Ghost in the Shell, Old and New

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On April 7, Production I.G and Kodansha announced yet another big Ghost in the Shell project, an anime to be co-directed by Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki. No release date, no further details, so for now, we wait. And in this moment, we can’t in our minds help but connect it narratively to the American remake’s failure, not unlike Toho’s restart of Godzilla in the wake of Godzilla (1998), or even Oshii’s production of Avalon as ‘response’ to that other Ghost in the Shell remake.

Given its series direction with regards to continuity, Ghost in the Shell is the rare franchise that surprises with each renewal. This might be because, until recently, reboots haven’t often succeeded, and that’s what Stand Alone Complex, Arise, and arguably the American film represent. That said, a proper sequel to the 1995 movie premiered between Stand Alone Complex seasons, and the ghost of Stand Alone Complex persisted through video-games and video-game experiments into Arise’s short lifecycle.

But 3rd Gig, as well as an Oshii-directed Ghost in the Shell 3, have always been much-wanted mythological prospects, because at least in America, things don’t exist in twos. Ghostbusters 3, Predator 3, and Men in Black 3 existed long before they did, and Stand Alone Complex in particular appears to suggest indefinite continuity. The Major doesn’t transform into another character at the end, and the police procedural format has served Law and Order and JAG’s misbegotten spawn for decades.

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The 2017 movie’s opening paragraph fell like a brick,
and it was written by native English speakers

However, looking back on 2nd Gig, which I always recommend, we see how that formula may not be so pat. The show, in its second instance, held to its subtitle, with Kamiyama and Oshii fabricating yet another stand alone complex, matching the first season’s complexity while also deconstructing it. The villainous element attempts to manipulate a stand alone complex into being to further a now-haunting political agenda — the return of Japan to imperial glory upon the removal of foreigners.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is a powerful treatise on the cultures of war and law enforcement, a work of deep intelligence and even deeper humanity, despite the robots. The MVP season, along with 2007’s masterpiece Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, cemented Kamiyama’s status as brilliant and overlooked, cement he proceeded to chip at with allegedly lackluster follow-ups — a disappointing ending to Eden of the East and the messy 009 RE: Cyborg.

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I repeat: Moribito is a goddamn masterpiece

With a solo feature of his looming — Hirune Hime — one could argue his reputation is on the line. I wouldn’t, because I don’t believe in flukes, even if I didn’t care about Shyamalan’s prodigal return. Signs is enough to prove a talent, and so is Gladiator for the reckless Scott, and with finality, so too is Kamiyama’s Ghost in the Shell.

The concern then is over Shinji Aramaki. Why I.G felt the need to pair Kamiyama with anybody is curious, and while Aramaki is a commercially-sound choice, the American Ghost in the Shell should be a lesson I thought we well-learned in 2012 with The Avengers — bet on the talent. Bet on quality content. (Pacific Rim’s box office the very next year walks that theory back, but Whedon’s on the move with DC now. The Avengers worked in large part because it was good).

Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a movie I expected to like and have to defend — I’m a fan of I.G’s then-vice president, now president, the US-based Maki Terashima-Furuta, who worked as co-producer on the film and gave Beat Takeshi cue cards. I could feel her frustration on Twitter, lamenting that as the ship sank, people continued to judge without seeing. I can sympathize; nobody wants to be at the center of a controversy, but of course, even more important is the movement toward wider casting discretion in Hollywood, to which the conversation surrounding Ghost in the Shell contributed greatly.

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“Whom I”

Still, boycotting the movie is a reasonable emotional response, but probably not a constructive one. If you legitimately want to see the movie but would feel like a traitor, think not to Rinko Kukuchi and instead to the below-the-line personnel who poured their hearts and souls into the film’s intricate production. The screenwriters are to blame for Ghost in the Shell (2017), who told an original story inside the franchise’s framework, and theirs was a stale, simplistic, baffling, and offensive story.

The movie is fucked out of the gate, and no amount of Rupert Sanders’s faithful recreation erases the preliminary damage. It’s an outdated philosophy on adaptation, more Dragonball Evolution than the current slate of superhero hits, where material must be puzzled out and solved, as if Americans didn’t love Ghost in the Shell (1995) so much they conjured and celebrated The Matrix until it, too, deviated from the original script. The American movie’s an adaptation, yes, but one that abandons franchise tenets — entering into competition if anything — and didn’t need to solve shit because Ghost in the Shell’s been successfully adapted to film four fucking times. Ghost in the Shell, Innocence, Solid State Society, and The New Movie are all stellar adaptations, and the American movie is a confused remake of Oshii’s classic masquerading as a ‘let’s return to the source material’ adaptation which has less to do with the Shirow manga than the Total Recall remake had to do with “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (that’s clearly hyperbole).

