One of the most interesting trends that I have seen in recent anime is the rise of the use of smartphones. In a country where i-mode and feature phones rule the roost, the history of the mobile telecommunications industry in Japan is a fascinating case study; the early development and adoption of the country’s mobile infrastructure was so advanced and socially sufficient that by the time smartphones started their ascension throughout the rest of the world, Japan has had no particular need to join the bandwagon.

In anime, this prominent aspect of culture in real life is portrayed appropriately, with characters mostly using the iconic razor-style flip-phone, probably with accompanying decorations and dongles. Look no further than 2011’s Steins;Gate, set in the heart of Tokyo’s Akihabara, which uses the text-message functionality of Okabe Rintaro’s cell phone to change the future and affect countless parallel timelines.

Times have changed, however, and 2012 has seen a massive shift in the mobile industry in Japan. As recent as February of this year, smartphones finally became the leading source of mobile phone sales, edging out the incumbent feature phone. While the emergence of smartphones may persist and finally become the leading mode of telecommunication in Japan in the future, we are finally starting to see its penetration in anime as well.

Sengoku Collection

Still using the default twittor client, Seiichi? Might want to switch to Twootdeck instead!

It makes sense that smartphones appear in Sengoku Collection. After all, the show itself is an adaptation of a mobile social networking game of the same name. Its appearance is rather brief, but is utilized rather interestingly in the show. The main character, generic everyman Seiichi Ota, makes a tweet on his phone after having to deal with spending a day with a manic pixie dream girl version of Oda Nobunaga. The feisty feudal femme has been a huge drag on his everyday lifestyle, and he resorts to his phone as an outlet for the stress that built up over the course of a day, as well as the trouble that is to come.

This little moment has a lot going for it in regards to how well an audience can relate to it. It’s no secret that the Internet has become fully absorbed in social media and social networking that something as mundane as making a ragetweet or something equivalent has yet been depicted in fictional media, let alone Japanese fictional media. Placing this scene in the context of the outrageous premise of chickified sengoku characters makes for an interesting contrast that really made the show stand out when it could have very well been a quick drop for most viewers. Being produced by Brains Base doesn’t hurt, either.

Polar Bear Cafe

It is perfectly safe for animals to handle smartphones; the screens are made of Gorilla glass, after all.

If you want to talk mundane, look no further than Polar Bear Cafe, where the most ridiculous is commonplace, starting with the very social coexistence of animals with humans in what appears to be a normal world similar to our own. The setting and mood of the show is as fluffy as some of the critters that it stars. In last week’s episode, we saw an entire bit devoted to the usage of smartphones by the cast. Penguin shows off his phone, but is unable to use it. However, the other animals’ prowress of smartphone usage are a sight to behold, Llama’s tongue dexterity being perhaps the most impressive.

What fascinates me about this particular example is that the whole concept of a smartphone is mentioned explicitly. Characters refer to the device via loanword, and discuss it fairly matter-of-factly, and even manage to sell the idea of owning a smartphone to one of the main characters, Panda. Many common features of smartphones, including capacitive touchscreens, pages upon pages of apps, mapping, and weather widgets are put on show for Panda to swoon over; however, the selling point for him is that of the personalized protective case.

Of note, the only human present in the scene, Sasako, is the only character that doesn’t own a smartphone.

Space Brothers

In the year 2025, Japan finally adopts the smartphone as its mobile device of choice.

It’s a bit weird mentioning Space Brothers as an example of an anime that utilizes smartphones, given the fact that not only does the show take place in the year 2025, and that the replacement phone that Mutta purchases still utilizes what looks like number keys on the front face. The keys could actually be for texting, like Blackberry phones, but the android-like interface and metro-style fonts of the phone itself make for a strange combination.

