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December 15, 2012 / Bradley

12 Days of Anime: Robotics;Notes: The Only Potential Futures I Recognize Have Conspicuous Consumerism

12 Days of Anime is a project about anime in 2012 written by a loose collection of bloggers, late at night, after a long day of Christmas shopping and decorating the tree and singing carols to elderly people. This is how we relax. No, we’re not like you.

I like science-fiction, but I rarely connect with any science-fiction worlds. Most of them are aspirational, especially in anime, and about cool things like grandoise battles against space Nazis in giant robots, or a grim cyberpunk future, or some far-flung dystopia where humanity has bombed itself into a technological recession. These are fun, but they don’t feel like anything I could see in my life. That used to be part of the appeal of science-fiction, and for Boomers watching men walk on the moon on live TV, sophisticated butler-robots, flying cars and even wars among the stars in their lifetime seemed as probable as getting a new toaster. But that’s not really the case anymore, is it? My children will be stuck on a sicker Earth, robots will be everyday items but only for rich producers who will use automation to squeeze workers to do more work for less pay, and flying cars? Those were kind of a silly idea, weren’t they? Our future prospects don’t look so rosy; it’s hard to relate to any future can’t be summed up in a gruff, “we’re fucked.” Someone once said something along the lines about science-fiction is useless unless it’s commentating on the world right now, and there’s something to that. Colonies on other planets feel as much a fantasy as wizards.

Now there’s a lot I like about Robotics;Notes, including its peculiar but convincing alternate-future, but I want to focus one thing: PokeComs. An unfortunate name for a common accessory, but so is “an iPad.” I love this gadget, because I could see myself using something exactly like that in the near future. It’s part tablet, part smartphone, bigger than your pocket but small enough that you carry it in a totes fashionable fanny pack. It’s always connected to the Internet, in a future where mobile latency is so low you can play very sophisticated online, multi-player brawlers from seemingly anywhere, on a battery long enough that it survives constant, all day use. It can alter the visual input from its camera on the fly to put cat ears on your girlfriend or visualize an AI. I don’t have the most nuanced, educated grasp of the future of consumer electronics, but this all seems so plausible and near-future. This is what the in-game for the tablet looks like to me, fashionable fanny packs included.

Robotics;Notes takes place in an alternate future, since some key events to its storyline have happened in the early Aughts and, hurr hurr, giant robots are actually popular. But the PokeCom feels near future. And it is so cool, because it’s plausible, because I can see myself using it and depending on it every day. It really helps tie together and sell a future that otherwise might have seemed a little silly.

I think there’s another reason why this resonates so strongly with me, and it’s the same reason why hoverboards from Back to the Future seemed cool and the glasses that project a virtual reality from Dennou Coil felt true-to-life. Consumerism defines so much of our lives that saying it is a bit sophomoric. The interfacing of buying stuff is one of the primary ways we interact with other human beings, and the stuff we buy surrounds us, and can even define us. It certainly does for otaku. Science-fiction that shows me stuff I can see myself buying and enjoying makes a lot more sense than other, perhaps equally plausible innovations. Perhaps this is just a lack of imagination or education on my part, but I can’t be alone in latching onto science-fiction ideas for that reason. I’ll never pilot a giant robot, but, say, competing in robot tournaments? That future is already here. Hopefully my PokeCom and its black leather fanny pack is close behind.

12 Days of Music, Part 2:

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