One of the screenwriters seemed picked out of the Hollywood machine for his success adapting the equally Japanese The Ring over ten years prior, and his continued, astronomical success with the Transformers cycle. But unlike those two properties, Ghost in the Shell lives and dies by the quality of writing — it’s a series hailed for its complexity and depth — and this is what 2017’s disastrous screenplay proves with the series’ very first death. (The Arise manga looks significantly worse than this movie, but Arise is a thumbs-sideways regardless).

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“Join my team though”

As a cyberpunk movie, it’s lesser than Johnny Mnemonic, because it’s not funny. It’s pulled in too many directions, but without the reckless abandon that cut gems out of accident mishap in the 80s and 90s. It’s too risk-averse, gambling its sole bravery point on the bewilderingly basic story of “I need to find myself, and turns out I was this other person, and so that means I found myself.” The Major’s story is founded on the comically evil machinations of a straw villain, and faceplants on the doorstep of social outrage. It didn’t even knock. Too incompetent to be offensive, but still survives as a benchmark.

I don’t care about that screenwriter, but I do care about Shinji Aramaki. A lot. I’ve been his champion for his two of three Appleseed movies — which are not good — and I’ve appreciated the design-sense he brings to each scifi outing. He’s a celebrated designer of giant robots and futuristic vehicles, a talent on display in the iconic Bubblegum Crisis and Megazone 23. I understand his directorial efforts haven’t been well received, and myself don’t like Appleseed Alpha. I’ve just never minded the guy because he never efforted toward a property I cared about as much as Ghost in the Shell.

I like Appleseed, but it’s run-off from Ghost in the Shell appreciation. It’s not that I’m worried Aramaki will ruin Ghost in the Shell, but that if he does, I’ll finally come around on him. The no-flukes theory doesn’t necessarily apply, because as much as I have love for Appleseed Ex Machina, let’s not call it 100% unironic.

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Get ’em Deunan

And that worry isn’t just about ‘quality,’ but the track of Aramaki’s career. The pursuit of photorealism in Japanese CGI saw him move from Ex Machina’s stylistic peak to the off-brand Metal Gear Solid look of Alpha, described by Joel on The Greatest Movie Ever! Podcast as like a Dreamcast RPG — a weird, barren city where there should be extras, who would’ve been too expensive to motion-capture.

Stand Alone Complex has broken beyond 2D, with striking results — the Korean-produced online shooter First Assault looks great, but skews more toward Appleseed (2004) territory than Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2013), and certainly the jaw-dropping Evangelion short. You’ll have to excuse me for being skittish around the abandonment of cel in the bloody wake of Berserk (2016), whose animation style wasn’t the most of its problems but felt that way every second of every confounding minute.

Ghost in the Shell is all about evolution, but after the heartache of Arise, apologized partially by the very fun New Movie, I yearn for a 3rd Gig picking off precisely where Solid State Society left off, in the style of the original for all the phenomenal elements that’d require. I suppose I’m also skittish about more Ghost in the Shell evolution, but that’d never change how I’d feel about the further marriage of Kenji Kamiyama to Ghost in the Shell, whether it’s feature, OVA, or *fingers crossed* TV series. It’s my favorite pairing of creator to content, and I’m digging for reasons to steel my heart so I don’t fall in love.

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More evidence anime characters are white. Look at this one

To that, the news still hasn’t hit me — something so early in development never rings an emotion — but when it does, my currently dormant Ghost in the Shell fandom will be reawakened, a fandom to surpass Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and I will lose the capacity to be objective, articulate, and emotionally mature in the face of what could be another subpar entry in a historically sterling series — it would at that moment transform from 1986-era Alien to 2017-era Alien, calling back to Ridley Scott and his refusal to understand his own fucking movies.

I’m still talking. It’s just that Stand Alone Complex, for all its social sensitivity and literary ambition, collated enough of the best Ghost in the Shell traits, embodied in a lead who barked orders in Mary McGlynn’s powerful tenor, spin-kicked for function not form, and asked existential questions to solve cases and bring the world to its knees, not answer the Big Questions or be brought to her knees herself. God, that pisses me off.

In my twisted mental algorithm, Stand Alone Complex might as well mean “The Major,” and her return would mean the entire world to me. The entire fucking world.

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On Wikipedia, the new Ghost in the Shell Project is a broken link, but rendered as “New Ghost in the Shell Project,” which could very well be its title in the end. Frankly, after the 2015 movie, each iteration should have “New” at its front. That’s probably why the American movie flopped.

(If you’re reading this Ms. Terashima-Furuta, I’m so, so sorry. But writing this was therapeutic, and nobody reads this blog anyway. So you probably aren’t reading this. But I’m sorry. This is the worst part of media criticism)

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