Before I go off reviewing this anime masterpiece, I'll share my personal history with Ghost in the Shell, which dates back nine years ago. Back in July of 2002, I had a bug to watch anime that came out of nowhere. I went to the nearest Blockbuster and gazed at their meager selection of anime and the two VHS tapes that caught my attention the most were Akira (because I heard good buzz from friends) and Ghost in the Shell. I noticed Ghost in the Shell because the tape box had a naked cyborg woman holding a gun and a “mature audiences only” sticker on it and my immature 14 year-old brain screamed “Violence and nudity? Yeah!! This is gonna be awesome!!” I had to have my older brother come with me because I couldn't rent these tapes by myself due to my age at the time and a little bit after midnight on July 17 (when everyone was asleep), I popped this baby in my VCR and I was blown away. Much to my surprise, this had A LOT more to offer than superficial violence and nudity and I was very pleased with that. Along with Akira two nights prior, this completely changed my view on the complexity and maturity animation can achieve since I was rather uncultured concerning “adult animation” since all I watched until then was stuff like South Park and The Ren and Stimpy Show (I'm not saying they're bad, they're all good, just not nearly as sophisticated.). Needless to say, I was so impressed by both anime titles, at around that time, it was those two that made me want to pursue a career relating to animation.
The plot is that in the year 2029, computers and the internet have taken over everything and cybernetic humans are so complex and powerful, they easily pass off as the real thing. There have been a spike in reports of cybernetic humans getting “ghost hacked” by an elite hacker known only as the “Puppet Master,” Public Security Section 9 are ready to get to the bottom of the whole Puppet Master dilemma. Major Motoko Kusinagi is a powerful female cyborg and second in command of Section 9 and while investigating the Puppet Master case, she begins to doubt her own “human” authenticity due to her being a cyborg.
COMPLEX, THOUGHT-PROVOKING THEMES
This is why I love Ghost in the Shell so much, it's not the type of movie where you can just veg out and still be able to comprehend the film, you actually have to pay attention to it. Another thing about GITS that's great is that the focal point of the movie isn't about catching the Puppet Master, but rather about the Major's relationship between her body and her ghost. One of the most moving scenes involving the Major's dilemma has to be where she's on the riverboat as she stares at various windows of department stores and office buildings as she stares at them, she begins to see herself as the manikins or office employees. The Major is consumed by angst over the fact that she doesn't know her origins or even if her “ghost” is an authentic state of consciousness or a collection of artificial memories to feel like such. I particularly enjoyed the scene were Batou and the Major are on the boat and after the Major goes scuba diving (which she needs flotation devices otherwise she'll sink like a rock) in which the Major says to Batou how that when she surfaces from a dive, she feel like she's becoming a different person. I especially enjoyed her explaining to him the aspects of personal uniqueness:
“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind like all of the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it, I collect information to use in my own way, all of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.”
The Major is also disturbed by the fact that she can't evolve by any natural means since her cyborg body can't grow or change overtime, she's dying to embrace something new, so to speak. After the cyborg suspected to have the “Puppet Master” itself inside it is snagged by Section 9, Motoko is dying to “ghost dive” into it and Batou dismisses the Major's inner struggle about herself and tells her to quit with the angst since she's treated like a normal human and the Major says one of the most memorable lines in the movie:
“But that's the only thing that makes me feel human, the way I'm treated.”
When the “Puppet Master” hacks into Section 9's security system and communicates with Chief Aramaki and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the “Puppet Master” says a lot of thought-provoking things, but to not spoil everything for you, here's what I think is one of the best:
“A memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind.”
As far as the themes about the meaning of being human, the advances of computers, and with the fusion of man and machine, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I'll let you watch the movie so you can absorb the other themes I didn't cover.
