See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ghost in the Shell - Solid State Society

Click the image on your left for the trailer!

In the few years I've been watching anime, I've never found anything I liked quite so well as the Ghost in the Shell series. The anime are based on the incredible manga by Masamune Shirow, of whom a good bibliography can be found at that link. Although Shirow has said that he considered the Appleseed series (which led to the anime film of the same name, the latter version of which was my favorite anime before the instant Ghost film) to be his main work, he is best known for the Ghost in the Shell works.

Without recapping all the material in the bibliography, Ghost in the Shell came out in 1995 and was the first anime to really blow my head off. I usually don't like any kind of fiction where cops are the heroes, but this stuff is the exception. Section 9 is a near-future police / "anti-terrorist" force staffed mostly by cyborgs, humans who have made most of their body parts replaced, or have entirely cybernetic bodies. Its protagonist is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a brooding, beautiful cyborg who turns out to be one of the most enigmatic, fascination heroes in science fiction. At the end of the original movie, Motoko blends with its villain, the Puppet Master, and disappears into the net. There is a sequel manga to the first volume, and a beautiful sequel film from 2004 (which take place in different universes, and don't follow the same plot line). For some reason the version of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence released here has no dub and you'll have to deal with the subtitles (if anyone hasn't figured it out yet, this stuff is all originally Japanese....), but it's well worth the experience.

To confuse you further, the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series by Kenji Kuriyama, doesn't follow the plot lines of any of the above, but takes place in a universe where Motoko never left Section 9 but continues at the helm. It ran two seasons and has to be the most complex, intelligent thing I've ever seen in the guise of a TV show; it makes me wonder if the Japanese audience isn't a lot more sophisticated than the American, which come to think of it wouldn't be hard.

The new film is simply the most beautiful, exciting and elegant entry in the whole opus so far. It seems to have been done in lieu of a third season of SAC, and it reputedly set a budget record for an anime TV movie; the money shows in the production. Get ready to fall in love with Motoko all over again. If you thought the second season of SAC got too talky, this is the antidote for it - lots of action.

When William Gibson inadvertently invented what became known as cyberpunk in the 'nineties, he created or uncovered a huge fanbase for an art form that barely existed. He admits that his own skills as a writer were limited at that point, although that early stuff, with its heroes like Case and especially Molly the razor girl, still fascinates me, and I'm not alone. Most of the "cyberpunk" that followed was garbage, including a lot of stuff by Gibson's friend and unfortunate collaborator, Bruce Stirling, that I really, really tried to like. But occasionally you get a genius like Shirow, whose knowledge shows through in every page of the manga, down to the footnotes (and whose vision, like Gibson's, foreshadowed and doubtless influenced our current cybernetic reality). This is the real stuff, and Shirow (and Kuriyama), like Gibson, will never insult your intelligence).

What I'm saying is, go get Ghost in the Shell - Solid State Society now; but if you haven't seen its precursors first, you should. See the two other films in order followed by both series of SAC. And you really ought to read all the manga; the go for Appleseed, followed by Shirow's other works. It'll be the best anime time you ever spent. If you're not into anime, you will be after this, or you just don't get it. But this is philosophical stuff, and it does require a modicum of knowledge about what has come to be known as cyberspace. It's not for kids.

And kind of a big footnote: The more Ghost in the Shell I watch, the more I identify with Batou, the brooding (yes, him too) cyborg who is Motoko's partner. I just read a great book, After the Long Goodbye, which takes place in the universe of the original movies, after Motoko is gone, and stars Batou. Now, novelizations are crap, but this book is by noted sci fi auther Masaki Yamada, and is a piece of literature in its own right. It is the story of Batou's quest for his lost bassett hound, and it is also an interesting mediation on the essence of humanity, strongly flavored by Japan's Buddhist backdrop (and its modern, atheist one as well). You won't be disappointed, in any of this.

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