Like all good a lot of writers, I steal distill certain techniques and witticisms. In this case, I’m borrowing from Team Four Star: Someone better pick up that phone, because I f*cking called it. And by it, I mean how the current deal with autonomous cars is rapidly becoming like the anime eX-Driver.

When I first wrote that post, I had only a few pieces of evidence, and mainly talked about viruses and hacking. But now, with the power of expert opinion, I’m going to show how an anime could actually show a realistic portrayal of near-future society. And once again, I cannot believe I’m writing that sentence.

One of the main drivers (no pun intended) of eX-Driver’s story is the fact that modern society in the anime uses autonomous cars that are ordered via special kiosks. You walk right up, reserve the car you want based on who’s with you, and then tell the car once you’ve gotten in where you want to go. The car’ll even make restaurant reservations for you.

A close-up of the kiosk used in the show, as well as its location. Stills taken from eX-Driver Episode 1.

Once you’ve gotten to your destination, the car drives itself to a charging station, and waits for the next customer.

Advertisement

Charging station where the AI cars in the show park when you arrive. Stills taken from eX-Driver Episode 1.

With today’s well-connected world, having your car make restaurant reservations isn’t really that far-fetched. It’s the infrastructure that’s the biggest issue. I mean, just at the state of our roads and bridges in the States: it’s so bad it’s got European car execs foaming at the mouth.

Advertisement

And unless things change drastically in the political world, there won’t be a lot of changes too quickly, unless we (the voting public) do something about it. But that’s not actually the biggest hurdle here. Given enough programming and real-world testing, you could get an autonomous car to drive well on a bad road. It’s those charging stations and ordering kiosks. Yeah, you can borrow a bike via a kiosk, but a car?

Well, Tesla’s kind of got that covered. They’re already got a bunch of Supercharger stations built, and because the Model 3 is going to be fully compatible with them while being actually fairly cheap, it means that you’ve got the potential for a near-future taxi company to buy a ton of ‘em while having a great network of easily-accessible places for people to pick up and drop them off when they aren’t needed. Tesla’s thinking way long-term, and quite broadly, which is why the Model 3 is going to be a big game-changer.

Advertisement

Next, let’s take a look at the city that eX-Driver is set in. In the movie the main protagonists visit LA, but the show itself is set in a Japanese city. And just like many of today’s cities in Japan, traffic’s a bitch, and much of the surrounding area is urbanized. There’s tons of gridlock, but not a lot of bumper collisions. It’s only when there’s a glitch in the system that something goes screwy.

Wide shot of the city where the show takes place, and a view of traffic. Stills taken from eX-Driver Episodes 4 and 6.

Plus, while car sharing is the default system in place, car ownership is clearly still a thing, and not even by the eponymous eX-Driver team: one of the first “runaway” (screwy) cars shown is one that got illegally modified by two dudes who presumably own it.

Advertisement

This is actually in line with what a lot of experts are saying will happen if and when autonomous cars become the norm. Yes, car sharing will cut down on the number of cars on the road, but if people can just order a car whenever they want, they’ll be able to live farther from the city than before, which means the city will spread, and people will start buying personal cars to use when inevitably they’re running late to the office and (predictably) there isn’t a free car to request (plus, our modern, capitalist, keep-up-with-the-Joneses society will probably leave some leftover tendencies in the public consciousness for a while), which means traffic will get worse as a result. Though I imagine whatever Uber-like company gets in on this will probably make a killing from rush hour surge pricing.

Advertisement

And if you’re concerned that autonomous cars will mean the end of carmakers as a whole, don’t be. Yeah, many of them will have to merge—which should tickle Sergio Marchionne in a way most pleasing—but because the rented cars in eX-Driver are used so often, it means they’ll have to be repaired or replaced much faster than most privately owned cars are today. Someone’s still got to make these things, and while there will be some job loss, what with the increased use of robotic manufacturing, there’s always going to be a place for people in the car industry. This wasn’t really addressed in the show, but what viewer wants to hear about industrial strategy, eh?

I’m honestly impressed with Kosuke Fujishima, the mangaka who created eX-Driver. He thought up the concepts behind the OVA way back in 2000, a time before the iPod, let alone Tesla or autonomous cars. I don’t know what he thought his ode to automobiles was going to accomplish—beyond driving (I swear I’m not doing it on purpose) interest in classic cars—but I’m gonna bet it wasn’t predicting the future. Let’s just hope that we car enthusiasts can get on the short list of qualified eX-Drivers. Fighting vehicular crime in a Miata would just about make my life.