Anime has had a strong collection of science fiction shows since Astro Boy. However, while fascinating in their own right, they could always be boiled down into one word: Mecha. That is of course, until today. It seems that ever since the turn of the century, Virtual Reality and stories related to virtual reality have ruled the anime science fiction roost. Think Sword Art Online for example. The internet is already a world unto itself but with new experiences like the Oculus Rift and the mega hit game app Pokémon GO such experiences are not just fantasies any more. We all love the interesting takes anime has on sci-fi concepts; let’s look at the top ten virtual worlds in anime!
10. The Financial Realm from C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: April 2011 – June 2011
We all remember what it is to be young poor and full of hope (read debt). This is how young Kimimaro feels so he seems to catch a break to be scouted for a money making opportunity, IN ANOTHER PLANE OF REALITY. Kimimaro wants the same things we all do, a house, financial stability and such. All this eludes him until Kimimaro runs into a gaudily dressed representative of the mysterious Midas Bank. He seems to have the answers to Kimimaro’s money woes. However, they require him to perform transactions in a crazy place called The Financial District.
In the neon colored, pixelated Financial District, Entes (short for Entrepreneurs) engage in high stakes, pulse pounding “negotiations” for “assets” all the while avoiding “bankruptcy”. Naturally this being an anime, you can gather that all the quoted words can be translated as “fights”, “wins” and “death”. However, the key to the Financial District’s appeal is its mystery. What effect does all this “haggling” have on reality and the real world economy specifically? The truth is more complex than you’d think for a show like this.
9. Quantum Server from ZEGAPAIN
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2006– September 2006
Our next example comes from the Sunrise robot show known as Zegapain. In this sci-fi adventure, we follow normal high schooler Kyo Sugoro. Well everything seems normal at first until he meets a mysterious girl who whisks him off to this alternate world to fight evil invading robots. Kyo takes to the task rather easily, but that is where the mystery begins. Kyo gets serious fits of deja-vu from his experience, as if he has done all this before. This calls into question where his actual reality ends and his virtual reality begins and vice versa.
Virtual Reality and Robots collide in the Quantum Server from Sunrise’s Zegapain. Entering into the VR world is basically the same as playing a VR video game, complete with headset. In this world, humans (including protagonist BDUI) pilot large robots called Zegapain, dual piloted fighter robots. All information and entities are digitized and look exactly as they do in the RL, albeit with snazzier costumes. The server not only features the various battle fields but entire cities apparently. In fact, a key question about the Quantum Server is just HOW VAST is its world and whether or not it extends into the protagonists reality or not, real mind bending stuff.
8. The World from .hack//Sign
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April – September 2002
No conversation about alternate virtual realities can be discussed without The World, the iconic RPG like realm from the titanic .hack franchise. The World is based on traditional MMORPG mechanics and aesthetic; people log in the RL, grind, schmooze in the game, pick up some shiny treasure, and then logout. That is of course, IF you can log out. Protagonist Tsukasa has been stuck in the game for what seems like weeks, with no way of getting out. Taking a cue from real life, the true mechanics of The World are steeped in mystery. Just how much personal information do you need to participate? What do you DO when deal with bugs like this. And where on earth are those freaking admins when you need them?
The World is a standard MMORPG world at first look. It has your normal fantasy setting with various dungeons and towns. All characters have your various classes and your standard monsters to fight. What captures our interest in The World is figuring out how it all came to be. Who created it? How is it that protagonist’s consciousness is looked inside the game?
7. The DigiWorld from Digimon (Digimon Adventure)
- Episodes: 54
- Aired: March 1999 to March 2000
Sticking to the nostalgia train, let’s take a look at one of the VR worlds that captured the hearts and ideas of children worldwide, the DigiWorld. The DigiWorld is from the hit children’s anime Digimon. In the show, we follow five kids who meet at a summer camp where it inexplicably starts to snow! They soon discover that they have small gadgets and before they known it, are transported to a new world. Once there, they find that they can command monster like creatures to fight against other monsters!
An offshoot of the internet, the DigiWorld is where the beloved monster buddies called Digimon (Digital Monsters) reside, fight, and digivolve. The children in charge of their Digimon command them and enter the DigiWorld via small handheld devices. Naturally, this was a marketing bonanza for kids here in the real world, OUR real world if you are keeping score. I mean, what kid would not love an entire realm where you can take your Tamagotchi like digital critters and make them fight!?
6. The Wired from Serial Experiments Lain
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July to September 1998
In a 180 degree turn from the cute childish world of the Digimon Universe, we take a look at The Wired from avant-garde cult hit Serial Experiments Lain. Lain, for those that are familiar with the show, is an experience that defies explanation but we shall give it a try. At first, the show revolves around the mystery surrounding a young girl’s suicide. Not only is she dead but she seems to be able to communicate with the main character Lain through the information network known as The Wired. Believe it or not, it’s from there that things start to get surreal.