While Ghost in the Shell isn't exactly an action anime, the action scenes it does have a rather inventive and cool. For example, the scene towards the beginning where one of the Puppet Master's “ghost hacked” pawns tries to fight off the Major and her partners in Section 9, the pawn disguises himself with thermo-optic camouflage to make himself invisible and makes the shootouts more interesting. The Major and Batou have to use infrared to find the invisible man and snag him. The Major beats the guy at his own game by disguising herself with similar camouflage and hands his butt to the perpetrator in the process. Needless to say, the scene towards the end where the Major battles a mecha-tank with only a machine gun is one of the most intense battle scenes I've ever seen in anime.
ANIMATION, ARTWORK, AND COMPUTER GRAPHICS
Ghost in the Shell is very revolutionary to be one of the first anime titles to incorporate computer graphics into traditional cel animation. Best of all, the computer graphics are used to enhance the cel animation rather than use it as a crutch. One of the best examples of this is right before the Major beats the snot out of a ghost-hacked criminal, there's a thermo-optic silhouette of her that zooms in on her head that looks so fantastic and despite that this was made in 1995, it could compete with computerized special effects in today's animated work. The other special effects, particularly the simplified computer-generated images of the city and of the complex scans of cyborg brains are very, very impressive. The animation itself is excellent, the characters and other animate objects move very fluidly as if they were real. And as far as the smoothness of frame rates goes, it easily competes with Akira and the animated films from Studio Ghibli (in other words, as close to perfection as possible). The artwork of the characters, vehicles, buildings, and everything else are all absolutely fantastic. The characters have that “anime” aesthetic to them but at the same time, look much more “human” than the typical anime character. The surroundings and high-tech stuff have TONS of detail attached to them. You can clearly tell that these people didn't cut corners ANYWHERE. I also love the colors used in Ghost in the Shell as everything seems to have a dark tint to create a feeling of uneasiness and even some fear in the depths of a futuristic Hong Kong.
This anime is recommended to viewers that are 17+ years old due to graphic violence and nudity. I felt that both were used very tastefully as they were only used in scenes when necessary. Also, contrary to what many of you are thinking about the Major's camouflage suit, she's NOT naked when she engages camouflage mode. Her camouflage suit is merely the same color of her skin.
The soundtrack for Ghost in the Shell is outstanding. Kenji Kawai did an excellent job on his behalf as this really is a big part of the whole GITS experience. The soundtrack consists mostly of minimalist, dark ambient electronic music intertwined with ethnic Japanese female choirs and even some ethnic percussion. The soundtrack in general sends chills down my spine, particularly the scene where the Puppet Master is in Section 9's headquarters and is lecturing everyone about his origins. The music track in that scene has a droning electronic passage accentuated by church bells to create the ultimate form of “doom music.” That music track by itself is unnerving, but when coupled with the dark visuals in that Puppet Master scene, will make anyone clench their whole bodies like a fist in fear.
In terms of anime, Ghost in the Shell is a superb feast for the eyes and the brain. This anime will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the initial viewing with its intense action and nail-biting intrigue throughout the film and when it's all over, it'll leave you wondering about many, many things about humanity and technology. In a time where the words “masterpiece” and “art” are thrown around way too much by unseasoned, newer anime fans, Ghost in the Shell is one of the really few titles that truly deserves the title. If the cyberpunk themes in Ghost in the Shell are your cup of tea, I suggest that you check out AD Police (original OVA) and Armitage III (orginal OVA) as well.
One of the best animated films I have ever seen is a Japanese anime called KOKAKU KIDOTAI, otherwise known as "GHOST IN THE SHELL" (1995) Honestly, for those very unfamiliar with anime, its storyline can be quite difficult to follow; the maturity of its script and its psychological depth is far-reaching. Based on Masamune Shirow's manga (Japanese comic) with screenplay by Kazunoki Ito and directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film attained an award-winning worldwide acclaim not just because … more
The best description I encountered so far of Ghost in the Shell is that it is "an action flick for scholars." I'm no scholar, so I forgive myself for not recognizing the virtues of this movie on the first viewing. I struggled to follow the story, no doubt due to my slow uncyberized brain that all the characters in the movie seem to have. But also because the plot remarkably dense, and almost completely impenetrable. I gave up on the movie until I came across an interview with … more