The reason why I mention Space Brothers is due to a humourous incident that took place in a previous episode where Mutta drops his phone in the toilet and accidentally flushes it away. The interesting part about this particular event is that Mutta isn’t screwed until the phone actually goes down the drain and is lost forever. Had the toilet not flushed automatically, it is most likely that he would have been able to save it with minimal damage. After all, waterproofing is a standard selling point in cellular phones in Japan, and smartphones are no different. As recently as this year, Japanese phone manufactures have managed to develop waterproof smartphones:

“In Japan, you can’t sell a phone if it’s not waterproof. About 90 to 95 percent of all phones sold now are already waterproof,” Panasonic executive Taro Itakura told AFP at the Mobile World Congress.

“Why? This is very unique — young Japanese women prefer to use their cellphones even when taking their showers,” Itakura said.

Forget about going to the moon. Waterproof phones are the real deal when it comes to futuristic technology.

Black Rock Shooter

It’s a cute android-esque homescreen, but does her phone have Ice Cream Sandwich?

For the most part, I did not like Black Rock Shooter. The single feature that it had that kept me watching throughout the series’ run is the intense animation and combat choreography during the action scenes, which were far and few in between at times. Regardless, this particular scene in episode 1 caught my eye, when the main character, Kuro Matoi, takes particular interest in Yomi Takanashi due to having seen the design of her smartphone’s homescreen. It contains the cover of a picture book titled Kotori Tori, in which both girls share a common interest.

This scene in particular made me think about the customizability of phones today, and that something as simple as a phone wallpaper can serve as a conversation starter, regardless of whether or not the individual taking interest in the phone can recognize its contents. As expected of a PreCure fan, I currently have Erika Kurumi/Cure Marine as my current wallpaper. I chose it particularly because of my fondness for the blue colour scheme, though I would be surprised if I ran into someone randomly on the street and they immediately recognized the character in question.

Then again, I’d be surprised if I actually went out often enough for that to actually happen.

 Tsuritama

Even Tsuritama has bought into the smartphone craze, hook line and sinker.

From one Noitamina title to another, Tsuritama is the last of several series that I’ve noticed recently that incorporated the use of smartphones into their stories. In episode 2, the socially inept Yuki Sanada takes a rather high-definition picture of a lure that he finally learned to tied properly. He shows the picture to aloof fishing prince Natsuki Asami to prove his worth as a pupil of fishing tutelage. Yuki earns Natsuki’s approval in the first of several fishing tests, which will probably go a long way towards…saving the world somehow. This show is pretty weird, but I fucking love it.

Either way, Yuki’s smartphone is depicted above in a very interesting fashion, since the angle of the shot allows the picture preview on the phone to blend in with the rest of the background. It’s a really nice touch, considering how wonderful the art style is in the show. The palette is vivid and surreal in usage, but amidst all of that is a fairly standard and recognizable picture of a smartphone taking pictures. Super cool.

The Future of Smartphones in Anime

I admit that I don’t have the requisite wizard hat and crystal ball to forecast the future full integration of smartphones into Japanese mobile culture, but I would be pleased if that were the case. The look and feel of a smartphone gives the user a sensation of power, as a wealth of functions are avaialable in the palm of his or her hands. As we’ve seen in anime, the flip-style phone has a notable presence in series with modern settings, and can serve as very intriguing plot devices. With the addition of smartphones and their numerous functions, the possibilities for weaving them into plots can serve as a step forward for new and strangely interesting stories.

Bonus: Tablets in Saki Episode of Side-A

Watching Mahjong tournament streams? There’s an app for that.

As per Omo’s request in the comments section below, I have added a special bonus section on tablets in the new Saki series, featuring another tech-savvy electronic device reliant on similar data infrastructures as smartphones. The girls team from Senriyama High School, by virtue of being a seeded entry in the national high school tournament for team mahjong, make use of their reprieve to observe the matches of the teams that they are set to face in the upcoming round. They use tablets to browse the recorded match history, which are capable of interfacing with the television in their hotel room.

This type of tablet functionality isn’t entirely out of the question for hotels. Right now, LodgeNet, a company specializing in prividing hotel room television content, have already integrated an application that allows users to interface with hotel televisions using their device of choice, whether that be a smartphone or tablet. Whether or not this exact type of service is what is being depicted in Saki, but the functionality is there, and the novelty of it is quite indicative of the rapid integration of these devices into everyday life. For a show like this, set in the not-too-distant future, it can certainly give off a feeling of slight futurism, but we’re a lot closer to it than we think.

