Anime and Manga: Ghost in the Shell

Sunday, May 17, 2015

I've been complaining about the lack of science-fiction before but that was more directed at the space travel genre in anime. Ghost in the Shell would the anime franchise most people would think of when thinking about anime or manga sci-fi. Not only did the Ghost in the Shell movie by Oshii Mamoru, released in 1995, introduce many people in the west to anime, or rather showed them that it wasn't just about toys and whatnot, but it also influenced many writers and movie makers.
Ghost in the Shell also has always been one of my favorite anime franchises and I also like the original manga by Masamune Shirow a lot. Though I have some things to say about what he did to his manga series later...
The bizarre thing about Ghost in the Shell is first, the series title is Koukaku Kidoutai, and "Ghost in the Shell" was the subtitle but everyone in the west knows it under the subtitle, and second; it never received a faithful adaptation but only 3 different versions as anime that has 3 different continuities, none following the original manga.

Ghost in the Shell mangaMasamune Shirow is pretty good example of what late 80's to mid 90's mangaka were. The art looks cartoonish but detailed, and the writing is a mix of laid back humour violence and other mature content. Pretty much all his manga were sci-fi/cyberpunk oriented and some received and anime adaptation. Some of his more famous works are known as Black Magic, Dominion Tank Police, Appleseed and of Koukaku Kidoutai: The Ghost in the Shell.
I found most of these enjoyable, specifically because of the cyberpunk setting and his artstyle, however, the latter is also one of the things I can't compliment him on anymore as much. At some point, Masamume Shirow apparently couldn't get hold of his inner pervert and started working on something what is frankly just porn. The main problem here is that he uses a certain artsyle that I can't stand, because the body proportions changed a lot compared to his "original" style, they are all weirdly colored and characters look greased up. The reason why that's a problem is because he inserted sex scenes into Koukaku Kidoutai which suddenly switch to that style for a few panels. The two sequel manga feature a lot more colored pagesin that style, specifically Koukaku Kidoutai 2: Manmachine Interface which is half coloured pages, half black and white inking. However he also adjusted those "classic" panels to the new style, which when not a porn scene, doesn't really stop from getting girls into positions that show their underwear. I know that sex or erotic can kind of be considered a theme for the franchise or rather the genre, but it's different having a naked Kusanagi Motoko or having her wear something sexy or just adding upksirt shots. The mentality and focus is different. Which is pretty weird considering that the subject matter doesn't really fall flat in the both manga sequels by Shirow.

Appleseed mangaAnyway, neither Appleseed nor the first GitS manga really feature much of that so there's no point in not checking those out (avoid the Appleseed anime, all of them).
I would say Appleseed's content is a bit more fancy cyberpunk, because the female protagonist, Deunan, has a relationship with her partner Briareos. Both a part of a special police force but Briareos happens to be fully cyberized, to the extent that his body is almost completely artificial, making him look like a robot. However he isn't actually metal and can bleed. This is part of what makes Shirow's sci-fi interesting, rather than always forcing a heavy philosophical question directly or through proxy, he presents something like cop stories and mysteries which just happen to be in a cyberpunk setting and automatically make you think about existential questions, ethics, politics, social sci-fi and all that.
Ghost in the Shell mangaKoukaku Kidoutai was no different; a series of cases which sometimes raised philosophical or sociopolitical questions by default. I do appreciate how lowkey and casual a lot of the sci-fi in Ghost in the Shell are presented. But that might be due to the Cyberpunk flair. But most noteworthy would be the development towards the end where the philosophical topic becomes the main subject and focus, after Kusanagi Motoko already encountered many cases that might have started her questioning her own existence, artificial intelligence and the question of what the "Ghost" is.
Her body is fully cyberized as well, however it's imitating a human body. But if it's damaged, she's gets a new shell. Her conscious is already unbound to a body, or at least her brain is. But in this world, everyone gets cyber implant for the brain, which basically turns the brain into device compatible with other technology or even brains. They can create an intranet or browse the internet and pretty much everything could be connected.
The last chapter of the original manga is what we know as the Ghost in the Shell (which basically used one of the early chapters and the last one). It is more humorous overall and features cases similar to the Stand Alone episodes in the SAC series, but the encounter with the Puppet Master AI in the manga is probably more complicated than any of its adaptations.

