WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 5 of Tokyo 24th Ward, "Red Line," now streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
The 24th Ward of Tokyo is already mired in serious controversies concerning the state surveillance system known as Hazard Cast, and the presence of so many SARG officers isn't helping. That's why Aoi Shuta and his two best friends aim to save the day as rookie heroes, but not even they can keep the streets totally safe.
Another threat to the peace emerged in Episode 4: a mysterious but potent drug known as Drug D that was driving users into psychotic fits of rage and violence. At the same time, a terrorist plans to blow up a cruise ship, but the hacker activist Akagi Ran realizes exactly how Drug D ties all this together.
Shuta and Suido Koki rush off to identify, apprehend or possibly kill the terrorist who plans to blow up the cruise ship in Tokyo Bay, while Ran aims to uncover the truth of all this. Ran's future-sight eyes have already given him a glimpse of the terrorist responsible for the blast: his old friend, Kunai, a fellow hacker and activist. Of course, he knows Kunai would never blow up a ship full of innocent people, so he digs deeper to find the truth. He may not have SARG resources, but he does have personal experience with how Kunai used to operate -- and a certain app comes to mind.
The original Di-VA app could read a person's biometrics and play the right music to help soothe pain, but at one point, a man named Tarki bought the rights to this app and reworked it into a weapon, Drug D. The twisted app can send signals to a cPhone's user and agitate their mind, driving the user into fits of uncontrollable rage. Tarki and his sponsor, Howard Win, have been spreading Drug D all over the cyberpunk Shantytown region to create an excuse to raze the entire town and build a casino in its place -- and it all traces back to Kunai.
Despite being a victim himself of all this, Kunai feels terribly guilty. This plot twist helps emphasize Tokyo 24th Ward's cyberpunk themes and gives Ran personal stakes in all this. It's a defining moment in his character arc, with his friend being yet another victim of the greedy adults.
From the start, Tokyo 24th Ward has been a sci-fi anime with hints of the cyberpunk subgenre, and Episodes 4 and 5 bring that theme to the fore. The story is more than just "gritty sci-fi" -- it's a political subgenre about societal upheaval and resistance to tyranny and oppression, usually in the context of the people revolting against corporate greed and/or corrupt governments in a dystopian future. Cyberpunk's core message is "fight the power," and sure enough, Ran and Kunai are both hacker activists who subvert the law and use inspiring graffiti to empower the people and protest the all-powerful state -- in this case, the 24th Ward's government. This time the state is winning the battle for societal dominance, and Kunai might pay for it with his life.
The greedy Howard Win and his ally Tarki use a shell company in Episode 5 to exploit Kunai's benevolent Di-VA app to create an insidious, high-tech weapon to ruin Shantytown and replace it with a casino, a quintessential cyberpunk plotline. For Shuta and his friends, the war isn't entirely personal; rather, it's a fight to shape society's future and prevent greed and tyranny from harming the masses. The powers that be have the upper hand for now, and these corrupt villains are stark examples of why hackers like Ran and Kunai do what they do.
Ran isn't being paranoid -- the threat is real, and his friends in Shantytown need him more than ever. He and Kunai fight the power as best they can, but the power has the upper hand, and worse yet, Ran's friend Suido Koki is on the government's side, favoring SARG over his own friends. Howard Win and Tarki are free to exploit and deceive whomever they like to get their way, and they might never answer for their crimes. That's a true cyberpunk nightmare for Ran, Shuta and anyone else who wants freedom from tyranny for the 24th ward's people.