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SCIENCE FICTION IN JAPAN: A VISION AHEAD OF ITS TIME


This futuristic current generated that different Animes began to take science fiction in their stories, coming to apply engineering to create different technologies such as Mechas (machines controlled by people used as humanoid vehicles dedicated to fighting in battles or military wars); the creation of starships and other advanced technology for its time.


By: Leslie Benitez – Asistente Negocios Internacionales CCJCI


Introduction

Technology has always been a sector in which Japan has excelled for several decades now. Always with innovation at hand, creating different types of ecosystems, software and hardware that support different processes in the work life or daily life of its citizens. However, in 1980 there was the rise and strong establishment of Anime and Manga as a form of entertainment in the Japanese public. Likewise, the birth of world-renowned video games such as Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. was experienced. Science fiction was what reigned in the 80's in Japanese entertainment, the production of animated series such as Astro Boy and Akira, entering genres such as Cyberpunk and Steampunk.


This futuristic current generated that different Animes began to take science fiction in their stories, coming to apply engineering to create different technologies such as Mechas (machines controlled by people used as humanoid vehicles dedicated to fighting in battles or military wars); the creation of starships and other advanced technology for its time.


With concepts ahead of its time, the futuristic vision that has always been presented in Japanese culture has inspired the creation of different technological ecosystems, the Internet of Things, the Artificial Intelligence that to date we are beginning to use and support.


Source

Despite the fact that in the 1980s science fiction in Japanese culture was where it had its peak, it was already part of the old narratives. In ancient Japanese literature, elements of proto-science fiction are presented, this is a narrative style that was used before science fiction itself was born.


We have as examples two Japanese tales, Urashima Tarō (浦島太郎) is the protagonist of a Japanese fairy tale (otogi banashi), who in a typical modern version is a fisherman rewarded for rescuing a turtle, and carried back to the Dragon Palace (Ryūgū-jō) under the sea. There he is entertained by Princess Otohime as a reward. He spends what he believes to be several days with the princess, but when he returns to his hometown, he discovers that he has been gone for at least 100 years. When he opens the forbidden jewelry box (tamatebako), which Otohime gave him, he turns into an old man. Interpreted to the current of science fiction, the story talks about time travel.

We also find another Japanese narrative from the 10th century. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the story details the life of Kaguya-hime, a princess of the Moon who is discovered as a baby inside the stem of a glowing bamboo plant. After growing up, her beauty attracts five suitors seeking her hand in marriage, whom she rejects by challenging each with an impossible task; she later attracts the affections of the Emperor of Japan. At the end of the tale, Kaguya-hime reveals her heavenly origins and returns to the Moon. The story is also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語, Kaguya-hime no Monogatari), after its protagonist. Interpretations in the field of science fiction mention that the protagonist of the story, Kaguya-hime, is a princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter. in Japan. Later, her real alien family takes her back to the Moon. A handwritten illustration shows a round flying machine similar to a flying saucer.


Modern Times

Science fiction in modern times was reflected in the time of the Meiji Restoration, in the time of 1868, this due to the importation of Western ideas that came to the Japanese island. The first influence that the Japanese had was in charge of Jules Verne's novels, which were translated into Japanese, thus, the word kagaku shōsetsu (科学小説) was coined as a translation of "scientific novel" in 1886.

We are beginning to see Japanese authors of literary novels beginning to embrace these futuristic ideas in their stories, such as the first novel by Shunrō Oshikawa (押川 春浪), who is generally considered the ancestor of Japanese science fiction; Kaitei Gunkan (Submarine Warship), published in 1900, described submarines and predicted an upcoming Russo-Japanese war.


However, due to the two World Wars in which Japan participated, Japanese science fiction was influenced by the American one, and due to the situation in the country, the Japanese did not consider science fiction as valuable literature, instead, it was considered a form of science fiction of trivial literature for children. In 1930 the first properly Japanese superhero, Ōgon Bat (黄金 バット), was born eight years after Super Man in the United States.


