“Wake up, Samurai,” growls Johnny Silverhand and crouches over player character V in a dump somewhere on the outskirts of Night City. “We have a city to burn.” An advertisement for Kiroshi Opticals hovers behind him; A neon purple eye on a holographic display is staring at a blurred area. Early marketing material for Cyberpunk 2077 cemented this line in the consciousness of the population and in particular in the use of samurai in the context of the game. It has been used in almost everything since then. Also in the 2018 trailer for Cyberpunk 2077You could see the word “Samurai” on the back of V’s collar, just above a highly stylized image of an Oni face. At Gamescom and E3 2019, representatives of the press were given jackets that also showed Oni’s face and brought the orientalist fantasy into our own reality.
It’s cool. It is smooth. It’s cyberpunk. The samurai idea and iconography in Western consciousness has been watered down into two things – the venerable samurai of Akira Kurosawa films, or the highly stylized, sleek street samurai that occupy the neon-lit cities of the cyberpunk media. Within the cyberpunk genre, Japanese companies are the enemy, even if multinational vocabulary and cultures have been brought together to create a future marked by paranoia and fear. This is one of the many examples of techno-orientalism and xenophobia that have persisted since Cyberpunk was founded.
The world of Cyberpunk 2077 The patchwork aesthetic of Orientalism of the 1980s and the unconscious fear of an America that is no longer American, but is dominated by Japanese ultra-capitalism. You roll out of bed to radio programs, making pokes while Japanese whale fishing. The streets of Kabuki and Japantown are dense with a cluster of Chinese and Japanese-inspired buildings and street vendors. and the Arasaka Corporation rules at the top – mostly undisputed by rival military groups. That is also the core of Cyberpunk 2077
Arasaka Corporation is a “modern” reinterpretation of Japanese zaibatsu from the 1930s to late 1940s, with Arasaka effectively representing one or even all of the “Big Four” conglomerates that existed under and during Japanese imperial rule. The company’s CEO and founder, Saburo Arasaka, is a stand-in for the ultra-nationalist Japanese soldier who has become an accomplished businessman. While the game and the original cyberpunk tabletop games that inspired it could offer gamers a way to actually fight back against a pro-imperialist ultra-capitalist society, this is not the way to go 2077 want to go down. Instead, you can be a rebel and, under certain conditions, dismantle the company while trying to reconcile the idea of “Cool Japan”.
Cyberpunk as a genre has a long history of exoticizing Asian cultures and countries – particularly Japan for its text and Hong Kong for its aesthetics. Cyberpunk became known in the 1980s through formative works such as that of William Gibson Neuromancerwho imagined the future as technodystopia. The genre has further consolidated with Ridley Scott blade runner became a cult classic. This film took inspiration from cyberpunk media for decades, including the tabletop game, the Cyberpunk 2077 draws direct inspiration from; At this point, Blade runner is perhaps better known than Gibsons Neuromancer or the book that inspired it, Phillip K. Dick’s Do androids dream of electric sheep? While Neuromancer toyed with the idea of a technological dystopia, Blade RunneI fully imagined it. The film also expanded upon and brought up themes in Dick’s science fiction, such as the fear of America no longer in the position of world power; In front AndroidsHad published Dick The man in the high castlein which the Axis powers won World War II. The foundations for this had already been laid for cyberpunk to creep into the realm of dystopian alternate fiction, with America’s view of East Asian corporations falling as a newly envisaged threat.
The sentences of Blade runner
In the 1980s, Japan found itself in a “bubble period” during which the country’s economy grew significantly due to government policies in the post-war period the development of technology. This was partly due to that US-Japanese alliance formed shortly after World War II. Maximizing US Interest in Science and Technology Relationships in JapanA text detailing technological and economic advances in Japan after World War II mentions that “a common thread in Japan’s post-war industrial success stories was the effective use and improvement of foreign-acquired technology,” wherein this was not limited exclusively to the USA, literal application of technology, but also innovation in areas such as “management and system techniques”. This enabled Japan to gain a foothold in the world economy and secure a place as an emerging world power. However, as soon as the bubble period “burst” and the Japanese economy began to drain, xenophobia towards Japan and, more broadly, the Japanese began to realign itself.
This made way for the “Cool Japan” phenomenon, which was supported by the Japanese government Mid 2000s and helped recreate how the West effectively saw Japan. By the 1980s, the West had viewed Japan as a threat to America’s economic status as a world power, and cyberpunk as a genre reflected that fear. Through gentle marketing, backed by the general interest of Japanese pop culture in the early to mid-2000s, Japan was able to create a tastier image through manga, anime, music, and other avenues to express the way the country used to be, perceived to change effectively. Cyberpunk stories have added “Cool Japan” to the genre’s existing history. All of this intertwined in the watered down replications of the genre that was to follow. What represented xenophobic fears of a technology-driven future torn from the hands of white America became the orientalist reproduction of aesthetics.
Cyberpunk 2077 proves to be a modern incarnation of the genre’s historical errors and problems in relation to the portrayal of Japanese and other East Asian people. 2077 tries to fulfill these fantasies as it falls into the “Cool Japan” category Akira Easter eggs, katanas and even naming the player “samurai” who takes on what western media have strongly associated with the development of coolness in Japanese media, be it cyberpunk or feudal. And while the latest tabletop scenario book surrounds the now largely defunct Arasaka Corporation and all of the luggage it contains, the same techno-orientalism and xenophobia are shifting their focus to Chinese companies – which now reflects modern America’s fears about mainland China.
That does not have to be that way. There are pieces of modern cyberpunk media that use the tropes of the genre and the fears associated with these tropes with great success, without falling into orientalism or the xenophobia that goes with it. Dear Shore, currently under development by Perfect Garbage Studios, and the recently released Umurangi generation by Origame Digital, both center narratives about marginalized people in technodystopias without falling into orientalism. Katana Zero by Askiisoft uses the tropic and techno-oriental street samurai iconography “Cool Japan”, but turns these tropes upside down in a surprisingly effective way.
Cyberpunk stories can be told effectively without suppressing the fear of the “other” while at the same time the culture is mimicked for aesthetic reasons. We can have stories of struggling against ultra-capitalist corporations and authoritarian dictatorships moving away from the tropics that have dragged the genre further down. It’s what we deserve and what stories about our future – as bleak as it may be – should be.