In the year 2027, a year following the end of the non-nuclear World War IV, a bomb has gone off in Newport City, killing a major arms dealer who may have ties with the mysterious 501 Organization. Public Security official Daisuke Aramaki hires full-body cyber prosthesis user and hacker extraordinaire, Motoko Kusanagi, to investigate. On the case with her are "Sleepless Eye" Batou, who believes Kusanagi is a criminal, Niihama Prefecture Detective Togusa who is investigating a series of prostitute murders he believes are related to the incident, and Lieutenant Colonel Kurtz of the 501 Organization who also wishes to keep an eye on Kusanagi. Freed of her responsibilities with the 501 Organization, Motoko Kusanagi must now learn how to take orders from Aramaki. When unknown forces hack the Logicomas, Batou enlists the help of former army intelligence officer Ishikawa and former air artillery expert Borma. Kusanagi also seeks to enlist ace sniper Saito and undercover cop Paz into the new Public Security Section 9. The two groups rival each other in a case involving a man who receives false memories of a refugee transport operation.
I really wanted to hate Ghost in the Shell: ARISE. My favourite anime since I was a teenager and they go and basically reboot it. I mean the Major doesn't even look like the Major anymore. None of the team are together. None of the original team from the production of the first two versions (the movie and the TV show) is working on this. I am flying blind as to what to expect.
Good grief, this is going to be amazing to follow.
The thing that makes GITS work is that, at its heart, past all the philosophical details and notions of the nature of humanity is the idea that people can't help being people. That we have these notions of being able to control our destinies and our lives if we can just wrestle enough control into our hands. So add the layer of cyber crime, the web of interconnectivity in the lives of ordinary people, the endless dealings of the political acolytes the dot the landscape and suddenly Ghost in the Shell becomes a modern conundrum of what the hell the nature of people are and what is it that makes us want to self improve ourselves, both for selfish and unselfish reasons. ARISE takes all these notions and starts again under writer Tow Ubukata (Mardock Scramble, Fafner, Le Chevalier d'Eon) and director Kazuchika Kise, painstakingly reconnstructing Ghost in the Shell but with a new attiude and a new interpretation of the characters. It's still cybercrime and hacking, political evils and analogue goods but now, and you're all going to kill me for using this, it has a Christopher Nolan, Dark Knight reboot. Not gritty but harder. People don't just get let off with warnings in this, they just get dead, full stop.
The new tone of the series gets off to a great start with its initial episode finding our newly imagined Major Mokoto Kusanagi of Japanese Army 501 Organization investigating the death of her unit commander Lt. Col. Mamuro at the request of her newly installed boss, Lieutenant Colonel Kurutsu (who's named Kurtz in the ad copy but not in the show) and crossing paths with Public Security Section 9 Chief Aramaki in the process. While she initially seems to be the ideal military officer, a lot of her anxieties revolve around the fact that within the reconstructed military (which is the first time the group has been changed since the end of World War IV the year before) she is not a free person. She's the property of the brass and as her now dead CO is being investigated for bribery charges, all her letters of good character written by him don't mean squat. So she's stuck unless she can prove her boss was being set up.
This Kusanagi is not the same cybergirl we've grown up with. She's less sure of herself, more quick to action and not quite as resourceful as she will become. She physically and mentally is a different creature to the mature, confident woman in the other versions of the story. But there are small, tiny elements of the old Major in this new face and body. She has unparallelled skills as a data analyser and hacker. She is physically capable to outmaneuvering much larger opponents and can size up any tactical scenario in a nanosecond. She has a quirky sense of humour that comes out now and then and she's not above using dirty tricks to get what she wants. Where she differs from her older incarnations is that she's not used to working with others in the real world. Her background is in military ops and cyberwarfare which she is quite good at. So when Aramaki asks her to work freelancer on Mamuro's murder, her only outward concern is that of financial independence since she can't breath without upper management's say-so. Pretty soon, she runs into a person she knew in the war, Ranger Batou, who isn't the lovable but gruff guy from previous stories. Here, he is a hard ass and suspects the Major of being in league with the deceased Mamuro. So she has to work with others to complish her goals. Others who don't share her goals but who need her to get their jobs done.Oh dear, this isn't going well for our heroine. Remember this isn't the pally days of Section 9 under the Major, yet.
