The knights of tomorrow
When in 1990 Yoshiaki Kawajiri released his anime Cyber City Oedo 808, future was far away. Not as close as today. Back then scientists and writers dreamed about space elevators and flying machines; they tried to imagine how we will use atomic energy and when we will reach stars. Eventually, science stopped dreaming.
Today many critics and writers talk about modern sci-fi and how it is nearing its end. Science became too complicated to be entertaining and many fantastic things that writers created in their books are impossible to implement in real life. A space elevator, for example, cannot operate without huge investments and more advanced technology. The question is will our planet need a space elevator when the certain point of progress will be reached?
Did Kawajiri try to create a real sci-fi world where everything is explained and the plot is twisting around scientific problems? No. Instead he used a cyberpunk and sci-fi environment to tell a complicated story about three very bad and yet honorable men who fight for their lives. Neo-noir style suits these purposes well. We have three different criminals forced to serve and protect. In medieval Japan it was a common practice called Homen when criminals were forced to join the army, and if enough people were killed then they would earn their freedom. Quite symbolic that one thousand years later criminals are forced to protect the law in order to shorten their sentences.
Sengoku, Gogol and Benten have many common traits. They are experienced warriors with great tactic skills. They want to protect people and live a normal life of a normal criminal. They know that they deserved their sentences. They have a codex. Doesn’t it sound like a description of Arthur’s knights to you? Yes, three knights with one steel horse (sorry, Varsus). The whole story is about people, not about future technology and robots, though robots have a value for the plot as well.
Romanticism and romance
Three video novels are separated from each other by the narration tone, theme and morale. Each novel tells us about different knight. I don’t want to spoil anything and go further into the details. All you need to know is that in every novel you will see four aspects of a knight story: a princess, a castle, a dragon and a knight.
In the very first episode Sengoku has to fight against a strange cybernetic monster in the spacescraper to save Kyoko Jonouchi, his kawaii co-worker. In the second episode Gogol stands up against a powerful cyborg to avenge militaries for his beloved woman. In the last episode Benten fights a vampire (don’t worry, Kawajiri explained why vampires exist in Oedo in 2808) to protect a lady. Every time we have a hero who fights for a woman. The romantic line will be exciting whether an armored knight tries to save a princess in a stone castle or a partly mechanized policeman wants to avenge for his woman and fights a cyborg on the metal tower.
Yet Yoshiaki tells us a story about freedom. Freedom is a thing that many people always wanted to have and only some obtained. In Cyber City Oedo 808 we can see three criminals who wear collars, which can explode at any given time. In fact, they are prisoners, dogs on a leash. Yet they are much freer than many of us. They have a will to fight and power to rebel. These knights are strong, angry and… awesome. They do not know their own limits. That is why we talk about romanticism and romance in this anime.
The way our future comes
When we think about future, flying cars and blasters pop-up in our minds. In this anime one will have enough of lasers, futuristic weapons and strange vehicles. While the technology is not the main aspect of the anime, every single thing have an explanation or have a background in other media. Modern sci-fi has no need to explain how space elevators work and why cold chambers exist since many other novels and movies explained it thousand times. Authors simply use inventions and technology fabled by other authors. Kawajiri uses them perfectly. Everything seems to be appropriate, relevant.
In the same time Kawajiri tries to explain many things in his own way. The vampire virus, software algorithms and many other things explained casually. It makes the authenticity even more authentic. Do you need a detailed explanation of how your cellphone work? No, you just know that some functions are possible to implement and some seem to be fantastic. Maybe our children will think the same way about cyborgs?
Traditionally, authors try to describe the society of the future. Cyber City Oedo 808 describes it meticulously. A spectator can observe how criminals operate, what kind of transport people in Oedo use, where they live and work. In the background you can almost feel the tension of the totalitarian society. Too many crimes, way too many soldiers, too much power in hands of an individual. The problem of power shows through the plot in every episode. Kawajiri thinks that many problems of humanity are caused by ambitions. He is partly right as thousands of artists before.
To be honest, I miss that time when I watched an anime that consisted of a few OVA’s. A format of a trilogy seems to be a very good solution for a story to me. When I watched the last episode and the closing theme started to play, I was shocked. A laconic story with a very emotional finale. You don’t want to cry when a cryo-capsule flies away in the depth of space, but you definitely want to hold the feelings that you experience. Music, images, accents – everything is conducted perfectly.
Cyber City Oedo 808 is an art-piece and maybe it is the most sci-fi oriented film that is completely not about sci-fi.