Ghost in the Shell vs Mardock Scramble

Andrew Osmond says if you liked that, you might like this…

Mardock Scramble

If you’ve been following the current anime headlines, you should guess why we’re comparing Ghost in the Shell with Mardock Scramble. This January, anime fans had the news they’d long waited for; the confirmation of a new GITS anime, called Ghost in the Shell Arise. Its scripts will be supervised and written by Tow Ubukata, creator of Mardock Scramble. Here’s the trailer for Arise:

Mardock Scramble – which Ubukata wrote in book form, then scripted as an anime – shares many basics with Ghost in the Shell. There’s an artificial heroine who used to be human, a future city, lots of gunplay. Notably, the GITS: Arise series will feature a younger Kusanagi; the heroine in Ubukata’s Mardock Scramble is only fifteen. The formats are similar, too. Ghost in the Shell Arise will be a four-part miniseries, with each episode running fifty minutes and the first part, “Ghost Pain,” confirmed for a Japanese cinema release in June. The three-part Mardock Scramble came out in a very similar manner.

For comparison, here’s the trailer for the opening Mardock film, Mardock Scramble: The First Compression.

The most striking moments in this film could easily be from the GITS universe. One is the city of flowing light in the opening shots, where cars thread over buildings on fluorescent green ribbons. Another is the heroine’s “birth,” rendered in textured pencil drawings that infuse life into the animation, as she bursts from an egg into an emerald sea.

But Mardock draws on the more disturbing parts of the GITS franchise; the sex dolls in the Innocence movie, those chop-shop killers in Stand Alone Complex. Believe us, Mardock Scramble is rated 18 for a reason. The story features rape, incest, serial killer hordes and livid violence dealt out by psychos and avengers alike. In terms of sensationalist ingredients, it’s not far off Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The heroine Balot is described by Ubukata at the beginning of his novel: “slim body, piercing ebony pupils, faunlike eyes”. She’s an underage prostitute, whose sugar-daddy is the clean-limbed Shell-Septinos, a gambler and casino manager. He takes Rune in in his aerial limousine over the neon-dream city; it’s a dirty magic carpet ride.

What Balot doesn’t know is that Shell is a serial killer. He has his memories wiped clean after each rape-killing, so that sex for him is both a petite-mort and double suicide. He takes Balot to a park, locks her in his car, and blows it up, meaning to turn her ashes into a diamond ring. But someone intervenes; a seedy scientist called Doctor Easter, who rescues Balot’s charred body. He resurrects her Frankenstein-style in a vat of liquid.

In her new state, Balot can manipulate machinery, screw with traffic lights, possess people’s voices and even shoot bullets from the air. Contrary to appearances, Easter’s activities are part of an official programme, Mardock Scramble. In return for her life, Balot is asked to take down Shell-Septinos and his employer. True to cyberpunk form, it’s a massive conglomerate called October Corp, which Easter calls “Our archenemy.”

But one difference between GITS and Mardock Scramble is that Balot has no truck with teams or command structures. Kusanagi and Bateau question their identities in GITS, but Balot is alienated in a far darker way. When asked by a patronising policeman which “lucky fella” took her virginity, she says flatly it was her dad, adding, “Don’t you ever think about touching your daughter?” She makes other comments of the kind you’d expect from Lisbeth Salander rather than an anime girl. (“You men are always saying you know you wanted it too.”)

Yet Balot has a male friend; Easter’s assistant, Oeufcoque. Oeufcoque is wise, protective and trustworthy. He’s also a golden-furred mouse in breeches, at least some of the time. A weapons experiment, Oeufcoque can turn into a gun, or offer Balot wisdom about why she should go on living. Balot loves Oeufcoque because he’s masculine yet non-sexual; a common mix in anime, but worked out very cleverly here. There’s a particularly poignant scene where Oeufcoque is mortified because Balot picked him up by his tail.

Mardock Scramble, then, benefits from two hooks: a straight action-revenge plot, and the charming relationship between Balot and Oeufcoque. It’s no spoiler to say that Balot’s business with Shell-Septinos and October Corp is far from finished by the end of part one, and The Second Compression comes to DVD and Blu-ray on March 25. It will be very interesting to compare Balot’s evolution with Kusanagi’s new backstory in Ghost in the Shell Arise. Okay, the inevitable question; which lady would you back in a fight?

Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion is out on DVD on 25th March.

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