We’ve talked in the past about the intersection of virtual reality and anime, and for good reason. VR—and related fields like AR and the concept of a metaverse—have long been mainstays of sci-fi and genre fiction. But as these things become more real and accessible, our perception of it changes. And so does anime’s.
Today, we’re looking back across the history of VR in anime: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Just like the real world, the virtual world has its share of both good and bad, and anime isn’t shy about exploring both.
The Virtual Idols of Macross Plus
In the modern age, we’d likely class Macross Plus idol Sharon Apple as more of an AR/AI hybrid than virtual reality. But her virtual idol status still holds true. The computerized songstress won the hearts and minds of the locals—which wasn’t always a good thing. When her programming went haywire, so did the traditional love geometry of the franchise.
VR and AR have been used to much better (and safer) effect in later iterations of Macross, including Sheryl and Ranka’s stunning live shows in Macross Frontier. I guess they learned things stay a lot calmer when the talent is organic.
In 1999, Martian Successor Nadesico and Silent Möbius creator Kia Asamiya asked the ultimate question: “What if there were magical girls in virtual reality?” The result was Corrector Yui, an original anime series in which a computer-illiterate teen becomes a magical virus hunter.
Taking place in the year 20XX (yes, really), Corrector Yui posits the existence of ComNet: the VR-based evolution of the Internet. Both ComNet and the real world are under threat from an evil Host computer called Grosser. Eight antivirus programs exist to fight Grosser, but they need someone to command them. And that someone is Yui—or rather, Corrector Yui. Her magical girl powers exist only within ComNet, where she leads the eight programs to save the virtual and real worlds.
Hot and fresh from SCIENCE SARU, the team behind DEVILMAN crybaby and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, is a virtual reality series that hits way closer to home. Tom Sawyer Island, the world where YUREI DECO takes place, feels much more within reach than other anime. Both AR and VR are a part of life here, thanks to either ocular implants or special glasses. The currency is Love: literally, social media likes. The world is colored by AR, and you can dive into one of many “hyperverses” for work, school, and games. Oh, and a customer service center oversees the whole thing.
While YUREI DECO challenges this lifestyle and its resulting drawbacks—censorship and ignorance of the plight of others, for example—it also gives credit to the great things technology gives us. Thanks to the tech of Tom Sawyer Island, the elderly Madam 44 can be an action hero. Extinct animals can be brought back to life in a virtual zoo. AR avatars can let you appear on the outside how you feel on the inside. In short, technology just is: it’s what you do with it that matters.