Ghost in the Shell: Arise

Hugh David on the latest outing for Masamune Shirow’s iconic work

Ghost in the Shell: Arise

A new addition to the Ghost in the Shell franchise is here, but it’s maybe not the one everyone was expecting. Instead of a third season of the TV series Stand Alone Complex, or another TV movie after Solid State Society, we have instead a four-part video with the first two given an international theatrical release earlier this year before coming to home video.

The new storyline is a form of prequel, presumably an alternative universe one as it doesn’t quite line-up with the flashbacks seen in Standalone Complex.  However, this story choice and execution might have something to do with the new creative team. Writer Tow Ubukata, famed for Mardock Scramble and Le Chevalier d’Eon, is an avowed fan of original creator Masamune Shirow, while Chief Director Kazuchika Kise was an animator on both GitS features and Solid State Society.  Music is from Cornelius, who did the same duty for previous Shirow-inspired movie Appleseed: Ex Machina, following in the footsteps of the legendary Kenji Kawaii and Yoko Kanno.  The cast is mostly new, but the voice actress for our lead, Maaya Sakamoto (Appleseed XIII’s Deunan, another great Shirow heroine, also the Evangelion reboot’s Mari) played her “child” version in both the original movie and GitS: SAC, making a clear connection to that show’s aforementioned prequel elements.

In some ways, ARISE resembles this century’s Doctor Who reboot, wherein a talented creator who happened to also be a fan of the original is now in charge of the franchise, working with a similar change of format (from half-hour episodes to hour-longs).  Ubukata’s Mardock Scramble owed a major creative debt to both Shirow’s original manga version and Mamoru Oshii’s movie version; now he gets to play in that original sandbox and delivers a version that fans of GitS and Mardock will both recognise.  The opening credits re-establish all of the characters fans of the Stand Alone Complex iteration came to know and love.  In addition to those who will make up the Section 9 team one day, we meet a Logicoma, a clear precursor of the beloved Tachikomas, although it has yet to have quite the same role in this version after just two episodes.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise

Familiar shots and visual ideas from both GitS, Oshii’s work and SF anime in general are revisited: helicopters sweeping in over a nighttime city (as familiar to fans of 80s and 90s SF anime by now as their own reflections); cyborgs/androids that expand limbs or open faces; neck-mounted ports for physical connections; the visualisation of being in the network; killer dolls (very Oshii) and an Avalon-like reference to Kusanagi being a “wizard-level programmer”; a humvee moment that recalls the armoured troop carrier escape in Aliens; Section 9’s comms room full of identical-looking female network operators; all combine with fast-moving, action-packed plots to make immersion in this new version that much easier for established fans while amply entertaining newcomers.

As with all new iterations, however, it’s where the new creative team try to stamp their individual mark that makes for the most interest.  Setting beloved characters against each other is a tried and tested way to do a prequel, helped by that mostly-new voice cast.  Having a younger Kusanagi, especially one who starts to question her perception of reality in the opening episode, gets right to the emotional and philosophical heart of the franchise, but also helps a new audience relate to both the series and her.  Despite all the familiar trappings, this is most definitely not your parents’ Ghost in the Shell, but should appeal to fans of all generations.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise is available on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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