Death Note a modern take on Plato’s Gyges Ring

In a discourse in Plato’s The Republic, the integrity of man is questioned and, perhaps, ultimately deemed to be fundamentally flawed: The Ring of Gyges is a mythical talisman that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will. Using the story of the ring, Plato’s Republic, explores whether a typical man would remain moral if he did not have to fear the consequences of his own actions, and that no man is so virtuous that he could resist the rings temptation or avoid becoming morally bankrupt by using its power. If morality is a social construct where we act out of necessity, then what happens if those social sanctions are removed, or you come to believe that they no longer apply to you? In the Republic, Glaucon made the argument:

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

This is, and always has been, an interesting thought experiment. It’s one that I’ve wrestled with in the past, what would I do if I could do anything I wanted to, if there were no consequences? If power corrupts, then does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Would I be able to stop myself? Would any of us? H.G. Wells also explored this in The Invisible Man, as his character Griffin is transformed from a gifted young scientist, to a megalomaniac planning world domination. Perhaps the only memorable line from the movie Hollow Man, an adaption inspired by Wells work, was Sebastian’s (Kevin Bacon) observation:

“You know what, Matt? It’s amazing what you can do … when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror any more”

As I said, its a fascinating idea, and one that I’ve been forced to dwell on again whilst watching the brilliant anime series: Death Note, one of the most unique and mind-blowing anime in recent history.

It’s the tale of a young man, Light Yagami, a brilliant young student, with perfect grades, perfect record, perfect looks etc. he’s a decent upstanding young man. All of that changes when a shinigami ( god of death ) drops his Death Note into Light’s schoolyard, where the young man stumbles across the enigmatic looking book and reads the instructions in it, the primary rule being: The human whose name is written in this note shall die. Light is initially skeptical thinking it to be a joke, but after experimenting with it he realises that the Death Note is real. Light, in a very real sense, becomes a living incarnation of the Gyges discourse, a seemingly flawless character, who is given the power to kill anyone in the world, and seizes upon this to create a new utopia with his god like power. He begins by entering the names of criminals into the Death Note:  murderers, rapists, serial killers, child molesters etc. his belief is that the world would be better without them.

As thousands of criminals begin to die suddenly around the world, the number of inexplicable deaths captures the attention of interpol and the mysterious detective known only as ‘L‘. It’s hard to describe L without falling back on cliches but he is a mysterious, enigmatic, eccentric genius. He has a strong sense of justice, yet his methods are sometimes as morally questionable as Lights. It’s the battle of wits that ensues between these two protagonists that makes this series such compelling viewing.

Light can only kill someone if he has seen their face and can visualise it as he writes their real name in the notebook, the more he kills the more he believes himself to be a God- eventually Light becomes more than just a self-styled God, he amasses a huge following under the moniker of ‘Kira’ ( which in typical Japanese is pronounced similarly to the english word “killer” ), and soon he begins to kill anyone that threatens his plans, including FBI agents and others that are attempting to discover his identity. L, however, deduces that Kira can kill people without laying a finger on them provided he has seen their face and knows their real name. Light recognises L as his greatest nemesis and so a cat and mouse battle between the two begins. Each racing desperately to discover the others true identity first – coming second means death. The suspense is exhilarating.

I highly recommend Death Note, it’s utterly brilliant: its dark, morally ambiguous and yet full of humour. It’s great, thought provoking entertainment.

Anime Reviews: Sky Blue, Vexille and X


Set in the year 2077 relations between Japan and the rest of the world have deteriorated to the extent that the country has cut off all communication with the other inhabitants of Earth. Vexille is a female commander who leads a team of U.S. special forces, named SWORD, who have been charged with infiltrating Japan to discover the potentially dangerous technological advances the country is making. Their mission, and their discoveries, reveal that the Japanese have created a new breed of android virtually indistinguishable from human beings. I really enjoyed this movie, which came as no real surprise because it was made by the same people that created excellent Appleseed. The sound is excellent, and the visuals use the same superb blend of 2D and 3D animation that made Appleseed so memorable. This movie is not dubbed into English which might disappoint some people, I personally don’t mind watching it in Japanese with subtitles. If you like Appleseed then you’ll almost certainly love this, whilst it is somewhat formulaic the action is breathtaking.

Sky Blue
An environmental catastrophe has left the future of mankind in the year 2140 fighting against extinction. Slaves inhabit the outside world whilst the lucky ones live in comfort in Ecoban. One man dares to fight against the injustice – he enters the city to find its secrets and bring freedom to the slaves who have been consigned to an early death. This movie had me captivated from start to finish. The animation is flawless and the attention to details is absolutely breathtaking. This film also uses a blend of 2D and 3D animation and actually surpasses almost every other such anime I’ve seen ( yes that includes Appleseed!). The plot is somewhat convoluted and the ending did leave me with more questions rather than answers, yet to me that didn’t take away from how much I enjoyed the movie.

