Japanese anime covers every genre and situation you can imagine, from high school basketball rivalries to dread-filled ghostly encounters. But the style that’s perhaps most iconic, and which did the heavy lifting to establish the manga and anime industry as a peerless global force, is science fiction. And science fiction would be nothing without tech.
Sometimes anime’s machines and devices are mind-bending, other times spectacular, and occasionally disturbing. They might make you stop and think, deliberately hinting at ethical and existential dilemmas. And often, they’re just a lot of fun.
Whether you browse an extensive collection of manga and anime at home, or prefer to catch up at 9anime, it’s thought-provoking when you notice that fiction foreshadowed reality. Here’s a selection of memorable anime tech from down the years, that sometimes has parallels in real life.
Thermoptic Camouflage Suit
Featured in: Ghost in the Shell
Predating Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, but predated itself by the camouflage technology used by the hunter alien in Predator, is the Thermoptic Camouflage Suit, from the nineties cyberpunk classic, Ghost in the Shell.
These camouflage suits allow their wearers, members of a government intelligence department called Public Security Section 9, to blend into their environment when their suits are activated. The suits take information from their surroundings, and alter the surface material to mimic what’s around, but the wearers are not perfectly hidden.
Could such an artifact ever be manufactured in real life? Maybe so. Among others, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, Susumu Tachi, has been working on something very similar, creating a working prototype camouflage coat with a technology that he calls retro-reflective projection.
Featured in: Sword Art Online
The amusphere is a sleek and shiny headset, that fits over the wearer’s eyes, and has the capability to read and transmit brain waves. Using this information, a fully immersive virtual world is created, which the amusphere wearer, as both creator and protagonist, can navigate and interact with.
The anime in which this concept features, Sword Art Online, is set in the near future, and deals with concepts such as cyberspace, VR gaming, the blending of reality and imagination, and the blurring of organic and artificial.
Heading as we now are into the 2020s, our lives seem increasingly to be shifting online, interactions take place through screens, a metaverse takes shape, and VR headsets can be purchased and played with. As for hooking up brainwaves and machines, tech pioneer Elon Musk is already working on a brain machine interface, at his extraordinary, but slightly creepy, Neuralink company.
Featured in: Megazone 23
Another slice of Japanese cyberpunk brilliance, Megazone 23 transports viewers to the early 24th century, an era in which humans live on board colonial spaceships, the Earth having been abandoned to environmental catastrophe.
One of these gargantuan, drifting habitats (Megazone 23, of the title) has been modelled on Tokyo, and is maintained by an all-knowing AI, called Eve. The twist, though, is that the inhabitants don’t know they’re in a simulated and computer-managed version of reality.
Concept sounds familiar? If you’ve watched The Matrix, The Truman Show, or Existenz, then you’ll have come across similar themes and set-ups. They all came after Megazone 23, though, which was released in 1985. But then again, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was written around 380 BC.
Existing in a fabricated reality sounds far-fetched, but could something like this actually happen? There are a few deep thinkers who propose not only that it could, but that it already has. The idea is called the simulation hypothesis, and it suggests that it’s actually more likely than not that you are in a simulation right now, but you aren’t aware of it, and can’t—for now at least—prove it. After all, how would you know? And how would you get out?
Doko Demo Door
Featured in: Doraemon
Doraemon is one of the true greats of Japanese children’s animation. It started life in manga form, way back in 1969, and is still going strong today, revamped through the decades, and adored across generations.
Colourful, humorous, and endlessly creative, the titular character is a blue, robot cat, sent back in time from the 22nd century to take care of a young boy, Nobita, by Nobita’s own future grandson.
A key component of the Doraemon stories are the robot cat’s futuristic gadgets, pulled from his pocket, which itself has the mysterious capacity to contain a multitude of objects. Close to 2000 such gadgets have appeared throughout the many shows and movies, and there are a handful which are regulars, as famous as the main characters themselves. One of these is the Doko Demo Door, which means, in English, Anywhere Door.
When utilized, it takes the form of a pink, free-standing door and frame. The user can then step through and be transported instantly to any location.
Throughout the mishaps and strange adventures that the characters in Doraemon experience, technology is always presented as larger-than-life, packed with potential, and simultaneously unpredictable and irresistible.
While the Doko Demo Door is fantasy, the optimistic vision presented in Doraemon, of tech and our relationship with it, is something we can all keep hold of and be inspired by.