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Table of contents:
0:00 – Introduction
1:08 – Ghost in the Shell (Manga)
7:26 – Ghost in the Shell (Movie)
10:45 – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Subfranchise)
23:06 – Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
24:23 – Ghost in the Shell 2.0
35:24 – Ghost in the Shell: Arise (Subfranchise)
Hardcore Gaming 101 article about the video games: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/gits/gits1.htm
ghostlightning’s posts about the Tachikomas:
Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell is among the largest and most influential anime and manga franchises of the past twenty-five years. In this video, I will analyze, compare, and detail each part of this franchise chronologically, in as great a depth as I can manage.
The Ghost in the Shell franchise can be confusing to navigate for newcomers, as each iteration is its own separate entity, even though they all share a number of commonalities. While the film series, the TV series, the OVA series, and each of the spin-offs related to these, can all be called adaptations of the original manga, each of them offers a different take on the source material, to the point that they all stand alone as their own works within the Ghost in the Shell complex. In the afterword of the original manga’s most recent publication, Masamune Shirow himself declares that there is no one definitive version of Ghost in the Shell, and that each version should be thought of individually.
Manga artist Masamune Shirow started his career in the early eighties drawing self-published cyberpunk series Black Magic. His first major published work was Appleseed in 1985, followed by Dominion Tank Police in ‘86, and Ghost in the Shell in ‘89. By the time Ghost in the Shell began publication, all of Shirow’s other works had received anime OVA adaptations, so it’s probably safe to say that he was fairly popular by the time of Ghost in the Shell’s release.
Featuring striking character art, gorgeously detailed cyberpunk backgrounds, and no shortage of full color illustrations, Shirow’s manga is a feast for the eyes. I would say as well that his sense of panel layouts and pacing improves dramatically over the course of the series. A lot of the action scenes in the early chapters are difficult to follow, and the pacing of panels is totally uneven, but after the rough early chapters, the book evens out significantly, though not completely.
Ghost in the Shell tells the story of Section 9, an anti-terrorist group with a sort of anomalous place in the country’s self-defense forces–technically being similar to the police, but existing outside of their ranks. Lead by the noble chief Aramaki, the group consists of possibly the most powerful cyborg in existence, Major Motoko Kusanagi, the also highly-powerful cyborg Batou, the completely normal but nonetheless cool former cop Togusa, the information and net-surfing guru Ishikawa, the one-eyed badass sniper Saito, and the two guys who almost never get any screentime in any iteration of the franchise, Paz and Borma. There are a few other minor character who show up in later chapters of the manga and TV series, but overall, the main seven members of Section 9 and their capabilities are the one thing that remains totally consistent across all iterations of Ghost in the Shell.
On a surface level, Ghost in the Shell can best be described as a procedural police drama, with episodic plotlines that often involve heavily political investigations of various cyber-crimes and terrorist acts in a fifty-years-from-now Japan. However, I wouldn’t consider the actual episodic plotlines to be the real focus or draw of the series, and I’d go so far as to say that Masamune Shirow really never took these stories very seriously.
That’s not to say that the stories are unintelligent, in fact the opposite is usually true, but rather I think that Shirow has always been far less interested in storytelling, as opposed to simply presenting ideas. He never organizes his stories in a way that maximises drama or character development, but rather is more worried about cramming as many world-building tidbits into each story as he can possibly manage. A lot of the time, he seems to deliberately undercut any sense of dramatic tension or moralizing from his story, in the interest of keeping it as dryly expository as possible.
Shirow’s characters act pretty goofy a lot of the time, and rarely seem even slightly invested in their work. They’re always complaining, arguing, and acting careless, which in combination with the frantic art and pacing of the early chapters creates a feeling of chaos a lot of the time. It takes getting through these chapters to sort of acclimate yourself to Shirow’s intentions with the story, as even when the chapters become a lot more readable as the volume goes along, it also becomes increasingly obvious in certain cases that Shirow is way, way more interested in presenting cool ideas than he is in telling a story.
