It's Ghost in the Shell. I'd never before made it all the way through any Ghost in the Shell. There's a lot of it and it's historically important, being a landmark both in cyberpunk and Western conceptions of anime. The Wachowskis have called it the inspiration for their Matrix films.
Personally I'm not crazy about it, but I'm glad I've finally slugged my way through some of it. Here's an outline of the franchise to date and its different continuities.
- 1. Masamune Shirow's original manga (1989+)
- 2. The original 1995 film and its 2004 sequel, Innocence.
- 3. Stand Alone Complex (2002+): two TV series (52 episodes), two movie-length OVAs and a 2006 movie.
- 4. Arise (2013+): four OVAs that got re-edited into this ten-episode TV series, plus a 2015 sequel movie.
- 5. The Hollywood live-action film (2017).
The franchise as a whole is best known for chilly cyberpunk, action and philosophising. The main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is a female cyborg in charge of a covert military task-force that investigates cybercrime. Her men are cyborgs too. That's not a big deal in the year 2027. Some of them have glowing zombie eyes and they can really tear up the joint if they start hitting each other.
The show's main problem as far as I'm concerned is the lack of a human angle. Everyone might as well be investigation machines. I suppose technically they are and that's probably a deliberate thematic thing, since they're cyborgs, but ironically the show's one charming, laugh-out-loud character is 100% robotic, being a gigantic spider-crab vehicle with legs called a Logicoma (derived from "Logistics Conveyor Machine"). Unlike everyone else, the Logicoma has positive emotional reactions. It says "oooh". It reacts with surprise. It's happy and chirpy about not getting blown up. I loved the Logicoma and I don't think I'd have made it through these episodes without it.
(Logicoma is voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro, who also played Shinku in Rozen Maiden. My mind has just been blown. I think Logicoma might be only in Arise, but the rest of the franchise has other childlike multi-legged tanks instead.)
The humans, on the other hand, are dour unsmiling grumps who snarl orders at each other. Sometimes they get involved in spectacular action scenes. Interestingly I didn't think it worked when the show tried to undercut this, e.g. with Motoko's love life in eps.7-8. It's mildly surprising that she's capable of having sex, but more importantly I never really believed that the romance mattered. It's Motoko in Ghost in the Shell! She's got the warmth of a boa constrictor and the show's priority is clearly to show that the world is unpleasant, that governments perpetrate evil and that everything's basically about people being shitty to each other.
This TV series contains five two-parters. The first four are the same as the Arise OVAs, while the fifth is original and leads into The New Movie (2015).
1-2: Ghost Stands Alone
Lots of innocent people get killed by bad guys who felt like putting a bullet in something warm. There's a big Wizard of Oz motif. Hacking is dangerous, water shortages recently caused a Qhardistani War and computer programmers are practically imprisoned under rigid state control. It's all fairly uninvolving.
3-4: Ghost Pain
The best thing about this story is the mobile land mines. Imagine a platinum blonde who won't stop running towards you and wants nothing more than a big hug. Now imagine that once she's locked her arms and legs around you, her face opens up and triggers a detonation sequence. Boom. You're dead. These mines generally seem have the intelligence of beetles, but I enjoyed one brief suggestion that there might be more to them than that. What if those mines were sentient? This isn't a particularly philosophical series, certainly compared with other Ghost in the Shell anime, but there's still room for thoughts like that.
5-6: Ghost Whispers
My favourite of these two-parters. It's a prequel that will end up showing how Motoko recruited her Unit 501 subordinates, at a time when they seemed to be terrorists. We thus have antagonists who are actually quite fun, led by a mastermind who's more sympathetic than the heroes. I wanted him to win. He wants to open Pandora's Box and expose lots of war crimes. Sounds good to me. All this is wrapped in some spectacular action sequences, including machine-guns blowing up the wrong car on the motorway and the correct way of negotiating with an enemy helicopter. (It involves a rocket launcher.)
The Logicoma was making me laugh too. Obviously it ends in cynicism and the bloody corruption of ideals, but at least it's doing so in a fairly satisfying way that I didn't see coming.
7-8: Ghost Tears
Motoko gets a boyfriend. There are only two or three possible endings for this story, given the shape of the franchise. The results are predictable.
9-10: Pyrophoric Cult
I had a thought about that optical camouflage. If you're a cyborg with configurable vision and head-up displays that can analyse anything you see, surely you can neutralise camouflage like that? Just set your neural software to run some Photoshop filters and enhance the bad guys' images?
There's also fanservice. That's ironic, since this must be one of the least sensual shows in existence. It's as sexy as an exploited refugee getting a bullet through his head for the profit of a megacorporation. Nonetheless we have Motoko chasing baddies in her underwear and so on. Distracting to the point of annoyance, though, is her military commander, Kurutsu... who has big boobs and always lets her shirt hang open down to her navel, with no bra. Goodness knows what she wears when she's off-duty. I can't call that unrealistic because presumably that's what fashion's like in the year 2027, but I found it eye-rolling and I didn't see anyone else dressing like that.
I've been pretty negative about this series, but it's okay. It does its job. If you like cyberpunk with lots of violence, action, hacking and slimy authority figures, this should tick your boxes. For me, though, it was just sort of there. Will I watch the film? I'm not sure. Maybe. It's only 100 minutes. If I do, though, it'll be from completism and at most mild curiosity, rather than because I give a damn.