Following in the vein of Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell was a staple of the Adult Swim anime line-up in the 2000’s. Based on the manga (and movie) by Masamune Shirow, the show follows an elite group, Section 9, as they combat cyber-crime and terrorism. Taking place in 2030 Japan, nearly ever person in the world has some sort of cybernetic implant. The show delves into many different philosophical discussions about life and the extension thereof due to these “enhancements.” It’s some heady stuff.
Full disclosure, I hated the original Ghost in the Shell movie. Granted, I have not seen it in at least 12 years, but I still remember many of my problems with the feature. Other than titillation, why did she need to be naked to fight? The movie felt like act 1, making the ending akin to hitting a brick wall at 90 mph. Thankfully, other than character design and concepts, little carries over here.
Cyberbrains are the lynchpin of the series. People receive implants where their consciousness is stored. There are different degrees of cyberization, but the baseline package is essentially similar to wearing Google Glasses constantly. Further augmentation includes a prosthetic replacement of more of the brain and other body parts. Consciousness is are referred to as ghosts, and can be hacked into and co-opted by skilled users, like the Laughing Man.
While every member of Section 9 is shown and fleshed out in some capacity, the main characters are Aramaki (the Chief), Togusa, Batou, with central protagonist Motoko Kusanagi (the leader and called the Major). An element of her character that is eventually revealed is that she is was the first person to undergo a complete prosthetic replacement in the world.
The show is mostly like X-Files, where there is an over arcing story line throughout the season along with a few stand alone episodes. The Laughing Man is a skilled hacker, angered by the current Japanese administration’s corporate back dealings, slightly obsessed with “A Catcher in the Rye”. He becomes a hero to the people for exposing the corruption before these companies fake further acts of terrorism and use him as a scapegoat to detract from his public perception. He gained renown for hacking into every visual device (camera, eyes, etc.) that could see him, and replacing his face with a coffee logo, protecting his identity. This image is how he became known as the laughing man.
One of the main ideas about what life is when compared to a machine comes from the Tachikomas. Section 9 has a fleet of one-person tanks capable of being controlled or acting on their own with A.I. Batou adopts a personal unit, spoiling it with natural oil instead of synthetic. This leads to an anomaly in their system that spreads due to a spared memory bank. Most of the discussion about what is life, who is alive, and more comes from the Tachikomas. As the series progresses, they develop sapience, acting without orders to save their human teammates. The Tachikomas are incredibly endearing, giving me some of the feels. Thankfully, Adult Swim didn’t air the Tachikoma shorts accompanying each episode. They were weird and too slap sticky.
Speaking of Adult Swim, the animation block on Cartoon Network actually helped fund the production of both this, and it’s sequel series, 2nd Gig. Unlike many of their other anime’s, which are licensed, the own a stake of the property and the right to air it perpetually. I’m sure we’ll see them pull the show out occasionally.
While some people have complaints about the animation (I like it), one thing no one can argue is the quality of the music. Yoko Kanno scored the series beautifully. More so than any show, this music has stuck with me. I was going through many changes in my life when this aired. Whether it’s seeing the Adult Swim promos, or hearing Origa perform Inner Universe (still have that on my ipod), it helps me recall memories long forgotten. I can’t describe the wave of nostalgia I’m hit with as I write this. As for Inner Universe, I love this song, and Origa as a perform. However, the simplistic CG animations are garbage. Still an amazing song.
Initially, Stand Alone Complex seems to take itself too seriously, trying to be overly intelligent like the Architect scene from The Matrix: Reloaded. As I’ve grown older, watching the series a few more times, the ideas conveyed here resounded with me more. As long as you’re willing to invest, paying attention while not trying to multitask, S.A.G. is phenomenal.
Was the Laughing Man story smartly written or overwrought? Did the music do anything for you? Comment below, on Facebook, or Twitter! You can now see my Saturday Morning Cartoon posts at The Two-Headed Nerd!
Couldn’t bring myself to finish Catcher in the Rye.