2018: A Year in Review for Cyberpunk

I am grateful for the time afforded to me from Christmas through New Year’s to reflect on what the year has given me, and this year has been particularly giving as far as Cyberpunk is concerned, because it’s the year that I discovered the term. If you take a quick look at the posting history of this blog, you can see that it was born on March 20th, 2018. But my discovery of the term dated slightly before that, right near the beginning of the new year, in February when the legendary Altered Carbon series came out on Netflix. While binge-watching the series I discovered something within myself recognizing a passion that had been born long before that fateful cold afternoon–back when I saw The Matrix for the first time, in the blissful days of my childhood.

My, what a journey 2018 has been since then. After discovering that there was a name for the genre, linking The Matrix to Altered Carbon and then to Ghost in the Shell from the previous year, I dove headfirst into the genre. It was really those three movies that I loved so dearly that created the click in my head, that there was something here that linked them all. After some quick research I found my favorite Cyberpunk blog, Neon Dystopia, from which I found the most comprehensive definition for the term. I then looked up the “founding fathers” of the genre, having a bit of a hard time but finding some common denominators that the entire movement could be traced to. The two main ones that I found were the novel Neuromancer and the 1982 movie Blade Runner.  So I read the book, re-watched the movie, and then read the novel that was the loose inspiration of the movie, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I then moved on to more modern Cyberpunk, Snowcrash, while at the same time devouring any tv shows or movies I could get my hands on for the genre. Meanwhile, I read Ready Player One twice, and then went to see it in theaters during opening week. I created a reference book for all the media I was consuming, to help me keep track of what happened in them and the interesting ideas I discovered in each one. I created this blog as a way to post some of these reviews and ideas online, as well. It was also this year that I discovered synthwave, and some of my new favorite synthwave artists like Le Matos and Carpenter Brut.

I wrote to my favorite Cyberpunk blog, and then after months of waiting, I was happily rewarded by joining the writing team for Neon Dystopia, contributing to their weekly Last Week In Cyberpunk (LWIC) but also having my first review of cyberpunk media published, a review for Killtopia. It even inspired me to write my own Cyberpunk novel, for which I’ve already written an outline and have written the first couple chapters.

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.

What about you, dear reader? When did you discover Cyberpunk, how, and will you be consuming more Cyberpunk media in 2019? What movies, books, TV shows, or music are you excited for?

Happy 2019!

 

Replicas: New Upcoming Cyberpunk film with Keanu Reeves to release this month

When I wrote in November  that Battle Angel: Alita was the next upcoming Cyberpunk film to watch out for, I wasn’t expecting to learn about another big Cyberpunk film that was flying under my radar a month later. But sure enough, here it is: Replicas is the newest new Cyberpunk film to look out for, releasing on the quickly approaching date of January 11th in the United States. An American film from Entertainment Studios, Replicas stars Cyberpunk legend Keanu Reeves, who helped with the production.

The story centers around the efforts of Neuroscientist William Foster to bring his wife and children back to life after they die in a terrible car crash. He tries to do so using cloning and digitizing their consciousnesses into robot bodies, something that is illegal and leads to him being pursued by the government, if the trailer is any indication.

There hasn’t been much news on this film yet, directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (writer for The Day After Tomorrow and The Tourist), and I’m trying to steer away from any reviews before I see it. But this film looks like it will be a fast-paced thriller and something will assuredly go wrong, as it always does in Cyberpunk tales. I’m excited to see Keanu Reeves in a Cyberpunk film again, since I’ve only been seeing him in various kinds of action flicks of late (John Wick, the Man of Tai Chi).

You can check out the trailer and see for yourself if this will be worth the watch here.

 

 

Killtopia: A Fresh Neon-Splattered Cyberpunk Comic

Have you sold your ballsack to attend Wreck-Fest X yet? Not to worry, reading Killtopia is the next best thing.

 

Killtopiais the new upcoming graphic novel by Dave Cook and Craig Paton, published in Glasgow by BHP Comics and under Cook’s own brand of Card Shark Comics. It’s currently still in the crowdfunding stages, but their kickstarter has at least allowed them to publish their first chapter.

Killtopia has all the fun tropes that one might expect or hope for in a cyberpunk comic. Robots, bounty hunters, future tech, Japanese culture, and vivid dystopian futures. It checks all the boxes you want. The authors’ inspirations include Blade RunnerBattle RoyalePacific RimHorizon: Zero DawnBorderlands, andMetal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

If any of the above made your mouth water, then you’ll probably love this graphic novel. My first impression of the cover and first few pages of Killtopia was that it felt very reminiscent to Josan Gonzalez, the cyberpunk illustrator and publisher from Spain whose artbooks and prints are similar in their high levels of detail.