Ghost in the Shell takes a rare approach to explaining its futuristic concepts. Whereas many sci-fi series try and shrug off a lot of the technical details to focus on the dramatic implications of the technology they dream up, Ghost in the Shell goes into RIDICULOUS amounts of detail about everything, with entire chapters dedicated to things like how prosthetic bodies are made, how Uchikoma AI works, how robots can parallel human evolution, and minute details of every piece of tech that is ever shown.
Towards the end of the volume, there are parts where the Major and the Puppetmaster get into techno-babble dialog that went right over my head for pages on end. In any other story, I’d question the realism of all these conversations, but if there’s one thing I can say for certain, it’s that Masamune Shirow has done far, far more research into technology, politics, military and police procedures, and psychology, than I have.
Shirow’s liner notes have a persistent presence throughout the manga, with a wide variety of purposes. Sometimes he’s explaining how tech works, sometimes he’s making off-hand remarks about technology and politics, and sometimes he’s even correcting his own work, saying things like “ordinarily these planes would fly farther apart, but I drew them closer together for the sake of this illustration.” It’s possibly the most obsessive-compulsive graphic novel structure I’ve ever seen. There are even parts where liner notes take the place of entire manga panels. If this doesn’t make Shirow’s intentions as a writer clear, then I don’t know what does.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its wierd structure, Ghost in the Shell remains a compelling read strictly because so many of Shirow’s ideas really are fascinating to behold. Shirow seems to have captured one of the most believable post-singularity futures that I’ve ever seen, and while some of the dates of events in the volume’s pre-script can now be disproven, the manga has mostly aged incredibly well with the majority of its concepts remaining plausible. Moreover, it’s clear that Shirow’s own image of this world expands over the course of the series.
Early on, the manga focuses mostly on cyborgization, with the most prominent concepts being the existence of a cyberbrain–which allows for new levels of communication, as well as new levels of hacking and memory-tampering. He expands on existing psychological concepts of how the brain and memories work, and explores how these concepts would be affected by the melding of human bodies with machinery. Shirow does so many interesting things with these core ideas that I can’t possibly detail much of it here, which is exactly why I have to give this manga a recommendation for anyone with an interest in psychology, technology, and/or futurism.
By the end of the first volume, Shirow starts to play around with the idea of how cyber-beings would interact with the open internet–though, perhaps as a result of the internet being a pretty new concept at the time, he doesn’t go too in-depth with it. The end of this volume is the point where Ghost in the Shell kind of breaks into two different continuities. In the years following the completion of the first volume, Shirow wrote four more chapters about the exploits of Section 9 after the departure of Major Kusanagi at the end of volume one, which were later published in a collected volume called Ghost in the Shell 1.5. At the same time, he also began work on Ghost in the Shell 2 in 1991, an indirect sequel following just the Major in her high-tech exploits, taking place four years after the original story.
Ghost in the Shell 2’s artwork is interesting in that it makes heavy usage of computer graphics mixed with hand-drawn digital art. The combination works surprisingly well, and Shirow seems to understand how to combine these things just right, with a significant amount of the volume also being in color for the parts that are digitally drawn. That said, I have to admit that I kind of gave up on reading this volume after a couple of chapters. Partly because I was burned out from consuming every other part of this franchise in the past week, but also because this manga takes the technical jargon and lack of proper structure to a whole new level. Shirow seems to have fully embraced his desire to just explore technical constructs, and with him having the Major elevated to a whole new stage of net supremacy, he can have her do all kinds of impressively complicated things. Ghost in the Shell 2 feels like something you’d need the brain of a programmer to appreciate, and I sadly lack such a brain.
The Ghost in the Shell manga seems to have been pretty successful in its original Japanese run, but it wasn’t until 1995 that the franchise would take off into worldwide acclaim with the release of Mamoru Oshii’s film adaptation.
