I’m a big fan of Ghost in the Shell in all its forms, whether it be the original manga by Shirow Masamune or the Scarlett Johansen movie. Ever since I saw the original 1995 original anime, I’ve been hooked. So it was with great interest that I watched the two hour-long helpings of Ghost in the Shell: Arise available on Netflix in September 2017.

While making up my Christmas wish list I found that there was a new movie by anime studio Production I.G and on watching a background featurette realised I needed to see Arise Borders 3 and 4 before I watched the movie, and indeed that Arise was a prequel – which passed me by on first viewing. It then became apparent that a fifth one-hour episode of Arise called Border 5: Pyrophoric Cult came out after the movie to join the storyline of the series to the movie.

Matters were complicated by the Alternate Architecture version of Arise (known as GiTS AAA) cutting the hour-long parts into half-hours and putting the two parts of Border 4 as the opening two episodes of ten.

A trawl of the internet led me to realise that Border 5 was a rare beast in Europe, unobtainable in English language at present. Unless you speak German or Spanish you’re out of luck. Beyond a daft idea of asking a Spanish-speaking relative to provide a translated transcript I had all but given up hope until I reached out to a friend who likes anime more than I do.

He has access to the Crunchy Roll streaming service and so I asked him to see if GiTS AAA was available on there. He told me that it used to be but it wasn’t anymore and that I should try Funimation. Sure enough all ten episodes of GiTS AAA are on there with English subtitles, so I signed up for a trial, watched the two episodes and then cancelled my subscription. Yay!

gits versions
Production I.G would have it that Ghost 1 is the manga, Ghost 2 is the original anime movie, Ghost 3 is the Stand Alone Complex TV series and Ghost 4 is Arise.

Viewing order
For completeness here’s the generally accepted order in which these different instances of the franchise should be consumed (note that I am discounting the Hollywood remake):

  • Ghost in the Shell: Arise series or Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture the ten episode recompilation for TV of Arise with the extra Border (5) set in 2027.
  • Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015)
  • Masamune’s original Ghost in the Shell manga (set in 2029)
  • Ghost in the Shell (1995) set in 2029 or Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008) a remastered version with improved picture quality, sound and extra graphical inserts – not to be confused with Innocence (see below).
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 1st GIG – i.e. series one of the TV show set in 2030
  • Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG – series two of the TV show set in 2032
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – the sequel to the 1995 movie, set in 2032. The placement of this story in the structure of S.A.C. is a bit vague.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex − Solid State Society (2006) another movie with the same sort of style as the S.A.C. TV show, set in 2034.

Ghost 4 – Arise and The New Movie
Arise and The New Movie form a prequel to the original manga/anime movie telling the origin story of Section 9 and a younger version of everyone’s favourite full-body cyber prosthesis user and wizard-class hacker, Major Motoko Kusanagi.

Ghost in the Shell is set in a futuristic Japan after a world war fought with conventional weapons. Technology has advanced to the point where humanity can tackle ageing, injury and disability with the use of sophisticated cybernetics. Cyber-brains link people’s brains to the internet and technology such as cars, home systems and databases, and allow instant communication to other people. The ‘ghosts’ in the title are the minds/personalities/spirits of the people, and the main threat to this utopian future is cyber-terrorism by hackers capable of hijacking people’s minds, memories and bodies.

Border 1: Ghost Pain (2013)  
After some shenanigans in a graveyard, a not-so-grey, Public Security Section 9 boss, Aramaki asks the Major to investigate the murder of an arms dealer. The Major has had a major haircut since the last time we saw her, but she still kicks ass. In parallel, Detective Togusa, whose character design remains relatively unchanged from his S.A.C. appearance, investigates a series of murders that turn out to be related to the bombing. The Major’s army boss, member of the 501, Kurutsu needs to button up her blouse.

Throughout the investigation the Major suffers badly from false memories and visual glitches. They are a bi-product of a failed ghost-hack she did on a virus-infected criminal. Once she realizes that the 501 is involved in the arms-dealing scandal, she leaves the unit, and is granted legal possession of all her prosthetics which were previously the property of the army. The show ends with Aramaki proposing the creaton a new unit within Public Security with the Major as the leader.

Border 2: Ghost Whispers (2013)
While being tried for war-crimes, Kazuya Soga, a former army unit leader, sends a team of loyal comrades to retrieve critical evidence from within the Net to prove his innocence. The team leader is Batou, and the team includes Ishikawa and Borma. Representing Public Security, the Major investigates the matter. The Major works with sniper Saito, Paz and a female US Special Forces agent, VV. Violence quickly erupts and lazy yet traitorous Saito flips sides when Batou offers him more money.

The Major discovers that Soga had false memories of what happened in the war, probably due to the same virus that affected her memories. When Soga learns the truth he kills himself. VV is infected by the virus and is killed before she can steal secret army intelligence. At the end of the show, the Major promises to get Batou and his pals released from prison if he joins her team.

