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.

 

The Next Big Cyberpunk Movie: Alita, Battle Angel

Alita, Battle Angel is an upcoming Cyberpunk movie from producer James Cameron and Jon Landau (Titanic), with director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, From Dusk Until Dawn). The screenplay is written by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon), and takes its source material from Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita). You may have seen the trailer to this movie in the theaters earlier this summer, when it was supposed to be released in July. However, its release was delayed until December of 2018, and then sadly further delayed to February 14th, 2019. The exact reason of these delays in release are unclear, but it seems like it has to do with Cameron’s conflict working on his Avatar sequels (he’s filming Avatar 2 and 3 right now, set to release December 2020 and December 2021, respectively). The other reason is because Fox decided to push back its release in order to make way for Deadpool 2’s PG-release that conflicted with the same release date. Personally, I have been looking forward to this movie release for a long time, so I was very sad to hear that they pushed it back even further, especially considering Deadpool 2 has already been out for a while.

I had never heard of the manga Battle Angel Alita before, but I must say,  the trailer for the movie looks excellent and very promising. Alita is a film about a cyborg who awakens with no memory of her past or who she is, in a world she doesn’t recognize. A compassionate doctor and scientist takes her in and tries to shield her from her past. However, the world comes beckoning when it becomes apparent that she has unique fighting abilities that are deemed very valuable. Her subsequent actions lead her on an adventure of hope and empowerment as she tries to survive and find her place in this new world.

The cast includes Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido, Alita’s character and apparent father figure, and Rosa Salazar (Divergent series, Maze Runner series) as the titular cyborg heroine, portraying Alita with motion capture technology. Mahershala Ali and Jennifer Connelly were also cast. There had been some controversy with the first trailer release, namely centering on the complaint that Alita’s eyes in the trailer seemed too big with the CGI effect, making her seem unrealistic and off. However, I saw no problem with them at all, as the eyes serve as a subtle reminder that Alita is not completely human.

Fast-paced action including CGI effects and impressive choreography and martial arts, existential questions on the blurred line between human and machine, this movie looks very promising indeed and has a lot of elements that remind me of my all-time favorite film, The Matrix. None of which is more apparent than the cyberpunk dystopian setting the film is placed in, and the epic mirrorshades actor Mahershala Ali sports in the trailer.

Check out these trailers and see what you think. The first is the initial trailer that caused the original controversy, the second is improved in my opinion and tells a bit more.

Trailer 1

Trailer 2

 

 

Richard K Morgan: Cyberpunk influencer of our time

Today’s post centers around my new personal inspiration for Cyberpunk, Richard K Morgan. Most of you may know him as the guy who wrote the source material for the Netflix hit TV series Altered Carbon. Some may know him as the write of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, of which Altered Carbon is the first book (and you should definitely read the other two, since Season 2 will be based on the other 2 books!).

But Richard is a very interesting guy, and I think it’s worth delving into this talented writer’s past to get to know him better, and also to help us understand what we might be able to expect from him in the future, as well as gauge what kind of influence he might have on the Cyberpunk genre.

Early Years

So let’s start at the beginning. Richard was born in London and was brought up in the village of Hethersett, near Norwich. He went to good schools, buried himself in reading and music, was rather solitary with few friends, and had no interest in drinking or girls.

He then started his first year at Queens college in Cambridge, and all that changed. He discovered alcohol and drugs, but most importantly, he experienced a heart-breaking first love relationship that wrecked his first year at the university.

So as a result, he shifted his studies to history, scraped by as he struggled with putting actual effort in his studies, and finally finished college disillusioned with no purpose or direction.

Being a writer isn’t easy.

He always knew he wanted to be a writer, but in a comfortable middle-class upbringing, he was sure that it would eventually just happen. “I just assumed I’d wander out into the world and be discovered as a brilliant novelist.”

So with that in mind, he moved to London, planning to become a writer immediately get published with the snap of his fingers, and then travel the world with his royalty checks.

But that didn’t happen. London made sure of that. Everyone wanted to be a writer there, and no one encouraged you to write since it was so common.  Morgan had wanted to do two things, to travel and to become a writer, and the latter clearly wasn’t happening.

Fortunately, becoming an ESL teacher is quite easy in comparison.

So he signed up for a 4 week intensive CELTA course in Istanbul to become an ESL teacher, and then easily got a job teaching and being paid at a local salary that was higher than a hospital doctor.

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And he ended up staying in the English Language Teaching (ELT) field for 14 years, the field that he fell into to make a living while traveling. He started as a novice, read the literature, joined professional associations, signed up for further training, and before he knew it he became a director of studies, a seasoned ELT pro, and finally a teacher trainer.

As he taught English, he continued writing, as much as he could. Short stories, articles, a screenplay that no one took seriously, a bad first novel, letters to editorial staff, and so on.

Until the day came when he got Altered Carbon published.

And then, in 8 months, Hollywood bought it and he gave up his day job.

Just like that.

The Hollywood figure who came to him? Joel Silver, who produced the Matrix.

Warner Brothers wrote him a seven-figure check to buy film rights for the book.

And then Richard Morgan waited and waited, for seven years every 18 months they paid him more. It eventually fell out of option, and then Laeta Kalogridis snatched it up. After another film option fell through, Netflix stepped up and took it on as a series.

