He looms over Night City, and the world, like an anime villain wreathed in purple fire. He’s survived WWII, the Cold War, and four Corporate Wars. His name conjures right alongside Oda Nobunaga and Hatori Hanzo for ruthlessness and ambition. He is Saburo Arasaka, veteran, businessman, and would-be shogun of a reborn Empire of Japan. And, if a passing reference in today’s Night City Wire is to be believed, he’s still alive.
Sharp eared fans probably heard the line from Jackie Wells, “Saburo Arasaka is on top,” during the Corpo Lifepath tease. Which is a good trick, since that would mean Saburo Arasaka has recently celebrated his 158th birthday, given the Cyberpunk lore canon which indicates he was born in 1919. How could have this have happened?
A brief recap for those who haven’t dug into the setting lore from the tabletop RPG: Saburo Arasaka was very much the man in charge of Arasaka Corporation even at the age of 101 (Cyberpunk 2020 “started” in 2020). While his son Kei was officially CEO and the face of Arasaka, Saburo was calling all the shots. He hadn’t gone full cyborg, but he’d certainly had at least some prosthetics added to compensate for injuries sustained in WWII as a fighter pilot. Saburo kept to himself inside a family compound in Japan, confined to a powered wheelchair, receiving few if any visitors. He would have been 104 at the time of the Night City Holocaust (as described in Cyberpunk RED) when a tactical nuke destroyed Arasaka Towers and led to Arasaka’s charters being revoked, with Saburo and Kei both being declared terrorists by the US government. Kei Arasaka suffered a fate worse than death, imprisoned in a Soulkiller module by netrunner Spider Murphy (detailed in the “Firestorm: Shockwave” adventure). But Saburo seemingly avoided any severe consequences for his actions.
A note in the Cyberpunk RED Jumpstart Worldbook timeline mentions that the Japanese government almost collapsed in 2025, the result of repudiating Arasaka Corporation and fumigating the bureaucracy of anybody who held any sympathies for (or loyalties to) the company or Saburo himself. This would lead to Arasaka being reduced in prestige and power, staying in Japan for the next decade or so, and leading to a three-way factional fight between Saburo’s remaining son Yorinobu, his only daughter Hanako, and his granddaughter Michiko. By the time of Cyberpunk RED, Arasaka is back in Night City, albeit covertly, hidden behind shells and fronts. This means by the time of Cyberpunk 2077, and if they’re operating openly in Night City, they’ve been “reformed” enough to avoid attracting unwanted attention from government entities. That doesn’t mean, however, that Saburo completely stopped playing his usual games. The Night City Wire stream shows a billboard mentioning how an Arasaka bodyguard “heroically” stopped an assassination attempt on the Emperor of Japan in 2067. Still, since Saburo pictures himself as a shogun, somebody who would be superior to the Emperor in terms of usable power, it’s not unrealistic to think Saburo arranged the assassination attempt himself to help burnish Arasaka’s corporate image.
So how has Saburo Arasaka managed to beat the Reaper for coming up on sixteen decades? Right now, it’s unknown, but a few possibilities suggest themselves.
- Master of Puppets – If anybody could be described as a puppet master, Saburo Arasaka fits the bill perfectly. But suppose he’s decided to take the term literally? Saburo might very well not have a body at this point, at least not on any permanent basis. Given Arasaka Corporation’s work on stealing and improving the Soulkiller program in the 2020s, it’s entirely possible that a customized version was explicitly created for Saburo. Such an option could allow him to not only cheat death when his body died but interface with lifelike “doll” bodies if anybody ever came to visit him in person or use elaborate VR and braindance methods to conduct remote interactions without anybody being the wiser. Or Saburo might have taken a page from his enemies and put himself into a cryogenic life support chamber, much as netrunner Rache Bartmoss did, conducting all of his business over Net connections without anybody ever physically seeing him.
- The Kagemusha Gambit – Between biosculpt and prosthetic implants, there’s nothing physically impossible with reviving one of the oldest tricks in the book: using a double. Find some poor schlub down on his luck, offer him a job, tell him all he has to do is pretend to be Saburo Arasaka for quarterly board and shareholder meetings. Depending on how elaborate (or paranoid) Arasaka wanted to get, they could theoretically use existing medical technologies to grow an epidermis from Saburo’s cells, creating a biological chimera. Of course, the trick would be making sure the double didn’t spill the beans, but Saburo likely would have planned for that contingency. Though if it’s not really Saburo sitting there, where is the real one?
- The Phoenix Protocol – Author George Alec Effinger described in his “Budayeen” novels how the enigmatic Friedlander Bey managed to live past 200. The entire slum district he controlled was his potential organ bank. Saburo Arasaka might very well have come up with something similar, only he’s got all of Japan and possibly other sections of the western Pacific Rim to choose from. Or, if he was proving uncharacteristically squeamish about organ harvesting of that nature, he might well have set up mechanisms in place to grow new organs, replacing them one by one as the originals failed, knowing he’s got an effectively unlimited supply as long as his money holds out.
It’s entirely possible players will get the chance to discover at least part of the truth about Saburo Arasaka’s inexplicable longevity. After all, his son Yorinobu (no longer a young bosozoku anymore) is working to destroy the company from the inside. If anybody’s going to beat the old man at the long game, his only remaining son may be the best bet. We’ll know for sure after the game drops on November 19.