Spectrum Nexus

Anime Info

Creator: A Studio DEEN Production
Director: Kazuhiro Furhashi
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 13 Episodes

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Summary

+ Riveting, unpredictable story
+ Tokidoki is a bit dull
– Lightly philosophical

Overview

While similar to other series and films about virtual reality, Amatsuki explores the concept in a way that is more metaphorical than most. After the first episode, the virtual reality technology is never shown or mentioned again. In fact the focus becomes the world within the simulation and the relationship between the denizens of the simulation and the programmer who created them. From their point-of-view, the programmer is a god who wrote their destiny's on their souls. This raises the uncomfortable, alarming question: Is the world we know only a simulation? If so, who created it and why?

Public Rating

Our Rating

Score of 4 out of 5
4 out of 5 · Highly Recommended

Amatsuki Anime Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 7/12/2009

Introduction

What is the nature of reality? That question is as old as humanity and has been debated by philosophers and theologians for millennia. It is also the question at the heart of many science fiction stories created since the development of new technologies such as personal computers, the Internet, and virtual reality. Originally created as a manga series by Shinobu Takayama, Amatsuki tells the story of Tokidoki Rikugo, a high school student sent to study in a high tech museum that uses virtual reality to recreate the Edo period (1603 - 1868). Rikugo discovers that the world he has entered may be more than just a simulation when he is attacked by demonic beings and loses the high tech goggles that are his gateway in and out of the virtual world.

Review

Amatsuki begins with a bang. Tokidoki Rikugo has flunked his latest Japanese history test and been assigned a trip to a high tech museum as a make-up assignment. The unique museum uses a combination of movie style set pieces, costumed re-enactors, and advanced virtual reality technology to recreate daily life in a late Edo period city. At the museum, Tokidoki meets Kon Shinonome, an intelligent student with a reputation for getting into fights. Shinonome is extremely knowledgeable about history but has been sent on the museum assignment for skipping school one too many times. Shinonome reluctantly agrees to help Tokidoki with his assignment but they quickly get separated. While wandering around the exhibit, Tokidoki is confronted by a pair of demonic creatures from Japanese folklore, a chimerical creature known as a nue and a humanoid creature known as a yakou. The yakou attempts to engage Tokidoki in a philosophical discussion of the nature of reality asking him, "What is emptiness?" and "What is reality". When Tokidoki fails to provide the right answers, the creatures attack him. He is saved by the beautiful but deadly swordswoman Kuchiha, however he is wounded in the fight, loses sight in one eye and his virtual reality goggles are destroyed. He is, for all intents and purposes, trapped in the simulated world known as Amatsuki. It is eventually revealed that Tokidoki is the "blank page", a man without a predetermined destiny with the ability to create things simply by imagining them with his left-eye. He eventually comes in contact with quartet of demiurgic beings known as the Four Holy Ones seek to use Tokidoki's powers for their own gains.

Like Alice in Wonderland, Tokidoki quickly learns that the world he has entered is vastly different from the one he knows. For instance, as with fairy tales, time passes at a different rate in Amatsuki than it does in our world. Although Tokidoki has been separated from Shinonome for only a few hours in our world, Shinonome has been living in the past for two years. Although it looks and feels like Edo period Japan, Amatsuki is not quite the same as historical Japan but an amalgamation of Edo period history, mythological elements, and folk beliefs. The major superstition is a belief in invisible spirits and demons whose interactions with humans can range from mischievous but otherwise harmless to malignant and dangerous.

Show More The demons are kept in check by a hierarchy of demon hunting monks and priests and the world is looked after the Four Holy Ones. Few people can see demons; however, Tokidoki and Shinonome are two who can. Tokidoki is surprised by Shinonome's acceptance of the existence of these creatures; they don't seem to fit in with Shinonome's logical mind. Shinonome explains that he understands the people's views, they don't have science to explain things away and their beliefs make spirits real. Not that Shinonome is above using the villager's superstitions to his advantage; in the second episode Shinonome and Tokidoki use Shinonome's knowledge of both superstition and science to scare an abusive samurai after he bullies Kuchiha and other townspeople. They disguise themselves as demons and then use ethanol and tobacco to fool him into believing they are writing him messages with "holy fire".

The plot of the series is the skeleton on which the series' creators have built a meditation on the nature of reality. Apparently influenced by the concept of hyperreality which suggests that human consciousness cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy in our increasingly technological society, the series script explores a number of questions about reality as it relates to a virtual world. These questions, voiced by the yakou that first attacked Tokidoki, include "What is reality?"; "What is emptiness?"; "What is death?" and "What is life?" These questions become increasingly relevant to Tokidoki as he pushed to use his power for one side or the other. Will he help those who wish to destroy the world or those who seek to save it? As an outsider from the "real-world" the central question of the series becomes: Where does Tokidoki's true responsibility lie?

Show More
Some readers may make the comparison to The Matrix, however, that would be a false comparison. The world of The Matrix is depicted as a conscious effort by the machines to enslave humanity. As depicted in the film, the denizens of the Matrix are computer generated avatars of people who exist in the real world in a state of hibernation or suspended animation and Thomas "Neo" Anderson is a prophesied messianic savior figure. The denizens of the Edo period city depicted in Amatsuki are simulations that have developed a degree of sentience and are even aware, to a degree, of the computer network that created them; characters frequently refer to "Heaven's Net" and a deity that "writes" a person's destiny on their soul. Tokidoki is ambivalent towards the world with little attachment to friends, family, or places; he is less a savior figure than a blank slate upon which different people and factions can write their own ideals, hopes, and desires. Amatsuki is less like The Matrix and more like such fare as Serial Experiments: Lain which explores the ramification of a merger between the wired and real world; Tron in which sentient computer programs worship computer users like gods; and the Peabody Award winning Star Trek: the Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye" in which holodeck characters wonder what happens when the simulation comes to an end.

As interesting as the philosophical questions presented by the series are, the strongest element of the series is the structure of its story. Unlike other anime series which would quickly establish Tokidoki as a messianic figure and then plod along to a foregone conclusion, Amatsuki manages to build suspense about his role in the world. Although it's established fairly early in the series that Tokidoki is the "Blank Page", the nature and function of this role is a closely guarded secret known only to a few. When the secret is divulged and the story's final confrontation does come about, it actually comes as a surprise. Even more refreshing it doesn't involve huge battles, penetrating an impenetrable fortress, explosions, or other clichés associated with anime. In fact the finale of the series is driven forward organically by the choices made by the characters. There are no villains in the series only characters struggling through bad situations. Their vengeful, wrong-headed, and sometimes tragic decisions are often based on not having all the necessary information to make wise choices. The truth of several of the major storylines is divulged in flashbacks only after it is too late to prevent the damage from being done allowing the audience to feel the full weight of the tragedy. In the end much of the story is resolved not through violence but through Tokidoki taking responsibility for his actions and performing an act of loving kindness.

Conclusion

Amatsuki Amatsuki is a thought provoking series which uses the conventions of fantasy and horror to explore the nature of reality as it has been impacted by our increasingly advanced technology. What is reality? If the mind can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy, does it really matter if an event is real or a simulation? What is life? Everyday man creates games and simulations inhabited by beings created in his own image. Are those beings more than the sum of their parts, something more than strings of code? If these beings are sentient creatures are they deserving of life? As the gods of this digital domain are we responsible for the choices made by such life? Amatsuki raises many questions. It is a sign of its artistry that it leaves the answers up to the imaginations of its viewers.

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