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AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying

These days, it seems like there’s nothing AI programs can’t do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital “face-offs” with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.

What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?

Playing over Metro Boomin’s rap remix of the famous “I am the one who knocks” monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, “Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can’t wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this.”

Despite the hype, the anime images in the video look like something one would see after taking a hit of some of Heisenberg’s “Blue Sky. To be fair, the digital art by itself is pretty good, especially considering an AI program made it. However, it’s rather jarring to see Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Gus Fring, and so many other iconic characters from the live-action show remade as anime drawings. Usually, when this happens, it’s the other way around.

An imperfect art

An anime version of Jesse Pinkman in an AI version of Breaking Bad.

There has been plenty of controversy over the increasing popularity of AI-generated art, as people fear that such a practice will eventually replace human artists, leaving them without jobs and robbing the world of true creativity. One could say that they’re worried that AI will become “the one who knocks.” This fear is best summed up by another TikTok user who commented about the idea of using an AI to create a Breaking Bad anime: “To have the capability would be amazing, but I wouldn’t want to watch a show made purely by AI, without any human intervention at all … imo.”

Though AI art generators are quite remarkable and efficient, in the end, there is no replacing human artists. Artificial intelligence can sometimes be prone to human error without any true awareness of the problem, so the art doesn’t always come out right. Case in point: when recreating Walter and Jesse in their trademark yellow hazmat suits, the program gave them what looks like pilot uniforms from Mobile Suit Gundam. On top of that, the anime Saul Goodman looks more like the love child of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Michael Bluth from Arrested Development than the real deal.

If the purpose is to faithfully recreate the original, then Breaking Bad AI has failed. If the goal here is to create something dramatically different from the source material, then why do it at all? This work obviously violates copyrighted work, is not sufficiently funny enough to warrant parody status, and just exists because … it can. Did Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan ask for this? Probably not. What if he feels the artificially intelligent work undermines his original vision? Does the opinion of the original artist matter when someone uses AI to make another work of art based on their creation? There’s seemingly no point to Breaking Bad AI, other than to scare people about the advances of technology.

A harbinger of the future?

An anime version of Walter White in Breaking Bad.

And scare it does. It’s somewhat unsettling that a computer program can now realistically recreate the human body so quickly. People managing these AI artists should, as Walter would say, “tread lightly,” as there’s a point where animation ventures too deep into the uncanny valley.

Unfortunately, some of these anime drawings are right on the edge of that dreaded territory, as Walter and Gus’s hands look more like actual human hands than the rest of their bodies. It’s as if the computer chopped off the hands of real people and pasted them onto these anime drawings, which is a little creepy.

While obviously made with good intentions and a lighthearted spirit, this AI-produced collection of Breaking Bad anime is both technically amazing and borderline terrifying. What other works are ripe for unofficial “remaking”? And will those remakes, set loose in the wilds of the internet and social media, surpass the original? Or does this represent an opportunity for artists to test out their creative skills and workshop projects to the public to see if they work or not.

Thanks to this fan art, people now know what a Breaking Bad anime would look like. And looking at the enthusiastic feedback left in the video’s comments section, it’s clear that plenty of audiences would tune in to watch it. It remains to be determined if whether or not that’s a good thing or not.

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