Tokyo 24th Ward is a sci-fi anime series in the Winter 2022 anime season, but it's more than just an action show to kill time between Attack on Titan episodes. Tokyo 24th Ward features not only a colorful cast of characters and some intriguing political themes, but it also embraces the stylish cyberpunk genre -- a staple of sci-fi anime.
In years past, classic anime such as Ghost in the Shell proved what sci-fi anime can really do, with themes such as resisting authority, the power of the people, the dangers of runaway technology, the essence of humanity and more being explored in great detail. Tokyo 24th Ward can't beat GiTS at its own game, but it does comfortably explore the cyberpunk genre in its own way.
When The People Resist Tyrannical Technology
Anime fans should take note that the cyberpunk genre means a lot more than just "gritty sci-fi with an attitude." Aesthetically, that may be the case, but cyberpunk titles such as Tokyo 24th Ward are really about politics and philosophy, with resonant themes that tie neatly into real-world issues of authority, humanity, the law, technology and more. It's called cyberpunk because it's about the power of the people and what everyday people do when rampant technology, greedy corporations and tyrannical governments dominate the world.
The cyberpunk genre is about humanity's resistance to the threats in a dark future setting, making it an empowering and hopeful genre despite the violence, language, sexuality and other disturbing content found in many cyberpunk works. Tokyo 24th Ward understands that cyberpunk is about empowering the people and warning them about the danger of advanced tech and mega-corporations, philosophically arming them to fight back in a world where technology and power mean everything.
From the very start, Tokyo 24th Ward has explored such themes with SARG and the state surveillance system called Hazard Cast, as well as the controversies of Hazard Cast and SARG in the 24th ward. On one hand, Hazard Cast and SARG can use surveillance and data to arrest criminals with unusual speed and save people from natural disasters, but this comes at the cost of privacy. Hazard Cast's mechanical eyes are everywhere, and no one can escape unless they're in the dangerous, crime-ridden Shantytown region. This controversy creates a tense atmosphere in the 24th ward, and things get even messier when the terrorist Carneades arrives and only Shuta and his friends stand a chance against him.
Then, Akagi Ran the graffiti artist/hacker explains to Shuta how the people of Shantytown feel about the wealthier regions of Tokyo. There's a vicious cycle in place, where SARG uses cold, emotionless data analysis algorithms to predict crime and suspects everyone in Shantytown of being a criminal in the making, which in turn leads to heavier policing in crime-prone areas. The people deeply resent that, and if they're treated as criminals anyway, the more desperate ones figure they might as well be criminals and try to get away with it because they see no other option.
Ran describes this situation as a "chicken and the egg" paradox, with many desperate people in Shantytown looking at Tokyo's glittering skyscrapers across the bay and envying the people who live in wealth and comfort there. Even if Hazard Cast has a weak presence in Shantytown, the people there simmer with resentment, and SARG's actions only make it worse.
What All This Means For Aoi Shuta
Aoi Shuta lives in a decent neighborhood and has little to fear from cyberpunk drug runners or scary hackers, but then again, his friends Akagi Ran and Suido Koki are on opposite sides of the Hazard Cast controversy, and that means Shuta can't easily escape the cyberpunk themes looming large over Tokyo 24th Ward's story. Shuta wants to focus on being a hero who saves lives while leaving the politics to SARG and mayor Suido, but if his friends turn on each other over this controversy, Shuta must step in, and decide whether he'll side with the ever-watchful state or the cyberpunks who aim to fight the power.
Shuta's friend Koki is by-the-book and is mayor Suido's son, and he has connections with SARG. He insists that the police, Hazard Cast and the law can maintain order and create a stable society for everyone, even if it's at the cost of privacy. Akagi Ran states otherwise, claiming that such omnipresent security is a self-fulfilling prophecy where rebellion and crime are concerned. All this paranoid, cyberpunk-style state surveillance will incite the very kind of crimes it aims to prevent, and Ran urges Shuta to see things that way too. All this, on top of seeing the future to prevent disaster, means Shuta has some hard decisions to make very soon in this troubled cyberpunk world.