I have no idea where to start with this. It has to be one of the most confusing anime’s I have seen, yet it’s absolutely briliant. This falls squarely into the realms of old skool anime. Yet I have to admit I enjoyed it. It is pretty violent, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is squeamish. In a nutshell its about good vs evil. Tokyo is the city where the final battle between the Dragon of Earth and the Dragon of Heaven will take place The Dragon of Earth wants to wipe out humankind because of the damage people have inflicted on the Earth, while the Dragon of Heaven is fighting to protect civilisation. At the centre of all this is Kamui, the chosen one, who must pick a dragon to fight for. It’s a deeply philosophical movie, far more so than I expected. It also has that eerie haunting beauty that makes it so memorable. Definitly one to watch.

Karas: Revelation

Took bloody ages to get home last night there was a fatality on the local line between Birmingham International and Birmingham New Street which meant we had to find alternate means of travel to get to the city. By the time I got home I felt exhausted. Richard is working the late shift this week so I had the house to myself and decided to make some food and finally get round to watching Karas:Revelation, the long awaited sequel and conclusion to Karas:The Prophecy which I reviewed a couple of months ago.

The sequel picks up exactly where the first movie ended it’s a much darker movie than the first and the plot remains sophisticated and very complicated, but the movie answers all the questions that we were left with at the end of the first movie. One of my previous complaints was that the first movie didn’t focus a great deal on Otoha the hero of this saga which felt quite frustrating because we never really got a sense of who he was, or how he was chosen to be Karas. Much of the first half of this movie is devoted to Otoha  and you learn who he was and how he first became a Karas. This part of the movie is extremely dark and bloody, I don’t want to spoil it, but you recall that only those who have known extreme sorrow can become Karas – well it’s fair to say Otoha fits that description.

In terms of it’s presentation and production quality this film surpasses the original – the seamless integration of 3d and 2d animation is absolutely stunning, and the soundtrack is brilliant! I really enjoyed the film – and found that I was engrossed from start to end – if you haven’t seen this series … then watch them – it’s anime at it’s very best!


Karas is a six part OVA. The first DVD, Karas:Prophecy, contains the first three parts woven into a single feature length movie. The story is set in the not-too-distant future in Tokyo which is a city populated by both humans and various supernatural beings. The balance between these two dimensions has long been upheld by a young woman called Yuri and her servent the city’s guardian raven Karas.

Karas are armored warriors. Only people who know extreme sorrow can become Karas. When commanded by the spirit Yuri these individuals becomes clothed in impenetrable armour and wield extremely powerful swords. Upon becoming Karas, the individual gains the ability to move with incredible speed and attack with amazing physical and magic power. At times, they can be moving so fast that it appears that everything around them is moving very slowly or has stopped moving completely.

Together Yuri and her Karas maintain the balance by ensuring that demons do not interfere in the lives of humans. But over time that balance was thrown into disarray when humans stopped believing in demons and stopped living in fear of them. During Japan’s Edo period the chosen Karas, disgusted by the arrogance of humans, turns his back on the laws he had once upheld, and takes the form of a human named Eku, while creating an army of Mikura, or mechanized demons, to ready an attack on the human race.

Fast forward to the future and Eku is now a wealthy magnate and his powers as a Karas have grown immeasurably. In the three hundred years or so since he betrayed his calling he has hunted down and killed every new Karas Yuri has trained. In fact the DVD opens with an incredible battle between Eku and another Karas, the fight ends when Eku dismembers and then kills opponent with ease. Yuri leaves and returns three years later with Otoha who we are led to believe is destined to defeat Eku.

Karas:Prophecy is absolutely stunning featuring some brilliant character and set designs and amazing 2D/3D hybrid animation. In terms of sound and visuals I can’t think of any other anime that comes close to this! The hyper-kinetic fight scenes are truly visceral and probably not for the squeamish.

The plot is fairly complex and I can understand why some people might struggle to keep up with it and whilst Otoha is the hero of the piece much more time is devoted to some of the characters and this is at times irritating since we don’t really get to learn as much about him as we might like. Nevertheless it’s still an amazing movie and I thoroughly recommend it!

Also the second DVD, Karas:Revelation, which contains the final three parts is being released on the 23rd October and if the visuals in the trailer are anything to go by the this second feature length movie might very well have surpassed the first.

You can watch the trailer below, enjoy:

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Anime: Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex 2nd Gig

Ok so I finally got the second season on DVD on Friday.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Limited Edition Complete 2nd GIG ( Exclusive Tin Box Set) (14 Discs)

And yep I watched it all over the weekend. Theres 26 episodes each one is approx 25 minutes long. I’d rate it as excellent

I began watching it with a bit of trepidation, I kind of conviced myself it wasnt going to be as good as the first stand alone complex. If anything this was better! Whilst the show doesnt require you to have seen the first season or either of the two movies, it definitly does help if you have. There are references to the laughing man incident which the the first season was based around. Also the second season doesnt really contain an explanation for what a Standalone Complex is. So heres my definition: Standalone Complex is a theoretical mental complex which is attributed to the mass cyberisation of the public. The first series explained how standlone complex was a term used to describe copies that have no original and this is realised through copycat crimes that dont appear to have an original criminal, in other words they are based on the actions of an imaginary criminal. The first series was based around The Laughing Man, a mysterious cyber terrorist who Section 9 ( our heroes ) must battle against. (ok this is a spoiler less review!)

