One of the most prevalent and relevant themes in science-fiction is the rise of science and its oftentimes inevitable domination of the human experience, and sci-fi anime of all stripes have explored this idea in countless ways.
Where some futuristic anime envisioned a future where machinery was the physical and digital realization of mankind’s boundless knowledge, others sought to warn audiences of a technologically-driven future that dehumanizes all.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
10 Astro Boy — Man & Machine Try To Improve Society For All
Osamu Tezuka’s signature work, Astro Boy, is a pioneer in countless ways. One of this classic’s biggest impacts was codifying many of the aesthetics and themes present in sci-fi anime, especially through its robotic utopia. In the then-distant future of 2001, man achieved creating lifelike robots but now struggles to live with robots peacefully.
Atom, the extremist Dr. Tenma’s greatest creation and later the kindly Prof. Ochanomizu’s adopted son, stood between man and machine, as he embodied the best of both. Unlike the anime it inspired, Astro Boy notably viewed science and technology idealistically, depicting it as the extension of mankind’s progress that just needs some guidance.
9 A Certain Magical Index — Academy City Is A Testament To Science’s Best & Worst Excesses
At face value, Academy City is a monument to mankind’s scientific achievements and progress. In truth, the city was a giant laboratory, where citizens were knowingly and unknowingly experimented on by a secret cabal of scientists who wanted to create the mythical Level 6 Esper. As a result, they dehumanized everyone.
In fact, technology’s dominance over the city’s populace was the cause of many conflicts. If Kamijou Touma, Misaka Mikoto, and their friends fought against the amoral scientists’ deadly projects, extremists from the magic side like God’s Right Seat of the Roman Catholic Church sought to eradicate all science in the name of their faith.
8 Cowboy Bebop — Industry & Technology Reached The Furthest Regions Of Space
Simply put, the rustic future of Cowboy Bebop is the logical endpoint of limitless and unchecked capitalism. After achieving galactic travel, mankind was able to reach even the furthest recesses of space, colonize new worlds, and expand mankind’s presence. The trade-off, however, was that human life was valued less than ever before.
A world where corporate interest and industrial expansion took priority left many people behind and embittered them, which directly led to Cowboy Bebop‘s bleak setting. Some examples of these negative effects include the Astral Gate accident that killed the Earth and the very existence of the Space Warriors and Teddy Bomber.
7 Deca-Dence — The Earth Is Just An MMORPG For Cyborgs
At first glance, Deca-Dence looked like a post-apocalyptic riff on Attack On Titan. The truth, however, was that the Gadoll-infested wastelands that Natsume and those aboard the mobile fortress Deca-Dence were forced to survive in was just a game to cyborgs living atop the Earth. Basically, the humans were just NPCs.
“Deca-Dence” doesn’t refer to Natsume’s home, but the mindless MMORPG that the corporation Solid Quake promotes to cyborgs, or people who uploaded their consciousnesses online before evacuating the planet. Solid Quake was the system itself, and the ex-ace player Kaburagi and the clueless Natsume were tiny but consequential cogs in its game.
6 Digimon — The Digital World Is An Entirely New Dimension
Something even the most dedicated Digimon fan can forget is that the franchise is basically an isekai story. Here, the chosen children enter a new world known as The Digital World, which is where the Digimon (short for “Digital Monsters”) live. That being said, The Digital World is more than just a fantasy realm to explore – it’s the physical manifestation of all of the human world’s data.
The Digital World only came to be because of mankind’s computers, and it’s even canonically stated to have been born around the time that the first computer was turned on in 1942. As computers grew more advanced, The Digital World expanded in size and complexity, so much so that its most powerful denizens could affect or even cross into the physical world.
5 Den-Noh Coil — Augmented Reality Has Taken Over Everyday Life
In the near future of 2026, the cyber glasses known as Den-noh Megane took the world by storm. Few if anyone remembers what everyday life was like without the glasses and what the world was like without the glasses’ augmented realities (AR). This is especially true for the kids, who practically see another world in the Den-noh Space.
Den-Noh Coil began when the rural Daikoku City becomes the testing ground for the glasses’ and AR technologies’ upgrades. Problem is, everything being connected to the Den-no Megane means that any one person could take control of everything, endanger countless kids, and nuke the world to oblivion – which is what the anime’s antagonist almost achieves.
4 Summer Wars — Every Facet Of Society Is Connected To The OZ
The OZ is basically Summer Wars’ version of the internet and, just like in real life, it serves as a universal tool for everything from entertainment, socializing, and societal management. So when Kenji Koiso inadvertently activates the nefarious artificial intelligence Love Machine, The OZ getting compromised endangers the entire planet.
Love Machine was designed as an AI that could basically steal online identities and do whatever it pleased, including causing widespread traffic accidents and aiming a satellite at a nuclear powerplant. Since the whole world was hooked up The OZ, Love Machine had the Earth at its mercy before The OZ’s users rallied against it.
3 Serial Experiments Lain — The Wired Reprogrammed The Human Experience
On its most surface level, The Wired is Serial Experiments Lain‘s answer to the internet. Instead, The Wired is the next phase of human evolution. More than one person took their own life to transcend into The Wired, and Lain Iwakura herself is basically its god. But even before Lain’s godhood, The Wired inserted itself in every part of life.
With a NAVI or a virtual reality rig, anyone can access The Wired from anywhere and at any time to basically live a second life in cyberspace. Everything in Serial Experiments Lain is connected to The Wired, whether it’s basic utility systems or even people’s minds, as some individuals have become completely addicted and dependent on being online.
2 Psycho-Pass — Japanese Society Surrendered Its Free Will To An Algorithm
After decades of anarchy and strife, Japan felt that it was time for a logical and objective algorithm to replace fallible human instinct in society’s echelons. This led to The Sibyl System dictating every part of Japanese life, most notoriously determining which individuals are psychologically “fit” to participate in society and executing those who don’t.
Psycho-Pass’ big twist, however, was that Sibyl was not as digital as people were told. The system is a very human hive mind comprised of the disembodied brains of Japan’s worst sociopaths, since only they could make such inhuman decisions in the first place. As far as Japan is concerned, though, Sibyl is a trustworthy artificial intelligence.
1 Ghost In The Shell — The Line Between Man & Machine No Longer Exists
There’s no anime where technology’s dominance is as absolute as Ghost In The Shell, whether it’s the classic 1995 movie or its countless spin-off shows. In this cyberpunk dystopia, the separation between man and machine has blurred so much that everybody has robotic prosthetics (both for medical and aesthetic reasons) and a cyberbrain.
It could even be argued that people are made, with Major Motoko Kusanagi being a prime example of this. Thanks to her full cyborg body, The Major always wonders if she’s really human or not. Ghost In The Shell doesn’t tackle an encroaching cyber future but examines the existential crises that humanity’s foreseeable evolution will usher in.
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