Ignore the Hate, Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is Good

The new Ghost in the Shell is good

This isn’t up for debate. Not because I’m opposed to dissenting opinions but because the festering shitholes known as the comment sections and forum posts about this new series have made such a claim a necessity.

About three years ago, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 was announced. After 14 years, Stand Alone Complex was getting a direct sequel, something that was welcome after the middle-of-the-road Arise series from 2013. Even better, it would be directed AND WRITTEN by Kenji Kamiyama, the same guy who directed and wrote the original SAC. As a bonus, he would be co-directing alongside Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki.

Production I.G. would be working on it (no surprise there) along with Sola Digital Arts. In a big surprise, the character designs would be handled by Ilya Kuvshinov, someone who is mostly known to me for making beautiful art that people always set as their Soundcloud thumbnails for some reason.

Just last year we got a sense of what this very production team, sans Kuvshinov, was capable of. They released the Netflix original Ultraman, the animated sequel to the legendary Tokusatsu show of the same name. It was a cool show that got praise at the time, for good reason. So you’d think that knowing that these same people were working on the new Ghost in the Shell that people would look at the two and think “ok, this is the kind of animation I can expect.”

Instead, a lot of stupid fucking people acted like they didn’t see it coming when the new Ghost in the Shell was entirely CGI. Now that it’s released, I’d like to believe that people realized they were wrong, but nope. So I’m coming out of my hiatus swinging to get you motherfuckers cultured.

I typically save animation and sound assessment for the very end, but let’s address the biggest elephants in the room right out of the gate.

CGI

Dear haters,

I get it, I used to be just like you. I hated CG anime. I was already fed up with America ditching hand-drawn animation and was terrified of anime going the same way. I understand that anger. That being said, the reason I was hesitant towards CGI is that it was seldom ever used effectively.

Japan has, to our benefit, primarily dealt in hand-drawn animation for the last several decades, but only in the last 10-15 have they really pushed towards making better CGI animated films and television. So it’s been a learning curve that seems messy to Americans because we are spoiled with incredible computer-animated films.

But I swear to you now, Japan IS getting better at this. I should know, I was passionately (stupidly) against CGI in anime until I thought about two things. Firstly, places CGI was already used effectively. Secondly, what precisely turns me off from CG and what is being done about it.

To the first point, Ghost in the Shell has been using CGI since the very fucking beginning. Even the fucking manga used CGI imagery to accompany the hand-drawn artwork. GITS: Innocence integrated CG and 2D seamlessly in a pretty impressive way for the time. And Stand Alone Complex was the biggest proponent, using CG for every Tachikoma, helicopter, or mecha.

“But Sakura,” you say, “Those are just examples of computer displays, backgrounds, liquid and lighting effects, particle effects, mecha, and most of the other elements that comprise a scene… t-there weren’t CGI characters…”

Yeah probably because CG character animation on a TV budget wasn’t up to par yet. The thing is, it is now. Just look at Ultraman. The animation is great and emotive and the fights are insanely well choreographed.

This brings me to the second point. The people working on these shows are aware of the flaws of this animation style and are working to improve. I used to hate Polygon Pictures, the studio that made its first huge splash with Knights of Sidonia, the first Netflix Original Anime.

The reason that I and many others were turned off by this style was that it was trying too hard to imitate hand-drawn animation styles. The frame-rate was the same as any other TV anime, leading to a choppy and unappealing eyesore that I’ve never been able to sit through. This would be the case with a few of Polygon Pictures’ shows going forward.

Some studios managed to strike a fine balance. Studio Sanzigen is one of the most prominent, though the stuff they are really known for is their works in collaboration with other studios. If you need convincing of their qualifications, they worked with Trigger on Promare and I dare anyone to say that the CG integration in that wasn’t great.

Nowadays, Polygon Pictures is a studio that I have much more respect for. They figured out that standard TV anime frame rates don’t mix with CG and made their animation more fluid. The only issue I have with Polygon Pictures now is that their stories tend to suck but that has nothing to do with the visuals.

