In the underground city of Lux, a former prize fighter loses his limbs to a gangster, but has them restored by a doctor thanks to the biology-changing technology known as “Texhnolyzation.” His new body soon becomes a weapon in a multi-faceted war between criminals, true believers, and post-human madmen.
Easily the bleakest and most unsparing anime ever made for a popular audience, Texhnolyze is also compulsively fascinating to watch, as it’s one of the few anime where the story’s shown to the viewer as much as it’s told.
- Fascinating and hypnotic imagery used to show the story as much as tell it.
- A good deal of food for thought about what it means to be both human and inhuman.
- Murky, complex storyline with the grimmest possible ending.
- Definitely not for those who just want to be entertained.
- Director: Hiroshi Hamasaki
- Animation Studio: MADHOUSE
- Released By: Geneon
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-MA (violence, sexuality, adult concepts)
- List Price: $49.98 (DVD)
- Science Fiction
Ichise's hard luck in Lux
Ichise is a boxer who ekes out a living in the underground city of Lux, a grim place that seems to be made up entirely of shadowy alleys and stark trolley wires dividing the blank sky. He has a stubborn streak, and for it the local gangsters punish him by slicing off an arm and a leg, turning a once-unbeatable man into a tottering wreck barely able to drag himself up a flight of stairs.
A woman nicknamed “Doc” takes pity on him—or maybe she just wants to use his body, in more ways than one—and creates for Ichise a pair of replacement limbs. These “Texhnolyzed” limbs, as they’re called, interface directly with his brain to allow him to run faster, punch harder (and more accurately), and do just about everything better than an ordinary human could. Ichise finds them ghastly at first, but over time becomes their master, especially since the alternative is worse than being crippled.
Besides, Lux has little room for cripples. It’s a violent, mean place, like a far less charismatic version of Roanapur in Black Lagoon, where rival factions are all squabbling for power. There’s the Organo, the crime syndicate whose men slashed off Ichise’s limbs (and who also control the market for Texhnolyzed replacements); the Union, a cultlike group who interfere with the Organo on the grounds that Texhnolyzation is an abomination; and the Racan (Lacan?), an upstart gang of Texhnolyzed thugs who would just as soon wipe everyone else out and take over on their own terms. A sort of a fourth faction also exists—the “Class,” a technocratic elite who developed Texhnolyzation, and who are responsible for creating the city in the first place and sequestering so many in it.
Ichise finds the only way to continue living in a place like this is to adapt, and so he soon finds himself being right-hand man to Oonishi, a suave and well-spoken Organo leader. The Organo have plenty of big plans for someone like him, who can kill with a punch and who can dodge a bullet a pointblank range, but Ichise has schooled himself out of thinking about anything past the next day of his life. Survival is all.
A war of all against all
Any long-term thoughts of survival on Ichise’s part are complicated even further by Ran, the mysterious flower-seller girl who turns up here and there throughout the city. She is a seer, and has visions of a future where Ichise becomes the agent of the world’s destruction. She would give a great deal to not be able to see what she does, but she is at the mercy of forces larger than herself, who have vested interests in making use of her abilities. Ichise feels sympathy for her—she may be the only person in this story he actually cares about—because their plights are so similar. They have great power, but they cannot really use any of it.
Few of the people around them are so conflicted. Consider Yoshii, a smiling, mustachioed, harmless-looking man who descends from the surface, also sporting Texhnolyzed limbs. His plan is to play the factions against each other and then step into the resulting power vacuum. For a while, it looks like he might even be able to pull it off, and we’re even tempted to root for him … but we quickly learn that just because someone stands in the way of bad men, that doesn’t make them a hero.
Yoshii’s presence is one of many things that act like fire on gasoline in the city. The delicate four-way power balance that existed between each faction collapses. The Class decide to reinvent themselves as human-machine hybrids—their idea of what Texhnolyzation should be—and retake not only Lux but the surface as well. That prompts Ichise and Doc to find their way to the surface and deliver a warning, but what they find makes them understand why Lux, for all of its gloom, is better than the alternative.
A good deal of the best science fiction is about the human race direction its own evolution, something central to Texhnolyze as well. Replacing a lost limb is one thing, but what about using the same technique to ditch the body entirely and replace it with something else? There’s an early scene where Yoshii visits a prostitute and compares his Texhnolyzed body with her own scarred one, and we’re invited to think about what “ugly” or “beautiful” means in such a context.
These contrasts are brought home most explicitly when Kano, leader of the Class, unveils his own plans for how Texhnolyzation is to be used. He plans to turn everyone into a cyborg where only their head and part of the torso (a la Robocop) are preserved. They will be immortal, and will use their machine bodies to eliminate the impure—but that’s before they find out immortality might be the worst thing you could grant to a person.
Shown, not told
Most anime—and TV, and movies—start by telling us all about what’s happening, and then simply taking us by the hand and leading us through the goings-on. Texhnolyze does the exact opposite. There’s barely a line of dialogue throughout the first episode—it’s all images and sound—and only by about the halfway point of the second episode have we received enough incidental clues to understand what’s going on. Frustrating as this approach may be at first, it pays off in the long run, because it directs our attention towards things that in other shows would be done through big, obvious gestures instead of little ones.
To that end, what makes Texhnolyze most memorable, though, isn’t the story—which is admittedly murky—or even the themes. It’s the experience of just watching it, letting it present you with one hypnotic, sepia-toned image after another. The desolate city streets and lonely building doorways are like images out of the paintings of de Chirico or George Tooker, where things can seem ominous and terrifying in the broadest of daylight. Even more striking are the characters themselves, courtesy of designer Yoshitoshi ABe (Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei), all of whom—especially Ichise and Ran—sport his trademark hollow-eyed look. (The most haunting thing in the show is a shot of Ran doing nothing more than staring into the camera.)
Some shows want to do nothing more than entertain, and some shows want to give you an experience that stands entirely apart from any entertainment value. Some try to balance the two (Ergo Proxy); some land in the second category and stay there (Boogiepop Phantom). Texhnolyze is squarely in the second category, without apology, from the beginning. You may never want to watch it more than once, but that one viewing may be all you’ll need. Not every anime is meant to be fun.