As the show starts, we get to see that this Japan is just finding its feet after the war, having come out in pretty good shape. There's a lot of skullduggery going on in the background, whereas in the movies and SAC the politicians and their servants openly lie about telling the truth, and so in ARISE they are more cautious in their footing. The Major isn't a shining example of humanity nor is she worried about what's going on inside her own head and the origins of her life. It's the same world, just different and with a fresh set of rules. This is as blank a slate as you could have asked for. Make no mistake, it looks totally different to the first versions of the story but underneath, it has the same passion for explaining our collective, societal dysfunction at trying to survive and improve the human condition. So it will be interesting to see where Ubukata and Kise take this for the final two parts which are yet to be announced on blu ray over here. The first two parts set up the world, the players and the risks that our heroes are tackling nicely. Let's hope the final two parts make a more than lasting impression on new fans.
Animation-wise, Production I.G. pull off another GITS adaptation with aplomb and add to the world they've been shepherding since 1994 with Newport City looking like a city of the future but retaining Oshii's washed away world in the background and the highway of the future look that Kamiyama's SAC pioneered. All the fight scenes happen with inhuman speed and the Major, for once, doesn't look like she can keep up for the most part. Opponents are either faster or bigger than her but as I stated before, she overcomes them by thinking her way out. She still gets battered and some cases loses limbs but hey, she wouldn't be the Major if there wasn't a limb to be lost, right? The music is a bit of a underwhelming affair with Yoko Kanno's bombastic vocal and orchestral triumphs giving way to Cornelius' quiet approach to the material. While the opening and closing songs are done by the series composer and are wonderful, the actual score is almost unperceivable so if I was looking for a more quiet GITS score that flies under even Kenji Kawai's score for the first film, this is it.
In terms of the acting, Maaya Sakamoto takes over here as the Major from veteran voice actor Atsuko Tanaka (I miss her as the Major so much) and Elizabeth Maxwell plays Mokoto her way rather than a replay of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (SAC, Solid State Society), Allison Matthews (SAC Compilation films) but seems to strike new ground while having elements of Mimi Woods (Original GITS) in her delivery. While her 501 boss Kurutsu isn't played by anyone related to the GITS franchise in Japanese, her English dub actor is played by McGlynn and it was nice to see the two actors sharing screen time and passing the torch for a new group of fans. Kenichirou Matsuda takes over from Akio Otsuka and Christopher Sabat takes over from Richard Epcar. I'm still on the fence about Matsuda as Batou but Sabat makes the right call and just goes for an aping of Epcar's performance. Hey, why mess with perfection? Again, sadly, Chief Aramaki is not played in Japanese by SAC actor Osamu Saka not movies actor Tamio Oki and sadly, William Fredrick Knight isn't playing him in English. Instead Ikkyu Juku take over on Japanese language duties while old ADV/Funi vet John Swasey is taking up the reins. I think, and this is just a theory, that on both sides of the dubbing duties, the show's keepers are determined to have no elements from the voice casts of old interfere with this clean rebooting of the franchise. There's no safe refuge to go to so you've got to tackle the story and the plot solely.
One side point: Really, Microsoft? People will still be using 2014 Surface Slate tablets in 2027? They'll be used by police and security forces then? Really, Microsoft?
Plot wise, the elements are there to make this an exciting addition to the GITS franchise with a new cast, new plots and best of all, people talk to each other like real people and not like a bunch of philosophy majors, brilliant! Government intrigue, terrorists, criminals, Section 9 and the Major are back for another swing at bat. While some purists will be put off by the new designs and the pacing of the first episode in particular, ARISE is a perfect start to a person's journey into the world of Ghost in the Shell.