With all the talk surrounding the recent release of Ghost in the Shell, we thought it would be appropriate to pull this week's excerpt from The Anime Encyclopedia: 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation, particularly the entry which details everything you'd ever need to know about the cyberpunk world that Masamune Shirow created in his radically inventive manga and anime series.
Here's the passage on Ghost in the Shell:
Ghost in the Shell
1995. jpn: Kokaku Kidotai. aka: Armored Riot Police/Ghost in the Shell . Movie, TV series, video. dir: Mamoru Oshii. scr: Kazunori Ito. des: Hiroyuki Okiura, Shoji Kawamori. ani: Hiroyuki Okiura, Tensai Okamura, Toshihiko Nishikubo. mus: Kenji Kawai. prd: Studio IG. 83 mins. (m1), 25 mins. x 26 eps. (TV1), ca. 1 min. x 26 eps. (Tachikomatic 1 ), 25 mins. x 26 eps. (TV2), ca. 1 min. x 26 eps. (Tachikomatic 2), 100 mins. (m2), 159 mins. ( Laughing Man), 161 mins. (Individual Eleven), 105 mins. ( Solid State Society), 60 mins. x 6 eps. (Arise).
A top secret military project goes horribly wrong, and a sentient computer virus runs out of control. Its creators disperse in search of political asylum before the mistake is spotted, while the program itself tries to defect to the other side. Calling itself the Puppet Master, it hacks into government systems to gain extra leverage in negotiations. It takes control of gun-freaks, robot bodies, and even a tank, but what it really wants is a permanent, physical home. Meanwhile, Section Nine, agents for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are forced to clear up after the mess left behind by Section Six (Foreign Affairs), even as the two departments contest jurisdiction in the case. Major Motoko Kusanagi is an angst-ridden platoon leader in Section Nine who can’t leave the service because, like the original Bionic Woman, parts of her are government property. Her body is just a mass-produced “shell” (note the scene where she sees a twin working as a secretary) and the only part of her that is real is her “ghost,” her soul. When seemingly random events all over the city turn out to be crimes committed by the Puppet Master’s unwitting accomplices, Motoko realizes that there is a pattern, and that it eventually leads to her.
GitS is one of the best anime available in English, and one of the few that could reasonably claim to be a true cyberpunk film. It is a superb action film with marvelous moments, such as Motoko’s final duel with a robot tank, and accomplished use of computer graphics, especially for Motoko’s cloaking device. Unlike the many anime “movies” that are really nothing of the sort, it was genuinely made for the big screen, and the budget and dedication really show. It was also a coproduction partly funded by Manga Entertainment, and it kept the company’s reputation afloat in the search for a new Akira, though at the time it was regarded by many as a money pit for ME’s beleaguered boss Andy Frain.
While Appleseed–creator Masamune Shirow set his original 1991 Young Magazine manga in a sprawling but plainly Japanese future metropolis, director Oshii deliberately relocated to Hong Kong for the film to create a lived-in, exotic look with Chinese-language street signs. This was a perfect film for the idiosyncratic Oshii, allowing him to replay Patlabor with clueless “little people” dwarfed by events beyond their ken.
The original manga’s intense philosophizing is artfully simplified by screenwriter Ito, who streamlines it into a perverse “romance” between Motoko and the Puppet Master, their final marriage eventually producing a new life form. Kenji Kawai’s music is a haunting ceremony in arcane Japanese (“A god descends for a wedding and dawn approaches while the night bird sings”), two separate musical themes that slowly advance on each other during the film, until they marry to form a completely new synergy over the closing credits, adding a final coda to Ito’s plot. Or rather, they did—the English-language version replaced the closing music with a mediocre effort from the Passengers CD. Such a gimmick may well have gained Ghost in the Shell more mainstream interest, but it wasn’t necessary. This is a film that needed no marketing spin. A manga sequel, Man-Machine Interface, ran intermittently for several years in Young Magazine, regularly prompting rumors of an anime follow-up.
This eventually arrived in the form of Kenji Kamiyama’s TV series GitS:Stand Alone Complex (2002) which was billed not as a sequel to the movie, but a “reimagining” of the same story. Stand Alone Complex drops the Puppet Master in favor of a new enemy and a broader, deeper introduction to Shirow’s future world and his Niihama (“New Port”) city. It uses Shirow’s work as a foundation, but is a collaboration among a team of writers led by director Kenji Kamiyama—that same “KK” whose initials can be seen inside a cybernetic eye in the first episode. It also offers tantalizing scraps of new information about the characters from Ghost in the Shell, including the revelation that Motoko was only six years old when unspecified events caused her to swap her original body for a shell. This, then, is what must make her so good; she must have been one of the first humans to undergo full cyborg remodeling, not out of choice, but necessity. When we see a hand unable to hold a doll in the opening credits, we are watching one of Motoko’s oldest memories, as she struggled to control her new body. The fuchikoma robots from the original comic are remodeled here as the tachikomas, intelligent tanks with the firepower of a helicopter gunship and the minds of ditzy schoolgirls. They are given their own Tachikomatic Days (Kokaku Kidotai: Section 9 Science File Tachikoma na Hibi) gag reel, which closed each episode when the TV series was released on video.
