Why Japanese Cyberpunk is Different

Cyberpunk, the anxieties of the nineties traced in neon and thrown across billboards. It appeared as it was all too late to believe the lies of high modernist science worship and all too early to know just what the rising society of control would look like. Fear that the human subject would soon become a useless category, hesitation over the seeming impossibility of meaningful revolutionary change in the face of an increasingly wedded state and capital possessing nigh-omniscient insight, and worry about globalization and the coming domination of Japan and the Orient all made up cyberpunk, which more than any other genre from its time, was, as Jameson might describe it, a “demonstrat[ion] and … dramatiz[ation] [of] our incapacity to imagine the future,” an attempt to work through the ongoing problems of the day by extrapolating them to a fitting conclusion, one which we have, in some perverse sense, stumbled into face-first. The fears of cyberpunk hold little sway as the technological innovations which have occupied our daily lives continue to offer a paradoxical combination of eternal freedom and limitless control. Our organically 21st century concerns have turned to climate change above all else. Yet can the story of cyberpunk be told so simply? From Blade Runner forward, the mere sight of kanji on the walls of an American building aroused fear in some deep corner of the viewer’s heart, one which knew the nation’s hegemony was not long for this world, and that end of unipolarity on the global stage is finally come to pass. Yet, if we are content to see that techno-orientalism as an in-built aspect of the genre, utterly inextricable, how do we explain the nation which, arguably, embraced cyberpunk the most: Japan?

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