Having been released in the UK and the US very soon after its Japanese debut, Ghost in the Shell was a massive hit, and is often credited with bringing in a wave of new anime fans in the mid-nineties, and contributing massively to the Western anime boom which occurred in the following years. It was famously listed as one of the biggest influences on hit Hollywood film series The Matrix, and along with the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, likely raised the bar for philosophical, intelligent writing in anime, while spawning no shortage of imitators.
While the Ghost in the Shell movie is an adaptation of several chapters from the original manga, and about 90% of the dialog is taken straight from the source material, the tone is so completely different that it’s hardly comparable. Doing away with the late-eighties design sensibilities in favor of a slick, realistic look; the film, animated by Production IG, is among the most visually impressive animated works ever made, and drips from head to toe with style. Its soundtrack by Kenji Kawai is filled with grave circumstance, resembling some kind of ritualistic temple chant a lot of the time and creating an eerie, horror-esque vibe.
In complete contrast to the manga, the film is very stark with dialog, and features long scenes of just music and scenery footage. Instead of loading the viewer with technical jargon, the film focuses almost exclusively on the existential implications of the fusion of technology and the mind. Whereas Batou and the Major were silly, wisecracking characters in the manga, now they are always gravely serious–I actually counted the number of times a character smiled in the film, and there were maybe four in total. Paz, Borma, and Saito are never shown in the film, though their names are mentioned, and the AI-driven Uchikoma robots from the manga never make any appearance.
Ghost in the Shell is an excellent film, and taken on its own, the existential concepts that it presents are quite interesting, though the manga and TV series go so much farther with these ideas that the film almost seems irrelevant in comparison. More than anything, I’d recommend this film as an access point to the rest of the franchise, as it does a good job of showing you what the core ideas of the series are and what makes them interesting, and gives you a good mindset to approach the far more dense manga and TV series. Also, since I realize that a lot of my viewership is quite young, I should mention that this film contains a LOT of graphic violence and nudity, and is not conventionally exciting in any way, so I don’t know if I’d recommend it to younger audiences at all.
In 1997, a Ghost in the Shell video game was developed by Exact for the Playstation, in which players take control of an Uchikoma tank. This arcade-style third-person shooter is made surprisingly awesome by the fact that the Uchikoma can walk on literally any surface, as well as move very quickly in all directions. Thanks to its focus on simple objects, the 3D graphics have aged really well, and the fast controls remain a blast to play with. Plus, the game features fully animated cutscenes by Production IG, which are more faithful to the manga than to the studio’s 1995 film.
For an in-depth analysis of this and the other games in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, I highly recommend checking out the Hardcore Gaming 101 article which I’ll be linking in the description. The PS1 game is still readily findable on Amazon, and can easily be emulated, though I ran into trouble when I tried to play through the night-vision segments on an emulator. I’d leave it up to you to determine if the game is worth what you’ll find yourself paying for it.
With Shirow’s manga finally ending its run in 1997, the Ghost in the Shell franchise went dormant for a while before re-emerging in 2002 with the beginning of the sub-franchise, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Originally a 26-episode anime series by Production IG, it later spawned a second season, a theatrical film, two compilation movies, countless specials, a manga adaptation, three novelizations, and its own Playstation 2 and PSP games; which I haven’t played, so once again I defer to the Hardcore Gaming 101 article for info.
Masamune Shirow may not believe that there’s a definitive version of Ghost in the Shell, but if you ask me, Stand Alone Complex is easily the most fully-realized vision of what the franchise has to offer. Through its combination of episodic stories and overarching plotlines, the series gets to explore its vast world through many avenues–and unlike the original manga, it’s far more interested in providing a gripping narrative and memorable characterization without skimping on the detailed world-building. I would compare Stand Alone Complex to the likes of Mass Effect in how it manages to present a fleshed-out, well-realized and believable world, while exploring such a wide spectrum of themes, and still delivering gut-punching overarching plotlines.
On a production level, it’s difficult for me to articulate how this series is so far beyond almost any other TV anime. This show is written and directed with an expertise that I’d expect from a high-budget HBO drama, and is animated with a sense of pacing that you will simply never get from an anime series that is directly adapted from manga. The number-one place where this shows is in the action scenes, which, particularly in the first season, are among the best that I’ve ever witnessed.