The second season which is a completely different story sees Section 9 investigating a terrorist group calling themselves the Individual 11, who are battling to see an independent state formed for refugees being exploited around japan. Both series deal with the corruption of government and the manipulation of public opinion through the manipulation of the media. Ironically watching the series made me think about current events and ask how much of what we are told is actually the truth or how much has been “spun” by politicians who are persuing their own agenda. But hey thats the topic for a different day.

The animation quality is awesome, the action mind blowing, but most of all the social and technological and ethical issues the show touches upon are not only thought provoking but do you force you to re-evaluate your own beliefs. Some of the discussions between the characters can leave you bemused though I did wonder whether I needed a degree in Pyschology and Politics to be able to follow some of the dialogue, but nevertheless it makes you think.

I thoroughly recommend it. And if you cant fork out for the box sets then theres always the Ghost In the Shell movies.

Anime: Cyber City Oedo 808

Got back from the gym this evening and figured I’d tidy up. Was sorting through my collection of DVD’s and VHS tapes when I found this little gem:

Cyber City Oedo 808

Can’t remember the last time I watched it, jeez it must have been at least 15 years ago! Anyway as i’m watching it now im suprised at how little its dated. The three part series amassed something of a cult following. It’s a Cyberpunk anime set in the year 2808. The basic plotline is that in the future in order to combat computerised crime the Police employ criminals with a history of violent and hi tech crimes. The twist is that these criminals all of have “Special Suspended Sentences” that carry prison sentences in excess of two or three hundred years. Each of these criminals receives a reduction in their prison sentence for each mission he completes successfully within a given period of time. If they fail to complete a mission an explosive collar fitted around their necks will explode and decapitate them.

There are three episodes, and each episode focuses on one of the three criminals: Sengoku, Benten and Go:Gol. The first episode Virtual Death, follows Sengoku as he must discover who has trapped 50,000 people in a a skyscraper only to discover that the man responsible is dead! The second episode Psychic Trooper pits Go:Gol against a military cyborg when its superiors decide to have it hunt him to prove its viability as a weapon. The final episode, Blood Lust, follows Benten as he investigates the murder of a geneticist and stumbles upon one deranged mans quest for immortality which has turned him into a modern day vampire.

The series is full of action, humour and cynism as you’d probably expect given that the heroes of this piece are criminals who have been forced to become police officers. It’s full of memorable one liners like “to err is human but to really f**k up you need a computer“.

The quality of the animation is excellent especially given that this was made before digital animation techniques became popular. The series was created by Yoshiaki Kawajiri who was also responsible for making a number of anime hits including Ninja Scroll, and one of my personal favourites Vampire Hunter D:Blood Lust, as well as being a key figure in the production of the Animatrix Project.

Anyway its been a bit of a blast from the past for me. Any of you anime nuts out there who like more contemporary stuff like the new Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell SAC etc. should really try to get a hold of this and check out one of the earlier works in this genre.

Ghost in the Shell

Next month see’s the UK release of the complete second series of Ghost in the Shell – Standalone Complex 2nd Gig. I already own the complete first series as well as both movies. Over the last month I’ve tried to re-watch the first series although I’m well aware that the second series isnt a continuation from the first or even the two movies.

However it’s gotten me thinking about the pervasiveness of technology in society and how the works of contemporary visionaries such as Masamune Shirow the creator of the original Ghost in the Shell manga, and Kenji Kamiyama who dramatised it into the anime series, as well as other sci-fi writers who have touched upon this genre, most noticeably writers such William Gibson, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick etc. are all slowly being translated into reality. Shirow’s work however is focused more tightly on the ethical and philosophical ramifications of the widespread merging of humanity and technology. The development of artificial intelligence and an omnipresent computer network set the stage for a reevaluation of human identity and our sense of uniqueness … which has me hooked!

One of the overriding themes in Ghost in the shell, is how in the future the human race has been cyberized with most humans choosing to have some degree of cyberization, whether that is as little as having a cyber brain case installed to trading their human body for a cyber body free from the weaknesses of our natural form. In Shirow’s vision this cyberizations means human beings are wired into a massive connected network, with information out there in the net accessed directly by the brain. When someone isn’t connected to the net they are often referred to as being in autistic mode.

So where am I headed with all this?…

Well … with the growing popularity of existing services such as Second Life which is one of several virtual worlds that have been inspired by the science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, it makes me wonder just what is the appeal with the idea of living in an artificial world.

Besides Second Life isn’t a game! It’s a virtual world where some users have gone as far as setting up real monetary businesses and are earning a living from it, for others its simply an escape from their First life. In either case its an interesting phenomenon, I’m not sure what it means for the human race, or even if it means anything at all, personally my First Life far too complicated enough without adding to it the pressures of a Second Life.

Or maybe its just my ghost whispering to me