Monday, March 12, 2012

Steampunk in Anime, Manga, and Video Games

One of the greatest Final Fantasy games ever made
takes place in a steampunk world
A story expands the world of the author in a variety of different ways. One of the popular methods is to tell a story of fiction or alternate history through the thematic elements of steampunk. This sub-genre involves a setting where steam power is widely used in machines in a fictional industrial world, or a world influenced by the Wild West or the Victorian era in England. In anime and comic conventions, steampunk has been growing in popularity as a cosplay outfit to wear. Curiously, while steampunk has strong traditions in western fiction, it has been thoroughly embraced by the Japanese fiction writers. I will explore steampunk and how it is popularly depicted in the Japanese media of anime, manga, and video games.

The history of steampunk is a unique and long history of man’s fascination with steam-powered devices. Greeks were the earliest recorded people to consider the use steam power. Since then, steam was used in a variety of machinery to drive innovation. One of the most popular examples was the early machinery used in steam engines, which powered the growth industrial of the United States and Europe. Early Science Fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells heavily influenced Steampunk. The term steampunk was used as a variant of cyberpunk to describe the growth of Victorian fantasies. Since then, the number of stories that features a steampunk design have been steadily growing in number.

Before trying to explore examples of steampunk, we have to define the unique characteristics of steampunk that makes it a different sub-genre. The first characteristic of steampunk is the setting that the story takes place in. A steampunk world looks like a world that is in the Industrial Revolution. People are heavily dependent on the power of steam and steam technology to move from place to place. This world is a world that is developed before the rise of gasoline as a primary means of energy creation. This leads to the second characteristic, due to the industrial world of steampunk, the outfits worn do have a unique look to it. Steampunk fashion is heavily inspired by the Victorian-era design of clothing and accessories. It includes suits with vests and top hats for men, and corsets and bustles for women. The third characteristic is the unique features of steampunk design, which uses gears, brass, wood, leather and a variety of other cues to look like steampunk.

Even with its strong western influence, steampunk is very influential in the design of Japanese animation and manga. Studio Ghibli displays the steampunk world in Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle. Katsuhiro Otomo’s second major film entitled Steamboy is based on the alternate steampunk world of London before the grand crystal palace exhibition. One Piece, one of the most popular manga ever sold in Japan takes places in a steampunk world filled with pirates and adventure. There are a variety of anime and manga series that take place in steampunk worlds but it doesn’t take center stage like Fullmetal Alchemist, D.Gray-man, and Trigun. In others like Last Exile, steampunk technology takes center stage and is part of the industrialization of the world.

Meet Noire, the steampunk
Goddess from Neptunia
In video games, the Japanese RPG thoroughly embraced the steampunk sub-genre. There are entire game franchises that take place in steampunk worlds like Wild Arms, Professor Layton, and Shining Force. There are others games where steampunk play a significant role in a major game in the franchise, a great example of that is Final Fantasy VI and Dark Cloud 2. Final Fantasy VI was the one of the major Final Fantasy that takes place in a steampunk world where the rise of steam technology changed the way people saw the world; the other game is none other than Final Fantasy VII, which also had strong steampunk elements. In Hypedimension Neptunia, the world of Lastation is a huge steampunk world with the goddess Noire at the helm. Her outfit is also heavily influenced by steampunk design and aesthetics. The city of Baticul in Tales of the Abyss is heavily influenced by steampunk design. Sega also has a reputation of using steampunk in its Japanese role-playing games, with Skies of Arcadia, Valkyria Chronicles, Resonance of Fate, and Sakura Taisen having heavy steampunk influence in its mechanical and world design.

Steampunk is a unique take on clothing and world design. It is heavily influenced by the useful utility of steam and early creative science fiction works. The setting, fashion, and design of steampunk have certain iconic cues, but it is up to the creator to show the steampunk influence in their series. There are many examples of anime, manga, and videogames that have a steampunk world and highlight the growing influence of the setting in storytelling. To some convention attendees, it may be a curiosity since many of them do not know that many of the Japanese animation, manga, and videogames they enjoy have heavy steampunk influence. Steampunk is an interesting sub-genre and more examples of it influencing Japanese media will continue to increase with time.

1 comment:

Athena R. said...

I loved that write up, I has no idea that all those series were steampunk.