Real Drive: Real Nature?

Oh my God, a Real Drive post that doesn’t start with a picture of Nyamo! Okay, so, she’s in it, but she’s blurry, so it doesn’t count.

Since I am one of the Few, the Proud, and the MIghty who have stuck with Real Drive from the beginning, despite it being a Cyberpunk Series from Masamune Shirow animated by Production I.G., I’ve actually found it better, overall, than what I was expecting (which was, well, a bit of a retread of Ghost in the Shell, to be honest–and while I might not care for Ghost in the Shell, it wasn’t bad, but its time had certainly come). Of course, given that particular background, why I like it is probably the exact reason a bunch of other people don’t like it, but that’s okay. And why I like it has almost nothing to do with Nyamo whatsoever. Although she still doesn’t hurt.

Real Drive, for me, has been less about the “cool technology” of the Metal, and more about the effect said “cool technology” has upon human life. We’re shown a society where nearly all wants are possible through the virtual reality of the Metal, which exists mostly upon an artificial island created specifically for research into phenomenon associated with the Metal. Hitherto, despite the heavy use of diving and etc. to resolve problems, the various episodic stories have revolved around a conflict of technology with humanity: we have the girl, born blind from birth, given cybernetic eyes, but ultimately rejecting the eyes, since they stripped her of her ability to experience sensory syntheasia; we have the young man, troubled by humanity and imbued with a passionate love for the simple life of dogs, using the Metal to swap consciousnesses with a dog, thereby escaping his harsh reality; we have gourmands par excellance, who have tasted the finest foods imaginable, but only in virtual reality, while at home their sloppy, drooling bodies contrast starkly with their choice of Rennaisance elegance in their virtual garb.

So, too, is it about man versus machine: Souta spends an inordinate amount of time struggling to find some way to defeat Holon in combat, unaware that what holds him back is not his own natural talent (since Holon admits herself that Souta could defeat her), but rather his own inability to bring himself to injuring Holon, despite knowing she’s a cyborg and incapable of feeling pain in the same way a human might be. Even when fighting against a different, more inhuman cyborg, Souta still finds himself inadaquate without support from Holon.

Despite the simple constructs of each story-episode, and despite not following the Ghost in the Shell method of quoting philosophy at you to make you realize you’re supposed to be thinking while you’re being entertained by things blowing up/Nyamo being cute, it does weave a complicated view of technology’s role in human life: good elements, such as light hints towards a growing sense of humanity in the robotic Holon, contrast with some of the more depraved elements of humanity given free reign over an essentially uncontrolled virtual reality.

“My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy.”
(oh god help I’m quoting Frankenstein someone stop me)

The last two episodes I’ve seen (18 and 19) hint, now, at a “naturalization” of the Metal, of a sort of blending of the real and the virtual, where, rather than technology becoming a dominant force in human’s lives and, essentially, robotizing them–stripping away their humanity–what Real Drive seems to be pushing for is a “naturalization” of technology. This arc already hinted fairly strongly at “natural” processes taking place inside the Metal, processes similar to those that help cleanse nature of impurities. The message seems to be a much gentler one than most cyberpunk novels might seem to take: rather than an oppressive future where technology and machines rule over humans, we have a cyberpunk-ish future where the depiction is much more of a nuanced view: technology will change humanity, as it always has, and become part of the natural order of things.

It’s a viewpoint supported, in part, at least by history: the Industrial Revolution set off the Luddite revolt, sending people burning factories down, fearful of industrialization; the Gutenberg press sparked off a giant Luddite-esque controvesy even as it changed the face of civilization the world over; one must imagine that when some Sumerian scribe had the bright idea to lay reed to clay tablet that people got really mad and threw rocks at him. It’s a very current topic: Atlantic Monthly recently ran an article (where you will pretty much find the preceding sentence) which struck me as a correct observation, if not necessarily a bad one. Of course, one must also ask the question whether society as a whole is progressing forward or progressing backwards, but I’m not even going totouch that topic because my head hurts and I need to not think so much (especially not today!), but I, alas, cannot stop.

Considering that I’ve yet to see the rest of the series, and there’s still seven episodes to go, I could be dead wrong as to whether or not this will be resolved in future episodes. There’s certainly some kind of message here, even if it’s one of those series that challenge you to take it at more than face value, without any explicit cues to do so.

Or maybe it’s just the lack of Oshii Mamoru that’s causing me to like it. That might have a good deal to do with it!

3 Responses to “Real Drive: Real Nature?”

  1. 1 Jasonp 5 November 2008 at 8:42 pm

    So I’d have to say that Real Drive is in the end, science fiction done right. Its all about exposing humanity by pushing characters into interesting situations (say in this case, the Metal). Like you say, another thing about the show is that the message of hope is played up instead of down, the opposite of GitS and most cyberpunk.

    However, if one thing stands out, its that the script writers and the director and even the animators love the characters of Real Drive. They always treat them with respect and apply genuine effort. This kind of genuine attitude real comes through in any show and this is no exception. This more than anything keeps me coming back to watch another episode.

    I actually don’t find myself too concerned about any overarching plot or message, I just want to see more of the exploits of these characters. :)

  2. 2 OGT 6 November 2008 at 4:12 pm

    @Jasonp: You are, of course, correct in your pegging of Real Drive as science fiction done right, in that it didn’t forget that half of the term “science fiction” is fiction. Speculative fiction is supposed to illuminate the modern human experience through the fantastical and futuristic worlds they create, and less focus on the “hey isn’t this technology cool?” and spend seventeen pages going into Tom Clancy-esque detail on your cool technology. Science fiction for me has been, like everything else, more focused on the characters than on anything else. Which is what Real Drive is good at, hence why it seems to be unpopular.

  3. 3 Cuchlann 11 November 2008 at 3:07 am

    Nice post — though I will point out that all the cyberpunk I bother to read does what you’re talking about. ; ) That is, with the impact of technology on life. My like Real Drive because of its illustration of the impact on nature as well, which is, well, not new, but not usually the primary focus. I think I recall some ruminations on nature in Mona Lisa Overdrive, as the characters end up just off the Sprawl, in one of the few wooded areas left in that region, but again, not the focus of the book, yeah. :D

    I need to catch up, I’ve only seen through episode thirteen. But then again, I’m behind on everything except Toradora, seems like. I need to watch some Gundam, even.

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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November 2008

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