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The end of Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society?

Thursday 17th May 2012


Andrew Osmond asks if it really is the end for Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State SocietySolid State Society is, as of writing, the last anime instalment of Ghost in the Shell. Will there be any more? Interviewed in 2007, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, co-founder of Production IG, suggested the franchise could be refreshed by a switch to live-action, with Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa and the rest of Section 9 interpreted by real actors. If it was a success, the franchise could return to anime later.

In April 2008, DreamWorks announced it had the live-action rights and would make a 3D Ghost in the Shell, thanks to the enthusiasm of one of its own co-founders, Steven Spielberg. “Ghost in the Shell is one of my favourite stories,” the A.I. director told the trade paper Variety. Since then, there hasn’t been much news, except for female Shutter Island scriptwriter Laeta Kalogridis coming onto the property in October 2009. (Come to think of it, Shutter Island could be easily reworked as a GITS episode…)

As we’ve noted previously, Stand Alone Complex continues to be referenced implicitly in director Kenji Kamiyama’s subsequent works. Look at Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Eden of the East and the trailer for his forthcoming film, 009: RE Cyborg. We’re inclined to think Kamiyama will probably get back to Stand Alone Complex in the future, especially as Solid State Society leaves things wide open for a sequel. Failing that, surely there’ll be a reboot by another director somewhere down the line.

Either way, SSS would make an excellent last chapter. It moves the principal characters on, making clear things will not simply stay at a series status quo. As the film begins, two years have passed since Major Kusanagi resigned from Section 9. Fans will remember one of her sweetest scenes in the franchise was in the first TV episode of Stand Alone Complex, when she gently chided nervous rookie Togusa out of his insecurities. “Geez, what do you think we hired you away from police HQ for? If you’ve got time to be depressed, why not grace us with your special talents?”

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State SocietyIn Solid State Society, Togusa is squad commander, officially in Kusanagi’s old place, and endowed with unspecified cyber-prosthetics (something he had steadfastly refrained from getting in the TV series). Section 9 has expanded, as “old man” Aramaki works to secure his future after he’s gone, while we’re fed choice hints about his past. Another character tells him, “You should think about remarrying; there’s no sorrier sight than a single old man.” Is Aramaki what Togusa will become if he’s unlucky?

The older generation’s need to secure its legacy turns out to be central to Society’s mystery story. It opens with a standard action-film scenario – vengeful foreigners plotting destruction on Japanese soil. But it then transmogrifies into a far twistier mystery, involving secret elites and stolen children, with Japan’s modern culture in the dock.

As in other Kamiyama anime, someone is trying to give society a push into a new state. One phrase dropped into the script near the end is “Vanishing Mediator,” a notion from political philosophy. It means a self-effacing agent that can move society from one state to its seeming opposite. If you think about the anime of both Kamiyama and Oshii – in which epic plots are set in motion by stringpullers who promptly die or disappear – it’s a very apposite description.

While the situation is new, Society has a very characteristic Ghost in the Shell story that purposely includes many “kisses to the past.” The story’s string-puller is called the Puppeteer, a nod to the Puppet Master in the first manga arc and cinema film. The TV Stand Alone Complex series was predicated on the Puppet Master not existing, so that Kusanagi would stay a member of Section 9. So what does it mean that the Puppeteer appears now the Major has left Section 9?

Numerous moments in Society mirror both Ghost in the Shell films by Mamoru Oshii, especially the famous sequence where Kusanagi fought a tank and communed with a broken doll. There’s a surprise return for some popular Stand Alone Complex characters (well, not much of a surprise). Conversely, Society reminds us of mortality; in the film, a key character faces death when he’s given a ghastly choice about a loved one that we know, for him, is no choice at all.

Kamiyama’s mentor Oshii directed a classic “valedictory” anime in 1993’s feature film Patlabor 2, which showed a reunion of the robot-driving police team of the title. An example from another anime genre is the 1996 film Kimagure Orange Road: Summer’s Beginning, which took the characters beyond high school, asking what happened after the traumatic end of the love-triangle which defined the source TV show.

At Production I.G, Kamiyama has continued to favour franchises that move characters on from their comfortable starting point. In the first Eden of the East film, King of Eden, the members of the Eden team are surprised to realise they’ve crossed over from counter-culture NEETs to established entrepreneurs. For a police team like Section 9, the obvious move would surely be into politics. Kusanagi for PM, anyone?

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society is out on Blu-ray in the UK next week.

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