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One restless night, I logged into Netflix and began Fate/Extra Last Encore. I was so bemused by the show I thought I’d slept through important scenes, or assumed I’d dreamed up some of what I saw. Turns out I was awake: everyone dies in the first episode, which I thought I’d hallucinated, and in similar fashion to the rest of the franchise, dying was only the beginning of the adventure.
Last Encore blends cyberpunk and fantasy into phantasmagoria. Protagonist Hakuno Kishinami is killed and then pulled into a Holy Grail War, a tournament featuring reincarnations of historic warriors or “servants,” led by the Moon Cell, a supercomputer that has scanned the Earth and humanity since the dawn of time. Whether or not the people participating in this conflict are “real” or “alive” is something I’m unsure of, because the Moon Cell is capable of recreating reality via simulacrum. Their authenticity, as the servant Nero Claudius explains, is irrelevant. The characters are experiencing events and have willpower, or at least the impression of those things.
Because of the show’s dialogues on consciousness, and the surreal art direction by the inimitable SHAFT, I was reminded of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, a film I watched a dozen times as I wrote my undergraduate thesis. Animated by Production I.G., Innocence follows Batou and Togusa, counter-terrorism officers, as they investigate a series of gynoid suicides. The trail eventually leads them to Motoko Kusanagi, who abandoned life as a human to fuse with an A.I., because she no longer saw the difference between organic and synthetic souls in a world inundated with data. This blurring of ontology is highlighted when Togusa is fed hallucinations of the same event repeatedly, with each iteration ending more violently than the last, because even his minimally enhanced cyberbrain can be hacked.
In both Last Encore and Innocence, computers fulfill the function of sentient, organic beings. In a broad sense, I can see this as fulfillment of the Buddhist samsara, or rebirth cycle, where some aspect of a being is perpetuated according to its karma. I’d have to go find my scholarly thinking cap and explore the idea some more, because not everyone agrees that A.I. is capable of consciousness, and therefore cannot fall into the rebirth paradigm except through how such technology affects human karma. But season two of Last Encore is some months away, so there’s a lot of time to figure this out. Maybe I’ll send some tweets to Briah Ruh, the only Ghost in the Shell expert I know, to see what he thinks.