The much anticipated Ghost in the Shell: Arise border: 1 Ghost Pain Japanese Blu-rays, which include English subtitles will hit the shelves today but fans have been discussing and debating the pros and cons since well before the big Microsoft Surface commercial that gave us a peek in to the art style.
Fandoms seem incapable of waiting to see the finished project before making pronouncing judgment on a new product. I’ve heard people whine about everything from the redesign of the Major, to her motorcycle, to Togusa’s presence. I reserved my judgment until I watched it. (Okay, that’s a little lie – I naturally expected it would be good.)
As of this writing, I’ve seen the new episode three times now. I am much happier with it than I thought I’d be. In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing where the whole Ghost in the Shell: Arise project takes us. I expect a part of that is the result of Tow Ubukata’s involvement in the project as series composition and script writer. I’m rather a fan of Ubukata’s novel series Mardock Scramble and feel he’s got a good feel for cyberpunk. He’s been involved with anime projects like Heroics Age, and Le Chevalier d’Eon.
Jun’ichi Fujisaku ‘s involvement is likely another factor. Any long term fan of the GITS franchise can tell you that Fujisaku worked on the screenplay for both seasons of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. He’s also worked on Blood+, Otogi Zoshi, Appleseed XIII, and XxxHOLiC the Movie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both have solid anime credentials and have been a part of stories I’ve really enjoyed so it makes sense I found the newest addition to the GITS family worthy.
Ghost Pain packs a lot into its 50 minutes. The opening theme by Cornelius is excellent. We meet The Major in the year 2027, prior to the original Ghost in the Shell movie at a time that she is attached to the military. Her commanding office, a cybernetic Lieutenant Colonel, has been murdered shortly after he was put under investigation for taking bribes. Several different governmental units are vying for jurisdiction over the investigation. Each person involved turns up their own clues and one they put them together it makes a lot of sense.
Side Note: I’m thinking those complaining that Togusa’s presence in this series prevents it from being a legitimate prequel are reading more into the lines than is there. Togusa asks Kusanagi in the original GITS movie why they wanted a guy like him transferred in from the police force. In Ghost Pain, Togusa is a special investigator from the Niihama police. So I’m not seeing how there is a problem regarding continuity here but then maybe I’m missing something.
In spite of not being officially assigned to the investigation, Kusanagi (who we learn is not a major yet) is requested to help investigate by the man who will one day become her boss Daisuke Aramaki. What she turns up causes her to question everything she knows and even at some points her own sanity.
The story has everything an anime fan could want:
- walking bombs disguised as pre teen blond gymnasts
- a murdered LTC under investigation for corruption
- Kusanagi fighting in her underwear
- military beauracy
- sexist bad ass cyborg male with an attitude
- Kick ass fight scenes
- cyborg on cyborg battles that involving limbs being ripped off
- giant spider like robots that turn invisible
- a disillusioned undercover agent with good information he’s to cowardly to turn in
- a computer virus that makes cyborgs crazy
- A futuristic motorcycle hotter than Akira’s iconic bike
- Did I mention kick ass fight scenes?
The impressive part is that this story is designed with an end point. At the end of the show you are not left with any unanswered questions, just a desire to see the next step in these characters lives. We know the end point is the start of the original GITS movie so the fun is in the journey from here to there. That mattered a lot to me because I am not a fan of cliffhangers when the next installment is five months from release. (I nearly died between the Hellsing manga releases.)The story arc works well because it is a complete story. It ties everything up and brings you to an ending point but you can feel the next adventure is not far off. There’s a sense of something coming in the final encounter between Aramaki and Kusanagi. The last scence does a good job of setting the tone of their relationship in the future.
When you realize this is prequel series, redesigns for the main characters shouldn’t be all that upsetting. It’s actually quite sensible but there are times when Fans can be anything but sensible.
Motoko Kusanagi – Her redesign makes sense. They moved back toward her original design and when you keep in perspective that the first GITS movie is the destination of this series it makes sense to do that. As for claims she has been “sailor mooned out” or “they pedo’ed her” – I call bullshit.
Kusanagi is a younger person in this and so they naturally went with a youthful appearance but no one in their right mind is going to confuse her with the overly sexualized sailor scouts unless they are half blind and grabbing for reasons to whine. Her hair cut is very closer to the style she had in the original movie which I like. It is a different color but women color their hair for fun all the time so that’s not much of an issue.
For those who complain that she isn’t the super sexy half dressed bad ass from SAC – I say tough shit. This character design falls right in line with her style and personality from the original movie. I like the sensible clothing, realistic proportions, they provide a very realistic predecessor to her original GITS movie design. More importantly, she is still a bad ass.
Aramaki – The wise old man still reminds me of a human yoda. He is just younger in this one. He’s still bald but at least his fuzzy hair has color. He’s still wrinkly and beady eyed but it works for him.
Batou – There is my biggest complaint about redesigns. While he keeps his trademark cybernetic eyes and perpetual frown, the younger him slouches and is pretty soft around the middle. I have to be honest I prefer the chiseled, terminator-esque appearance he had in the original GITS movie. This Batou looks squishy, less formidable but if he didn’t get into working out until after he teamed up with Kusanagi that might explain it. Wait, do cyborgs workout?
Ghost Pain works. It does. It’s a good storyline, the art looks great, the music is good – there are not a lot of things to complain about. It maintains a higher level of awesome than any prequel I’ve seen. Yes, it does look like she’s borrowed Kaneda’s bike and wardrobe, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. She looks great and give the attitude she carries of in this story I can see her being a bit of an adrenalin junkie. The bike similarity comes off as more of bit of homage than a rip off. I’ve said before that both GITS and Akira helped pave the way for the plethora of anime that is available here in the US today and it looks like Ghost in the Shell: Arise border: 1 Ghost Pain is reminding us of that.
Overall, the finished product came out well above the expectations set by the “whine firs get the facts later” crowd. It reminds us that anime isn’t made for children. It offers us straight up action without a buffet of fanservice to sweeten the pot. It is simply an excellent story, smooth music, limb-popping fights and tense drama. It is smart grown-up entertainment, way above the fluff that has dominated anime in recent years. No moe, no pedo, so silly romantic triangles, or harem comedies – just good cyberpunk drama with a solid dose of kick ass.