A Dubious Future

Yoshitoshi ABe paints a dark, dreary sci-fi picture with Texhnolyze

by Patrick King

Yoshitoshi ABe is quickly becoming a well-recognized (and deservingly well-respected) name in the anime industry. His inimitable character designs on shows such as the warm comedy Niea_7, the eerie thriller Serial Experiments Lain, and the delicately uplifting Haibane Renmei have established him as one of the most creative artists working in the field today.

However, for many shows, ABe is only half of a powerful creative team. While ABe created the character designs for Lain, the man who wrote the superb series was actually Yasuyuki Ueda. Ueda was the producer for the delicate, uplifting Haibane Renmei, though ABe did indeed pen that particular tale. After letting ABe have complete creative control over their last joint project, following the story of the ethereal Haibane, it was Ueda's turn to take the reins once again.

And so we arrive at Texhnolyze, a sci-fi thriller that might make you think of Lain due to its visual style, but it is as unique of a work as something you'd expect from ABe and Ueda. It is also, quite possibly, the most unsettling release from the creative duo.

In the genre of science fiction, writers frequently try to tackle the subject of technology's rapid advance and its potential effect on society. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, technological breakthroughs were seen as signs of mankind's infinite potential for improvement. Writers such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Isaac Asimov helped show us possible futures where we were no longer bound by the restrictive laws of nature. From submarine and space travel, to genetic engineering, to the limitless possibilities advances in robotics could offer, dreams were established that eventually became realities.

But then, when two of the worst wars that the human race has ever seen erupted, a less optimistic view of the future began to come into focus. We quickly realized that while technology could be used to better mankind - for example, the advent of flight, long-distance communication, and medical advancements that doubled our average life spans - there was also a terrible flipside to science. Like any tool, science can be used for evil as surely as it can be used for good. Thanks to technology, humanity was also introduced to the atomic bomb, flame throwers, machine guns, and biological and chemical weapons.

I'm not yet sure which perspective of technology Texhnolyze is trying to present. The series is set in the future - in an experimental city buried far underground by the name of Lukuss.

While it was possibly once a wonderful place to live in, Lukuss has since degraded into a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken nightmare of a city ruled by gangs and violence.

The story begins as the main character, Ichise, demonstrates exactly how rough of a city Lukuss really is. Ichise was a prizefighter who crossed the wrong people, and as a result, he was forcibly relieved of an arm. And a leg. Then he was shot a few times.

Miraculously, he lived. Though in that state of pain, and bleeding from five significant holes in his body, I don't think anyone but the blissfully unaware could call him lucky.

Even when a mysterious scientist picks up his unconscious form off of the streets, offering to replace his missing limbs with mechanical "texhnolyzed" parts, I'm not sure that the gods are doing him a favor.

It would seem as if the gods, like cell phones, get poor reception underground.

The first episode of the series is called "Stranger", which is very appropriate when one thinks of Ichise. He doesn't truly have any dialogue until the third episode, and even by the time the fourth (and final) installment of the show on the disc comes to a close, he just appears to be a guy caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - with the wrong woman.

Kazuho Yoshii is the one man in the story who might actually be able to enlighten us on the condition of the overworld, though he naturally has some secrets of his own to reveal. For some unstated reason, Kazuho has come from the surface of the planet to learn things about Lukuss. In the first few episodes, his tour guide is a little girl named Ran.

Ran, as it turns out, is another interesting character. She's also one likely to play a major role in the story eventually. This mysterious little girl prefers to hide her face behind a fox mask, though it's not clear if she does it out of shyness or because she knows that her steady gaze disturbs others.

Ran has the power to see possible futures, and she uses it to warn her caretaker of impending danger. Ignoring all of the free will and fate arguments that two out of the three Matrix movies pounded into us, this skill is pretty neat. How it will play into Ichise's life, however, remains to be seen.

Texhnolyze promises to be one of those wonderfully complex, mysterious stories that will have viewers talking and thinking about it for years to come. As can be expected from a show from Ueda and ABe, you need far more than the first disc to have a clue regarding what's going on.

I'd warn readers with short attention spans to steer clear of Texhnolyze, but by this point, they've probably already stopped reading this article.

Another standard one can expect from the creators of the show also appears to be met in good order - the visuals. Drab, dreary, and nightmarish in design, this is the perfect visual setting for a dark sci-fi story. I suppose ABe decided to swap palettes after wrapping up the fresh, organic Haibane Renmei. Studio Madhouse seems to have worked a little harder on this series than they did on Final Fantasy: Unlimited, and readers who have seen both know what I mean.

Readers who have seen both series must also appreciate hearing that.

Of course, with an opening theme written by Juno Reactor, you know that the music's going to be impressive as well.

Altogether, this has all the signs of being yet another excellent release from the powerhouse production team of Yoshitoshi ABe and Yasuyuki Ueda. I can't wait to get more of this series in my hands to see where it's heading. While waiting, maybe I'll start pondering those free will questions again...

Then again, maybe not.

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