There are plenty of anime released these days which feature exciting, kinetic fight scenes, that are well-drawn and choreographed–however, I would argue that most of them aren’t particularly memorable. Fight scenes in anime tend to occur as a break from the drama and tension of the episode. Characters will have a dramatic dialog together, and then there will be a fight scene, before the dialog continues, with the fight itself largely being inconsequential. What matters is only who won and who lost, and the content of the actual fight is just fluff for the viewers to enjoy. Mind you, I’m not saying that these kinds of fights are bad, and I enjoy a lot of them. Funnily enough, a series that falls into this mold completely is the currently-running OVA series Ghost in the Shell Arise, which features over-the-top combat scenes that are fun to watch, but ultimately don’t matter.
Stand Alone Complex meanwhile doesn’t focus so much on the intensity or choreography of its animated combat, but instead focuses on tension, pacing, and dispersal. Before any bullets are fired or knives are swung, there are usually a lot of shots of characters moving into position, and taking aim, allowing the viewer to get a good scope of where the fight is taking place, what’s at stake, who is in control, and what each move could mean for the characters. The most perfect example of this is in the first episode, wherein, after showing various shots of where the Section 9 operatives are headed, and how they infiltrate the building, there’s a huge buildup of tension right before the operatives score consecutive headshots on all of their targets. The action occurs in only a few seconds, but is intensely satisfying due to the building of tension, as well as the incredible visual and sound design.
Throughout the first season of the series, I kept being bewildered at how it would create locations and scenes that you would never get in TV anime because they’re too complicated to make. Even little things like showing a lot of the characters driving to and from places is the stuff that takes real effort to direct and animate–and that just doesn’t happen even in the highest-tier action shows. The series may not have the most sleek and memorable designs, favoring a down-to-earth, realist aesthetic, but I would easily consider it one of, if not THE most impressive TV anime production that has ever been made.
And while I’m at it, let’s talk about the sound design. Most of the sound effects in the series are realistic and highly satisfying. The soundtrack is composed by Yoko Kanno, so it pretty much goes without saying that it’s a tour-de-force of multi-genre awesomeness. Whereas Kenji Kawai’s score for the film gave it a grave, almost frightening tone, Kanno’s soundtrack is exciting, kinetic, and fun, giving the series a spy-movie feeling and generating a lot of the excitement in the show’s action scenes. There are many moments throughout all of the Stand Alone Complex series that I couldn’t imagine being nearly as good if not for the soundtrack.
In terms of characterization and writing, the series finds a happy medium between the original manga and the film. In Stand Alone Complex, the members of Section 9 can best be described as “professional.” They take their jobs very seriously, and they are the best at what they do. This, I think, is a huge selling point for the series, because it makes it much easier to take the stories seriously–and since the characters actually care about what they’re doing, it makes the stakes a lot higher for the viewer in kind. Whereas the manga convinced me that the actual storylines of each chapter didn’t really matter, the series makes sure that the majority of its stand-alone episodes are still very interesting, and has an overarching plot that grips like a vice.
Unlike the film, however, the show also allows the characters to have some humanity, and also contains a huge source of levity in the form of the Tachikomas. These adorable machines are always saying something funny or cute when they’re around, and the fact that they also happen to be by far the most interesting characters in the show means that their presence is always welcome. Between the Tachikomas, the soundtrack, and the more laid-back moments that the characters get now and then, Stand Alone Complex is able to explore a much wider range of emotions, as it can be serious when it needs to be, or lighthearted when appropriate.
Stand Alone Complex was written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, and it’s safe to say that the man is a fucking genius, as Stand Alone Complex is perhaps the most intellectual and well-read television series that I’ve ever watched. Whereas the original manga was mostly concerned with exploring the inner-workings of its technological ideas and how these would affect people directly, Stand Alone Complex is more interested in the effects that these technological advancements would have on society as a whole. Thanks to being written during the internet age, the series expands on the concepts of networking and communication heavily and feels, more than anything I’ve seen, like a true vision of what the post-singularity future will look like.
