It was reported back in August that Production I.G. would be going forward with two new seasons of the acclaimed sci-fi series, Ghost in the Shell. Not only that, directors Kenji Kamiyama, previously responsible for the amazing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) would be directing one season each.
With this comes excitement but also caution. Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite series and in my view, the best sci-fi franchises of all time. However, it would be an understatement to say I.G. hasn’t made some missteps recently. This year alone, we got B: The Beginning, a show I enjoyed, but that was terribly marketed and is already obscure. Who could forget the FLCL sequels, the first of which was god awful and the second of which I haven’t finished but have heard was decent.
Having directors like these on the projects gives me hope, no doubt, but I can’t help but worry that this will just be a lifeless cash-in like FLCL Progressive. Especially after Arise, the latest animated entry that was met with mixed reception, and a poorly received live-action film (Oh look, I wrote about that). GITS needs to get back to its roots and this new series might just be the chance for that, but this new story needs to be built on a strong foundation.
Ghost in the Shell is about the post-singularity world, where humans and machines have merged as one, blurring the line between the two. The 1995 film by Mamoru Oshii blew minds over its messages of transcendence. Major Motoko Kusanagi, already conflicted over her own humanity, merges with an intelligent A.I. “I am now neither the woman who was known as the Major nor am I the program known as the puppet master.”
In the criminally underrated sequel, Innocense, these themes were further explored through the idea of dolls. Dolls being synonymous with creations of humanity as a whole, the film explores how we play god in our own ways and asks what those creations would say given a voice.
The above were ideas perfect for the time when they were released because the internet was still new and its possibilities unexplored. Even Innocence, released in 2004, was fresh and daring in its pursuit of these ideas. However, even in 2018, these films and their ideas still hold up, and that’s important because when GITS shifted to TV, that timelessness made it legendary.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of my favorite shows of all time. Both of its 52-episode seasons may have different plotlines, but they are united by a common theme encapsulated in the series title. The “Stand Alone Complex” is a phenomenon that is the internet incarnate. A series of seemingly independent events that all stem from a source that may or may not have even existed.
Confused? It is essentially the memetic nature of the internet, dissected and explored through an episodic series. Those same standalone episodes even factor into the larger plot, making the story itself a stand alone complex. Think of how Hideo Kojima described memes and the internet in Metal Gear Solid 2, and SAC isn’t far off.
In the first season, a hacker known as the “Laughing Man” was attacking members of the Japanese government tied to a conspiracy involving a pharmaceutical company. His nickname and the insignia associated with him became a meme and his ideologies lived on through pretenders.
Perhaps even more topical to today, the second season, titled 2nd Gig, focused on the refugee crisis in the wake of a world war and the manipulation of media. The true antagonist of that season was a cunning mastermind, exploiting the net’s capacity to spin information to suit a narrative. In addition to the philosophy common to the series, the political narrative contextualized through the internet made for an impeccable story.
The next adaptation of Ghost in the Shell was far more of a mixed bag. Titled Arise, it was established as a “prequel” to everything, but like with every Ghost in the Shell IP, it is easier to assume they all take place in their own universes. There are so many changes to the characters’ backstories and personalities that it is hard to connect the different series.
Regardless, it was pretty bad. The four short films went from great to forgettable, to pretty good, to finally boring as hell. Then they remixed it into a ten-episode TV anime with an extra two episodes so boring that I don’t even remember. The only truly bright spot beside the first OVA is the movie, the oddly titled Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie. However, when your greatest asset is that it feels like Stand Alone Complex, there is a problem.
As I said in my GITS 2017 review, the franchise typically comprises three elements in different capacities, philosophy, politics, and police procedural. Forays into philosophy in Arise were never as engaging as in previous entries. Politics had a place, but it was usually so bloated and complex that it was hard to follow. The police procedural element was cool, but I think I really just liked the chemistry the characters had by the time the movie came out.
If there is one thing that Arise was good for, it was the action, something the other entries already did well. Even the live-action GITS had some interesting themes when you dug around a bit more, mainly because it was an inversion of the messages of the 1995 film. Instead of being about transcendence and abandoning humanity, it was about searching for humanity despite the tide of technology.
Keeping with modern trends, it is a film about identity, where the Major finds herself a victim of literal whitewashing and seeks to get justice for it. She suffers a traumatic event that changes her forever, accepts that she can’t go back to how things used to be, and forges a new identity for herself, discarding the one given to her. Despite being an average flick that was panned for a whitewashing controversy, it’s, funnily enough, a commentary on whitewashing, intentional or not.
That’s what makes Ghost in the Shell special. It contextualizes philosophy through science fiction in a way that speaks to our current world and world of the future. It treats the advancements as natural and logical and GITS has always felt more believable than other sci-fi franchises. With two recent mediocre entries, GITS needs that spirit more than ever for this new series.
The New Series
As for what types of themes the new Ghost in the Shell should tackle, there are two directions I see it going. I would love if they doubled down on the concepts of media manipulation and spin, seeing as how they are more relevant now than ever. Alternatively, they can go somewhere new, explore new ways that science could advance in the future and pose even more questions from them.
Now is the time to speculate because with two very credible directors tackling this new entry, it begs to question what the new GITS will be about. Director Kenji Kamiyama’s involvement already spells great things. In typical series trappings, his season will likely continue the trend of a gripping political police drama with dashings of philosophy. It’s Aramaki that really intrigues me though.
I have never personally watched any of the Appleseed series, but I am aware that its story is set in a post-apocalyptic future with similar elements. After all, Appleseed was penned by Shirow Masamune who created Ghost in the Shell. Having both Kamiyama and Aramaki directing feels like a match made in heaven. But since Appleseed’s story has a greater focus on war, I wonder if Aramaki’s position as director will reflect on the narrative of his season.
What if, as a departure from the norm, the new series deconstructed the society we have seen built up thus far and brought it to war. The two seasons could easily be two parts of one story. Kamiyama’s deconstruction of the world which he helped elevate to new heights in S.A.C., followed by a fallout conveyed by Aramaki.
It is unclear yet whether or not the new show will be set in an established universe or a new one, but if the key pillars are intact, we’re in for a treat. We haven’t seen much of how the world of GITS looks during a time of war, save for the flashbacks in S.A.C. It would be cool to see how the members of Section 9 tackle something as big as a war. It could even be a big part of their character arcs.
The moral ambiguity of the world of GITS has always been intriguing. Programmers and cyborg soldiers are essentially the property of the state and the show hasn’t shied away from how the characters aren’t exactly free. Imagine seeing how their allegiances are tested when they are forced to fight in a war. This isn’t even touching on the possibilities for applying the ethics of future technology to the battlefield.
It is an understatement to say I’m excited about what could come of this new series. I love Production I.G. and all their efforts to create new adult-oriented action shows. I’m just hoping that this new endeavor is a hit like Psycho-Pass, better marketed than B: The Beginning, and not a flop like the FLCL sequels.
Expect more impassioned babbling about Ghost in the Shell in the future as we learn more about the new seasons. If you’re excited about more GITS, leave a comment below and tell me your favorite entry in the franchise. Thanks for reading and as always, see you next time.