Anyone who follows me will know that I have a real soft spot for anything to do with Ghost in the Shell, even when it’s a decidedly non-Japanese Hollywood adaptation. I’ve written before about what was the previous non-Hollywood Japanese offering that came out after the Scarlett Johansson film: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie and Arise and so it was with some trepidation but a glimmer of excitement that I watched the trailer for the new Netflix show.
To my mind, Netflix have a reasonably good record of original anime, but perhaps not so much of a good record when it comes to reprising old franchises. The strange three-dimensional graphics shown in the trailer piqued my curiosity as well as making me a little worried. And it turns out that this worry was justified since it is this aspect of the show that leaves a lot to be desired.
The original layers of detail and grubbiness of the original manga by Shirow Masamune and the original film adaptation back in 1995 are nowhere to be seen in this new offering, and the bright washed-out future America we first find the disbanded members of Section 9 inhabiting reminded me more of a PlayStation cut scene than GiTS. While there are almost photo-real elements to the scenery and props, the same cannot be said for the characters’ faces which are devoid of life.
Lipsync is always going to be an issue for someone watching as I do with an English audio dub, but even so there is hardly any lip or facial muscularity movement in any of the characters. For a show that has a history of philosophical meanderings this latest iteration appears to be soulless. It’s a shame because the voice-acting, the movement of the characters, produced via mo-cap, are good and the story-lines of the episodes, apart from Batou’s involvement in a bank job, while not the revival of the show fans probably wanted, contain the spirit, dare I say ghost?, of the original Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Gigs.
The story is obviously set in the year 2045, after an economic disaster known as the Synchronized Global Default perhaps somewhat similar to the events of Mr Robot. The world has entered a state of ‘Sustainable War’ a violent economic model seen as a side effect of the continually rapid development of AI. Full-body cyborg wizard-class hacker Major Kusanagi and the Section 9 team are working in America as military contractors in the first episode, which is unfortunately one of the weakest of the 12 on offer. Only episode 7 (Batou’s bank job story ‘PIE IN THE SKY – First Bank Robbery’) is worse imo.
The Section 9 team are called back into the employ of the Japanese government, now headed by an American born prime minister, to tackle the emergence and growing threat posed by ‘post-humans’ who possess extreme physical powers and intelligence. They are headed by Chief Aramaki with his amazing sculpted hair and helped by Purin Ezaki an annoying new character who embodies everything that is wrong with female characters in Japanese anime.
The Major only really gets a pass because she is a cyborg created in a male-dominated Japan and so is understandingly of a certain shape and look. And the thing with the major is that she doesn’t take any shit from the men. It’s a pity that with her mouth, hair or face not moving much when she’s saying it she looks like a doll, but there’s a scene in one of the early episodes in which the Japanese PM kind of makes a pass at her and she says that he is talking to the leader of an assault force not some giggling girl.
In contrast, Purin is a giggling girl in charge of maintaining the Tachikomas. She has short pink hair and light-purple eyes, who also wears spectacles despite her seemingly artificial eyes. She has a crush on Batou who isn’t interested in her advances. It’s cringe worthy at best and sexist as fuck at its worst. The kooky Tachikomas on the other hand are lots of fun and certainly brought a smile to my face on a number of occasions.
Section 9 are given a list of post-humans to capture and deliver to the NSA in a joint operation between the US and Japan. As usual there is an interesting mixture of political intrigue, conjecture about the future of AI and cybernetics, hacking, gunfights, kick-assery and imaginative military hardware. Where the original Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex had a teenage hacker influenced by The Catcher in the Rye, this iteration has a teenage hacker influenced by George Orwell’s 1984, which actually seems more on the money for a sci-fi show about a police-state than Salinger’s book.
Ghost in the Shell SAC_2049 was supposed to be the first project that directors Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama worked on for Netflix, but Ultraman was moved up the schedule and so this series had to wait. By all accounts Ultraman has superior animation, but I haven’t seen it and so can’t offer an opinion. Maybe I’ll take a look, but it’s not a show I’m overly interested in. What I’m saying is that maybe the production delay was to the detriment of the show.
I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell SAC_2049 in the spirit of a GiTS fan happy for any scrap of material to do with the franchise and given the cliffhanger ending I will be looking out for Season 2 to arrive. In the meantime I have the derivative Westworld Season 3 lined up to watch.