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Blade Runner Black Lotus Vs Ghost In The Shell: Creators Talk Differences Between The Cyber-Punk Worlds

Blade Runner: Black Lotus
is an anime set in the iconic cyberpunk world of the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049. It feels somehow fitting as the sci-fi futures of Philip K Dick (whose work inspired the films) and William Gibson were heavily influenced by Japan's futuristic-looking cityscapes.

Blade Runner would in turn go on to be a major influence on Japanese popular culture, with many manga, anime and novels inspired by Ridley Scott's movie. Its influence was on full display in the anime of the 80s and 90s. Classic cyberpunk Bubblegum Crisis featured The Knight Sabres, a gang of female vigilantes in powered suits defending Mega-Tokyo from rogue robots called Boomers. It even featured a main character called Priss, who fronted a rock band called The Replicants (both names are taken directly from Blade Runner). Or take 90s OAV series Armitage III which saw a terraformed Mars where synthetic life-forms, indistinguishable from humans, live illegally among the general population undetected.

Most notably though, arguably there would have been no Ghost In The Shell without Blade Runner. Masamune Shirow's seminal manga presents a world with cybernetic bodies, artificial intelligence, and hackable cyber-brains, in a future that owes a definite debt to the iconic movie. Shirow's manga was then adapted into anime, initially with Mamoru Oshii's classic 1995 feature and then several TV series, OVAs and the poorly received Hollywood adaptation.

Ghost In The Shell would then in turn go on to influence storytellers both in Japan and outside (The Wachowski's are on record that GITS was a major influence on The Matrix). There's a pleasing symmetry to Blade Runner's first TV spin-off being produced by the creators behind the most recent adaptation of Shirow's work.

Ghost In The Shell: SAC_2045

Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki previously teamed up to create Ghost In The Shell: SAC_2045, the franchise's debut CG-animated series and are back together at the helm of Black Lotus. Kamiyama was a franchise veteran, previously having also been behind the classic first TV incarnation Stand Alone Complex, while Aramaki is an established name in CGI anime.

Comparing the worlds of Ghost and Blade Runner could offer an interesting way of seeing differing approaches to depicting synthetic life-forms.

There is a lot of violence between humans and artificial life in the Blade Runner world, whereas in Ghost in the Shell, there is violence but also co-operation between the two sides. In his own question to the directors, Andrew Osmond referenced another anime creator who’s asked if the two sides can mix. 

Bubblegum Crisis

Yasuhiro Yoshida may be best known to Western viewers as the director of Patema Inverted, but he also depicted androids with A.I. in his anime Time of Eve and in his new feature film Sing a Bit of Harmony. When Osmond interviewed Yoshida some years ago, he suggested that Japanese people have a different attitude to robots and artificial life than people did in Britain and America. Osmond asked Aramaki and Kamiyama if they thought Blade Runner’s world reflects a more “American” attitude to the subject.

“I would have to agree with this comment by Yoshida,” says Aramaki. “From a very young age, Japanese have grown up with manga and anime robots (Astro Boy, etc.) and are familiar with these kinds of characters. I think the concept of having empathy for a “thing” comes naturally to us. I believe this is somewhat connected to the old Japanese belief that all ‘things’ have a soul within them. For me, it’s rather uncomfortable to just be passive and say ‘Oh, it’s artificial intelligence or ‘It’s not human,’ which feels as if I’m discriminating against that being because they are one of the two. 

“Is that more of an American attitude? I don’t know. There is a certain kind of belief system that comes along with that kind of thinking, which requires us to want to have a clean separation/line between human beings and non-human beings, which I don’t personally really believe in.”

Asked the same question, Kamiyama says, “I think there is some truth to (Yoshida’s) comment. In Japan, there’s a very old religion called Shinto, which believes that there is a God within everything. So, there is a general thought that robots and AIs may have a kind of God or a soul that lives within them. I do think the overall Blade Runner world has a very American attitude that runs through it. But in the original film where Roy Batty confesses that he wants to be a human being, that’s the moment when I felt the underlying theme of Blade Runner was actually pretty Japanese. I felt more for Roy’s character in that film than I did for Deckard.”

Blade Runner: Black Lotus is available streaming on Crunchyroll and Adult Swim.

Written by Andrew Osmond and Chris Perkins.

Andrew Osmond is the author of the book on the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell film, published by Arrow Books. He’s also a journalist specialising in animation and has a website at anime-etc.net