Human Lost may have been a boring mess of a film and one of the worst I saw last year, but the emotional climax of the film in which the main character has a nervous breakdown was some of the best character animation I saw all of 2019.

Studio Orange is the new hotness on the scene, having produced 2017’s hit, Land of the Lustrous and 2019’s Beastars, both some of the most highly praised or at least talked about shows of their respective years. CGI is not the same death sentence for a series that it used to be. It’s not simply being done “effectively” but is actively being utilized as an artistic expression to enhance these shows.

The hate for this new GITS is even more baffling upon finishing the series. SAC_2045 immediately managed to improve on last year’s Ultraman in a small but meaningful way. It was more consistent. Ultraman had smooth animation but sometimes it would be smooth one instant and choppy the next.

SAC_2045 has no such issues with consistency in the framerate. This brings me to the art style as a whole. If anything, it feels true to the artwork of the original SAC. There is a realistic approach to the animation of backgrounds and objects in the environment. Some closeups of doors or mechanics were gorgeous.

Even just looking at the first teaser that got people so pissed, the complaints are laughable. The shadows are dynamic and realistic. The illusion of weight in movement is handled well. I will say that the realism of some textures versus the smooth and almost cell-shaded look of others can sometimes clash, but it’s a minor issue when compared to the quality of the characters in motion.

Some have claimed that facial animations could be more expressive. I can understand this. That depends on what characters we’re discussing though. Major might not be too expressive but she’s always been fairly stoic save for the rare times she gets furious in a fight.

Even if the facial expressions aren’t animated enough for you, though, I can’t imagine looking at the full-body animation and thinking “wow, what a lack of emotion.” New additions to the cast like Purin are the living embodiment of this.

Furthermore, the fight choreography in SAC_2045 is top-tier. I know that I tend to talk about fights a lot when justifying the quality of animation but come on, this is an action show. The realistic grittiness of characters in a knife fight or the spectacle of two armored cyborgs is animated with equal amounts of care. If you enjoyed the grounded choreography of Ultraman last year, this series ups the game considerably.

All in all, the CGI is well-produced. Ghost in the Shell has been using it since the beginning. The only difference now is that it’s all CGI. Moving on, here are a few things that are similarly stupid that people complain about.

Music

Yoko Kanno isn’t doing the music this time.

It’s a shame, though if that were the only complaint I’d say it’s a bit unfair to presume that every staff member would return for the new show. What honestly astounds me is the number of people who watched the trailer and had the audacity to say that Ghost in the Shell shouldn’t have hip hop music.

Did… did any of you actually watch Stand Alone Complex? Yoko Kanno’s entire appeal is that she composes music across a wide breadth of genres. Ghost in the Shell is not just about eerie choir chanting like what we got in the original film. SAC was about a lot more than philosophy. It was a police show with folksy acoustic backing, a political thriller with Hollywood-esque orchestra, and yes, even a fun spy show with jazzy hip-hop trappings.

Listen to this and tell me that new opening doesn’t fit

To listen to the opening of SAC_2045 and say “well this is just an insult” is a bigger insult to the franchise in itself. I won’t pretend Nobuko Toda’s music matches the intensity of Kanno’s work because let’s be real that’s plain unfair. If anything, I wish I heard more of Toda’s soundtrack.

No seriously, this shit slaps and they even made it the opening of the terrestrial broadcast of season one

There were some great tracks but often there were very quiet scenes that could have used some background music. Regardless, there is a clear inspiration from Kanno’s past work on this series to keep the feel of the music consistent. Additionally, Toda’s MyAnimeList page paint’s an impressive resume. Check out her bio because she has quite the history.

Last on the list of stupid complaints…

The Major’s Design

She looks awesome.

Some people say she looks too young. Once again, an understandable complaint, taken to extremes. I sincerely want to know how many of the people dissatisfied with her design here have seen Ghost in the Shell: Arise. Because Arise made the Major look like absolute shit.

She constantly looked like she just got out of a haircut where they cut off too much. They only fixed it in the last two minutes of the film by giving her a new body and then they never made a new entry in that cannon.