Something which struck me early into watching the series was just how unimpressed it seemed to be with the broad concepts that underlie its sci-fi world. Whereas five years prior, Serial Experiments Lain presented the ideas that everyone is always connected, and that there might be divisions between the self in the internet and the self in the real world, as revelations; Stand Alone Complex presents these like obvious concepts that you should’ve known by now. The original manga often poked fun of itself by having characters state that scenarios felt like something out of a sci-fi manga, and was altogether flippant about the tropes and trappings of the genre, as if it expected that the reader had already seen a lot of its ideas before.
Stand Alone Complex goes one step further, seemingly expecting the viewer to already have a pretty firm grasp of many social, political, and psychological concepts, which it then expands upon through its stories. It isn’t particularly difficult to watch, in that it doesn’t ask too much of the viewer’s patience and doesn’t feature visuals or dialog that would inspire vastly different interpretations between viewers, but it does seem to operate under the assumption that the viewer is a decently educated adult who’s spent many a long night thinking about the deeper philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the world around them.
That’s not to say that you have to be an intellectual to enjoy the series, as that would be a horribly pretentious claim, but I do think that it requires at least some level of patience and intellectual maturity. I tried to watch this series when I was sixteen and it bored me to tears. I kept passing out during the expository setups for each episode and gave up pretty early on, writing the series off as boring political drama. However, over time, I kind of fell in love with political dramas through stuff like The Wire and Mass Effect, and by the time I got back into Ghost in the Shell, I found that it rarely if ever tested my patience. I’d be lying if I said that the show is always totally exciting, but I would say that the boring exposition scenes almost always pay off in the episode’s exciting climax.
The grand central theme of the Stand Alone Complex franchise is that of the title itself. As presented in the series, a Stand Alone Complex is when a bunch of stand-alone events appear to be working together in one complex operation. This is first explored in the Laughing Man case that spans the series’ first season. A series of incidents which appear to all be connected as the work of one criminal, turn out to really be a series of unrelated incidents by anonymous individuals which, intentionally or not, are attributed to a source that may not have ever existed to begin with. It’s an interesting plot construct which feels highly relevant to the memetic culture of the modern internet, but even more fascinating is how the idea extends to the format of the show, and to the format of society as a whole.
The series is, itself, a stand-alone complex, as its many seemingly unrelated episodes continue to affect one-another along the way, and eventually affect even the outcome of the main storyline. In one episode, Batou gives one of the Tachikomas natural oil, as opposed to the synthetic oil that they typically operate on. This begins to affect the nature of the Tachikomas, as they slowly realize that in spite of the fact that they all share one linked consciousness because they all synchronize their memories constantly, the simple fact that they have unique bodies inherently causes them to develop individuality.
When Batou’s Tachikoma exhibits an inquisitive personality, it picks up a cyberbrain during its travels in one stand-alone episode. This cyberbrain becomes the subject of the next stand-alone episode about a filmmaker who only remains as a consciousness within his own cyberbrain, and enraptures other cyborgs into his cyberbrain through his phenomenal film. These adventures also affect the individuality of the Tachikomas, culminating in a hyper-dense episode in which they all share an extended existentialist conversation about themselves. My good friend ghostlightning wrote an in-depth close-reading of this episode along with a few other notations about the Tachikomas which I’ll link in the description and highly recommend.
All of these elements come to a head later when, after being de-commissioned by the Major, the Tachikomas re-emerge at the end of the series with the realization of their capacity for loyalty and self-sacrifice, leading to some of the biggest moments of awesomeness and heartwarming in the entire finale. How this show combines so many disparate elements into one functional, complete whole, is just the same as how our own society is comprised of every individual person working to their own goals, that shape the nature of society’s progress. That this show at once embodies the nature of society and seeks to explore that very nature, makes it one of the most brilliantly structured works of fiction I’ve ever seen.
