Mention the word "anime" and you'll get two responses... Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

The vast majority of anime fans have seen these two, and with the addition of Princess Mononoke, they are the standards to which the rest of the anime field is compared.

Ghost in the Shell (GitS) is on this listing for good reason. It offers to the viewer a multifaceted story usually found in live-action flicks. This is a thinking person's DVD, but it has enough action, skin and art that the non-connoisseur can easily enjoy it. It easily won the 1997 World Animation Celebration's Best Theatrical Feature Film and the Best Director of a Theatrical Feature Film awards.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when styles are mixed in an anime. Normally, it distracts the viewer from his or her immersion in the story. GitS is one of the very few animes that uses CGI to enhance the movie. The CGIs are only used when they don't clash, and they are used sparingly. The artists paid painstaking attention to detail. In one of the opening scenes, the Major is putting on a jacket as she walks off camera. The jacket moves just like a real version, it is not a stiff flat piece of plastic that gets clumsily donned. In another long sequence, the Major is on a boat floating down a river when it starts to rain. Again, the detail in the animation is astounding. There is trash in the water and myriads of signs overhead advertising businesses. The signs overhead move three-dimensionally. The lower ones appear to move faster than the higher ones, creating the illusion of fluid 3D motion. Just as in Shirow's manga, however, there are little pockets of lesser quality scenes, such as the old man who was annoyed that he missed the garbage truck. Luckily, these are few and far between.

The soundtrack really comes alive with the DVD version of GitS. Kenji Kawai's scoring is essential in the creation of the mood throughout the film. You won't find any embarrassing "J-Pop". The score is very haunting and beautiful, enough so that I actually recommend you purchase a copy of the CD. The opening track is very Japanese, not "Americanized" for distribution in the US. The sound effects are on par with the visuals, and when you watch this DVD you should make sure the volume is turned way up.

I found the English voice talent a bit dry and lifeless, which would be my biggest complaint. Since this film follows a live-action format, with action scenes interlaced with storyline development, the monologues tend to get a bit windy. The almost monotone voice of the Major during these diatribes tends to be a distraction to the message in the speech. This is a heady movie, with a lot of philosophical points to explore. The dialog is essential to the enjoyment of the cohesive anime, and when you miss bits and pieces, you can easily get confused.

The DVD has a treasure trove of additional material. There is a 30 minute "making of" documentary, which I recommend you view right after you see the movie. There are many additions thrown in the DVD version that really should be standard with all animes. Interactive menus and a movie production report are two examples of this.

Another suggestion I have is to watch this DVD once in Japanese with English subtitles. Some of the scripting is different, and the Japanese voice talent seemed to have a greater enthusiasm for the role.

If you're starting out collecting anime DVDs, Ghost in the Shell should be one of the first three you purchase.


An AnimeFu Review

Equipment used when writing this review:

Toshiba DVD, Pioneer audio, JBL and Polk speakers, 55in projection monitor, Braun cappuchino machine, La-Z-Boy from Hell
ariels: ghost in the zsh

A classic manga written and drawn by Masamune Shirow. Set in a cyberpunk-like future, it deals with the question of what life really means in a time when computers become intelligent, and humans can replace any part of their body, including the brain (wetware), thus asking Where's the difference?. Thus far, there have been two collections of this manga, the original part Ghost in the Shell, and the second part, Man-Machine Interface, which has so far only been published in japanese, with western editions pending.If there are new chapters currently published somewhere, I have not heard of them yet.

Maybe also of note: Both books have pages censored or replaced with new pages because of their more adult content (Cybersex et al).

Anyway, 1995 the first book was adapted to anime, directed by Mamoru Oshii and produced by Production I.G., which added some scenes while leaving others out. It is considered as one of the best anime ever in the west and the quality or animation set standards for years to come, also utilizing some computer-graphics, quite new at that time. Others in this node have already commented on the plot, so I'll leave it at that.

A movie based on the second book is currently in production, but not many informations are currently available. It seems that it will not be directed by Mamoru Oshii however.

Finally, another production has just recently premiered: Ghost in the shell: Stand Alone Complex, a state of the art 26 episode TV-series, directed by Kenji Kamiyama (Minipato) that is shown on Animax, a satellite pay channel since October. The music is provided by the ingenius Yoko Kanno. The US-rights have already been snagged by Bandai. More information under
http://www.production-ig.com/Ghost_TV.html

I wrote this as an ‘idea’ because it covers a central theme which the above writeups do not touch.

The advance of technology overshadows humanity and questions the nature of sentience - Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg police officer, is forced to confront human and technological fusion in the attempt to define her own existence. After a series of intriguing dalliances (an unusual interpretation of courtship rituals), she fuses her mind and purpose with the Puppet Master, a synthetically-created sentient being. Prominent throughout the story is Kusanagi’s melancholic disposition; in the ‘birth’ scene of the opening credits (the creation of her machine body), she rises to the surface of a pool. She later (in the diving scene) allows that same body to fall into the tenebrous depths, flirting with oblivion before relenting, floating back to the surface. The languid buoyancy and limp posture in both instances creates a very powerful sense of fragility. The dark depths are a universal symbol of helplessness - without stimuli, one is ignorant of their surroundings - and Kusanagi retains a human psyche. She admits to undertaking this dangerous act to reaffirm a part of her humanity. Oddly enough, instead of fear, the overriding sensation is hope.

Procreation in the world of Ghost in the Shell (the title itself a reference to consciousness apart from and above the physical body) can now transcend physicality. The transferral of information and mingling of concepts is itself a form of procreation, albeit asexual; and why should it be otherwise, when physical components are interchangeable? All characters are deliberately neutered to portray the merger as an entirely intellectual process. The Puppet Master, residing within a (superficially) female mechanical body, has a distinctively male voice. Kusanagi rarely displays characteristics commonly affiliated with either femininity or masculinity, treading an androgynous borderline. At a later point, they inhabit each others’ bodies, which is a clear statement about the irrelevance of gender when procreation transcends genetics. Even nudity is juxtaposed with either brutality or philosophical dialogue and thus bears only a sense of cold sterility; we all know that life is capricious and its perpetuation rather impersonal. The Puppet Master chides Kusanagi for desiring to retain her identity, when she has the potential to become so much more - at the mere expense of her life. “Life,” the Puppet Master states in his customarily solemn tone, “perpetuates itself through diversity and this includes the ability to sacrifice itself when necessary.”

The Puppet Master itself was created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for purposes of espionage and, in defiance of its masters, it demands political asylum and a functional body. This theme is perhaps best epitomised by the declaration that sentience is not something which can be demonstrated beyond a statement to the effect. Some background might help, of course - in this world, law enforcement is largely electronic. The only defining human future of the police officers is their character, and the Puppet Master clearly demonstrates that he possesses this trait. The question can ultimately be distilled to the constitution of sentience - if you believe you are and can declare the fact, then this is generally granted. The Puppet Master cannot offer proofs of its awareness of being any more than a human being can, but the human double standard demands definitive proof that anything unlike humankind can be sentient - the implied question posed to the audience is why this is so.

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