In Defense of Ghost in the Shell: Arise
The announcement of Ghost in the Shell: Arise might’ve slipped under the radar of most mainstream media outlets, but it sure hasn’t escaped the attention of the franchise’s steadfast fanbase, splitting it into two groups: those who view it as a welcomed fresh addition to the hitherto immaculate sci-fi franchise and those who’ve already renounced it as an unimaginative cash-grab purely because the series is said to be a prequel to both the original Mamoru Oshii film and the Stand Alone Complex TV series, or at least take place in an earlier time frame than any previous incarnation of the story.
Now, allow me to preface what I’m about to say in this article by asserting that, like many of you, I have my own reservations when it comes to prequels. More often than not a prequel to pretty much any story turns out to be nothing more than a hackneyed rehash of the same events that transpired in the original, with only minor deviations such as the time frame, the setting or a new cast of characters who aren’t nearly as likable as their successors. Having said that, however, in the case of Ghost in the Shell: Arise I’m more than willing to repudiate my usual prejudices and even play devil’s advocate because here’s the thing: there is literally no reason to hit the panic button yet.
First of all, there is still a good half-year before the new series is released in theaters in Japan, so until then anything anyone says in relation to Arise is based purely on their preexisting biases or expectations, and thus can’t be perceived as a valid estimation of its actual contents or quality. Second, a nearly ubiquitous complaint among the opponents of the new series seems to be the fact that Ghost in the Shell: Arise intends to bring Motoko Kusanagi’s mysterious past to the forefront, thus dispelling the character’s main allure. Now, I will concur that the Major has always been an enigmatic figure, regardless of which incarnation you prefer best. But is it really her indistinct past that makes her such a fascinating character? Maybe to some, yes. But personally I was always more interested in the Major’s inner world than anything else. Just what goes through this woman’s mind as she intrepidly leaps into action putting her and her teammates’ lives at risk for her country? Is she content with being an inexorable killing machine at the mercy of unseen powers much bigger than her should they deem her a threat to their shady manipulations or does she secretly yearn for a different, less hazardous life? It’s not so much about what happens to the Major, you see, but rather about how she feels about the transpiring events, how she reacts to them, what decisions she makes. I mean, not to say that Motoko Kusanagi isn’t a total badass and one of the few examples of strong female characters in Japanese animation, but come on now, people. There’s more to the character than just that!
And this is where I believe Ghost in the Shell: Arise has a chance to excel. A young, inexperienced and possibly even rebellious Motoko Kusanagi coming to terms with her new life as a cyborg, tasked to assemble and lead Section 9 to combat a whole new type of criminals? I don’t know about you, but I see lots of potential in such a premise. Because honestly, I don’t know where some people got the idea that Arise would dwell on the Major’s pre-cyborg days. If anything, given the fact that the entire roster of her team is set to make an appearance in the future series, I imagine the story will focus on Motoko Kusanagi’s early days as a field operative, the formation of Public Security Section 9, and, in typical Ghost in the Shell fashion, the emergence of a group of mysterious hackers/revolutionaries whose efforts to bring down the system the Major and her team are assigned to thwart. But now we’ve sidetracked into speculation territory, I’m afraid.
Another common complaint I hear from the new series’ opposers is the rather bewildering accusation of Arise relying too heavily on the original 1995 film’s imagery in what they believe to be an egregious attempt to ride its coattails. As evidence of such an ignominious endeavor, they will often cite how Motoko Kusanagi’s new design is eerily reminiscent of her more tomboyish appearance from the original Mamoru Oshii film. And while I’m willing to admit that young Motoko’s design is indeed somewhat evocative of her look from the first Ghost in the Shell movie rather than the more extravagant version seen in both seasons of the Stand Alone Complex TV show, at the same time I also can’t shake off the feeling that the people who make such a big deal out of the Major’s new physique have never really viewed her as anything more than a luscious pair of tits they can vigorously masturbate to. Look, I’m not suggesting that anyone who isn’t satisfied with the character’s redesign is a lonely loathsome creep. However, after seeing literally dozens of disgruntled nerds posting close-up images/gifs of the Major’s voluptuious assets from SAC declaring that that’s “THEIR” Motoko, one can’t help but feel like they’re surrounded by a bunch of horny, misogynistic otakus whose vision of an ideal future Ghost in the Shell series is slightly different than that of everyone else.
Another baffling nitpick I’ve seen pop up in various threads dedicated to the upcoming new series is that the very last scene of Arise’s trailer is a near frame-by-frame reproduction of one of the most renowned bits of the original Ghost in the Shell movie: the scene where the Major jumps off a tall skyscraper, assassinates a group of terrorists mid-fall and looks up at the camera before activating her invisibility cloak and disappearing out of the audience’s view.
Now, I could point out the fact that the very first episode of the second season of Stand Alone Complex featured a quick tribute to the aforementioned scene yet no-one seemed to mind, but instead I’m going to use this opportunity to segway into the main point of this article. Albeit there’s no denying that the creators of the project have shot themselves in the foot big time by advertising Ghost in the Shell: Arise as a ‘prequel’, personally I doubt the upcoming series really has anything to do with any of the previous installments of the franchise. Instead, I believe what Arise really is is just an alternative take on Masamune Shirow’s original Kokaku Kidotai manga. Just like Stand Alone Complex and — that’s right! — even Mamoru Oshii’s undisputed masterpiece before it. As such, it is entitled to take whatever liberties it deems necessary, because it’s an entirely new story, new world, new Major. I’m pretty sure there were people who were equally as wary of the SAC TV series when it was first announced, you know. They must’ve had their reasons for lambasting it, too. “An ‘alternative universe’ story not connected with the movies? This is going to be a disaster!” Yet here we are, eleven years later. The Ghost in the Shell franchise has not been ruined. The Stand Alone Complex saga proved to be a worthy entry into arguably the best cyberpunk franchise. But apparently now there’s a new threat on the horizon, and this time it’s for real! Urgh.
Look, if there’s anything I want you to take from this article it’s this: Ghost in the Shell: Arise is without a doubt an ambitious project. It has some insanely high standards to meet, sure. But at the same time, I believe it also has a lot of new to offer to Ghost in the Shell fans. And with such a stellar creative team in the face of Kazuchika Kise (who’s worked on all three previous feature-length GitS movies) as chief director and Tow Ubukata (who’s apparently some sort of Japanese Philip K. Dick according to some) penning the series’ story, I believe it’s safe to say that the odds of something sensible coming out of this project are skewed in our favor for once. I’m sure looking forward to Arise’s release in Summer of this year, but whether it’s a worthy successor to the brilliant original 1995 film or the Stand Alone Complex TV series or an unmitigated disaster not worthy of the Ghost in the Shell title, I’m afraid only time will tell. Doesn’t hurt to have a little hope for once, though.