Looking Back At EXPELLED FROM PARADISE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace leaves the world behind.
It seems like there is a long tradition of Japanese cyberpunk, starting way back with Akira and continuing on with Ghost in the Shell. More recently, Netflix’s Blame has continued that tradition; however I shall turn instead to an entry from 2014: Expelled From Paradise, directed by Seiji Mizushima with a screenplay written by Gen Urobuchi.

The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the Earth has been devastated in a massive war known only as the ‘nanocaust’ (as was provided in the subtitles). A number of humans survive as data in a virtual world based on a satellite in Earth orbit; from there, they drown themselves in hedonism as they ignore the hobbesian anarchy that unfolds on humanity’s homeworld. The film starts with a very punchy scene involving this paradise being infiltrated by forces unknown; from the very beginning, you are reminded of the old saying: et in Arcadia ego.
A crack agent for the government of this station is your main character; her name is Angela Balzac, and she has been sent planetside to deal with the threat that infiltrated their network. Being unused to actually having a physical form, she has to fight a war against phenomena she had never known, like gravity or disease or injury. It is this fish-out-of-water sensation that defines much of her character, and makes her a foil to the other major character.

That character is Dingo, Angela’s partner in investigation who works for her employer on the ground. He is the streetwise physical human, utterly savvy as to what can be found where in this bombed-out husk of a once-vibrant world. He is the one who teaches her about the humanity that she had lost by virtue of existing in cyberspace, and from there shows her what being a human being really means. In some ways, he is more fleshed out than Angela; I ultimately enjoyed his character more than hers.
The world of this film is something out of Mad Max; one which is utterly dog-eat-dog, where people make deals to survive and will backstab one another on a moment’s notice. Despite being a future Earth, it can feel quite alien at times, with one particular scene involving a large quantity of sandworms being the standout in that regard. It is a scene that introduces the stakes and the nature of the playing field, one that is easily memorable.

To avoid spoiling too much I shall be vague, but Expelled From Paradise has a lot to do with artificial intelligence. This is a film about how ‘human’ a computer can be, and the similarities between a brain of neurons and a brain of transistors. The portrayal of this issue rivals that of a classic science fiction story, perhaps one of Isaac Asimov’s stories about the three laws, although this film questions how much of those laws are really binding, and under what conditions.
One aspect of this film stands out to me: the music. Brought to exquisite life by the composer Narasaki, it brings about so many poignant and immersive moments. Some of those moments are deeply character-focused, and they enhance the film in spellbinding ways.

The major flaw that stands out to me is the frustratingly expected character design for Angela: oversexualized and very much appealing to what the United States Supreme Court called the ‘prurient interest.’ Anime has enough of such designs; I remember being appalled at Code Geass for its female character designs, and here Expelled From Paradise is only marginally better. This is all made worse by the fact that the body designed for Angela is biologically sixteen years old. I can only hope that I am not alone in hoping that more and more anime will buck this troubling trend.

Ultimately, Expelled From Paradise is the inheritor of a grand tradition of Japanese science fiction about the potentially dreadful consequences of technology. It is not a flawless movie, but it is one that will make you think, something few movies can say, anime or otherwise.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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