Dec 28

Anime Review – Ghost in the Shell

What made me review this? Just a whisper.

How was Christmas for y’all then? Put on a few pounds from eating too much turkey? Sick of your relatives for another year? Well, whatever you’ve been up to, I decided to dedicate some of my vacation time to finally sitting down with the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Yep, I’m writing a standalone review for the first time since those weekly anime round-ups (they’ll be back in the new year, probably), and frankly I can’t think of a better movie to review than the classic Ghost in the Shell. Its one of the most iconic names in anime, which I’ve had the DVDs kicking around for for years. So read on for my thoughts on ghosts, cyborgs and everything inbetween.

For the few who don’t know, Ghost in the Shell, or GitS for short, was originally a manga done by Shirow Masamune (which I’ve not read yet) before being adapted multiple times, first into two films, then later the Stand Alone Complex TV series and Arise OVAs. They mostly revolve around Section 9 and its second-in-command, Major Motoko Kusanagi, a nearly completely cyborg save for a smidgen of her original brain matter, whom’s often contemplating what it truly means to be human.

Such are the themes for most of the show, though here I’m just focusing on the original movie which brings them to the forefront like no other adaptation. In it, the cast of Section 9 come face to face with a mysterious being known as the Puppet Master, a cyber-terrorist capable of brain-hacking near enough anybody he chooses.

I can barely scratch the surface here, but part of what makes the film so great is the cast of characters and their interactions. A tighter knit group than the Section 9 portrayed in SAC, everyone has a role and purpose within the team and gets the time needed to develop and tell their story. Motoko is very much the thoughtful leader, ready to throw herself into the line of fire as needs be, but also quick on the draw both physically and mentally as she both outmaneuvers her foes and contemplates her “life” up to that point.

Batou, her right-hand man, respects and prioritizes her life above all else, but it’s never really shown in a romantic way, more as a colleague with the utmost respect for his superior and friend, the only person whom he regards as being worthy of working with him. All the goofiness his SAC interpretation has is gone here, leaving him with less room to develop, but on the flipside making him a more believable Section 9 employee.

Then there’s Aramaki, the leader, as shrewd and politically manipulative as ever, knowing what needs to be done at any point in the case, and Togusa, the almost pure human who’s able to bring a non-cyborg’s view to the events, even if a lot of time he’s stuck with gruntwork. Ishikawa also makes an appearance, but he’s demoted to a mere background character in this, unlike SAC, just surfing the net to dig up data.

Going back to a point I mentioned earlier, everybody has a story, and this film isn’t one for creating plot threads and leaving them hanging. Be it what happens to the poor people who have their lives and memories hacked away, or Togusa’s handgun, the film makes sure to resolve the tales it tells before the credits. Similarly, it remembers to ask some questions and give the audience some food for thought. What defines life? Is it DNA? The human body? Our ghosts (souls)? And what’s the difference between those and data that carries out the same function?

And as for the animation? Well, that depends what version you watch. Both the original and its remaster look great, the former especially so considering its almost two decades old and can still go toe to toe with plenty of modern shows. It’s not all perfect, its use of garish green for the computer systems is an outdated concept, and the remaster’s use of soothing oranges works far better. Then again, its use of CG scenes also sticks out whenever they happen. The opening scene of Motoko jumping off a tower feels unnatural (much like the SAC opening if you’ve seen it), with only building shots and the movie’s opening montage of Motoko’s examination making a transition to CG worthwhile. Neither are obtrusive enough to degrade the experience, but just make you wish you could splice the two together to get the perfect version.

Another standout mention needs to go to the soundtrack, specially the centerpiece theme of the film. It fits in perfectly with the entire experience, as is made evident in a scene halfway through where various shots of the city are shown and time passes. Sadly, this scene is also the weakest of the film, serving little point. The nature of the city itself is never really brought up, and the shots don’t build to any kind of point or purpose. Its trailer guff, I guess, pretty to look at but ultimately meaningless, and the only scene in the movie which I’d describe as such.

The futuristic city in GitS is based upon Hong Kong

Outside of that, it’s as well paced as you could ask for, wrapping up the events in under an hour and a half. If I was nitpicking, I’d say the discussion of “what is a human” are a little forced, with the conversation topics coming up at random points and leaping straight into deep conversations with no build or warning. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the nature of the characters, but it just seems jarring to leap from “are you drunk” to the meaning of (cyborg) life.

But hey, when my main complaints are “one scene’s pointless but has nice music” and “why do they leap straight into complex discussions” you can tell I’m nitpicking. Ghost in the Shell is an absolute must-see film, inspiring films like The Matrix and shows like Psycho-Pass. Heck, you look on the UK Netflix and you’ll see its pretty much the only Japanese animation franchise on there, because even today it is still up there as an all time classic, so if you’ve not yet had a chance to experience the world of Section 9 and its Major, I’d recommend you fix that forthwith.

Oh, and it involves nudity, not that that interests you I’m sure…