Like every westerner in their twenties with no imagination, I want to live in Japan. Not just any Japan – I don’t want to spend 60 hour weeks teaching English as a foreign language whilst coked-up business executives try to grope me (even if it is my fantasy). No, I want to live in dark, corrupt cyberpunk Japan.
But which version should I choose? I’ve narrowed it down to two cities, both replacing Tokyo after it has been destroyed: Ghost in the Shell’s New Port City (modelled in part after Hong Kong), and Akira’s Neo-Tokyo (modelled in part after Ayn Rand’s wet dreams). To determine which nightmare will be my new home, I shall examine each based on four criteria: crime, architecture, people, and politics. May the best shithole win.
ROUND ONE: CRIME
Ordinarily ‘crime’ is probably not the number one factor when selecting a new city to live in – don’t get me wrong, no-one likes being mugged on their daily commute, but usually crime rates rank around 4th or 5th in a sane person’s priorities. However, seeing as we’re selecting a sci-fi dystopia as our new home, crime becomes a little more important.
Let’s start with Akira’s Neo-Tokyo, where problem schools have replaced ‘education’ with ‘beating male students across the face and letting the girls dress like prostitutes’. With widespread unemployment and high rates of drug use, crime actually starts to seem like a sensible career choice. In fact, Neo-Tokyo’s social problems appear to have resulted in a police helicopter budget that would outstrip the GDP of most countries.
The situation in New Port City seems a little better, aside from the occasional shoot-out resulting from heinous government conspiracies (which to be fair, is a daily problem in most major cities). In fact the only day-to-day crime we really see is a garbageman stalking his ex, and even that is a result of the aforementioned conspiracy. I’m sure the world of Ghost in the Shell sees its fair share of assaults and random subway stabbings, but compared to Neo-Tokyo, it’s a 1950s suburb.
CRIME: New Port City
Neo-Tokyo is messed up: at one point an official even refers to Kaneda’s group as ‘an ordinary motorcycle gang’, which is NOT a reassuring phrase when it comes to civic order. If biker gangs rampaging through your streets is the least of your problems, I wouldn’t rate your chances of not getting raped on your way to the supermarket.
ROUND TWO: ARCHITECTURE
So you’re running from the 5th armed assailant that’s accosted you today, but what about the aesthetics of your life-or-death chase? Will you at least receive your fatal stabbing at the centre of a beautifully-designed plaza, or are you spilling your final drops of precious lifeblood staring up at a street designed by the Ukraine’s drunkest architects?
Here’s where Neo-Tokyo really shines – only a couple of decades after the old city was destroyed, a new metropolis has been constructed complete with hundreds of awesome Blade Runner-style towers. They even have roof gardens.
To top it all off, Neo-Tokyo has some beautiful elevated walkways – presumably built in order to avoid the motorbike gang-infested streets below – complete with fountains and trees. They’ll make a great vantage point for watching all those protesters being murdered!
After helicopters, tasteful fountains seem to be the city’s primary expenditure. Compare this to the featureless blocks of New Port City.
Aside from some cool waterways, New Port City looks like an overgrown Toronto. Sad, bland, Canadian Toronto. It seems to have a decent market, but it’s not exactly visually pleasing. Then there are the slums.
They could at least paint them gaudy colours, like most self-respecting third-world nations.
Neo-Tokyo wins on fountain density alone, whilst New Port City doesn’t seem to have ever seen a single leaf, never mind green space. Where am I supposed to buy weed and have anonymous sex without public parks?
ROUND THREE: THE PEOPLE
In neither city do we really see much of the character of its inhabitants, aside from passing references in both films to how shitty they apparently are. So I’m going to use the ultimate personality test.
Neo-Tokyo has mohawks, and as everyone knows, mohawks are awesome. What cyberpunk cityscape is complete without colourful-headed inhabitants sporting hairstyles named after massacred native tribes? (FUN FACT! In Germany, mohawks are called ‘iroquois’, because all Native American societies are totally interchangeable).
Now let’s take a look at New Port City.
No. Just no.
My policy on mullets is EXECUTION BY FIRE.
ROUND FOUR: POLITICS
Neo-Tokyo’s political system is not in a good way. Though it has a semblance of democracy (it is stated that there is more than one party), all decisions seem to be made by a group of a dozen men. No parliament, no senate, just a round table occupied by psychopaths running the economy into the ground. Political demonstrations and riots by left-wing students and activists are constant, and the government’s means of establishing a cross-political dialogue generally involves bullets. Lots and lots of bullets.
We see far less of New Port City’s political elite, but unless they have a council comprising twelve clones of Hitler, I find it difficult to imagine something worse.
POLITICS: New Port City
Though there was a tiny ray of hope in Neo-Tokyo’s political system (an older politician actually suggested spending the ‘breeding telekenetic monsters’ budget on social welfare), rule by military junta never really ends well, especially when the new dictator refers to his own population as a ‘garbage heap of hedonistic fools’.
TIE-BREAKER BONUS ROUND: PIPES!
So far it’s 2-2 between the urban nightmare worlds. On the one hand, Neo-Tokyo has an oppressive, fascistic government and a terrifying crime rate, whilst New Port City has mullets. It’s impossible to decide between the two.
Which brings us to the ultimate question people ask when selecting a new hometown: which city has the greatest amount of piping per square meter? First up, Neo-Tokyo, which seems to have a healthy amount of…
… many, many pipes…
…unholy levels of… pipes…
All right, fuck it.
You win Neo-Tokyo – though I think one of those biker gangs are eyeing me. Guess I’m going to be investing in a rape whistle.