Thursday, November 11, 2010

People who used to read science fiction part 1: Anime

Time of Eve (イヴの時間 Ivu no Jikan)

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, original literary science fiction has largely imploded, and only a handful of long-time authors can afford to support themselves writing in the genre. For writers under fifty-five, even having multiple books published is no longer a guarantee of being able to keep a roof overhead. For most successful genre authors, writing is now an after-hour activity crammed in between work, kids, and a general lack of a social or outdoor life. Those who do have a life outside the home all seem to have chosen to forgo reproducing.

Obviously I'd like to change this. I've got several pretentious notions about how I'm going to singlehandedly revitalize original literary science fiction and make a good living off it. But so I don't make a complete ass out of myself, I've been doing research on the things that have replaced literary science fiction for its former readers.

So, how do they get their science fiction fix?

•movies and television


•Video games

•Fantasy novels

•Commercial tie-in novels to role-playing and war game franchises, as well as movie and TV series

•Techno Thrillers

As part of figuring out how to lure former readers back, I've been immersing myself in the popular works of some of these media. I'm curious about what pushes the fun buttons of our ex-readers. What still makes their hearts melt or ignites the sense of wonder for those who like their entertainment either set in the future or at least to involve elements of tomorrows technology and social issues?

Getting back into watching anime as a part of this endeavor has been great fun. Sure there is a fair amount of junk out there, as in any medium, but it has also expanded beyond the giant robot and military science fiction series that I watched as a kid.

Not that the descendants of giant mecha and anime mil-sf are doing all that bad. The Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex anime and movies serve up shadowy covert-operations drama and explores questions of identity in an era of brain augmentation and machine intelligences.

Even more popular internationally, however, are relationship-based dramas with science fiction elements such as Tenchi Muyo! (天地無用!) or modern fantasy, like the stylish and brilliantly bizarre Baccano! (バッカーノ).

By way of warning, while Baccano! is great fun, it's also got some gratutious violence and is not for family viewing.

The Time of Eve, at the top of this post has been one of my favorites. While it's a bit of a cult hit, it has gorgeous animation and taps into issues of identity and artificial intelligence in the context of social issues and interpersonal relationships.

My absolute favorite for sheer intellectual hitting power and dramatic emotion has been Ergo Proxy.

This series also tackles philosophical identity issues, though its artificial intelligences are gene-engineered constructs, and its setting is post-apocalyptic with environmental themes and a Goth aesthetic. For me, it hits the nail on the head as far as identity being a dynamic tension between innate characteristics and external influences. While Ergo Proxy is popular, it's not for everyone as the series writers expect their viewers to actively work to figure out what is happening, and it takes a second viewing of the series to fully understand it.

Finally, the stylized spaceborne bounty hunter drama Cowboy Bebop can't be beat for raw fun and staying power in its popularity.

Next up: Techno thrillers


Laurie Tom said...

I admit I spent more time watching anime or playing videos games than reading. The latter is partially because I'm in the game industry and playing is part of keeping up. The former is more of a guilty hobby.

One thing I like about anime vs. Western books is that Western literature wants to be accurate. Western books are not allowed to absurdly break the laws of reality without getting mocked along the way (or just be told they're wrong), whereas anime generally is less concerned with being realistic as telling a good story and the audience is more accepting of any lapses in physical laws.

Alex Black said...

I think it's easier to get away with violating physical laws in visual media than it is in writing. When readers construct a scene from words in their heads it seems like they have a strong instinctual loyalty to real-world physics. But when they're presented with an external visual depiction they accept violations without much fuss--whether it's Tenchi Muyo or the Three Stooges.