William Gibson’s Idoru to Become Anime Film

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Found this news piece via Fucked Gaijin… This news is of particular interest to me, not only because it involves an artificial intelligence pop idol as a central character, but also because I’d just read the novel a couple months ago.

To be more specific, I had read Gibson’s Virtual Light for the first time late last year for a freelance assignment, and so decided earlier this year to finish off his Bridge trilogy. That meant re-reading Idoru for the second time (I’d read it six years ago, during my dotcom days) and All Tomorrow’s Parties for the first time. Idoru is definitely the best novel in the trilogy, though it does suffer from the dated hip-ness and rigid parallel narratives that plague the entire trilogy.

Gibson is one of my two favorite science fiction authors, along with Philip K Dick. (And hey, A Scanner Darkly the movie adaptation actually may succeed, thanks to its animation gimmick!) That said, the only Gibson novels that I consider essential reading are Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition. Everything else he’s done suffers in comparison to these two works – but that achievement is more than what most writers have accomplished in their lives, so there’s no shame in that at all.

Re-reading Idoru in the throes of my Jpop otaku-ness, though, what struck me most is how generic his use of Rei Toei, the virtual idol, is. I’ve been obsessing over the Jpop idol as a metaphor in the arts, especially literature – but despite the title of the novel, the use of the idol as a metaphor is anemic at best. Astute readers can easily divine that Gibson was looking for the ideal metaphor of technology as a transformative event, of a figure that stood on the cross-sections of art, commerce, tech, and spirituality.

Gibson had that ideal figure in Colin Laney, but apparently that wasn’t sexy enough so he came up with a virtual idol as well, a character who could play the innocent naif even as she threatens to change the world. It’s in keeping with Gibson’s detective noir roots when writing cyberpunk – the damsel in distress who becomes the key to the mystery – but that doesn’t make Rei any more interesting. It’s difficult to consider Rei as anything more than an abstraction – Lo Rez’s music takes on some character in the novel, and a country band is described in honky tonk transcendent terms in All Tomorrow’s Parties, but Rei Toei as a pop singer has no dimensions, no depth. Which may again be Gibson’s point, but it’s a waste of a perfectly good metaphor.

If anything, Gibson better captures the nuances and layered meanings / complicities of being a Jpop fan (or any kind of dedicated music fan) in his handling of the members of the Lo Rez fan club. Lo Rez is a musical rock duo in the book, kind of an international version of B’z. The dedication of the fans and the elaborate systems of meaning and significance they derive from their fandom is more illuminating on the appeal of idols than any of the scenes with the titular idoru.

At any rate, the anime should be interesting. Considering the source material, it can turn out to be the best Satoshi Kon anime that Satoshi Kon never made. It’s certainly the one that most lends itself to anime, and it’ll be fun to see if the idol as metaphor is actually explored with any sensitivity. I never hold my breath for adaptations of a work to another medium, but in this case – and with this particular metaphor – the chances of improvement are actually pretty good.