Border 3: Ghost Tears (2014)
Detective Togusa investigates the suspicious death of another detective killed by an explosion at a dam. Meanwhile the Major’s growing team of special operatives is given the job of stopping a terrorist cell. When they apprehend the bad guys, the Major finds that their ghosts are infected with a familiar-looking virus.

The Major’s boyfriend (yes she has a boyfriend in this one), Akira Hose, is a prosthetics specialist somehow wrapped up in the dam explosion and the production of special ‘Ariel’ model mermaid legs. An overly complex conspiracy is uncovered which involves a domestic weapons manufacturer, weapons smugglers, explosive prosthetics and the Fire-Starter virus. When the dust settles, the Major asks the very human Detective Togusa to join her team.

There’s a neat subplot involving tattoos and an old gun that the Major used in the war which provides some unseen back-story of the kind of role she played as a wizard-class hacker in the war.

Border 4: Ghost Stands Alone (2014)
At Christmas-time demos are held against foreign control of water supplies. Aramaki gets a tip-off about a terrorist group targeting a particular building, but the Riot Squad sent to protect the area open fire on the protestors and then on themselves. The Major suspects that the Fire-Starter cyber-brain virus is the cause.

Batou captures a confused full-cyborg girl called Emma during massacre. Colonel Hozumi of Army intelligence wants to detain her for testing but Aramaki says no. Emma is found to have been under Colonel Hozumi’s command. Her cyber-brain has been hacked by ‘The Scarecrow’ and she refers to herself as ‘The Tinman’. Who the Wizard of Oz is is left to the viewers imagination.

After some fun and games, Hozumi manages to kill Emma, but not before she’s merged ghosts with the Scarecrow’s and taken control an impressive-looking big-ass multi-legged tank. When the tank is eventually stopped by the Major with the help of the team’s funny spider-like Logicomas on a dock-side, a cyborg walks from out of the burning carcass toward the sea. There’s some nice artistic renditions of a tin man and a scarecrow in cyberspace which are cut short as the cyborg is destroyed by an artillery strike from a battleship. Unexpectedly, Hozumi’s helicopter is blown up too. However, Hozumi’s cyber-brain is somehow retrieved from the wreckage and taken into custody.

Border 5: Pyrophoric Cult (2015)
At the start of this elusive chapter, we see a mysterious chap use a silvery orb (like something out of Assassin’s Creed) to trigger an Ariel-related explosion on a passenger jet as it flies overhead. When Togusa and Batou go to an apartment as part of Section 9’s investigation, they run into US agents. The Major subsequently meets their boss Jeril, in what looks like the familiar body of VV. Jeril is from US Army intelligence and also wants to apprehend Pyromaniac, the Fire-Starter virus-broker.

The Major agrees to work with Jeril on the condition that she can question what’s left of Hozumi about the virus. Unfortunately, Pyromaniac ghost-hacks everyone from within the army hospital complex. The Major traces his signal and they capture him. Easy eh? Maybe too easy. Reminded me of Skyfall.

Once he’s got the access codes he wanted the Pyromaniac escapes with some unseen help from Kurutsu. The Major tries to move Hozumi from the hospital to the courthouse but Pyromaniac attacks. The team is cornered in a deserted US base facing seemingly superior firepower from a huge attack helicopter.

During the ensuing battle, the Major meets Pyromaniac in VR. He gets his come-uppance and Kurutsu gets the orb which is somewhat of a McGuffin. At the end of the show she says she has finished refining the virus. She still hasn’t finished buttoning up her blouse properly, so can we believe her claims? The major is congratulated by the Prime Minister of Japan and the New Movie is ready to roll.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie continues the plot of the Pyrophoric Cult episodes. The original 1995 movie’s plot follows directly after this movie.

When the ghost-infecting Fire-Starter virus continues to spread across multiple cyber-brains and a bomb goes off killing the Prime Minister, Aramaki asks the Major to investigate. The Major’s elite team delve deeper and deeper into the complex conspiracy. They uncover further government corruption and the familiar shadows of the virus-broker who needs to be stopped.

The storyline is typically complex and is very much more reminiscent of the S.A.C. TV series despite it being a prequel to the 1995 movie. There is very little philosophical musing from the Major which does seem to be at odds with the themes of the original movie and Innocence. There’s also rather a lot of paying homage to the original film which kind of feels overdone – especially since Hollywood did it’s thing. Shit, I mentioned it…

It’s probably best to say that Arise and GiTS: The New Movie are for die-hard fans only and that those die-hard fans need to be accepting of the directorial choices that have been made. On too close an examination of ‘Ghost 4’, the fact that the voice-actors were all swapped out to give the show a new youthful feel is the least of (G)its problems…