The Return of Cyberpunk
By Albert Thai Le
With last year’s release of “Bladerunner 2049” and the upcoming Netflix series adaptation of Richard Morgan’s “Altered Carbon,” it’s no surprise to see the sci-fi subgenre of cyberpunk returning to the mainstream. What we can understand about the first wave of cyberpunk, which peaked in the 80s and 90s, comes from the literature, films, and animations that set the foundations for defining this genre. In more recent days, we have works and artists from a wide variety of mediums that call back to the dark and gritty genre of cyberpunk.
In some ways, western filmmakers have invested in creating cyberpunk films, taking inspiration from the 80s . Granted, reboots like “Total Recall” (2012), “Robocop” (2014) and “Ghost in the Shell” (2017) failed to surpass the original works they’re adapted from because they lacked the charm which made their predecessors noteworthy. However, films like “Ex Machina” (2015) and “Bladerunner 2049” (2017) offer art that keeps the genre relatively fresh for sci-fi fans with their compelling presentations of humans and their psychology in relation to the technology that surrounds and consumes us.
We simply can’t ignore the animations and graphic novels from Asia, specifically Japan, that thrive within this genre. Animes like “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and “Psycho Pass” (2012) have achieved global fan following as series that shine for their unique and mature presentations of the human psychosis within a decadent future.
Then there’s a new wave of synthwave artists, such as Perturbator, Klayton (Celldweller), and Noir Deco, who take inspiration from the dark and gritty atmosphere of cyberpunk into their visual and audio works. Specifically, Perturbator took inspiration from animes like “Akira”and “Ghost in the Shell” to capture the iconic melodies of electronic music in the 80s. Artists like Perturbator help construct a unique branch of electronic music that differs with complexity and energy in a way that surpasses anything else within this music genre, like EDM.
And of course, it’s difficult to ignore the video games that proliferate within this genre. From action-driven games like “Ruiner” (2017) and the “Deus Ex” franchise to ones that rely more on atmospheric and narrative immersion like “VA-11 HALL-A” (2016) and “Observer” (2017). There is also anticipation regarding the development of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, a game based on the classic pen and paper game Cyberpunk 2020 designed by UC Davis Alumni Mike Pondsmith. Fans of the genre and game studio alike await eagerly for future updates to build off the 2013 teaser trailer.
While some of the characteristics of cyberpunk often rely on extreme violence and the depiction of psychotic and manipulative characters or organizations to emphasize a bleak futuristic reality, the genre grants artists and audiences alike a style to get inspired about the human condition within a dark and moody dystopia painted with neon and androids.
To briefly answer the fascination of cyberpunk, I’ll leave with a quote from Perturbator during a 2014 interview regarding his fascination for the genre: “Anyone can make their own interpretation of what the future will look like and come up with some crazy shit and people can relate to those interpretations. You look at a movie like Blade Runner and can’t help but think, ‘What if this is really how our future will look like?’ And the fact that the world we are living in is already pretty fucked up makes it easier to imagine our future to be dark and weird.”