What Links a Cult Sci-Fi Author with One of The Most Popular Anime Series of All Time?
One of my favorite things about popular culture is the way a simple question can send you down the proverbial rabbit hole. For example: why is Rei Hino, alias Sailor Mars, a shrine maiden? The answer is actually quite complicated and it has something to do with Philip K. Dick.
Philip K. Dick and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
It all begins with science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. A prolific author, mostly due to manic amphetamine abuse and crushing poverty, Philip K. Dick introduced many sci-fi tropes that we take for granted today. Among his various accomplishments in the field were writing one of the first alternate history stories. He also helped lay the groundwork for Cyberpunk, and was one of the pioneers of postmodernism in literature. Dick, possibly because he was a paranoid schizophrenic, tended to see reality as fluid and transient. In a Philip K. Dick story, nothing is as it seems and everything is possible. A short list of Dick’s most recognized works includes: The Man in the High Castle, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, and We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.
In 1968, Dick published one of his most famous works, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A dystopian novel set in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The book focused around the story of police bounty hunter Rick Deckard. Specifically, his hunt for a group of rogue androids in the vast metropolis of San Francisco. Originally written as Dick’s attempt to grasp the mentality of Jew hunters in Nazi Germany, the novel morphed into a wider discussion on what being human actually means. Particularly when weighed against extremely convincing simulations of humans. Even so, and despite a Nebula nomination, most science fiction readers at the time saw nothing remarkable about the book. In fact, people outside Dick’s fandom mostly remember the novel today only because it inspired the next link in our chain.
Ridley Scott and Blade Runner
in 1982, Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner. It all began innocently enough, after the success of 1979’s Alien, Ridley Scott had been casting about for a new project. While searching, he ran across a screenplay by Hampton Fancher. That screenplay was, of course, an adaptation of Dick’s novel, and Scott became interested in helming the project himself. Because of Scott’s previous success with Alien, Warner Brothers and Alcon agreed to greenlight his new film.
They soon wished they hadn’t, as Blade Runner had a legendarily troubled production. Highlights include the film going way over-budget, a near mutiny by the film crew, and serious tension between the investors and the filmmakers. At one point, for example, the investors actually fired Scott who continued to work on the film anyway. Of course, all of that might have been worth it if Blade Runner hadn’t bombed at the box office. But, sadly, bomb it did, barely turning a profit. While part of its failure was due to lukewarm critical response, the chief factor was probably opening the same month as E.T. did. Throw in a misleading advertising campaign that sold Blade Runner as an action film, and you have box office poison. As a result, Blade Runner quietly disappeared from theaters after a brief run.
However, the story doesn’t end there. You see, like many (initially) less successful films of the era, Blade Runner found a second life on videotape. Additionally, many people who had actually seen Blade Runner during its theatrical run found that the movie had left a strong impression on them. Among that lucky few was manga artist Kia Asamiya.
Kia Asamiya and Silent Möbius
In 1989 Kia Asamiya published a manga called Silent Möbius. Though the concept sounds utterly unremarkable today, an all-female police unit battles demonic creatures in a Cyberpunk world, there actaully wasn’t much like it then. In fact, many later anime and manga owe Asamiya a great debt.
As you can probably guess by its inclusion, both Silent Möbius’ look and its world owe a lot to Blade Runner. Of course, it was hardly alone in that respect, since Blade Runner influenced numerous nineties anime. However, Silent Möbius was one of the few that really made the world its own. Furthermore, as is obvious from the short description above, there was one element Silent Möbius had that Blade Runner did not: magic. More to the point, while Asamiya decided to have several flavors of magic present in his world he also decided to include magic of traditional Japanese variety.
So, to that end, Asamiya made of his characters a shrine maiden or miko. Normally, shrine maidens simply act as caretakers for a particular shrine, specifically a shrine of the Shinto faith, and assist the shrine’s priest with rituals. However, this just wouldn’t do for the purposes of Asamiya’s story so he made his shrine maiden a warrior. She, and the series, proved quite popular and that’s were we come to the last link in this chain.
Naoko Takeuchi and Sailor Moon
In 1991, Naoko Takeuchi published the mega-popular manga Sailor Moon. Still one of the best-known Japanese series on either side of the pacific, Sailor Moon‘s action oriented approach to the magical girl genre made it an instant hit. The series’ popularity eventually grew into a phenomenon and we still feel its influence almost thirty years later.
Among the varied cast of characters was Rei Hino, Sailor Mars, whose day job as a shrine maiden owed its origin to Silent Möbius. Takeuchi had read the series and was herself a fan of Asamiya’s shrine maiden character, even asking him for art of her at one point. Moreover, while Sailor Moon featured none of Silent Möbius’ cyberpunk trappings, it did put its own spin on an all-female team of fighters. Possibly one of the most famous spins of all time, in fact.
The Upshot of It All
So, because Philip K. Dick wanted to understand what motivated a Nazi Jew hunter, Sailor Mars works in a Shinto shrine. As far as lineages of ideas go, this is fairly typical of what occurs in the world of popular culture. Since everything influences everything, pop-culture often generates chaos theory-like chains of cause an effect. Although, “chains” isn’t quite the right word since it implies linearity. In truth, if someone were to map the movement of ideas, they would probably find that they were radial rather than linear. That is, ideas radiate from their points of origin and inspire new ideas when they encounter a receptive mind.
So, what does all this matter? Well, if you’re a fan of any of these stories, quite a lot. Especially since most of them would be very different, or not exist, if events had played out any differently. By the same token, even if you’re not a fan, you at least have to appreciate the far-reaching effects just one story can have.
Just keep that in mind next time you pick up a book or pop in a movie.
Asamiya, K. (2010) Silent Möbius Complete Edition 2. Richmond Hill, Ontario: UDON Entertainment Corp.
Deeley, M. (Producer) & Scott, R. (Director). (1982). Blade Runner [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Brothers.