Category Archives: Television

Cyperpunk Dystopian Matrix Television Shows

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.

 

Altered Carbon: Netflix Series and Book Review

Altered Carbon is a 2018 Netflix television series from Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander, Shutter Island) based on the 2002 novel of the same name by author Richard K Morgan. The first season of the series and first novel of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy are about a dystopian future set in 2384 where consciousness and memories are kept on small metal discs, called cortical stacks, that are implanted into the stem of the vertebrae in humans when they are young. When any human dies, their cortical stack can be put into another body such that the human consciousness can live on, but if their stack is also destroyed, this would result in a permanent death. However, this also means that certain humans with enough wealth can effectively live forever, through the use of human clones and uploading their consciousness to a cloud server via satellite. These elite god-like humans are called Meths, in reference to Methuselah who according to the myth lived 1000 years.

The series centers around Takeshi Kovacs, the last remaining elite soldier of the envoys, a rebel group who were defeated in trying to rise up against the new world order. The  the story starts when one particularly wealthy meth, Laurens Bancroft, decides to take Takeshi’s stack out of prison storage and put it into a new body 250 years after the uprising, so that Takeshi may solve the mystery of Laurens’ own (body) death.

Fortunately, Morgan was very active in the creative process of making the Netflix series a reality, as he worked very closely with Kalogridis. Morgan was actually an ESL teacher for over a decade before he wrote and published his novel, and upon its success he quit to become a full time writer. This kind of life experience is something that I aspire to have one day as well, and is indeed quite inspiring since I’m currently an ESL teacher myself.

I should start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed both the novel and the series, and I would recommend reading the book first before watching the movie, as there are some significant differences in both and I feel like the original should be what gives you the first impression of the story. I also feel like it’s always better to create an image of a story with your own imagination, before having someone dictate that vision for you with a visual medium.

Morgan writes very well, with a great handle on pacing and with excellent action and story line to keep you hooked. Be warned, however, because the plot will be a little confusing (at least, it was for me) as the mystery slowly unfolds itself and will keep you guessing who murdered Laurens. I should also mention that this is definitely an adult book, with some surprisingly graphic sexual scenes written in, which is something new for me in reading a science fiction novel.

The TV series is also very good, but I felt personally that it leaned a little too hard on violence and sexually explicit scenes. It also chose to critically change some main characters which leads to a significantly different ending, one that I felt wasn’t as strong as the novel, but also that somehow was more fleshed out if that makes sense. In some ways the TV series feels like 1.5 books, compared to the 1st book by Morgan, which actually makes sense since Kalogridis decided to put more content in the first season out of fear that the series wouldn’t be renewed, and because she felt there was too much good content to ignore in books 2 and 3 from Morgan.

If you’re a fan of this genre, but feel like you only want to either read it or watch it, I would urge you to reconsider and do both for one main reason: the influence of Netflix on our society is undeniable, and that influence shouldn’t be underestimated when a big series such as Altered Carbon ends up being the big hit that it has been. The series has already gotten a myriad excellent reviews (although not being perfect), and the greenlit second season and subsequent seasons will naturally be drawing from its source material, the books, as well.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Netflix has made Altered Carbon a culturally relevant modern TV series, and subsequently also is bringing Cyberpunk into social awareness and consciousness. The stylistic choices, colors, setting, and film noir feel of Altered Carbon (both the series and the books now) are creating a new modern perception of the Cyberpunk genre for our society in real time. I would venture to say it even has more of an effect than standalone movies such as Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell, although the recent increase in Cyberpunk movies just further points to the growing trend that Cyberpunk is quickly becoming mainstream, something that industry favorite Neon Dystopia is quick to mention here and here.

So take the time to enjoy a great series and a great book. I am still trying to get my hands on book 2 and 3 of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy. Altered Carbon tackles some great existential themes, such as the effect of money on society and the meaning of identity in a world where bodies are expendable sleeves, consciousness can be copied and downloaded, and laws grapple with religion and justice (such as it being illegal to put a stack of a Christian into a new body, even if the previous body was murdered and only that stack can pinpoint who the murderer was in a court of law).

Futuristic weapons, culture, and society, confused senses of identity and self as they relate to new technology, cyber enhancements, neurochemical stimulants, drugs, gangs, Artificial Intelligence and immoral business practices, Altered Carbon is the modern Cyberpunk series that our world needs. I give the novel 10/10, and the TV series 9/10, notching it one point for its gratuitous sexual scenes and violence.

If you’ve read or watched them, please let me know what you thought in the comments below!