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The Science of Anime: Mecha-Noids and AI-Super-Bots – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Anime, the name given to Japanese superhero animation, has swept the United States. More than two-dozen Japanese cartoon series already appear on U.S. television, with more on the way. And with the vast leaps being made in animation technology, the anime explosion shows no sign of abating. One of the main topics of anime is advanced technology and how it will affect the human race. Movies like Akira have touched upon the power of the atom and the advances and tragedies nuclear power will bring to the Earth. Stories like Ghost in the Shell explore the limits of human and machine interface and artificial intelligence. More than any other genre in the entertainment field, anime explores the future of science and technology, and The Science of Anime provides a fascinating and fun look at the science behind it.

When an author(s) takes it upon himself or herself to combine a foreign medium such as Japanese animation with that of a universal study such as science to produce a book, the results are often times as jarring as they are informative to the readership. Many Western authors tend to delegate a certain viewpoint to a specific anime series or film that may have never derived from the original creators intent—at worse with the authors being completely ignorant to the fact that their interpretation doesn’t reflect at all the intentions and origins of the original Japanese creators. With The Science of Anime, we see authors Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg attempting to correlate the complexities found within the field of science with that of Japanese animation, offering up some plausible scientific explanations to many of the elements found within some of the more popular anime series and films within North America.

Those looking for The Science of Anime to be a book that easily combines Japanese animation and science might be disappointed to discover that it relies primarily on the aspect of science to explain many of the elements we take for granted when viewing shows or films such as Mobile Suit Gundam, Ghost in the Shell or Neon Genesis Evangelion. These background elements that play a relatively small part in a series or film are elaborated upon within the book, taking a look as such aspects as evolution, mathematics and artificial intelligence—components within the realm of anime that are certainly there but never fully explained within the course of a series or film. But as hinted upon earlier, The Science of Anime seemingly only uses anime as a starting point in which to look at the grander aspects of science—which may prove disappointing for readers looking for a substantial combination of science and anime to quench their curiosity.

As such, the book definitely leans towards reading like a scientific textbook more so than an anime-related one. If you’re the type of reader who has no problem reading about the complex mathematics that go behind finding the appropriate langrangian points suitable for the space colonies found in Mobile Suit Gundam or a looking at how the theory of chaotic internal inflation plays a significant role in the creation of the multiverses found in El Hazard and Fushigi Yuugi, then The Science of Anime works out as an effective scientific guide towards expanding the premise of some of your favorite series or films. The inevitable downside to this is that if you don’t have a general interest in science, the book will be an extremely dry and perhaps frustrating read. One of the potential problems with the book is that the language used will probably go over the heads of many readers who aren’t exactly familiar with such academic writing. Lucky for me, a lot of the material in the book stemmed from areas that I’ve studied in the past, but I can see such writing going over the heads of many of the readership. This is not to say that those readers who are interested in science will only like The Science of Anime—far from it—but those expecting to find authors Gresh and Weinberg delegating considerable time towards exploring the series or films more as is will have trouble seeing where many of the scientific theorizations come into play. What’s even more odd is that Gresh and Weinberg don’t really express that much interest in anime series and films outside the more popular titles, which appears to showcase their rather limited view of what anime truly can offer.

Working more as an addendum to the creative processes behind many of the series and films explored within the book, The Science of Anime can be viewed primarily as a channel to further complement one’s appreciation for the medium of anime. If one really wanted to learn about the dynamics that go into evolutionary patterns in Akira for example, the book works out as a quite effectively. But does one absolutely need to know these proposed elements offered by Gresh and Weinberg to appreciate Akira or any other title elaborate upon within the book? Of course, but then a more important question arises: why should we care as readers about what these authors have to say given this? Well, for one, they are at least attempting to broaden the scope of our understanding of anime, even if it is restricted to a rather small number of popular titles. Secondly, while the original creators may not have intended the viewership to expatiate such scientific claims and theories towards their creations, in this case it does provide some new territory that is actually based in scientific theorization—versus philosophical interpretation for example—that at the very least provides some solid foundation in which to explore. Then again, as such the case with many of these books that rely mostly on information centered on the time of its conception—and with the ever-evolving aspect of science—many of the topics found within The Science of Anime have had significant scientific advances that are not addressed in the book for obvious reasons of simply not being available at the time.

Besides these faults, The Science of Anime is still a relatively informative book that doesn’t attempt to downplay the proposed science that goes into anime. While considerably light in looking at the actual anime titles regardless of the science found within them, it would’ve been great to see more time dedicated towards correlating the two in some capacity. From where it stands, the book doesn’t really relate the two aspects of Japanese animation and science entirely too well, with the field of science heavily outweighing the other. If this was the direction that Gresh and Weinberg were heading for when creating the book, it leaves much to be desired when considering that fans of Japanese animation would be the ones most likely to give the book a read, not individuals interested solely in science. Reading more like a collegiate science book than anything, The Science of Anime offers a complete look into the generalities that go into the sciences found in anime, but such an approach may appear dry to those readers wanting to learn more about how science is related to anime. While the fabric of anime may certainly contain elements of science, The Science of Anime attempts to successfully merge the two—with some rather intriguing but uninspired results.

Table of contents

Introduction

Chapter One: The Origins of Anime

Chapter Two: Mecha

Chapter Three: Artificial Intelligence

Chapter Four: Colonies in Space

Chapter Five: Policing An Anime Future

Chapter Six: Anime Evolves

Chapter Seven: Parallel Universes

Chapter Eight: The Future of Virtual Reality

Chapter Nine: Plausible But Illogical

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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