Texhnolyze is a grim cyberpunk series written by Chiaki J. Konaka and produced by Madhouse, first aired in 2003. It is a story of a down-and-out young man trying to survive in a grim city where almost everyone he comes across tries to take advantage of him. At the same time, the main players are heading towards a major conflict, with or without him. Like every other series, it has its strengths and weaknesses but what makes Texhnolyze potentially frustrating is that both its strengths and weaknesses are intense. It is not an easy series to watch.
The setting is the underground city of Lux. It is a world where prosthetics and cybernetics are available, at least to some, hence the term “texhnolyze”. Three rival factions run the city: the dominant Organo, a mafia-like organisation; the Salvation Union, a group that is ideologically against texhnolyze; and the Racan, a gang of liberal-minded and rebellious youths. Outside the city, in a place called Gabe, lives a quiet tribal group that revers a young girl with the ability to see the future.
The main and viewpoint character is Ichise, an angry young man of very few words. He rejects an Organo woman who spitefully dobs him in and he consequently gets his arm and leg chopped off. He then meets Eriko “Doc” Kaneda who texhnolyzes him without his consent. Onishi, the Organo boss, pities him and gives him a chance whilst Ran, the young seer from Gabe, tries to steer him in the right direction. Meanwhile, seen and unseen parties push for a major conflict in the city which Onishi tries to prevent.
There are 22 episodes and the pacing is slow, particularly the first half of the series. There is very little dialogue at first so not much is known about Ichise and the world he is in. We see his rage which, without sufficient background, is quite annoying. Although characters need not be likable, they need to be relatable and there is almost nothing to relate to for any of the characters.
To put it differently, like the hopeless city of Lux, the storytelling is “cold”. This is presumably deliberate but it goes too far. The audience is initially immersed in the world almost purely in the visual sense. This is not to say that the series is totally vacuous. Given the premise, it is obvious the story explores the theme of human nature, of identity and “fitting in”, the impact of prostheses on said nature and the resultant direction of the human race (transhumanism). Visually, it is strong and effective. Unlike many anime, the style is not clean but is rather gritty. Combined with the initial lack of dialogue and the use of film grain and diffuse glow, the atmosphere is intensely surreal.
Some will dismiss the visual style as pretentious but that assessment is harsh. The character designs, setting designs and palette selections are all very calculated for not merely aesthetic but also for thematic and symbolic purposes. For example: greys and browns along with dilapidated brutalist-styled buildings are dominant in the city to convey hopelessness; the Organo have suave suits with cool colours to convey urbanity; and the Salvation Union meetings are in dark halls lit with warmer colours as if to foreshadow something ominous. As for the character designs which correspond to their templates: Onishi is the “king” with decency who wields a sword; Ichise is the “lone-wolf survivalist” who says little and mostly expresses himself with his fists; Doc is an attractive blonde and brilliant doctor, a weird combination of “mother”, “witch” and “seductress” to Ichise; and Ran is the “virgin” seer and protector who sells flowers, the one symbol of purity in this craphole.
The world is grim and most of the characters can be considered as morally grey but, beyond their template form and as already mentioned, the characters are difficult to relate to. One may understand their choices at a superficial and material level but there is little emotional resonance with their struggles. Perhaps the only exceptions are Ran and, in a small way, Onishi. Over time, Ichise does settle a bit and tries to fit into the role Onishi gives him. Insofar as Ichise develops a care for Ran, one may also vaguely care and feel sorry for her because of her innocence in such a bad setting. As for Onishi, he is initially presented as the “mob boss” so one naturally suspects he is the so-called bad guy but then he pities Ichise and also behaves decently which is not easy given the people he is surrounded by. So at least for a few moments, the show provides some intrigue regarding a character’s moral standing. There are other characters of significance not mentioned here and, although they are not uninteresting, the emotional resonance is still limited.
The premise, setting, imagery and character templates are all interesting in themselves and, in that regard, the series has a cerebral quality to it but I can’t help think that it’s trying too hard to be cerebral. I don’t think it’s bombastic but rather that it’s too ambitious. Although the direction of the narrative is not a surprise due to prophetic references and other forms of signposting, some of the events still seem convenient. The final episodes rely heavily on background expositions but are still fascinating even if it is mildly clumsy. The conclusion is fittingly dark and practically hopeless but also poignant without being a cheesy tearjerker. What little hope remains is internal; it’s in Ichise’s realisation about life and himself rather than what is happening in Lux which makes it all the more depressing. Unfortunately, this poignancy comes too late and the strong visual qualities do not make up for the poor pacing and the lack of emotional resonance with the characters. It’s worth giving it go if you want something different but be warned that due to both its strengths and weaknesses, Texhnolyze is not easy viewing.