Another factor we are beginning to see in popular media is the theme of human consciousness. The “Golden Age” of animation saw a few animators dipping their toe into the depths of this subject in the 60’s and 70’s, but now it’s making its way to the forefront of animation, as well as in music and film. The psychedelic movement is back, and in full force. Artists such as Alex Grey (I’ve provided an example of his work below) have been plumbing the depths of the human mind with the aide of chemicals such as DMT, psilocybin, and LSD, and animators such as J.G. Quintell include themes of expanded reality in their work. In Quintell’s Regular Show, the main characters are frequently thrown into alternate realities, or higher levels of awareness. The emergence of these types of themes is just the beginning. As we push further into the post-modern era, even more themes will find themselves brought to the spotlight through animation.
One other such theme is “what does it mean to be human?” We’ve seen a few books, films, and anime address this in the past, but it has been brought up more frequently in popular animation with increasing frequency over the past ten years. Two perfect examples, having come through the science fiction and historical fantasy genres respectively, are Masamune Shirrow’s Ghost in the Shell franchise, and Hiromu Arakawa’s Full Metal Alchemist. Both started out as manga (the Japanese equivalent to comics or graphic novels), and went on to inspire multiple series and films.
Masamune, in Ghost in the Shell, shows us a shocking look at a very likely post-modern (post-human?) near future where people can replace any faulty body part with a technological prosthetic (including the brain), can “dive” the internet and communicate through wireless telepresence, and potentially live forever by upgrading their bodies to the point that all that remains is the “ghost” or mind of the individual, connected to an artificial body or “shell.” These main themes are coupled with another strong element; the emergence of artificial intelligence. Within this setting, Masamune asks the audience the question, “what is it to be human?” The show floods the audience’s minds with Cartesian, Kafkan, and Kantian philosophies, then sets these patterns in motion through superior crafted webs of engaging plot and intensely animated action sequences. The audience is left impacted, and almost certainly asking themselves how they would deal with living in such a world themselves; a resonant feeling like they had just glimpsed the future. Technologies today are all leading towards the developments of nearly every element described in Ghost in the Shell, opening one’s mind to a very persistent flow of philosophical debate, which is also provided in the stories and dialogue. The whole story was meant to expand the audience’s mind, and thus Masamune can stand above his audience, and like a puppet master, control the outcome of the world’s conscious evolution*… oh no, Descartes is taking control of my inner monologue again!
*I’d like to share some of Ghost in the Shell with you, it will play above. I’ll continue the topic in the next post.