Major as depicted in Ghost in the Shell: Arise

The Major here looks so much more appealing now. Her hair and eyes pop out with a more striking look and detailed shading, with the same purple accent she was known for in the SAC cannon. Her outfit feels like the natural evolution between the parts of season one’s outfit that weren’t stupid and season two’s improbably cool attire.

Maybe they could have made her new body look a bit older. After all, Major in SAC constantly came back to her original shell time and time again. Part of her character has always relied on the connection she has with the body she considers hers, even if she could be anything she wanted. Still, the design feels spiritually consistent with the design enough that I can forgive this.

Major from the original Stand Alone Complex

Well, I successfully spent over 1400 words responding to the criticisms which have followed this show since the first trailer, all before I’ve even gotten into the meat of what this sequel is about. If you would permit me to pump the brakes on the snark for just a moment, allow me to be more compassionate (then I’ll go back to being a smartass).

If you still have an issue with the use of CGI here or in anime in general, I implore you to give CG anime a chance. Additionally, I encourage you to consider what part of the animation doesn’t sit well with you. Perhaps it is a tangible component you feel could be improved or maybe you simply aren’t used to it. Either way, I hope we can all look back on this show in the future more positively.

As for the complaints about music or the major’s appearance, a lot of the hate for this series seems downright uninformed. If I had to guess, the people who are the most vocally negative about this show aren’t fans of Ghost in the Shell as a series, but perhaps have seen parts of it in the past to have a strong nostalgia for bits and pieces.

It’s an easy excuse to call dissenters “fake fans,” I know, but what else can I say when people are so quick to dismiss a sequel from the same guy who helmed the original. Kenji Kamiyama is a great director with a comprehensive handle on the world of Shirow Masamune’s Ghost in the Shell who miraculously came back again to give us more. When I saw the opening and read that he wrote it as well, I could hardly contain my excitement.

They even brought back the original cast, both Japanese and English, for this new series. This is more important than you might realize. In the case of the former, Arise was the first GITS series to use a different Japanese cast. Their return is greatly appreciated.

As for the dub, it was a little delayed on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was made available just a few days before the time of posting this review. Props to Netflix for this one. They clearly remembered the hate that Evangelion’s new dub got and said: “not this time, fuckers.”

Mary Elizabeth McGlynn will always be the one true Major Motoko Kusanagi. The same goes for Richard Epcar as Batou and Crispin Freeman as Togusa. To have all the members of section 9 back makes me excited to rewatch it all in English.

The Actual Review

So I guess I should actually talk about the show right?

The year is 2045 (whoa who could’ve seen that coming), the world has gone to shit. A policy failure by the United Nations leads to what is known as the Synchronized Global Default leads to global economic collapse. Additionally, America has created “Sustainable War” as an industry, leading to civil war in the west.

In the time between the film Solid State Society and the present, Section 9 disbanded. The Major, Batou, Saitou, and Ishikawa started a private mercenary group in South America. Togusa got divorced but stayed in Japan to do government work. Finally, I don’t know, Paz and Borma went off presumably to rent an apartment together or some shit (they don’t show up until the end of episode 7).

As Major finds her team wrapped up in a mission for the American government, Chief Aramaki enlists Togusa to track them down and reinstate Section 9. The threat this time around are evolved A.I.’s which originate in seemingly normal people’s cyberbrains, turning them into extremely intelligent and formidable opponents. They are called “Post Humans” and pose a serious threat to humanity.

The threat is much larger than previous entries in the franchise. The first season was an investigation into a corporate conspiracy while the second was about the political fallout of a refugee crisis. The scale has rarely been on this big of a scale, which might rightfully lead some to think this new series is a bit more action-focused.

Whether that is right or wrong depends on where the show takes the idea of Post Humans and what it says about the real world. After all, as I’ve explained in the past, the goal of Ghost in the Shell is to explore politics and philosophy through science fiction. As only 12 of 24 episodes have been released it’s too early to tell what it will all amount to in the end, but I’m nothing if not hopeful.

