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Google Glass And 'Eden of the East', Or How Anime Sees the Near Future

By February 21, 2013

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Technophiles and gadget fans watched with popped eyes earlier this week as Google demonstrated a detailed demo of their new concept gadget, Google Glass. Among the concepts: taking a picture of an object or building, and identifying it via an Internet search. In other words, exactly the sorts of things that were being done with the titular search technology in the series Eden of the East (compare prices).

Actually it wasn't just Eden that came to mind with Google Glass. So did Fractale, which had leapt to mind before when Google did their first Glass demos. That series featured an entire world being held hostage, Matrix-style, by a kind of virtual reality prison which was so comfortable most people didn't want to leave. (The most dangerous cage of all is a comfy one.)

It's a little strange to watch an anime -- or any entertainment, really -- set in what was once "our future", and to see what it would predict as being either possible or commonplace. The crowdsourced visual search system hypothesized in Eden didn't seem all that farfetched when I first watched the show a couple of years back. Give it a few more years, and all that might actually seem somewhat ... quaint. And the idea that we might willingly give ourselves over to an artificially-created environment where all that irks us is rigidly screened out isn't really SF; it's happening right now with the way we cultivate our own private media empires on our phones and in our browsers.

I had mixed feelings about what would seem prescient and what would seem dated while watching the reissue of Serial Experiments Lain. In fact, I had been cringing a big before re-watching it, because I was terrified this vintage late-'90s cyberpunk story would seem horrendously dated in 2012. To be honest, it's not that badly dated. Some topical details, like the types of computers in Lain's house, stick out like sore thumbs. But the core idea -- of humanity attempting to teach itself how to evolve through its technological creations -- is fairly timeless.

For me, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is among the most prescient of near-future stories. Very little of what it is in it is wholly implausible (full body prosthesis, for instance), and the antics of the Laughing Man are not all that far removed from our own Anonymous.

God only knows how visions of the far future -- everything from the more serious projections of the Gundam and Macross franchises to the absurd sci-fi slapstick of The Dirty Pair -- are going to seem in another hundred years. I'd rather they seem antiquated than still hopelessly out of our grasp.

How do you feel about the way the future's been seen in some of your favorite anime?

Image: Eden of the East, courtesy Pricegrabber.


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