Ghost in the Shell. Who hasn't heard of this iconic anime and manga franchise? I've of course heard of it, but I've never really got into it besides watching a few random episodes of one of the anime shows on tv. In an attempt to familiarize myself with popular, cyberpunk series, I'm sitting down to check out four of the films/OAVs and giving my quick takes on each.
In 'Ghost in the Shell 2.0', we follow Section 9 cyborg, Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team as they try to track down the evasive and mysterious hacker know as "Puppet Master". With this update of the classic anime film based on Masumune Shirow manga, we get all new animation using modern techniques and 3D-CGI. I personally don't care for mixing CG and traditional animation, but it still looked really good. The story however, suffers from lack of any real antagonist. And while some may find the existential, "what is life" theme that is present, I found it kind of boring and overused. The action was top notch though. Futuristic, cyborg gunfights with crisp, high-motion animation where a real treat to look at. It had a few slow parts, but overall, it was quite entertaining.
This recut of the television series, Stand Alone Complex:2nd Gig, takes all 26 episodes and cuts them down to two and a half hours and edits it together to make one, feature length story. This time around, the Major and Section 9 are out to hunt down a terrorist group, known as the "Individual Eleven". Set amongst a refugee humanitarian crisis, government conspiracies and a nuclear standoff, the Major and Section 9 must do everything they can to avert disaster. I enjoyed this OAV a lot. More so than the original movie, though it did have the advantage of being over an hour longer. It had a lot more to the story and gave the characters more focus. I couldn't say if this story suffered from being distilled down to two and a half hours, or if it benefited from being recut, but I thought it was put together very well. It didn't feel like a clip show recap of the television series. It was very smooth and streamlined. The animation wasn't quite as good as the original, theatrical film, but it was still more than satisfactory.
Just like 'Individual Eleven' this film, 'The Laughing Man', is a recut of the Stand Alone Complex anime series. I probably should have done a little research, because it turns out, 'The Laughing Man' is made up of S.A.C. first season episodes and 'Individual Eleven' from the second season episodes. No worries though. They are both stand alone stories. In 'The Laughing Man', Major Kusanagi and Section 9 are up against a cyber terrorist who is hell bent on laying waste to all the micro machine companies, and anyone who supports them, including the government. No offense to GITS purists, but I feel like this is what the original movie should/could have been. They actually have a bit in common, including a hacker antagonist, who actually does something in this film, and there is even a key scene that shares great similarity with a major scene in the original. Except I think it is done better in 'The Laughing Man'. Though again, this film has the advantage of being over an hour longer, so I'll cut the original some slack. The ending was kind of confusing and anticlimactic, but if I'm judging this by overall entertainment value, I'd put this above 'GITS 2.0' and 'Individual Eleven'. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Two years after the events of 'Stand Alone Complex', the made for TV movie, 'Solid State Society' kicks off and Major Kusanagi is no longer a part of Section 9. To compensate for their missing ace member, Section 9 has expanded it's ranks and is now taking on more and more cases, though they can never fill the shoes of the Major. This time around, Section 9 is out to stop a new cyber terrorist known as "The Puppeteer", who is such a skilled hacker, that he is forcing people to commit suicide. I found this film to have a distinctly different vibe than the rest of the franchise. It had a greater sense of mystery, and was also a bit creepy. The antagonist being able to control people so easily, making people kill themselves and even abducting children. The Puppeteer is by far the most threatening antagonist of the franchise. In none of the previous films that I watched in this series did I feel such a great sense of suspense, and for that, I think this was my favorite of the bunch.
Well, that was a lot of cyberpunk fun. If I had to make one complain about my experience with this franchise, it's that you never really get to know the characters that well. It always feels like you just jump in and hit the ground running with no time to stop, slow down, and add some characterization. This is especially noticeable for some of the supporting members of Section 9, who seem really cool, but like I said, we never get to know them. For this reason, I wonder if I should have watched the entirety of the anime series instead of these compressed OVA's. I'd wager what I am looking for is exactly what was cut out in order to make them into film length. It also may not hurt to check out the manga, but I'll save that for another blog post. If you want to watch any of these movies, you can stream all four of them for free on Manga.com.