It was also fun to see little easter egg items, like the glasses from Transmetropolitan prominently featured on one punk’s face in the beginning pages. This is no coincidence, as the titular cyberpunk comic was what apparently got Cook interested in comics in the first place. They went the extra mile to ask the author Darick Robertson if he would be willing to get involved, and much to their surprise, he agreed to provide art prints to backers of their fledgling comic!

As part of their stretch goals that they would later “wreck”, Cook and Paton ended up giving out to fans who helped back their project a variety of different artwork including a Judge Dredd/Tom Foster art print, retro game cover art postcards, and a Killtopia Original Soundtrack. This was the first time I had ever heard a comic selling a soundtrack along with the comic itself.

Since there’s a lot of discussion and controversy over what constitutes official “Cyberpunk Music” I was excited to hear what type of music they chose to produce. The music itself is atmospheric, relatively simple, and a little reminiscent of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner, if it were all done on an electric keyboard. While not being the best Cyberpunk music I’ve heard, the YouTube video conveniently features a lot of the artwork from the comic itself, so it serves a dual purpose.

Synopsis

Chapter 1 takes place in a futuristic dystopian Japanese metropolis called Killtopia and its surrounding areas. The city is being overrun and terraformed by violent robots that are called “mechs”. As a result, corporations, the military and gangsters hire bounty hunters called “Wreckers” to go into the city, kill the rogue mechs, and then bring back their precious tech in exchange for money and fame. The main character, Shinji, is a poor wrecker who risks his life to obtain and sell tech in order to pay his sister’s medical bills without her knowledge. She has a common disease without a cure called The Rot, which is a mech-caused Nano-Virus that breaks down human cells from the inside out. The other main characters are Crash, a sentient robot who teams up with Shinji, and Stiletto, the #1 wrecker of the city.  Shinji believes Crash can help his sister and countless others be cured from The Rot, whereas Stiletto is just looking for more fame, but her character may develop within the comic.

Analysis

I took my time reading this comic because of all the details there were to enjoy in each panel. It felt a bit like a comic version of Ready Player One, in that there were so many references on each page. I mentioned above the nod to Transmetropolitan with Spider’s glasses, but I also noticed eye implants similar to Batou from Ghost in the Shell, and the out-of-panel introductions to each secondary character felt like the introductions a player sees when playing Borderlands and meets a big boss or assisting NPC. The fashion sense of the people in the comic also deserves its own consideration, as it runs the gamut of punk style in very fun, different cyberpunk ways. Capitalistic marketing of Killtopia’s own-world products are front and center, which was very reminiscent of Blade Runner. For instance, we see marketing for “Kaiju Cola” all over the city on billboards and walls, but also slapped on the characters themselves.

Kaiju of course is a nod to Godzillaand the more recent Pacific Rim. There are also Japanese Kanji characters all over the comic, which I wish I could read, but according to the authors they’ve checked the Japanese and Japanese culture elements already by family members and friends living in Japan.

I could also see some budding philosophical issues being raised. In the middle of the first chapter Shinji decides to protect Crash from another wrecker, which raised the age-old question of whether AI life should be spared if it’s not human.

Although this comic is very graphic in some of the deaths of non-important characters, which makes the comic that much more memorable, it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. There were several scenes in the first chapter where something is happening in the background as characters are talking (such as an overpowered robot misbehaving with an interrogation victim, unbeknownst to its owner) which I found very comical and well done. Sure it’s a common humor device, but it’s ubiquitous because it works, and works well.

The cyberpunk visuals are detailed, intricate, and neon-soaked beauties. It’s filled to the brim with cyberpunk themes and references, which makes reading the comic fun if you can catch them all. It’s also clear that the producers of this comic have experience drawing comics—the way the narrator and speech bubbles are drawn, the flow from one box to the next, and the interlinking panels is all done in a very professional way. This of course is for a reason, with Cook and Paton both having experience creating other comics before this one. Cook is actually the founder of Card Shark Comics (under which Killtopia is produced), and backers actually get his previous work (a post-apocalyptic series called Bustand a dark fantasy series called Vessels) along with Killtopia if they support the Kickstarter. It’s too early to tell how well the story will be, but by the end of Chapter one I was drawn in, left on a modest cliffhanger and wanting to read what comes next. The only fault I could give to this comic is the soundtrack that comes with it, being somewhat underwhelming and unoriginal, feeling like a creative reimagining of things we’ve heard before. To learn more about the Kickstarter, check out their extensive page here.

Killtopia #1 – 9/10

(Note: This is a re-post of a piece I wrote for Cyberpunk website Neon Dystopia, where I am a regular contributor.)

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

 

 

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