*Note* The first part of this post will be rather informative, as I noticed there are many people who struggle to find the right order in which to watch the series. Also, please enjoy finding the ‘Easter Eggs’ throughout the post.
Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese franchise based on the manga of the same name written and illustrated by 士郎 正宗 (Masamune Shirō) and published by Kodansha ((株式会社講談社). Based on the manga, various anime films and anime series have been created, as well as video games and live action films. 攻殻機動隊ARISE -GHOST IN THE SHELL consists of anime films and series which are considered to be prequel to Shirō’s original GitS. There is also a manga serialisation of this series, published by Kodansha in 2013. The franchise can be described as falling in the following genres: psychological, mecha, sci-fi, police, military, seinen, action.
This post will focus only on the ‘anime’ part of the franchise (as I have neither read the manga – which I am planning to change a.s.a.p. – nor played the games) and I shall attempt to discuss all the anime series and anime films.
The Animated Franchise – chronological order (note: the ‘number’ after the title refers to the year the story takes place in):
Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2027)
- Border:1 Ghost Pain
- Border:2 Ghost Whispers
- Border:3 Ghost Tears
- Border:4 Ghost Stands Alone
Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture (GitS: AAA) – this is basically a 10-episode recompilation anime series which incorporates the 4 films mentioned above, alongside new content.
攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 (Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijōban) is an anime film which most probably will be related to the Arise fraction of the franchise, judging by the looks of the characters on the poster released for the film*. Note: I cannot say anything for sure about this film until I myself watch it, so please take this info with a huge pinch of salt, as I have merely read bits and pieces here and there. Once I watch the film, however, I shall update the post.
Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊) (2029) – anime film; alternative version: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (攻殻機動隊2.0) – a remake of the original film, which includes new content and 3D graphics.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GitS: SAC) (2030) – anime series. Summary (anime film): Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – The Laughing Man.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG (2032) – anime series. Summary (anime film): Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Individual Eleven.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2032) – anime film; normally, people would think this is a sequel to the first GitS film, and I choose to do the same, as it fits; but this is solely my opinion and since I strongly hope you have watched the anime before reading this post, most probably you have already formed your own opinion – which doesn’t have to coincide with mine.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (GitS: SAC – SSS) (2034) – anime film.
Alongside these, for each season, there are various short specials released, such as “タチコマな日々” (Tachikoma na Hibi), for example. These are comedic shorts attached to the end of every episode in GitS: SAC.
Music and Animation
Ghost in the Shell: Arise (the four borders as well as the new anime series Alternative Architecture) was directed by 和哉黄瀬 (Kazuchika Kise), produced by Production I.G, Bandai Visual, FUNimation Entertainment, and whose original soundtrack was composed by Cornelius. I was generally positively surprised by the soundtrack, I felt it really fit the plot of the series. It wasn’t quite as surreal as the films’, for example, but was nonetheless very enjoyable.
Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊) (anime film) is based on Shirō’s manga of the same title; it was written by 伊藤 和典 (Kazunori Itō), directed by 押井 守 (Mamoru Oshii) and animated by Production I.G and Production Reed. This film was created using DGA (‘digitally generated animation’), which apparently combines cel animation, computer graphics, and audio, which are entered as digital data, thus incorporating traditional animation and CG graphics. The soundtrack was composed by 川井 憲次 (Kenji Kawai) and for the opening theme (Making of a Cyborg) he used the ancient Japanese language of Yamato and created the song which is a mixt of Bulgarian harmony and traditional Japanese notes. What I really want to mention is that this soundtrack haunted me. I cannot describe it as anything but haunting in the best possible way. I rarely attempt to describe music, as I think it is one of the subjective experiences which are rarely close to similar for two people; not to mention that I usually feel awfully bad for attempting to describe marvellous accords in simply words. Anyway, if you have seen the film, you’ll know what I mean when I say it haunts you.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is an anime film remake of the original film. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is another anime film which, until someone proves me wrong, I choose to believe is some sort of sequel (at least to the first GitS film). These two anime films were directed by Oshii and animated by Production I.G, and Production I.G and Bandai Entertainment, respectively. Regarding the animation, in the case of GitS 2.0, there were replacements of the original animations, the new ones including 3D-CGI. Music-wise, the OSTs for both films were composed by Kawai and again, he made a brilliant job. I don’t think anybody else would have done it better and I strongly believe that the films wouldn’t have the same atmosphere without this kind of music; it most definitely is not your usual soundtrack. Before going on I should mention that these two films are not strongly connected to Shirō’s original manga.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and its sequel, 2nd GIG, are anime series based on Shirō’s manga. The characters were designed by 神山健治 (Kenji Kamiyama) and the music was composed by 菅野 よう子 (Yōko Kanno). The series were directed by Kamiyama and animated by Production I.G, Kodansha, Trilogy Future Studio, Bandai Entertainment, and Tokuma Shoten. I cannot describe the OST as anything but painfully beautiful, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s everything: feels, action, suspense – literally everything you can wish for. Kanno created something truly wonderful. My favourite pieces are the first OPs and EDs in GitS: SAC: Inner Universe (by Origa) and Lithium Flower (by Scott Matthew), and the first OP of 2nd GIG: Rise (by Origa).
GitS: SAC – SSS is also based on Shirō’s manga, also directed by Kamiyama, and also produced by Production I.G, and Bandai Entertainment. It was still Kanno who composed the soundtrack for this film.
Although certain songs in the soundtrack may have been repetitive, they sort of become signature and thus help enjoy the series even more this way. In my opinion, the music in general fit the action very well and it set the atmosphere pretty nicely throughout the franchise, regardless of who composed it (but I’m particularly fond of Kanno’s part).
As a matter of fact, Ghost in the Shell (the first film) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence both won the Theatrical Film Award at the Animation Kobe event in 1996, and 2004 respectively. Still at the same event, GitS: SAC – SSS won the Packaged Work Award in 2007, as well as the Juri Prize at the 21st Digital Content Grand Prix.
Plot and themes
Arise – as previously stated – serves as a prequel to Shirō’s story, showing more about Motoko’s past, how she got to join the Public Security Section 9, and how she met and asked the guys to join her team. The Ghost in the Shell franchise (the 4 films (the first GitS film, 2.0, Innocence, and SAC – SSS) and the two seasons SAC and SAC 2nd GIG) shows the adventures of the members of Public Security Section 9 (PSS-9) between the years 2030-2034. The events take place in the fictional Japanese city Niihama (新浜市), when most people have become cyborgs with prosthetic bodies, and follow the members of the PSS-9 who investigate various cases and crimes, most of which involve corruption within the Japanese government. The first season’s central case is The Laughing Man (who turns out to be a hacker); the second season is mostly concerned with the case of the Individual Eleven, a suicidal group. Solid State Society shows what happens after Motoko has left the section and how the PSS-9 solve the case of The Puppeteer. This is really the plot of GitS: investigating certain cases, of which I will not make a summary, as this is beyond the point of this post; I mean they really are cases involving various types of crimes (such as suicide, murder, terrorist attacks, etc.) – nothing out of ordinary there…well, to an extent.
The central theme of the whole franchise really, is a very deep question: what is it that makes a human, human? Of course, there is at least one other way to ask this question and I shall not spoil your fun… Other questions which are food-for-thought and which this franchise makes you seriously consider are: does a cyborg have a consciousness? What is the difference between cyborgs and humans? When is a cyborgised human a cyborg and not a human anymore? Is a cyborg but a mere machine?