Post WWII

The era of modern Japanese science fiction began with the influence of paperbacks brought to Japan by the American occupying army after World War II. The first science fiction magazine in Japan, Seiun (星雲), was created in 1954 but was discontinued after a single issue. Several short-lived magazines followed Seiun in the Japanese market, but none were very successful.


Science fiction in Japan gained popularity in the early 1960s. Both Hayakawa's SF Magazine (SFマガジン) (since 1959) and Uchūjin Science Fiction Magazine (1957-2013) began publication in this decade . The first Japan Science Fiction Convention was held in 1962. In 1963 a writers' association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan (SFWJ) was formed with eleven members.


Expo 70`s


In 1970, Japan had the opportunity to host the World Expo, where its pavilions stood out for their futuristic architecture, as a result of changes in technology and events that occurred at the time, such as the landing of Apollo. 11. More literary and entertainment works began to be influenced by science fiction, such as the anime Space Battleship Yamato, and the worldwide release of Star Wars later in the decade.


The change in the nature of the science fiction genre in Japan that resulted from these events is often referred to as "Infiltration and Diffusion" (浸透と拡散 Shintō to Kakusan).


Futuristic Anime: Mecha and a post-apocalyptic world

In the 1980s, the audiovisual side of the Japanese science fiction genre continued to develop. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (風の谷のナウシカ) by Hayao Miyazaki was first projected. The main theme of the film is to prevent a war and the destruction of the Polluted Forest and the animals that reside and protect said forest. Nausicaä, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, does her best to prevent further slaughter, since this already led to the destruction of the previous world a thousand years before.


Animated films such as Akira were released in 1988, set in a distant 2019, after the forced reconstruction of Tokyo in the dystopian Neo-Tokyo controlled by a military complex, Akira explores themes of disaffected youth, government corruption, fanaticism rampant religious, telekinesis caused by nuclear energy, destruction and rebirth.



Anime series such as Mobile Suit Gundam, whose main plot is a teenager who has to pilot the new secret weapon of the Federation when the space colony in which he lives is attacked by the Zeon mobile suits, gigantic robots piloted by humans. That new secret weapon is called the Gundam, a much more powerful mobile suit. This suit is known in popular culture as Mecha(メカ). Mecha are typically depicted as humanoid walking vehicles. The term was first used in Japanese: 'mecha', after shortening the English loanword 'mechanism' (メカニズム, mekanizumu) or 'mechanical' (メカニカル, mekanikaru), but the Japanese meaning is more inclusive, and 'robot' (ロボット , robotto) or 'giant robot' is the more restricted term.


Isekai

Isekai (異世界 "different world") is a subgenre of Japanese light novels, manga, anime, and video games that revolve around a normal person from Earth who is transported, reborn, or trapped in a parallel universe. While many isekai involve a fantasy world, many isekai involve a virtual world.



The Digimon Adventure (1999 debut) and .hack (2002 debut) franchises were some of the first works to introduce the concept of isekai as a virtual world (inspired by video games), with Sword Art Online (also debuting in 2002) following in his footsteps. Some isekai are set in a previously virtual world that becomes a real one, such as in Log Horizon (2010 debut) and Overlord (2010 debut).


Internet in Anime

Entering a new century, the Internet began to take shape throughout the world, especially in Japan, which had already been recognized for its efforts to promote the use of this network due to the negative concept that society and the public sector had against to Internet.



In 2000 under Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro, the IT Strategy Department of the Japanese Government was founded, the IT Strategy Department meeting discussions resulted in the creation of the e-Japan strategy in September year 2000, as well as the approval of the Basic Information Technology Law in November of the same year and its entry into force in January 2001. The objectives were, among others, to establish a high-speed network, promote electronic commerce and computerize the Administration.