Most of what I’ve said about the first season of Stand Alone Complex also applies to 2nd Gig, which takes on somewhat more socio-political themes and has a more dense, but ultimately straightforward approach to its central storyline. It takes place on a much larger scale, and has an overall darker, moodier tone to it, with about four episodes going by before there’s even a scene set during the day time. I will say that while the visuals are more clean and consistent in 2nd Gig, I didn’t feel that the action scenes ever quite reached the same heights that they did in the first season–but it’s altogether still a triumph of animation.
Interestingly, whereas the first season consisted mostly of original content, with only certain bits of dialog and iconography that references the film and manga, 2nd Gig actually adopts many of the stories from the original manga, but in completely different contexts. Many of the characters and storylines of the manga are turned into episodic plots, but are tied into the central storyline which is original to the anime. Having read the manga after watching all of Stand Alone Complex, it was pretty strange to see how differently these stories played out originally, in spite of how much dialog from the show is taken straight from the manga.
Likewise, the 2006 film Solid State Society, which is the last part of the Stand Alone Complex series, mixes up a bunch of the manga stories into one whole, but with a totally new central storyline. The ending of the film is also a brilliant reversal on the original Puppetmaster story, which I won’t spoil, but basically whereas the original was about the Major being joined with another personality, the film is about personalities spawning from the Major’s interactions with the internet, which made for a fascinating parallel between the original film and Solid State Society.
Aside from the main story, there are also a bunch of short special episodes called Tachikoma Days, which are just little one-minute comedy shorts about the Tachikomas being adorable. There’s one special for each episode of the show, as well as the both the original and 3D releases of the film, and a bunch of other random specials. Apparently there were 12 five-minute episodes that aired on TV at some point, but I couldn’t manage to find them online. These shorts are a lot of fun, but not really remarkable on their own. There’s a manga version, too.
The Stand Alone Complex tie-in manga is apparently a direct adaptation of the TV series, though I haven’t read it myself to confirm. There are also three tie-in novels, which I haven’t read, but apparently they’re written by one of the show’s screenwriters and tie in with the show’s storyline, so I’m definitely interested in tracking them down at some point.
Stand Alone Complex could have easily stayed fantastic throughout a third season, and Production IG has stated that they were interested in continuing the series, but were prohibited by the cost. While Stand Alone Complex was released as a pay-per-view series on its original broadcast, and was ultimately a worldwide success, it was also the most expensive TV anime ever made, with a budget of over 800 million yen. Production IG were probably wise to quit when they did, as the Western anime market collapsed just a couple of years later.
Moving back a little in the chronology, shortly after the release of 2nd Gig in 2004, Production IG actually released a direct sequel to the original film, led by the original staff, in the form of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Sort of like Solid State Society, Innocence takes parts from various chapters of the manga and combines them, while carrying the more heavy tone of the original film.
Innocence is one of the most gorgeous animated films I’ve ever seen. It features a constant fusion of 2D and 3D animation, handled so well that sometimes I wasn’t sure which one I was seeing. It has a thick, cyber-noir tone, with brilliant cinematography and chunky, satisfying action scenes.
That said, this is probably the hardest-to-watch animated iteration of the franchise. A large portion of the film consists on non-stop disjointed philosphical quotations, and one total mindfuck scene that left me confused beyond the ability to catch up with the story. It’s upsetting in a way, because while the franchise has always presented some pretty advanced concepts, it typically does so in a straightforward way that invites the viewer to understand.
Innocence explains enough that the viewer can figure out WHAT has happened, but a lot of the themes and philosophical ideas are given such esoteric presentation that I wasn’t really sure what the film was trying to say. Were it not so breathtaking to look at, I’m not sure I would’ve lasted all the way through the film, with my brain being so scrambled in its midsection.