In this franchise, in this cyberpunk world of the future, Shirō tries to show possible uses of technology, how this could advance and how it would be used. The franchise also focuses on sociological differences and psychological phenomena, such as ‘hearing voices’ (which is a symptom of the schizophrenia disorder). It illustrates some of Shirō’s beliefs regarding death, various crimes and the punishment associated with them, sexuality, and gender- and self-identity. There are various references to philosophy, religion, and fantasy, and this is especially seen in Innocence, where viewers are shown that although there are ‘spirits’ or rather, ‘ghosts’ in the dolls, some of them [dolls] are not human.
Obviously, as with anything out there, there are positives and negatives associated with such a rapid advancement of technology, and this theme is heavily explored throughout the franchise. On the one hand, such technology (and full cyberisation) is particularly useful – if well controlled and properly appropriated to oneself – especially in the case of one’s suffering a trauma, for example: if they chose to, they could have their brain transplanted into a cyborg body, and even some of the brain parts could be replaced, if needed. However, in the case of full-cyberisation, the risk of having one’s brain hacked increases, and so one could easily be used as means to an end, at the whim of another – another extremely skilled hacker, that is. The issue is, ‘ghost-hacking’ isn’t only creepy because of how easily one can be controlled, but because until the connection is ended, it is not clear where the hacked individual’s perception ends and the one of the hacker begins…I find this very…insecure, to say the least. I mean, I, for one, wouldn’t like myself to be controlled like this, neither would I like my private matters to be seen by someone else.
And this is where the central questions of the franchise arise from: if one had their brain transplanted into a cyborg body, would they still be themselves? When does one stop being a human and when do they become a cyborg? Are one’s memories truly their own memories? Are they fabricated? To what extent is one themselves? Two aspects that I found just as funny as puzzling were firstly, the issue of food for cyborgs, and for the Tachikomas, too, for that matter, and secondly, the issue of female cyborgs’ menstruation and the reproduction of such humans. Do excuse that fact that I am rather inconsistent regarding the use of the terms humans and cyborgs. Who am I to judge, really? I think, after having seen the series, that it is up to oneself to accept what they are and to label themselves as a human or a cyborg. I will come back to this when I start talking about the characters in this franchise. For now, though, suffice it to say that I was very impressed with this series, and it has most certainly become one of my favourites. The aspects that usually have a strong impact on me (thus making me love or dislike a series) are the degree to which it gives me food for thought, how it all ends, and how characters evolve from the very beginning of the series, to the last second of the end. And this franchise has hit the nail on the head in the case of each and every one of those aspects, and I strongly recommend watching it. I know some are not particularly pleased with Arise, but although it is not based on Shirō’s work, it does provide a nice background story as to how our characters met and how they bonded – how they got to where they are now. Besides, if it really was that off-point, I’m pretty sure Shirō would never have agreed to its production.
Characters and Story
Major Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子) is the cyborg leader of the PSS-9 and she’s …well…pretty much one of the most badass anime female characters I’ve seen in a while. She is a first-class detective and hacker and has instantly won my heart. Yes, she is a cyborg, many consider her a robot, mostly due to her surprising physical strength and coldness, I guess, but I don’t really agree. In fact, to me, she’s just Motoko, a human in a cyborg body. I’ve had a few lectures on consciousness this year, and one of the questions asked was ‘can a computer be thought to possess consciousness?’, and I so felt the need to just write about this series.
