originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/642217...
It’s time, ladies.
This week, Animation Night is going to take a look in at a couple of iterations of ‘famousest cyberpunk ever’ Ghost in the Shell. I’ve been extremely excited for this one, and looking forward to doing a deep dive into the franchise and its history, but real life was determined to intervene and, like the (still in progress) Lupin post, that’s going to be a weekend job. Picture me like this…
I can at least do a little to set the scene! Ghost in the Shell began life in the form of a manga 攻殻機動隊 (Kōkaku Kidōtai, “Mobile Armored Riot Police”) by Masamune Shirow in the late 80s, in the milieu I discussed back when we watched Akira.
As we discussed back then, by the late 80s, Japan had seen a long period of rebuilding under the same conservative party; the student movements resisting it had given way to a startlingly rapid growth of capitalism and a housing bubble that was drastically transforming the environment. It was a time when science fiction anime and manga, often targeting the otaku subculture (as contentious as this term may be! still trying to work through this v interesting article by Ōtsuka Eiji), in new formats like the OVA.
Into this milieu comes Masamune Shirow (士郎 正宗 Shirō Masamune), the pen name of a manga artist with an immense talent for imagining an intricate, geopolitically fraught high-tech near-future world - and make it fun, even if all his subplots have a tendency to get a bit lost in themselves. He writes a number of manga; after GitS, his most famous is probably Appleseed, but there’s also Dominion: Tank Police.
(And yeah, it’s mostly about cops! He uses the angle of a dubious, heavily armed future police force as an angle into this future world I guess you’d say. I am going to talk more about that this weekend).
GitS centres on ‘Public Security Section 9′, a group of heavily armed cyborgs operating with pseudonyms under the command of a wily old man called Aramaki, one of several armed government factions in a thoroughly dystopian future. In all variants, the main character is Motoko Kusanagi (a deliberately absurd pseudonym), an immensely talented hacker and combatant whose characterisation varies between adaptations - in Shirow’s hands, though, she’s presented as v much ‘one of the guys’, including such memorable moments as hacking the prime minister’s brain to make him punch himself in the face. But the rest of the squad - Batou, Togusa, Ishikawa… also get established, and its fun to track how their designs change in each iteration.
Anyway! Here’s a page of Kōkaku Kidōtai to give you a sense of Shirow’s style:
I haven’t fully read through it yet, but here’s something I wrote early on.
Shirow is a fascinating character, as devoted to porn works such as Galgrease as the cyberpunk speculation - a side of him you can see quite often in GitS! (Sadly, the currently in print English translation censored the sex scenes, though not the older Dark Horse printing). As personal and full of life as his manga are, he seems to be quite reclusive in personal life, though there are a few interviews floating around. Here, speaking to Dark Horse (who published the translation of GitS above), he describes his background:
MASAMUNE SHIROW: One way you can look at it is that since I was born in 1961 in Japan, I am a member of the color TV generation; it first appeared and became popular while I was growing up. As for Kobe, it is a long, narrow city hemmed in by mountains and the ocean, at the corner of an industrial region that stretches out from Osaka, Japan’s second largest metropolis. Kobe is the second largest port city next to Yokohama, and historically it was an early port of entry for Western culture. In Japan today Kobe has a reputation of being a tourist city. When I made my debut with Appleseed, I lived only a few meters from the breakwater, but I drew Ghost in the Shell while living in a town in the mountains about nine kilometers from the sea, and I continue to live there today.
As far as influences, he cites TV animation such as Gundam; perhaps it’s no surprise then that his work has repeatedly seen adaptation into anime. He seems very humble in this interview, dismissing the elements of GitS as things that have been done before. When he’s asked in another interview about why his manga tend to focus on ‘strong’ women, he plays the socially acceptable “oh i’m a guy so i’m attracted to them” angle, which, well, I’m sure I’ve run that one to ‘explain’ playing women in games before ;) I’m not saying ohh, Shirow’s an egg, all this shit’s complicated, but for whatever reason, this dude happens to make some p #relatable images of cyborg girls, y’know? And on another level I respect the honesty of just like, I draw this because I like it.
Anyway, then the 90s happen! Last week we looked into the story of Mamoru Oshii, and in the early 90s - as Japan’s economic boom ran out! - he got the chance to direct an adaptation of Shirow’s manga. Oshii loves to make contemplative philosophical films, and while Kōkaku Kidōtai was a chaotic manga with many different threads (procedural, action, squad camaraderie), it had an ongoing thread of like, in this future, everyone gets uploaded into “cyberbrains” which can connect directly and be hotswapped between different bodies. GitS was ahead of the curve with that concept, at a time when the internet was a very, very new thing…
Well, Oshii picked that up and ran with it, creating a movie that’s unmistakably in his style, and that turned out to be a great decision. His interpretation of GitS focuses less on the interdepartmental politics of Public Security Section 9, and much more on the whole ‘wow we’re teched up how does that affect our conception of humanity’ angle; but it also makes a fantastic use of the character of the city itself, with some of the absolute best environment design ever shown in anime. Its vision of cyborgs is incredible, just never been matched.
To pull this off Oshii was joined by some immensely talented animators at Production I.G., and the film is full of incredible shots: the classic ‘jumping off a building and activating thermoptic camo’ shot, the chase through the market, the brilliant sequence at the end with the robot tank shooting up the cladogram (hey, it’s an Oshii movie!). Not to mention, Oshii’s composer pal Kenji Kiwai made one of the best soundtracks of his career, leaning on Noh chants; the result is, well, definitive.
The next decade, Oshii made a second GitS film, titled Innocence, which is generally considered to be rather muddled and unsatisfactory. But hey it’s Oshii, I still want it into my eyeballs!
Meanwhile, Production I.G. were working on another, separate-continuity interpretation: the TV series GitS: Stand Alone Complex, which draws out the political, character and action side of Shirow’s manga a lot more explicitly. The series is divided into two strands: the “stand alone” episodes, which feature individual episode length vignettes about life in this cyberpunk future, and the series-long “complex” arc where the characters get embroiled in very postmodern series of hacking related crimes and conspiracies.
There’s so much going on in there: one episode will feature a woman trying to assassinate an oligarch with an arm-mounted money gun, another will see robot tanks acquiring consciousness and discussing Deleuze. Section 9 are like… they’re the viewpoint characters, but I don’t feel we’re expected to see them as universally sympathetic, and their existence and power is put in question in a p interesting way.
And it sure helps that the animation, while the TV budget can’t let it be quite as lush as Oshii’s movies, is waaaay up there also ;)
This weekend, I’m planning to do a deep dive into the like, philosophical and political themes and how the different adaptations treat them; but for now I’m way over time so let’s just leave it there. Tonight I’m planning to show the two movies by Oshii, and also a selection of episodes from Stand Alone Complex.
Animation Night 38 is beginning pretty much as soon as I’ve gone downstairs; I don’t have time to draw a title card right now unfortunately, but I should have one by the end of the first film. Hope you’ll join me for some of my fave movies, head to https://www.twitch.tv/canmom if it sounds like a vibe and we’ll run ghost.sh very shortly ;)