Anime can be beautiful, dazzling and inspiring. It gives us visions into futures both wonderful and bleak. Most importantly, it gives us a vision into ourselves. Some of the greatest animes allow us to see who are at our best and worst. It is not only the future that great animes capture, but the essence of the human spirit.
Let’s take Ghost in the Shell, in the opening scene of the movie we see Motoko Kusanagi being rebuilt. She is a “shell”, a human soul within a cybernetic body. In her world the idea of hacking into a person’s mind is real. As a detective she deals with stories of men who have had their entire lives rewritten as their memories have been erased and remade. The members of the assault team also have to deal with a deep personal issue. They have been physically upgraded so often that they don’t know if they are human or machines with false memories.
This movie deals with more than a future where replacing entire body parts and memories are possible. It poses a question on where our humanity begins and where technology ends. It makes us conscience about the problems and fears that exist in a world we are steadily approaching. At the same time it gives us this world of wonder and machinery that we can aspire to.
Another “bleak” future is in Neon Genesis Evanglion. Known for causing chaos in a room of fan boys, it is more than mechs and occult symbolisms. It is about a boy who struggles growing up in a world his father created. Shinji always believed that is father didn’t love him. Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari, is shrouded in mystery; his personal history is revealed only a in few glimpses. Episode 20 reveals that in Yui’s memories Gendo is remorseful about the world that he created. Episode 21, reveals that Gendo’s personality completely changes when Yui dies. Episode 25 reveals that Gendo’s plans to revive Yui back at all cost. This is not a story about a twisted man who hates his son; this is about a man who is overwhelmed and confused and his only beacon of hope is his late wife Yui. This is a story about a man who cannot let go of the past.
What makes Evangelion amazing is it takes the point of view Shinji. Shinji’s journey of becoming an adult means that he has to learn to deal with, not only his problems, but the problems of those around him. The Evangelion unit he pilots represents his new found responsibilities. It is the job that even though he hates he, he endures for the sake of others. In a sense Evangelion is about human relationships: how Shinji chooses to deal with the people around him. It is humorous, such as his love affair with Asuka. It is heartbreaking, as he kills his fellow pilot Kaworu to save everyone. It is doubtful, as he tries to mend his relationship with distant father, Gendo.
Central to both animes is what is self. Both Shinji and Kusanagi struggle with their personal identity. Kusanaga struggles with the idea that she could just be a machine with false memories. Shinji struggles with his identity as an Eva pilot and his relationships with others. The horrendously confusing ending to Evangelion, highlights the confusion with defining one’s self.
In the end the meaning is confusing yet clear, we define ourselves. It is not our environment, job or bodies that define us, it is us. Though the subject of animes can be filled with controversy, my intent is not to cause any arguments. I am only stating that anime is can be a vehicle for the discussion of humanity: our relationships and our souls.