Back on the track though, she’s one of the best female characters in the history of anime, and this means a lot, coming from me; Shirō’s most definitely created one of the strongest female characters out there. I know what others say, but to me, she does look like a female, but is not overly feminised (I know that most consider her to be a male in a female body, but I couldn’t disagree more); she is strong but also knows when to rely on others – although, most times she chooses to do stuff her way and on her own; she is mature, dependable, reliable, and as cold and distant as she may come across on certain occasions, she most definitely knows what emotions and feelings are; and sometimes she actually shows these. I think this is the greatest reason why to me she’s not a human OR a cyborg, but a human in the body of a cyborg (another hint: think about the watch she wears and why it means what it means to her, and also her signature phrase “a whisper from my Ghost” and what its meaning is). Throughout the franchise, she herself is tormented by trying to accept that she is a cyborg who has a human brain and hunts down other artificial lifeforms. I couldn’t but love every single bit of her and she has most definitely become one of my all-time favourite anime characters. I cannot express how much I loved not only the way she treated the obstacles she faced, the people she met, but perhaps the most of all, her relationship with Batō… I just love the two of them! And I’ll come back to this after the next paragraph. One last thing to mention: while I loved both of her seiyū (Atsuko Tanaka (田中 敦子) in everything except Arise, where Maaya Sakamoto voiced her), I have to say that I wish Maaya Sakamoto would have voiced her throughout the whole franchise (as she’s one of my favourite seiyū)…but hey, you can’t always have them all and it’d be pointless not to admit that they both did an awesome job.
Batō (バトー) is the main male character in the franchise and is the second in command in PSS-9, under Motoko. He was such a delight to watch and listen to, honestly. Both seiyū did great jobs (Akio Ōtsuka (大塚 明夫) everywhere except for Arise, where he was voiced by Kenichirou Matsuda (松田健一郎)). He’s got such a light-hearted way of behaving, he jokes with everybody – but most of all with Motoko, who, when he steps on her tail, loves hacking him so he can punch himself – including the Tachikomas, who basically ‘love’ him, and how could they not?!
Although he, too, is a cyborg, he regularly exercises and lifts weights, for which he’s lovingly laughed at by the other members of the team – this, though, he does to keep reminding himself of who, or what, he is. Also, a huge bonus point goes to him for having a dog (obviously). I mean, I couldn’t help but melt when I saw how he got home to his dog and fed him and affectionately took care of him. And now to get back a little to what I was saying about Motoko and Batō: they’re just the best together. They have a relationship based on mutual trust and respect, as well as a shared understanding of pretty much everything – they show exactly what a perfect duo is. After having watched the franchise, I think I can safely assume that there are some romantic feelings between them, and I’d love it if I was right! I’m so rooting for the two of them – I know how childish it sounds…I know. But just think of everything they’ve been through, his reaction when he thought she was shot and when she comes back, how he covers her with his jacket, how, in SAC – SSS he protects her, stating “[…] haven’t we always worked like this?”, and most importantly, how at the end of the film she lets him …well…neah, I can’t put it into words…I feel something would give if I did.
Togusa (トグサ) is another member of the team and he evolved a lot – and I mean it, a lot – since his first appearance in Arise up until the end of SAC – SSS. He’s voiced by 山寺 宏一 (Kōichi Yamadera) everywhere except Arise, where his seiyū is 新垣樽助 (Tarusuke Shingaki). I was impressed by how much he wanted to maintain being a natural human, as in, refusing to undergo cyberisation (although he does, at a certain point). I was also impressed by how he could manage both his job and being a husband and a father. I am a huge fan of Criminal Minds and that series showed me that it is very seldom possible to have this sort of job and a family and not mess one of them up. So this aspect truly meant a lot to me. I also loved how he coped with his own feelings of insecurity caused by his being rather inexperienced, and, unlike the others in the Section, not coming from the military; I was really moved by how he stood by his principles and the moral spirit that he showed throughout the franchise.
Ishikawa (イシカワ) is the specialist in technology in the Section. He is voiced by 咲野 俊介 (Shunsuke Sakuya) in Arise and by 仲野 裕 (Yutaka Nakano) everywhere else. I found it hilarious – and enjoyed it a lot – how he puzzled almost everybody (most probably including the audience) every time he filled them in on a case. He has a very lax way of tackling things –which most probably came with age and wisdom and which, most probably, makes up for the fact that he is rather physically not very strong.
