I’m looking for some anime with Net Terminal Themes.
A lot of people complain about stylistic changes in Tsutomu Nihei’s newer manga, or changes in tone in the anime adaptations by Polygon Pictures. While it’s true that these changes have shifted Nihei’s works away from the cybernetic hellscape of BLAME!, the people who obsess over this never really understood the Original Manga in the first place. The key to understanding this is to understand the dual nature of Nihei’s post-human protagonists.
For those not familiar with BLAME! It depicts a Dystopian future where the earth (and a large part of the solar system) has been completely consumed by an endlessly expanding nightmare city. Humans have been locked out of the city’s control systems, and are now hunted to extinction by killer robots (known as safeguards) and demonic cyborgs (known as silicon life)
The Hero of this story is a taciturn gunslinger named Killy. Killy is “looking for net terminal genes.” which will allow him to re-connect with the City’s governing authority and stop the chaos. Eventually revealed to be some form of cyborg or android, he has been searching for these genes for thousands of years and sacrificed most of his humanity in the process. All he remembers is his name, and his mission
Despite all this, Killy still introduces himself (in the rare instances he speaks at all) as “a human.” Killy regularly, shrugs off injuries that would kill a man many times over, and never loses sight of his goal despite thousands of years of fruitless searching. If anything, Killy has more in common with the robotic Builders than the humans he fights to protect. Humans are allowed to fail, humans are allowed to die. Humans are allowed to give up. Killy is inhuman, and that Inhumanity is what lets him survive.
Killy is contrasted however, not with his (Trans)Human companions, but with Silicon Life who flourish in the chaos of the City. Implied to be responsible for the chaotic expansion, Sillicon life represent a different form of Inhumanity. Rather than strict control, Silicon life embrace chaos, surviving by altering their bodies and abandoning even the pretense of a human form, reproducing like insects. Like humans The Safeguard hunt Silicon life, and Killy will fight them on the spot, but Silicon life never seem to be in any danger of extinction they will always out-bread, out-adapt, and out-live any of their competitors in the nightmare ecosystem.
“Normal” humans (as far as any still exist in this world) represent a mid-point between these two extremes. Humanity is going extinct because they are neither able to embrace change, or harden themselves against it. The must ultimately rely on a hero like Killy who wields the power of inhumanity for humanity’s sake.
In many ways, Killy is like Clint Eastwood’s man with no name or the nameless Ronin portrayed by Toshiro Mifune. A nameless Hero wanders into town to bring justice, and leaves before the grateful townsfolk can even learn his name. The Animated addaptation, produced by Polygon Pictures and aired on Netflix, understands this, and introduces Killy with a western sounding Leitmotif. Announcing to the viewers that Killy is the Sheriff come to bring justice to the digital frontier.
While some (Myself included) might wish they had settled on a darker, more Industrial/Electronic film score suitable for the Cybergothic aesthetic, this particular piano and guitar leitmotif suits killy’s character perfectly. The climax of this this theme seems almost directly lifted from The good Bad and the Ugly. If any piece of this adaptation is handled with Nuance, then it is this particular musical arrangement. The song of a warrior who has been wandering for centuries from the old west to the post-human future, always keeping one eye on the horizon, even when it’s obscured by metal and smog.
Nehi is not the first person to juxtapose the wild west with the cyberpunk future. Just as Clit Eastwood’s man with no name is just Toshiro Mifune’s unnamed Ronin, Noted author William Gibson named his cyberspace hackers “Console Cowboys” to emphasize the lawless nature of the digital frontier. By Nihei’s own admission, William Gibson and his themes of the human condition in the face of inhuman technology were highly influential on his work. Indeed, Nihei was even involved as a concept artist in an abortive attempt at adapting Gibson’s novel Necromancer to the screen. Cyborg cowboys can also be seen outside of Gibson’s works in Westworld, both the 1973 movie, and it’s 2016 HBO adaptation. Here emphasis is again on the inhuman precision of the mechanical gunslingers and the harsh, unforgiving frontier they inhabit.
If Killy is a serif, there cannot be a sheriff without townsfolk to protect. If one is making the complaint that Polygon’s adaptation is that it’s too “chatty” or “humanized.” they are forgetting the human characters Killy interacts with in the early volumes of the Manga. These human characters serve as an important contrast to the inhuman heroes and monsters that populate Nihei’s worlds. The only real way to approach this kind of larger than life Hero is in third person, from the perspective of the people watching him pass by. Even the Manga’s narative only really focuses on Killy during the times he has a (post)human(oid) companion of some type, and ends with the reader simply being told Killy still has a long way to go before completing his mission.
Now, it’s reasonable to fault an adaptation for neglecting important themes in the source material. Conversely it’s also permissible to complain when an adaptation dumb themes down to a degree which eliminates nuance. But if a critic complains that an addaptation includes themes that were present in the source, but which had not been noticed by the critic previously, then the critic only reveals their own ignorance of the source material. The Polygon adaptation isn’t without it’s flaws (mostly from pacing and music choices) and does represent a condensation of the source’s themes, but it deserves much greater appreciation for preserving these themes in adaptation. Themes which many critics appear to be ignorant of.