A brief aside: Netflix should have just released the entire thing. The cliffhanger at the end of episode 12 left me excited, but if hardly felt like the end of a season. My guess is that Kamiyama’s script was intended as a single 24 episode unit, but acting as if it can be neatly split in two just because half of 24 is 12 makes this “season” feel a bit unfulfilling. Just another issue I have with how Netflix releases anime.

As a concept, sustainable war sounds cool, but the explanation as to what it is feels a bit vague. In the past, concepts like the Stand Alone Complex were parallels to the internet’s memetic culture or even fake news in the case of season two. I’m hoping the show will expand on this concept more.

As it is, the standalone episodes are still some of the most memorable of the bunch. After Section 9 is reassembled, there are a few episodes that isolate one of the main players and put them in some fun situations. The best parts of these episodes aren’t just reaffirming how awesome Batou and Togusa are, they’re exploring topical concepts relevant to today, something I’m excited for with every GITS.

The most prominent example is an episode about the victims of economic collapse. There is a big focus on cryptocurrency that plays into the episode’s resolution cleverly. Episodes like these make me feel like the original series never ended. Better yet, the ideas which in past seasons felt topical in retrospect feel important now as I’m watching it.

Getting to witness this new series as a fan as it comes out is a delight. It makes me wonder what concepts and ideas about the future will turn out to be right in the next decade or so. What I’m mainly looking forward to in the second half of the season is more of these standalone episodes.

If I’m honest with myself. The last few episodes were mixed. The last episode was very interesting and ended on a cliffhanger but Episodes 10 and 11 had some things holding them back. The former had a decidedly more comedic tone, following the enthusiastic new member of the team, Purin.

I’m fine with some more wacky or weird content, but Togusa imitating Bruce Lee during a potential attempt on the Prime Minister’s life kinda killed it for me. Also, there’s a guy whose online avatar is a creepy talking fish, but that’s less of a flaw and more just funny.

As for episode 11, it focuses on the background of one of the Post Humans being hunted by Section 9. For the most part, the story is interesting and the concepts are cool. I just think the writing towards the beginning could be a bit cringy and jarring.

The members of Section 9 are exactly how I remember them. Kamiyama hasn’t lost his touch for writing these characters on their own or as part of a unit. Major, Batou, and Togusa take center stage as usual. I’m hoping that Paz and Borma get more to do in the second half because as much as I like them, they are the most consistently slept on members.

New to the cast are Omoshiro and Purin. The former only sticks around for the first half, joining Major’s mercenary group as a new member. I kinda wish he stayed for the hell of it because it might have given him more time to grow and justify his presence in the first place. As for Purin, she is the new handler of the Tachikomas and a huge fangirl of Batou. In addition to being very cute, she proves herself to be a competent addition to the team.

Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is the sequel I never thought we would ever get. The original SAC is among my all-time top ten, not just for anime, but for TV dramas in general. When the second half releases, hopefully with the complete dub, we’ll see if it was the follow-up we didn’t know we needed or a bust.


Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 season one (episodes 1-12) is available for legal streaming through Netflix

I finished the first season about two days after release and finished the first draft of this review the same day. I would have waited until April was over to write my thoughts but I was so frustrated with the stupid shit people were complaining about that I had to vent. To dedicated followers, I hope the ranting was as informative as it was enjoyable. To new readers, I promise I’m not always this angry.

Let me know what you think about SAC_2045. Better yet, tell me if you were excited about it or if you’re on the fence and tell me how you felt after watching it. Leave a comment below and while you are at it, tell me what your favorite entry in the Ghost in the Shell franchise is.

While you’re at it, check out my other essays and reviews on Ghost in the Shell:

The Untapped Potential of Ghost in the Shell 2017

What the New Ghost in the Shell Needs To Accomplish

The Best Ghost in the Shell Film (Isn’t the One You Think)

If Dolls Could Speak – Ghost in the Shell: Innocence

Next week: a discussion of two certified classics, one of which has just become a favorite of mine. Look forward to it. Thank you very much for reading and I’ll see you next week!

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