Saitō (サイトー) (voiced by Tōru Ōkawa (大川 透) and Takurō Nakakuni (中國卓郎) in Arise) quickly became one of my favourites because…well, mainly because he’s a sniper (I always had a thing for snipers…*cough*). He’s not very cyborgised (except for the “Hawkeye” which replaces his left eye), but he embodies what truly means to be accurate and precise. I admire people – in this case characters – who can do what I cannot, and Saitō can think like his enemies would, and this is obviously helpful to the Section. I mean, as a mere human being, I know what I think and unless someone brings very solid arguments, I won’t think any differently; it is very, very difficult for me to try to think like someone else (nonetheless, I have learned to accept that as much as I cannot always comprehend how this is possible, people have beliefs and principles different or even truly opposite to mines and I need to respect this). Anyway, he’s really cool.
Paz (パズ) (voiced by 上田 燿司 (Yōji Ueda) in Arise and by 小野塚 貴志 (Takashi Onozuka) everywhere else) is thought to have been part of the yakuza …but we don’t talk about that. Just kidding. Anyway, moving on. Paz is extremely skilled in many domains, but he doesn’t excel in a particular one, for example. Still, he is very reliable and you can definitely feel his presence in the team. Another aspect that I truly liked was his line that ‘he never sleeps with the same woman twice’…interesting.
Bōma (ボーマ) (voiced by 中井 和哉 (Kazuya Nakai) in Arise and by 山口 太郎 (Tarō Yamaguchi) in the rest of the franchise) resembles Batō, to an extent: they’re both strong, they both have ocular implants…but Bōma is bald. He, like everybody else in the team, is a true asset as he creates vaccines against viruses, and he does this as you’d snap your fingers – I, for one, have to love that as someone who is interested in science.
Now on to more general aspects which I loved about the characters, collectively. I liked how Lt. Col. Daisuke Aramaki (荒巻 大輔) treated his team; I liked how he trusted them and how he loved them…well, up until one point, when I was rather angry with and disappointed in him, but I won’t go into that. The point is I liked what kind of character he was and how he influenced and supported his team. I also loved how Motoko chose the members of her team (not to mention how she convinced them to join her) but even more so the fact that even though Motoko is the only female in the team, instead of all of the guys having a crush on her or wanting her for her body or working for her, they all work together – most times under her command – and are rather like the members like a family; it’s perfectly clear that there is respect between them and there are also lots of feelings, more than just professional (but not necessarily romantic). I also found that there was enough screening time for each of them; I mean there was enough of each character’s past shown in order to form an impression about them, but still to keep a degree of mystery surrounding them. I think this is usually very difficult to achieve and for this matter, this series really has earned its praise from me, at least.
Strangely enough (or perhaps not so strange after all) I loved the military and mecha part of the franchise. I found it impressive that lots of the PSS-9’s members had been part of the JGSDF (Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force) and found admirable how they acted under the not-very-pleasant-or-lax situations. I don’t know why, perhaps because I got a vibe of security and safety from all of them. And I think this is what I meant when I said they’re like a family…to an extent.
The negative characters were also extremely well created…so well, in fact, that they make you wonder if they really are bad. This is a series where we get again the grey and grey morality: the positive characters – such as the members of the Section – try to solve cases, but how do they achieve this? Through manipulations and sometimes even harsher actions…but the outcome is positive. On the other hand, the negative characters – such as the Puppeteer, the Laughing Man, and the Individual Eleven (個別の11人) – can be considered bad…or can they? They just want a place to belong to and to be treated fairly…of course, again, their means are questionable. Nevertheless, I think it’s noteworthy that it all depends on one’s perspective, one’s own values, principles, and beliefs to judge whether one is truly good or bad, human or cyborg, and so on. And it is particularly for this reason that I loved this franchise so much. It left a huge impression on me and made me reconsider so many of my previous beliefs.
Kudos if you actually got here! It must not have been very easy to read through all of this, but as long as you enjoyed it, I couldn’t be happier! Thank you for coming by and bearing with me!