Many of the episodes “Stand Alone”—that is, they are weekly installments of a futuristic cop show in which Section Nine fights crime in New Port City. However, in the style of Cowboy Bebop, 12 episodes, #4–6, #9, #11, and #20–26, are “Complex,” part of the main story arc, the tale of the entity or entities known as the Laughing Man. Stand Alone Complex makes recurring references to the work of legendary American recluse J.D. Salinger, whose judgmental Holden Caulfield in the novel Catcher in the Rye bears some similarity to the Laughing Man and even supplies the quote for his logo. “The Laughing Man” (1949) is also the title of a Salinger short story printed in TheNew Yorker, while the tune, “Comin’ Through the Rye,” is a regular feature of daily life in Japan in everything from elevator doors to pedestrian crossings and has been heard before in the anime Vampire Hunter D and Grey: Digital Target. There are other tips of the hat to pop culture, including references to a Disney theme park ride in “Jungle Cruise” (#10), and a character modeled on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in “Portraitz” (#11). Episode #3, “Android and I,” is an extended homage to the works of Jean-Luc Godard, whose Alphaville (1965) also featured an investigator taking on an artificial intelligence over the control of a future society.
But beyond such name-checking, Stand Alone Complex is a compelling cyberpunk drama, concerned with medical espionage, corruption, and consumer’s rights in an increasingly globalized and corporate economy. Its success led in part to interest among the producers of the original film in commissioning an actual sequel to the original movie, which appeared as GitS 2: Innocence (jpn: Innocence, 2004). Innocence draws heavily on a single chapter of the original manga (“Robot Rondo”), but while it uses characters and situations created by Masamune Shirow, it is largely the work of Mamoru Oshii. With Motoko Kusanagi still absent following events at the end of the movie, Innocence concentrates on her former lieutenant Batou as he investigates a series of crimes in which robot sex-dolls have turned on their owners. Plot, however, is of secondary concern to Oshii’s usual existentialist dialogues, and extended shots of the city, including a Chinese carnival scene that supposedly took a full year to animate. The effort and expense show, in a film that does much to enhance anime’s reputation both for high-quality CG and impenetrably obtuse philosophical debates.
Despite Ghost in the Shell’s relatively obscure profile in Japan, where it is not particularly well known outside SF fan circles, it has enjoyed continued foreign success as a flagship for post-Akira anime. A second TV series, GitS: 2nd Gig (2004) continues the fine topical satire of its predecessor, focusing on a refugee crisis within Japan. It also reveals long-awaited details about Shirow’s world, suggesting that “New Port City” is actually somewhere near Nagasaki Bay—or at least, might be if the real-world Deshima Island, the historical quarantine/ghetto for foreign traders, is the same place as the Deshima refugee camp in the series. Note that this geographical background, along with many other “facts” revealed in the TV series, contradicts information stated or implied in earlier versions of the franchise. Fans are thus at a loss as to how much of the TV continuity is “canon”—2nd Gig in particular is vastly more forthcoming with background details of the franchise world, its military conflicts, and the political troubles this has generated in New Port City. Meanwhile, in an exercise of somewhat pointless over-complexity, 2ndGig develops the “Stand Alone/Complex” split of the first series even further, into episodes that can be classified as DI (“Dividual”), IN (“Individual”), or DU (“Dual”)—a labored gimmick imparting unwarranted significance to story elements that can be found in many other episodic dramas (we have, it seems, already forgotten The X-Files), but are trumpeted here as if someone has reinvented the wheel. Nevertheless, the overreaching story arc of 2nd Gig is another excellent series, allegorizing modern terrorism and nuclear espionage in sci-fi clothes, as the reconstituted Section Nine fights against a terrorist group calling itself the Individual Eleven.
The other “film” releases GitS: The Laughing Man (2005) and GitS: Individual Eleven (2006) are video releases consisting of extended movie-length edits of the relevant episodes from seasons one and two of the TV series, with additional footage. Officially a video, but premiered on a satellite TV channel, ostensibly because it was “movie” quality, GitS: Solid State Society (2006), is set in 2034, two years after the events in 2nd Gig, focusing on an environment in which children are in short supply and a population of sedentary, cybernetically nursed old-timers is becoming an increasing burden on the state. As in the thematically similar Roujin-Z, it asks if the aged population (which in 2034 will be us) has the right to set the agenda of the younger generation. In successfully steering the franchise away from Oshii and parking it in a lucrative TV slot that lasted for several years, Kenji Kamiyama proved his merit as one of the promising new show-runners of the 21st century, soon putting this promise into practice on Eden of the East, which obliquely refers to several characters and situations from GitS, to the extent that some fans consider it to be a prequel by other hands. He would seemingly hand over the responsibility to a new team, including director Kazuchika Kise and writer Tow Ubukata, for the video prequel GitS Arise (2013), set in 2027 and filling in some of the backstory of the young Motoko Kusanagi. LNV
For more info or to order a copy of The Anime Encyclopedia: 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation, click here.