Tentacle-Free Anime: "Ghost in the Shell" (1995)
- by Kazekun, 27 March 2017
This week is going to be a trying time for all of us, there's no doubt. With another Hollywood live-action adaptation of a beloved anime franchise, and the bile of both Dragonball Evolution and The Last Airbender still stuck to our tongues, I felt today was as perfect a time as ever to discuss a film that is very near and dear to the hearts of the anime community and the cinematic community at large.
Do we have souls, or are we all just manufactured ghosts in a shell? More precisely, can a manufactured ghost have a soul? What does it mean to truly be alive? What is the next step in our evolution?
We see how people like this are affected – and affect us – in this increasingly technological world. A great example being Major's ability to connect to the Wi-Fi (essentially) of a vehicle being driven by another member, who is fully human, and not only take away his ability to drive the vehicle, but at the same time get into the digital realm and use her detective skills to try and track down their perpetrator.
This is fascinating, to have such power that you could do some great damage with, and yet Major is conflicted throughout the film on how she should approach this life she's been given with a wholly cybernetic body. There's a great scene in the middle where she and Batou discuss their fates as cyborgs who, because of their bodies not belonging wholly to them, are trapped as agents of Section 9.
They've had their freedoms stripped away physically and mentally in order to be kept in check. Major has been handed a new life in the form of a new body with all these amazing abilities, and still must keep herself in check lest it all be stripped of her by the powers that be. She feels manufactured, unable to make her own decisions and live the life she wishes to.
Does this make her a living creature? Or just another manufactured soul? In that same scene Major goes snorkeling despite what the water could do to her body and she explains to Batou that she does it to feel alive, to feel something. To feel free. It's a very powerful scene as it encapsulates some of the very fears that some people do hold as we become more beholden of technology and unable to live without it. At what point do we lose our sense of self?
This is further explored near the end of the film when the “Puppetmaster” finally makes himself known. An AI who refuses to call himself an AI, and instead opts to call himself a free soul looking for a permanent body. He seeks out the Major due to her having similar fears hopes as he and pushes for the two fuse together to create a new entity. A truly free soul that can attach to a body and become the evolution of both man and machine.
Obviously, this creates a strong dilemma for the Major. What choice she makes, however, I'll let you the reader find out if you haven't seen the film already. And I truly do believe this is a film everyone who enjoys anime, or at the very least cinema, should see at least once.
Ghost in the Shell is all-in-all a great movie with something striking to say but it also dazzles with stunning visuals and incredibly fun characters. Speaking of the visuals first, the animation quality of this film still holds up to this day in my opinion as some of the best. Again, it's right up there with Akira as far as this stuff goes. The near-opening sequence alone with us seeing Major's body being created is fascinating to watch and ripe with shots that barely exist in any medium today.
The creation process, by the way, had to have inspired some of what we see in the recent HBO remake of Westworld. There's a lot of similarities in the two for that not to be the case.
All of the members of Section 9 are fun to watch. From Major herself who longs to be human, to Batou who is half-human and longs for Major, and even Togusa who is all-human (except for a small brain augmentation as is pointed out) who just wants to do his very best and keep up with these death-defying cyborgs. The characters in Ghost in the Shell feel wholly real and fleshed out so that you care for them when/if something bad happens.
Where I do think this film could have gone better is in both its execution of the ending, which I'll try not to spoil, but also in its creative choices that I would've liked to have personally seen instead based solely on scenes we get in the film that are also never wholly fleshed out.
First off is the ending. After what felt like an epic scope film throughout its entirety the ending does leave a lot to be desired as it sort of kills the momentum GitS had going for it up until the final 5 minutes or so. As it was pointed out to me, this entire film feels like a long prequel to an even larger story and the person who said that isn't wrong when you stop to think about it.
Thematically, the ending works. But it also doesn't, from a pacing or narrative standpoint. Something happens and then the movie just kind of ends and we're left with all these loose ends that ends up making this feel more like an “episode 0” story rather than an “episode 1.”
Likewise the film introduces us to a few points that I wish were either expounded upon or at the very least handled differently within the film. These two points I'm referring to are one, when Major is on a boat and she sees herself in a restaurant eating, and another point where she and Batou are talking on her snorkeling boat and the two of them hear her voice in their heads talking to the both of them.
That first point, with the restaurant, while I recognize that it's just her seeing herself in a situation that is more human – a situation in which she wishes that she could be a part of – it does strike me as odd that they didn't use this as a moment of surprise for the Major sort of with an “Oh! There's another me! But I'm here?” kind of scenario. Especially when we discuss the second point, the voice, which I believe was the “Puppetmaster” talking to both Major and Batou if I remember correctly, they could have used the two moments to have Major realize that there are more of her running around that she isn't aware of.
I know this is just my wishful thinking on the matter, but it could have led to an interesting scenario where the Major is forced to confront that maybe, just maybe, she really is a manufactured soul that can be replaced by Section 9 if she steps out of line. A true ghost in a shell. I personally think that would've wrapped up nicer with her wants to be an individual with her own freedoms as well as lead to a more poignant discussion on the soul, individuality, evolution and the such.
What we did end up getting instead is still a massively successful and great film that deserves all the praise it's given. There's a lot to like about Ghost in the Shell and the massive franchise its spawned. And this week we're getting a Hollywood live-action adaptation. No matter what your thoughts are on that going into it, I think we can all agree that we hope it ends up being a great film that can stay spiritually true to its predecessor while also blazing a trail of its own. Just like this one did in 1995 (it is based off of a manga after all).
Final Score: 4.5 Manufactured Souls out of 5
Are you familiar with Ghost in the Shell? Let us know what you thought of it below!