Review: Ghost in the Shell - Arise
If you were to mention Anime films to someone who generally doesn't follow these things but who perhaps knows a couple of titles you're most likely to hear them mention a Studio Ghibli film, maybe Akira if they like SF films, and then maybe Ghost in the Shell.
The original film (released in 1995) was a huge hit all over the world for an anime film and directed by visionary director Mamoru Oshii, who also directed the lesser-known, and belated, sequel Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004).
It's a franchise with a long (and possibly confusing, to someone coming new to this) history to it. Originally, a manga (comic) it was adapted into the movie, which got a belated sequel. The original even got a reworking (not just a restoration job - whole scenes being re-rendered in new graphics; some of the CG used now looking pretty dated - kind of like George Lucas and the Star Wars movies) which was given a slightly different name.
Then came the TV adaption, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-2005). This used the same characters, designs and environments but is not a sequel to the films - or even acknowledging the events of the films - and operates completely separately. The TV show (GITS:SAC, as it's often referred to for short) ran for two seasons - both of which were then edited down and released as separate films. The TV show then received it's own movie sequel.
There have been a number of videogames based on the franchise, including a new one one based on this version of the franchise.
And (though certainly not finally) there's also the Hollywood live-action adaption, starring Scarlett Johansson.
Arise was originally released as a series of four films, which, after receiving short cinema releases were put out on DVD and Blu-Ray. The films were then edited down into episodes that were shown on television and two new episodes later produced, "Pyrophoric Cult" - designed as a lead-in to the new film, "Ghost in the Shell - The New Movie".
For the purposes of this review I watched the four original films, rather than the re-cut TV versions.
No knowledge of this universe is required. Those who are fans will find plenty to enjoy in the little differences here and there, but it's intended to be completely self-contained, and is.
All versions of the story are at heart the same, with the same world, characters and same basic drives behind them. The phrase "The Ghost in the Shell" refers to the human intelligence that resides within a heavily augmented body. Augments are very common in this world. Perhaps someone just has an implant so they can surf the net and make phone-calls with their mind; someone in the army might have dermal armour and cybernetic limbs that allows them to move and kill with great speed. Technology, and the way all this can be exploited, is moving so fast that a dedicated task-force is needed in order to respond to these things.
Exploding android suicide attack children.
A department called Section 9 is just the place. It has an almost unlimited budget, due to their not only regularly having to fight terrorist threats, but also attacks by other various governments and institutions. The Section is run by Major Motoko Kusanagi and she runs a small, hand-picked team, ably assisted by a group of Tachikoma (thinking tanks) who are rather child-like in their thought-processes (and have been purposely kept that way) but are capable of learning.
The previous TV show, benefiting from more episodes, would cut between standalone short-stories and others that dealt with a main overarching story. This show is primarily concerned with just the one main story.
If anything this version of the tale is something of a prequel. The version of the main character made famous in the films and then reconfigured in the TV show is older, and more overtly sexual. This version is, very purposely, much younger in appearance and almost asexual (though peculiarly some of the advertising around this new show echoes the sexualised imagery from the earlier works, despite it's absence from the anime itself).
The unit that the main characters work for in the film and show does not even exist yet. But the pieces do. The characters are there and brought under Motoko's command and the Tachikoma sit in the garage used as basic security vehicles (until Motoko unthinkingly gives them the ability to talk, which leads to them conversing all the time, constantly asking questions and becoming more like the Tachikoma we maybe already know and love).
This Motoko Kusanagi also has a different backstory. She lives within a completely artificial body and she is owned, or rather her body is owned, by a shadowy government outfit who deal with black-ops. While body augmentations are very common, whole-body ones are not, and the technology in Motoko represents a leap way beyond anything or anyone else.
How she found herself in this body and attached to this group, whom she severely dislikes, reveals itself slowly over the course of the films.
She is sequestered from this group to help Chief of Public Security, Daisuke Aramaki. Something strange is happening - augmented people are being hacked, much like a computers are hacked. People in important positions and information, people who trigger terrorist events - their memories overwritten by a virus. The source? A mystery, but the name of the person behind it - Firestarter. And he wants to create a new world. What exactly that means? Another mystery. Not only that, there are people, organisations and governments buying the virus from him and using it for their own means. Who can you trust?
I know and love the original TV series. This is different in some respects, but I find as much to enjoy here as I did with the originals. The changes to the central character are very intelligent and represent a moving with the times. It's also fascinating to see these people before they know each other and before they're established as the force they will become. Surely the next season will have a fair number of new differences to help keep the show fresh and while this is quite a modest re-invention in many ways, that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
It's also a pleasure to see the old sense of humour hasn't disappeared. Batou (the unit's wise-cracking "heavy") early-on objects to taking orders from the Major, who he just sees as being an unqualified, little, young woman (I like this version of the Major as much as the old one). At her invitation, he attacks her a number of times to see who might be more proficient in combat and - well, things don't go too well for him. Over and over.
The show was originally conceived as four films. I have not watched the edited TV versions, but have read that the four original films are the superior watch. After that there is an episode that was produced separately, called "Pyrophoric Cult" which serves as an introduction to the film; Ghost in the Shell - The New Movie.
The animation is top-notch as is the voice-acting. All of this represents a rare mixture of intelligent science-fiction, action and even philosophy which is something to value.
It's well worth watching.