The rest is history.

Between publishing his first book Altered Carbon in 2001 and the series being released on Netflix in 2018, however, Richard kept busy. He finished the 2nd and 3rd book in the series, and then continued writing full time.

Then he wrote two 6-issue miniseries for Marvel about Black Widow.

rkm black widow.jpg

His screenplay became a novel (Market Forces), and was optioned as a film and won the John Campbell memorial award.

Another novel of his, Black man, won the Arthur C Clark award.

And then he wrote a fantasy trilogy between 2008 and 2014.

Finally, alongside all this work, he had the great opportunity of being brought on board as main writer for both the 2008 cyberpunk video game Syndicate, and for Crytek’s 2011 video game Crysis 2.

What an incredible career, right? And it’s not even close to being finished!

Morgan is now 52 years old, with a wife and a young son. He moved back to the town that he grew up in. He was in his mid-30s when Altered Carbon got published.

When he was asked what was one writing tip he would recommend, he said the following:

“Have your protagonist do something unacceptable early on. You need to step away from him, so he’s not an insert or a wank fantasy. You can take the hero ride, but you’ve got to distance yourself. This is not me, this is not you, this is a man you might enjoy being in some ways, but there’s always a price to be paid. He’s morally compromised, I guess.”

RKM chillin.jpg

Sources:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/gaming/interview-richard-morgan-on-rebooting-syndicate-7581320.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_K._Morgan

About the Author

 

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!

 

Cyberpunk 2077: Gameplay review

Alright, fine. Since 45 minutes of Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay has been released, I guess I have to join the bandwagon and give some of my thoughts. I mean, considering how fast Neon Dystopia wrote their review of the gameplay despite their usually very slow write-ups of current Cyberpunk news (they take time to write their content because of the high quality and extensive write-ups, an understandable limitation), I can understand how this is breaking news and indeed very exciting.

I should preface this review, however, by stating that I am very cautious to write about Cyberpunk 2077. The reason for this is that the hype over this game is, honestly, quite exhausting. It seems in the cyberpunk community that every day there’s a new story with gossip about news-that-isn’t-news, from the night/day cycle, featured car that can be driven, characters and their costumes, lighting, if you can imagine an element about the game there’s probably been some write-up about it hyped up in the lack of concrete news about the game. This is why I’ve been hesitant to comment about the game. Hell, if you google “Cyberpunk” and click the news section, all you’ll find will be news about this videogame. I shouldn’t have to tell you, dear reader, that Cyberpunk is a lot more than just one upcoming videogame. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog, so people can know about synthwave music, Neon music and video festivals, and upcoming movies and news. You know, things other than just Cyberpunk 2077.

It’s my suspicion that Cyberpunk is currently experiencing a revival, facilitated in part by Altered Carbon and the sci-fi push in Netflix, as well as a series of recent box office hits these past couple of years with movies such as Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, and this year’s Ready Player One movie adaptation with none other than the great Stephen Spielberg.

If you ask a common person what cyberpunk is, however, I bet they won’t know exactly what it is. That will soon change once this game finally comes out, because it’s in the name of the game itself.

What comes after that is anyone’s guess.

Anyways, on to the review of the gameplay footage.

I think whether or not you’re excited by this game depends a lot on the type of gamer you are. Do you like sinking hours upon hours into a videogame, or do you like having a simple storyline to start and finish because you have a job and responsibilities? Do you prefer stealth games, fighting games, racing games, or first person shooters?

Well, regardless of what you like, it sure seems like Cyberpunk 2077 will have a bit for everyone.

It seems like it has equal parts Grand Theft Auto, Deus Ex, Fallout, and Mass Effect. You can get into cars and drive around, and complete missions, but there are main missions and side missions, and all your choices matter. There is no right or wrong, only grey areas. The game is visually similar to Deus Ex or Mass Effect, with the ability to go a bit into stealth, but an interesting choice is to have the game be exclusively in first person (except for the car racing parts). I personally love this choice, and the fighting gameplay style looks so smooth and fluid that I could mistake it for a cyberpunk-y version of Halo mixed with Gears of War in its cover system (plus it has bullettime!). I’ve always felt that first person games will always make the game more immersive, which is why I played almost all of Skyrim and Fallout in first person when I had the choice.

The dialogue in this game at first glance looks extensive, which is great. The voice acting also looks like it’ll be pretty good. I’m of the impression that too many choices and paths can be overwhelming–I’d rather only have a few options and I usually stick to the main stories before I play through the game again completing more side quests. So I’m concerned the amount of side missions in this game might be too much.

I must say, though, the visuals in this game look absolutely gorgeous. If you’ve read my review for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you’ll note how much of a missed opportunity I felt it had by making literally everything everywhere orange and yellow (something they remedied in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided). Not so with this game, it seems. I’ve seen in some cyberpunk boards that people wanted night all the time, with even more neon and less bright-harsh-natural sunlight, but I’m perfectly happy with the natural sunlight. There will be plenty of places to go inside that will hide the sunlight, and I think living in a constantly dark world would seem a bit unrealistic anyways.

What are your thoughts on the gameplay reveal? Are you excited for this game as well? Let me know below.

48 minute gameplay video can be found here.