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16 thoughts on “3G in 2D: Smartphones and 2012 Anime

  1. The Japanese have technically advanced feature phones for a long time… but I think Smartphones has finally caught up mostly because they are basically minicomputers with the same functionality, but extendable. Given that the advancements of mobile technology is growing quickly, we probably see smartphones more advanced in Anime that sports LTE. But it does remind us how much technology plays a big role in our lives.

    • I’m what those tech blogs would consider a “power user” with regards to smartphones; I have to bring a charger with me to work just so that it doesn’t run out of batteries throughout the day (that’s a complaint that probably doesn’t belong in this reply, but I digress). I wouldn’t say that it defines my life, but it plays a huge role in it for sure.

      And it’s not just in anime that I’m particularly excited about in regards to smartphones as plot device or whatnot. It’s all fiction in general. Anime just happens to draw smartphones in a really quirky yet aesthetically pleasing way, like in Tsuritama.

  2. It always interests me to see how the use of communication technology develops and shifts over time in fiction. Like, a bunch of classic misunderstanding-type stories are totally unbelievable because of cell phones. Things like that. Technology keeps writers on their toes.

    • Except sometimes, they just disregard it entirely for the sake of generating drama. And that makes me a very angry panda.

  3. Another recent example is Karen’s phone in Nisemonogatari, which looks like it’s an iPhone variant: http://yfrog.com/jwr229j. Given that Karen Bee starts on a Saturday, July 29, it’s clear that Nisio originally intended for it to take place in 2006. However, since the iPhone didn’t come out until 2007, that leaves 2017 as the earliest year in which it took place. Which makes the level of technology in that show rather out of place.

    An older example is Saten’s clear iPhone knockoff in A Certain Scientific Railgun from 2009-2010.

    • I didn’t follow Nisemonogatari when it aired, but the fact that it aired this year definitely helps reinforce the trend that I noticed. From my limited knowledge of the show, I can sort of see Karen being the type of person to carry that kind of device. The probability of the show taking place in 2006 is more likely than 2017 given the level of technology in the show. However, one must take into account that the novels were written (’06? ’07?) before the series was animated (’09), and may, depending on the explicit content in the novels, not have mentioned Karen using a smartphone at all, and was a visual touch added in the anime when it was adapted later on.

      • Well yeah, I’ve read the novels, and they never specify what models or types of cell phones that characters use. I was commenting on how the visual touch that Shaft added also introduced an anachronism.

      • SHAFT really likes to pack in the pseudo-anachronisms. Madoka is one such example. I used to think that digital whiteboards were a thing of the future, but as it turns out, we use one at work for employee training purposes. It’s actually quite amazing!

  4. I feel like an old lady now since even though I do own a smartphone, I don’t do much with it except for calling and texting. Then again, most of the technology comes from Japan (now they have that motion detected television right?) so I am actually glad that they incorporated it into the anime instead of giving the west all the credits.

    • It’s actually really funny, actually, since I only use mine for twitter. Maybe I’ve used it as a GPS maybe once or twice, but that’s about it. The great thing is that the tools are there when you need it. It truly is a swiss army knife of electronics. I’d use mine for e-mail more if I could get my damn gmail account to update more frequently/properly!

  5. I think I’ve seen the very first 3G phone in anime from DRRR care of Izaya. I was actually surprised since we all know Japs love the clamshell design, but wow, I haven’t noticed that it has become this apparent. (To think I actually own a clamshell phone because of anime, oh dear…)

    • DRRR was 2010, I think? iPhones have been out since 2007, according to lvlln, so the delay in product penetration there seems to make sense. Clamshell/flip designs are pretty great, as I owned one of those types of phones for a long while before I finally made a switch over to a smartphone. But before doing so, I still ended up using a sliding keyboard cell phone for a small while once my flip phone got old and started wearing down. My only regret was that I never owned one of those motorola razr phones back in the day. Those were some hot items right there.

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