With the impending release of the new entry in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, titled Arise, I was compelled to write about it. I say impending rather than anticipated, for a number of reasons I’ll outline below.
But first, context! The Ghost in the Shell franchise is my favourite in the anime medium. I love the original film and its sequel, the two season TV series and follow-up TV movie. And of course I love the manga that started the whole cybernetic ball rolling. It’s quite a rare thing to have so many spin-offs and continuations be consistent in quality, but somehow the GitS franchise has managed it so far.
I absolutely love the world envisioned by author Masamune Shirow. Contrary to how one would expect a cyberpunk world to be, the world of GitS is not a dystopic nightmare. It’s a fully functioning cityscape with technology that helps or hinders its citizens depending on how its used.
A lot of cyberpunk literature almost seems luddite in its ambivalence to technology and how it can monumentally fuck up your life, and GitS does not show restraint in showing the ramifications of mind-uploading and body enhancements, but it’s a show revolving around a counter-terrorist organisation so we’re going to see some nasty shit go down.
But I never got the sense that Shirow is saying “heed my warning! If we have this technology it will be our downfall!”. Instead, he’s saying in typically Japanese fashion, “look, this is nice and all, but be careful with it, ok?”
The biggest example of this are the mini battle-tank type AI called Tachikomas in the TV series which have child-like inquisitive minds who always try to do the right thing. The two season TV series tackles such a juicy selection of themes and topical issues, that even live-action Japanese cinema doesn’t seem to touch them with a barge pole, such as Japan’s attitude to government corruption, child abuse, immigration and minorities, contemporary issues of race and nationality.
Main character Major Kusanagi Motoko is one of my favourite characters in the entire anime medium. Here is a woman who is not useless, she does not need saving, she is always two steps ahead of everyone, she has a confident and tough voice actor voicing her and she will beat the shit out of you if you piss her off. I think I’m in love!
The GitS films are introspective works of art, whereas the TV series expands fully on the universe introduced in the films, and the manga as well. They are procedural detective shows essentially. With brilliant direction by Kenji Kamiyama and a classic soundtrack composed by the legend Yoko Kanno. Kanno is in my opinion one of the greatest composers ever, not just in anime but any medium period.
It’s been seven years since the TV movie, Solid State Society, and now we’ve got new GitS on the horizon. I should be excited, but upon seeing just one image, my heart sank.
Sigh. Is it too cynical of me to say that I think it looks like it’s pandering to an otaku crowd obsessed with youth? Yes, I understand that Motoko can essentially upload her mind into whatever body she pleases. But please. What is this? She looks like a teenager trying to act tough.
A trailer was recently released too.
Not impressed. The art is mediocre, and character art seems genuinely bad in some shots (poor Aramaki!). No mention of previous director Kamiyama or composer Kanno. They have been replaced by Kazuchika Kise, screenwriter Tow Ubukata, and the composer is now cornelius. All three have worked on good things before, and this show is still produced by Production I.G., so I have not lost all hope. But I do feel like the run of excellence that started with the manga has ended with Solid State Society.
Where in the timeline is this show going to fit in? What other topics can they tackle that they haven’t tackled before? I hope they can surprise me with a new refreshing twist on an existing template, I really do. The main hook of the previous TV seasons were done so well with brilliant twists and turns, I just find it difficult to imagine being knocked sideways like that again.
I hope I can be proved wrong, but the fact that this new show has the generic ‘Arise’ in the title seems like a sign of things to come.
Disclaimer: My cynism is fuelled by the modern state of anime, and was solidified after I finished the Greatest Anime Series Ever ™ : Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Since this show, I’ve barely watched any anime at all, there’s been no point!