In 2008, the original film was remade and re-released as Ghost in the Shell 2.0. The trailers for this film claim that it’s not simply a remake, but a total re-imagining of the original film, and Mamoru Oshii claimed that the purpose of this remake was to make the original film more closely resemble the sequel. Both of these are gross overstatements. 2.0 mostly alters certain images, most of which were computer displays, into heavily orange CG versions. It also changes a couple of motoko’s stand-alone scenes into CG versions for no reason, and these bits look so different from the rest of the film that it doesn’t even look like they’re actually a part of said film. The opening title sequence is also made notably worse by the CG additions, so overall I would say that 2.0 is not the best version of the original film, and I’d only recommend it to people who have seen the original already and feel like rewatching it.
After 2.0, besides some manga and novelisations that were still running, a 3D re-release of Solid State Society, and a bunch of Japan-only mobile phone games, the Ghost in the Shell franchise went into a bit of a hibernation again until 2013, with the emergence of yet another sub-franchise in the form of Ghost in the Shell Arise.
Arise is the most different, and altogether strange, iteration of the franchise. It’s a series of OVAs, of which two out of an eventual four have been released, which are written by Tow Ubukata, who also created the solid cyberpunk franchise Mardock Scramble. Arise is meant to be a prequel to, I guess, every other iteration of the franchise, and tells the story of how Section 9 originally formed.
And that’s what makes it weird. Arise manages to contradict the backstories presented in every other story, making it ineffective as a prequel to any of them. Moreover, some of the design choices made to emphasize its nature as a prequel are totally senseless. Major Kusanagi is made to look and sound younger than she does in the show and manga, but the series takes place after she’s already been through years of military service and is fully matured in her cyborg abilities. There are scenes in Stand Alone Complex that take place before the timeline of Arise, in which Motoko looks the same as she does in any other episode. Plus, the original manga had begun with the formation of Section 9 anyways. Aramaki also looks younger, although this is strangely accurate to the way that his design looked in the early part of the manga, before he was changed dramatically along its run.
The sad thing about Arise is that, when stacked up against any other anime that has or will come out this year, it’s undoubtedly gorgeous. It features frequent, fluidly animated and well-choreographed action scenes that are sure to get the blood pumping, and though I personally can’t stand Kusanagi’s new design, the show is overall pleasant on the eyes. It’s only sad because it utterly pales in comparison to Stand Alone Complex.
Arise lacks any of the expressive background art or overall tone that every other part of the franchise has. It doesn’t look like a futuristic, cyberpunk version of Japan, it just kinda looks like Tokyo as seen in virtually any other anime. It features the use of cybernetic stuff common to the series, and has some themes of memory manipulation, but it doesn’t seem to be saying anything about these themes. Altogether it ends up feeling like a generic version of Ghost in the Shell that doesn’t live up to the promise of any other part of the franchise.
Arise is hard to recommend to new fans, as it doesn’t really capture what makes the franchise great, nor does it segue well into any of the other series thanks to its inaccurate backstory–and it’s hard to recommend to existing fans for the same reasons. If anything, the show is probably better for non-fans, as its story isn’t as dense or intellectual as that of the manga or TV series, nor as dry and tonal as the films. It’s easy to watch and full of cool action scenes, almost like it’s meant to be Ghost in the Shell for teenagers. Maybe that’s what it is.
There’s also a tie-in manga to Arise, which is like a prequel within a prequel, as so far it has focused exclusively on the story of how Batou and Major Kusanagi met during the war, prior to the events of the OVA. The manga is well-drawn with some decent action scenes, but has very straightforward dialog and characterization and doesn’t seem to utilize the cyberpunk aspects for much more than a way to enhance the combat. Altogether, neither version of Arise can really compare with all that’s come before, which is particularly sad, as they represent the current state of the franchise.
The future of Ghost in the Shell isn’t certain, but I’m sure that with its continued success and the strength of its lineage, it’s bound to live on for years to come. There have been talks of an upcoming Stand Alone Complex online game, as well as pre-production work being done on a live-action adaptation produced by Dreamworks. With the Stand Alone Complex series being the latest addition to my favorite anime list, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this franchise well into the future, regardless of where it takes me.