And linking this new vision of the Internet with anime, animes began to be developed where they were set on the Internet, literally; films like Digimon: The Movie, where a group of children and their Digimons (creatures whose bodies are made of digital information, and when they receive great damage, the information with which they are constituted is damaged and they are destroyed) join forces to save to the World Wide Web of a monster that eats the Internet; Nine years later we see Summer Wars, where a young math genius solves a complex equation and inadvertently frees an artificial intelligence from a virtual world, which will destroy the Earth.



From this point, the concept of the Metaverse is already inserted in animated films, where interactions with people from all over the world take place more fluidly thanks to the use of the evolution of technology, and thus relating BELLE's film, representation of an updated version of Beauty and the Beast, which tells the story of Suzu Naito, a girl who achieves fame with her alter ego in U, a virtual reality world very similar to the one proposed by Mark Zuckerberg with his Metaverse. Coincidentally, if you can say; The three films have been directed by Mamoru Hosoda, where he has commented that "there are many people who do not feel good living in the real world and it should be an option to be able to access a virtual universe", already introducing the narrative of their stories problems of society and the internet that have been seen today.


Science Fiction and current reality


As we have been able to observe, as technology develops in the real world, in fiction it is maximized; This is due to the fact that Science Fiction allows to expand and present concepts that are believed to be unreal for the times in which they are living. In the 80's, thanks to anime, we already saw representations of humanoid machines, currently, we see how Japan itself is building its own life-size Mecha, that is, 20 meters and 25 tons of weight. By 2020, he began his movement tests by turning his body and taking his first steps. Being this an entertainment project, it does not limit the fact that in the future, taking into account the technological developments that we are observing, we will walk next to this type of machines or they will be used for war, as is common in Mecha anime.


Trends and Examples

Although our current technology is not as advanced as that presented in the anime, Exoskeleton Projects are already being observed in the military forces in Japan. The Nomura Research Institute has tried to quantify the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the labor market and has indicated that robots or artificial intelligence may replace about half of Japan's workforce in the next 10 to 20 years. The services sector will be the most affected.


Artificial intelligence is increasingly entering a commercialization phase in Japan. According to the Japanese government, A.I technologies are expected to generate an economic return of around 121 billion JPY by 2045.


According to a study by the Ernst & Young Institute, the size of the Artificial Intelligence market is expected to reach 23 billion by 2020, a six-fold increase. Furthermore, by 2030, the market size will reach 87 trillion JPY. The transportation sector, including driverless trucks and taxis, will show the most significant increase during the estimated period and is expected to reach 30.5 trillion JPY by 2030. The manufacturing sector including autonomous vehicles is projected to grow to almost 12.2 trillion JPY by 2030. The study provides examples of the main AI-related factors that will impact the market: improved profitability, further development of a driverless society, and extensive use within the manufacturing industry.


Various organizations from different sectors of the economy began to use Artificial Intelligence technology in different business processes, such as:

  • Mizuho Bank is using a combination of IBM's and Softbank's Watson A.I platform

  • West Japan Railway is applying A.I. to identify signs of intoxication in passengers at train stations.

  • CyberAgent, a Tokyo-based leader in the AI-powered internet advertising business, supports advertising and promotional activities for clients in Japan.

  • In the contracting area, companies such as Tokyo-based Forum Engineering use people analytics to help clients find the best candidate for a job.


And despite the fact that we still do not see large-scale robots in our society, spaceships that transport us off the planet, or gadgets that allow us to transport our mind or body to a digital world; The advances are taking place, not at the speed that the animes show us, but at a speed where all the social, economic and moral variables of developing this type of technology are studied.


The question remains who will be the leader of these developments, because the competition between countries to create Artificial Intelligence projects is increasing more and more, leading this "confrontation" being led by China and South Korea, leaving Japan out of the Top that has always characterized it, this taking into account all the inspiration they have had in the manga and anime that we have referred to in this article.


What does Japan need to become a leader in Innovation again? It will be a question that we will develop in the next articles.


References


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