Holy Akira! It's Aeon Flux

Article excerpt

HUSHIDOR MORTEZAIE IS bored with being human. He's ready to mutate. He's got a tattoo on his leg of a battery pack and a bar code stamped MADE IN JAPAN. He's had a nose job, some lipo. His close-cropped hair changes color like a mood ring. Even among the freaky salesclerks he works with at Patricia Field--a store servicing the fashion fetishes of New York's downtown club scene--Hushi sticks out. In his Japanese clogs and plaid Bermudas, he doesn't just look like a cartoon. He wants to be one. Not just any cartoon: a Japanese cartoon like Speed Racer or Astro Boy! He's getting contact lenses that'll simulate little 'toon twinkles in the corners of his eyes. "That black sparkle," Hushi says. "To me, it's the ultimate in being a posthuman android."

OK, so maybe this kid's not your typical 23-year-old. But he is typical of something: the Japanimation invasion. Imported by cultists since the '60s, Japanese animation, or "anime," is infiltrating the mainstream. Michael Jackson's "Scream" video lifts images from the anime (pronounced ANNI-may) classic "Akira." Next month, two Japanese children's shows, "Sailor Moon" and "Dragon Ball," will hit Saturday-morning TV here and could ignite the next big merchandising frenzy this Christmas. Anime videos sold in the $75 million range last year. They've become an emblem of cool, with club kids like Hushi obsessing over anime-inspired attire. And this week, MTV debuts "Aeon Flux," an anime-influenced sci-fi serial about a fatal femme with a killer bod and matching attitude.

Ms. Flux wasn't born bad: she's just drawn that way. Minimally clad in black leather, this dominatrix warrior's harsh beauty nicely complements the cruel waste-land she calls home. "Aeon" was created by Korean-American Peter Chung, but most of the animation is done in Japan. It's typical of the adult-oriented anime that's grabbed American fans: postapocalyptic, violent, intensely sexual. "Japna's animated futuristic fantasies carry on a mad love affair with the threats--and possibilities--of technology," observed a recent article in Wired magazine, the techno-bible. Anime may be finally taking off here because America is finally catching up to Japan's postindustrial socety. We've consumed their cars and camcorders for years. We love their hardware; now we're ready for the pop-cultural software that goes with it. What they're sending us is a weird hybrid of "Blade Runner," H. P. Lovecraft and Godzilla, only with characters that look like extras from "The Archies." Little pug noses. Big round Western eyes with that posthuman sparkle.

Stalking monster: MTV saw the anime monster stalking America a year ago. "Aeon Flux" was getting heavy response as part of MTV's "Liquid Television," the animation grab bag that spawned "Beavis and Butt-head." And "Speed Racer" had become the network's late-night staple. First shown in this country in 1967, this mind-numbingly repetitive Japanese cartoon about a boy and his car is a nostalgia fix for Gen-X viewers and a brand-new trip for Generation Y. Some of the younger kids might also have watched "Robotech," a Japanese-based series about F-14 fighters that transformed into robots and set off the "transformer" toy mania of the mid-'80s. …