Oshii's movies focus is on a single philosophical subject, so he chose to make the Ghost in the Shell anime movie feature a Kusanagi Motoko already in the state of debating about her own Ghost and existence. It is a serious movie and onpoint.
Stand Alone Complex takes a route that is a bit more similar to the manga, in which we have a mix of individual cases (that may or may not connected in some way), and an overarching story that is either philosophical centered, poltical centered or both. There is however no connection to the manga continuity or the first movie and Motoko's character changed a little bit in personality and style yet again. But we get to see more focus on the other members of Section 9 and Motoko isn't the center of the plot anymore.
SAC builds its on world or version that doesn't really add to Shirow's world, and I would say that Oshii's movie does, considering that it still is an adaptation of the manga.
SAC attempted its own version of the Puppet Master arc in form of the Solid State Society movie, which was fine but kept the attitude of the series which didn't focus on our main characters' "Ghosts" but rather presented us another case to solve.
Oshii later created Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence which is kind of based on Shirow's manga Koukaku Kidoutai 1.5: Human-Error Processer (not a typo). But it's not really an adaptation anymore, it just presents a story that showcases what happens after the Puppet Master arc. Shirow's version is simply more focused on Batou and Section 9, since Motoko is nowhere to be found. Oshii's did a similar thing but instead of writing dialogue, he had them keep citing quotes which made the movie rather dull. It should be noted that he wrote the story concept for SAC 2nd GIG, which I consider to be better as whole than the first season. It should also be mentioned that both Oshii movies are an impressive display of japanese animation work.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise is the newest anime entry and like a said, it can bee seen as a prequel to the Oshii universe but it's unclear. It does retcon SAC so that connection is out of the question. The studio has stated that Shirow is contributing on Arise, and it should also be noted that Kazuchika Kise worked as key animator on the movie from 1995 and SAC and is now directing Arise.

In my opinion, Arise contributes a lot on its own especially when watching back to back or rewatching. We just have to see the 4 movies as one storyline, which would be similar to the many versions of the Puppet Master arcs (SSS ect). Since it can be seen as a somewhat prequel to the Oshii universe,  it seems fitting that we're getting a "younger" Motoko in Arise (her design is supposed to resemble Oshii's) which is similar to the a bit more lively personality of Motoko from the manga. She's still entirely different, since the anime has always been more serious, but it makes sense to have the team encounter some various cases that are not entirely meant to be a philosophical dilemma, more just a mystery case. But due to its setting and characters, some questions about society and technology rise automatically, which it does in Arise as well. Her relationship with Batou and Apeface resemble the manga much more than before and her "new" model from the 2015 seems to be one we know from 1995, except with different hair color. If I remember correctly, colored covers from manga depicted her hair sometimes as purple, brown or black, so Oshii chose the most realistic option back then.

In the 3rd Arise OVA, Motoko is seen in relationship with a guy (which isn't new), it was a very important part in the series for me.
Just days before watching it, I was thinking about the series and wondered about how people approach living as a cyborg, if they recreate human functions like eating or even physical feeling or even sex. And it actually did answer those questions.
To explain, we see her engage in lesbian relationship in almost all Ghost in the Shell version, because that's how it works in the future. They usually engage in sex by connecting their brains and usually it all plays out in their heads together.
Because your brain has to compute the other ones, it's easier to do it with the same sex as yours, otherwise you basically have to deal with the unknown feelings of your partner (theoretically your brain can reproduce or simulate feelings that you have never experienced or can't because you're not male for example, but it's just easier to so with a same sex partner. It's like knowing what it's like to wag your tail if you had one yourself.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise

The first Arise OVA was a bit weird especially when watching it the first time with no context to the later plot, but it actually was decent as well. They just didn't really bring the point across how weird altered memories are and that Motoko was basically living like the character from the movie Memento.
The second Arise OVA wasn't great because of the silly CGI and highway scenes. They kind of forced the AI with a "ghost" into it too which didn't leave any impact but I suppose this was actually meant as character development for Motoko again. She mentions how much she dislikes AI that fakes personality after that, but it must have been her first encounter with something that would later wouldn't start leaving her mind and questions her own existence until the Puppet Master arc.
The 4th Arise OVA was just decent overall. In its entirety, Arise was better than quite a few SAC episodes.

Kusanagi Motoko comparison
I also like Motoko's new design, it looks modern and fits the setting. It looks similar to Oshii's Motoko but only slightly militarized (short bangs and clear ears for gas masks are rules in military, not sure if her entire hair style is valid or if it even applies to cyborgs). We even get a Batou x Motoko relationship that is closer to Shirow's manga. The romance with a guy isn't new, I don't remember where it was, but I remember an entire chapter that had her dating someone dude, and even if not, how in the world is that a bad thing. It just adds to her character, unless people really expect her to be an emotionless robot or hardcore soldier who just gets the job done. That would ruin the entirety of "Ghost in the Shell", which is basically just a series about existential crisis.

The Arise manga focuses on "Sleepless Eye", which is Batou's nickname and starts with some events prior to the anime and shows later events from the anime from Batou's point of view.
There is also a SAC light novel and a SAC manga released in 2009 which I might briefly review someday when I read it. It supposedly has a slightly different story. I might also delve into each individual entry of the franchise in detail, since it's one of my favorites. A new theatrical Arise movie will be released later this year which is supposed to tie Arise with the 1995 movie and there is also a Hollywood abomination in the making, so we can look forward to that...

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