For the sake of maintaining the show’s mystery, we can only divulge certain aspects about The Wired. On the outset, exactly what kind of world The Wired is remains a mystery. Is it just a highly developed form of the traditional world wide web or something more encompassing and dangerous? Otherwise, how can the dead communicate via the web as seen in the story? As the show progresses, Lain’s (and the viewers’) reality seems to become more and more bent and fluid. That calls into question of The Wired potentially being it’s own virtual reality IN ADDITION to a grounded electrical network.
5. Cyberspace from Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Koukaku Kidou Tai: Stand Alone Complex)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2002 to March 2003
Ghost in the Shell comes in various franchise forms but for the sake of this dossier we will reference the first TV series (Stand Alone Complex) due to its widespread popularity. In Stand Alone Complex, we follow the special police force known as Public Security Section 9. This one of a kind sort of special ops group is charged with dealing with various crimes revolving around androids, machinery or the internet.
One thing that all Gits incarnations share is the highly developed near future world setting and advanced cybernetic technology. This extends to the internet or cyberspace where integral communication and cyber crimes/policing take place. With human consciousness and identity being able to be digitized, individuals can travel through and sometimes seemingly reside in the sea of worldwide information. The show often illustrates this via characters taking on human avatars inside a world literally swirling with numbers data and digits. One imagines the day when technology evolves to the point that we ourselves could log into cyberspace via devices in our brains just like in the show.
4. The Metal from Real Drive (RD Sennou Chousashitsu)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April to September 2006
We look at another high concept sci-fi show known as Real Drive. In this spiritual cousin to Ghost in the Shell (sharing the same creator and studio) we follow elderly Masamichi Haru who is a cyber detective in the online world of The Metal. The Metal, also known as the Meta-Real network is imagined in the anime as an entire ocean. Often times, stories revolve around cases surrounding people who delve too deep into The Metal causing effects to their physical or psychological states. Enter Haru as a “cyber diver” who goes to investigate these various incidents. Production I.G.’s beautiful production work really sell the virtual ocean concept.
The Metal is a visual representation of a distant future of the internet. Dubbed an “Information Network”, the network is so highly developed that it allows people to make connections at the level of consciousness. Similar to the our current internet there are security measures in place for protecting personal information and such. However, the network is so vast and deep that those who wish to “drown” deep in the sea of information and experience can. This in essence helps set up the “ocean” visual concept of The Metal.
3. Elder Tale from Log Horizon
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2013 to March 2014
In the years since .hack//Sign, it seems that there have been a plethora of anime, manga and light novel stories about immersive virtual MMORPGS, most notably Sword Art Online. However, one of these stories sticks out from the pack and that is Log Horizon. It focuses on the online game Elder Tale and the players who actually have their beings transported inside the game donning the look of their in game avatars.
This is standard genre boilerplate but what makes Elder Tale (and Log Horizon) interesting the meticulous detail gone into the in game’s world building. From battle mechanics and item usage all the way to creating political alliances and acquiring territory, the world of Elder Tale is covered with all the detail you’d find in a political or historical treatise. It helps that there are cool monster battles too though.
2. OZ from Summer Wars
- Episodes: Film
- Aired: July 2009
As you can see there are a lot of commonalities between virtual online worlds in Anime. OZ is fairly similar, largely being an animated representation of the World Wide Web. Naturally used for games and other frivolousness, it also controls high levels of infrastructure all across Japan, which complicates things a little bit when a malicious hacker starts wreaking havoc on the system.
While there is not much you haven’t heard before in concept, the gorgeous way OZ is realized with its bright neon colouring and dynamic avatar and virtual space design is a welcome change from the cold pixel-based ice blue and greens we are used to see anime use to illustrate the net. One would hope that the internet would be so visually arresting in reality.
1. The Cyberspace from Den-noh Coil
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: May to December 2007
Our final and probably most memorable virtual world is one that seemed almost fantastic at its release in 2007 but is eerily timely in this new Pokémon GO world of ours. This world comes from the 2007 Madhouse anime, Den-noh Coil. This beautifully animated original work follows a group of kids known as the Coil Cyber Detective Agency. This rag-tag group of kids investigate anomalies in the crazy cyberspace laden town in which they live. Naturally, one mystery solved only leads into a brand new one to solve. Saying anything more would really spoil the fun.
In the world of Den-noh Coil, various levels of cyberspace and cyber-matter are overlaid onto our natural physical world. This extra layer can only be perceived by wearing special Den-noh glasses. After doing so, you can even reach out and touch the various cyber beings, including the cute and cuddly (if slightly homely) cyber hound Densuke, seen above. Watch out for Illegals, though. They are black amorphous blobs of corrupted data that wreak havoc on the Den-noh world.
Both technology and anime have come along way since their early days. Virtual Reality is something that has come out of the sci-fi novels and into our daily lives. Will it continue to provide good in our lives or cause more harm than good? More importantly, what kind of new, fresh VR anime stories can we expect in the future? We’ll have to log in to find out. Make sure you keep it logged here at Honey’s for all your anime goodness!