hopes and predictions, and October and December updates.

cyberpunk 2077 deep dive video

September: New Gameplay Trailer for Cyberpunk 2077

September brought us a new video of the gameplay we could expect in Cyberpunk 2077, including a deep dive into the locations, classes, and factions we could expect from the videogame. Which class will you be?

Terminator Dark Fate Poster

October: Terminator: Dark Fate

Retconning the sequels after T-2 and intended to be a reboot of the franchise, James Cameron returned to produce this sequel, creating a movie that was pretty good in my opinion but lacked any significant wow-factor. It performed alright in the box office, but not well enough to jumpstart the franchise again. Will this be the last Terminator film we will ever see? Time will tell.

cybertruck

November: Tesla’s Cybertruck

The much-teased Cybertruck was finally introduced by Elon Musk, in a manner that was probably meant to be a big trending epic reveal but ended up being a bit of an embarrassment for Elon as the supposedly bulletproof and shatterproof windows of the Cybertruck broke (twice!) during the live demonstration in the unveiling. Oops! “We’ll fix it in post” Elon tried to nonchalantly say, but the damage was (literally) already done. Nonetheless, it still turned heads and didn’t stop multiple preorders from being submitted, promising that this truck will be the newest hot item to hit the roads. Whether the trend will last, no one knows, but it was worth noting how mainstream Cyberpunk has become considering how similar the visuals and fonts were for the Cybertruck and the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. Elon is clearly a fan.

NeoSkies photo for Alex

December: Expanding the community: Interviewing and collaborating with NeoSkies

The most recent development from the last couple of months is more of a personal development which has been discovering and interacting with other Cyberpunk fans who enjoy the genre and like creating content as much as I do. One such fan has been NeoSkies. It’s been great to follow NeoSkies’ content production online with Instagram, Twitter, etc. and to engage in her surveys and discussions with the Cyberpunk Community around the world. We’re not alone! It was also similarly great for me to have the opportunity to interview NeoSkies on her process and inspiration, as well.

Looking to the Future

So what does the future hold for Cyberpunk? Something very exciting indeed. Just look at all the great content, announcements and surprises we got from 2019! So while it’s impossible to say what surprise announcements or content we will get, what we can do is predict things that are already in the pipeline and have been announced.

Altered-Carbon-Season-2

  1. Altered Carbon: Season 2 should arrive to Netflix in February 2020, which will start off our year right
  2. Cyberpunk 2077 will be released in April, which should really kick the Cyberpunk genre into front and center of pop culture, especially considering it’s in the name of the game itself.
  3. Matrix 4 isn’t expected until 2021, but 2020 will bring with it more and more production and casting updates, as well as hopefully story clues, so the production of Matrix 4 will be very fun to watch. Production should begin in February as well.
  4. While not exactly Cyberpunk, Denis Villeneuve did an excellent job with Cyberpunk 2049, so his adaption of the science-fiction classic DUNE will be very exciting to see. There may be some cyberpunk elements present, but it should be a mostly science fiction tale.

So what new Cyberpunk media are you looking forward to seeing/reading/playing in 2020? Let us know in the comments below!

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, Broken Angels 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. However, they also reported Danica Harlan, who is the main antagonist (sort of) in book 3 (Woken Furies), so it may be a mix of both. 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.