Saturday, July 15, 2017

Dai Satō & the prototype for the Electrosphere: Cowboy Bebop's Brain Scratch vs. Ace Combat 3

Unlike GITS, which AC3 has often been compared to, you're guaranteed to never see AC3 and Cowboy Bebop mentioned in the same sentence, which couldn't be more ironic. Find out why after the jump.

Brain Scratch is a mystery episode written by Dai Satō that aired on April 2nd 1999, a year after Cowboy Bebop's initial run in 1998. In this episode a cult called SCRATCH that self-describes as an "electronic transcendence group", led by an elusive man named Dr. Londes, is making news on TV as thousands of people are flocking to it in search of a better life. A sizable bounty has been placed on his head, and so the Bebop crew starts moving in on him but the more they investigate, the more questions come up.

Characters cut from the same cloth

Dr. Londes and Dision have the most in common because they're both the leaders of their respective organizations and the ones who do most of the crazy talk. But when it comes to Dr. Londes' fake backstory has more to do with Yoko and Simon, claiming to be a neurobiology researcher who digitized his soul during an experiment. You see, "Dr. Londes" (not his real name) is actually alive, but not well, and due to a medical complication is but a vegetable.

Dision distinguishes himself by being much more openly malevolent than Dr. Londes. Dision wants to digitize everyone whether they accept it or resist it. Dr. Londes, on the other hand, leads a cult that at worst, tries to convince as many people as they can through gospel and smiles. He's still a bad guy though because the whole "digitize your soul" thing turns out to be a false promise, and actually leads his more inclined followers to their death, which he claims to be him "allowing them to practice their faith by their own free will".

One key point though that they have very much in common is how they both want to make everyone like them because of their misfortune. Dision died during a bomb attack shortly after having his personality copied by Yoko, and Dr. Londes' body was rendered useless due to illness during his youth, somehow having found new life on the information network.

Dr. Londes even says it out loud: "Everyone should have the same body as I have.". In other words, suffer the same bad luck he did.

Interchangeable dialogue

Watch any given broadcast, any of Ouroboros' manifestos regarding their revolution and you'll see more similarities than you'll know what to do with (I had to pause the show multiple times so that I could take notes). Desire, the human body, war, ego, freedom are all namedropped. And the message is exactly the same: let go of your body, live a happier life without it.

Look at the lines below, for example. Take any or all of them and put them in AC3, and you wouldn't miss a beat.

"Material desire. Hunger. Sexual drive. Desire to dominate. Desire for fame."

"As long as there is a body, desires will be born."

"Humans will continue to fight to fulfill their bodies' desires, and it will never end."

"Now, be rid of that filthy body."

"By releasing the spirit from the body, we are able to discard all desire."

And not just Dr. Londes, but also Spike's retort "If you want to dream, dream alone.", sound familiar?

Even throwaway terms such as "sea of electrons" hint at what the writer would eventually do in AC3E, where he was able to fully realize his vision, free from the constraints of a pre-established show and a short 20 minute runtime.

Other things that were carried over

In this episode Dai Satō introduces a wireless controller for a game console that allows you to play games directly with your mind, called Brain Dream, which is also said to allow for scanning a person's brainwaves and upload it to the internet. This would be divided into the ENSI system and Sublimation in AC3.

One aspect that Dai Satō excised for AC3 is putting the spotlight on the invention of TV. "TV is the greatest invention", the cult leader says at one point. This is where Dr. Londes thrives because that's where he really lives now and thanks to TV and the information age there's plenty of people who are easily enthralled by what they see.

That is also true to an extent for Dision, who's also given the power to control things like cameras and aircraft. We see a lot of him on TV once he begins his revolution, the kind of guy who likes the sound of their own voice. There's a different voice who also does a lot of the talking but it's hard for me not to think of Dision as the one running the show, hiding behind a mask in order to assume a new, larger-than-life persona that will convince people of his beliefs. And even though they both hate the human ego, they're both egomaniacs themselves, seeking notoriety and in the latter's case, transformation or destruction of all mankind and world domination. It's obvious that they only claim they hate the physical existence because they have experienced first-hand what it means to live without one. If they hadn't lost their bodies, they wouldn't have gone insane. So at the end of the day, what they want is to have their presence acknowledged and felt.

Some of the style and imagery that Dai Satō employed for Brain Scratch can also be seen in AC3E. A lot of exposition is communicated directly to the viewer via TV news broadcasts, interview and speeches. the way we zap from channel to channel, news program to program (always at the right time, conveniently enough) is also reminiscent of AC3E.There's a moment where an interviewee says how what is going on belongs to a work of science-fiction, and there's also a similar moment in AC3E when Simon is talking about current technological developments and their relation to sci-fi history.

Also, in one of the episodes funniest moments, we find out that Faye has joined the cult because she was tired of being in debt. In AC3 we have Cynthia, who's given a complete arc of dreaming of this new life, achieving it and refuting it and seeking redemption or dying depending on the choices the player makes.

the naked truth
There's a line they added in the dub that really helps drive the point home, "I guess all he could do was dream... so the dreams turned dark."

Perhaps an even better way to encapsulate both Dr. Londes and Dision would be with this extract from Hamlet's "To be or no to be" monologue:
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life.”


All in all, this has always been one of the more memorable episodes in Cowboy Bebop for me. I've seen the whole series twice and there are some episodes that always spring to mind when thinking about CB while others I just forget about. The one with the crazy clown, the one with the kid who wouldn't age, the one with Faye's videotape, the noir one, the one where Ed leaves the crew, and this one all fall squarely into the same category of memorable episodes when the series wasn't dealing with Spike's story (my favorites by far).

If you're looking for an anime show with an indisputable AC3E flavor, then look no further. The series is pretty cool too.