Matoko Kusanagi investigates the death of her commanding officer. In typical Ghost in the Shell fashion, she uncovers a ridiculously complex conspiracy chock-full of computer network based trickery.
Ghost in the Shell, which originated as a short-running manga by Masamune Shiro, was the subject of two highly acclaimed films, as well as two TV series and a third movie set in the TV universe. ‘Arise’ is a four-film prequel series (if a 59 minute show can be called a ‘film’).
In the first episode we meet Matoko, who seems much younger than her later incarnations. It’s not just that she has the body of a 14 year old; she seems to lack the world-weariness that we saw in the previous installments. Has her character been simplified, or is this just a younger, more ideal Matoko who has yet to be disillusioned by the world?
When the revised character designs were first revealed, there was wide-spread fear that the series was being ‘hipped-up,’ or ‘dumbed-down,’ depending on your point of view. I do think there are some visual choice that we wouldn’t have seen in the earlier films or TV series. Matoko’s design is one; so too is the design of the villain cyborgs, which are overly-cute girls in leotards. Also odd is the fashion choices of Matoko’s commanding officer; a high ranking military woman who wears her blouse unbuttoned down to her bellybutton with no bra underneath.
Yes, the second film had the gang of prostitute androids; but their design was intended to creep us out. GinS Arise‘s designs are intended to titillate. It’s not excessive (certainly not in the anime world) but the Ghost in the Shell franchise is better than that.
Leaving visuals aside; what makes Ghost in the Shell special is its philosophical bent. The series is known for examining the effects of technology and its integration with humanity and society. Ghost in the Shell Arise explores the same territory. It doesn’t represent the deepest insight that we’ve seen from the franchise; but in its defense, this is just the first episode and it has time to dig deeper. What’s important is that this is more than just an action movie. It’s thoughtful; both in its careful plotting, and in the world it creates.
One of the things that really makes the series work is how believable the technology is. It’s all made-up future tech, but it’s a logical evolution of the trends we see today. I’m not sure if all of the things GinS imagines will actually come to pass, but I don’t find myself having to suspend disbelief all that much to accept what I’m seeing. This believability keeps the series grounded in a gritty realism, even when the plots get kind of fanciful.
There’s a beautifully animated scene near then end of the episode. It’s reminiscent of a scene in the first film, in which Matoko fights a robot tank. What’s special about both these scenes is that they so evocatively visualize her strength and desperation, even though it makes her look less-attractive (momentarily). Seeing Matoko’s muscles bulge and her face contorted as she fights for her life is almost enough to compensate for the silly sexualization suffered by the other female characters.
Ghost in the Shell Arise isn’t the pinnacle of the franchise (yet) but it’s a great start, and will easily make the top ten of list of anime produced this year. The Blu-ray, which was imported from Japan, opens with a menu asking if you’d like to watch in Japanese or English. The subtitles are good, there were no egregious grammatical errors and the timing was right (though some of the wordier conversations went by a little fast). The video quality was sharp, but the colors were a little drab (by design). The sound was fantastic, though. Overall, it’s a great presentation of a great production.