Visually, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
is damn impressive. Some of the city scenes are likely the most detailed animation I've seen (although more isn't necessarily prettier). But that's not my main concern. If your goal in life is eye candy, drop some acid
Let's call the set of anime which American audiences consider to be deep (Grave of the Fireflies, Jin-Roh...) set A. (I don't know how these fared in Japan, so I can't speak for that.) It seems that the directors of the members of set A think that when you are being artistic, or philosophic, you don't have to have conflict. Hence long drawn out scenes of talking heads, or extended interludes with scenery & a chorus and nothing else. The former is only marginally interesting if you are the first to come up with an idea (this movie had none such), and the latter gets dull after the first couple of times.
I've seen this issue of a lack of conflict run rampant through the movies of set A. Let's look at this specific example:
Warning: Spoilers! (scroll down past the second <hr> for relatively spoiler-free summary)
The plot of the movie is basically this:
An evil company is putting the souls of young girls (of course) into sex robots (sexudroidus). Presumably, this gives the resulting intercourse a certain je ne sais quoi which you just can't get from fucking a Real Doll. (Given the plastic body structure of the robots as depicted, I can't imagine sex with them being more pleasant than sticking the relevant anatomy in a disk drive. Maybe the sexudroidus were made for lesbian sex - that would be more logical. Of course, that would mean that the high level politicians subsequently killed are transvestites... but I'm digressing). Presumably the customers don't know about the soul thing (otherwise the plot falls apart). The sexudroidus are inhumanly strong, which actually makes sense, as no one wants to shell out money for a robot that can't go through every position in the Kama Sutra.
The girls whose souls are being used don't like this, so stage a rebellion by having some of sexudroidus kill important politicians who 'play' with them.
Bateau (a main character of GitS), along with Togusa (another), investigate this. There's a fight scene at the start (the fighting is pretty damn good), followed by a lot of deep intercourse about people worrying they're nothing but the sum of their parts (shocking), even though the technology of the era seems to have established the existence of a soul (a ghost), including methods of transferring it. There's mention of children being no more similar to adults than robots are, and some problems with dolls. Not a big Barbie fan, this movie.
Long after one would think the conversations would be over, they continue, rehashing the same ideas for a good long time, each statement paced as if the director is expecting dyslexics to keep up with the subtitles. Now, I'm not of the opinion that movies should be all action. But the conversations here are not of the interesting, conflicted, or even entertaining varieties. They go as follows:
Bateau: <something deep>
Togusa: <long pause> Oh?
Bateau: <long pause> <something else equally deep>
Togusa: <long pause> Oh.
Bateau: <long pause> Yeah.
Togusa: <long pause> <quotes a philosopher>
Bateau: <long pause> <quotes the bible>
Togusa: <long pause> Ah.
And by deep, of course, I mean done to death in every cyberpunk novel, movie, and animation ever done. Things like whether robots are better than humans, whether humans are better than robots, the relative purities of robots, humans and gods, etc. Very profound, if you're between the ages of 15 and 22 and haven't seen GitS and never read any cyberpunk. I can forgive half an hour of slow dialogue if it's insightful, but when you're rehashing topics which have been dealt with throughout the recent history of anime, those ideas should be in the background, and a decent storyline should be the focus of the movie.
And that's pretty sad, because GitS had similar philosophical elements, but managed to stay entertaining. Of course, its plot was reasonably innovative for its time. By now, all that has been done to death. Sort of how the Matrix sequels sucked in part because all the special effects had been done too many times by then. (Not to say that was the only thing that sucked about the sequels.}
Back to the plot:
Bateau wrecks up some yakuza (which is fairly entertaining). Then there is a half hour interlude during which Bateau's humanity is shown in that he has a dog. The audience is amused at this because by now, it's laugh or cry. The two agents head over to the northern regions, which are somehow terribly dangerous - this is illustrated by a long panoramic display set to chorus - similar to what was done in the original GitS, but at this stage of the movie, predictable and boring. Just because you can animate 10,000 birds doesn't mean you should put them in every scene (how the streets aren't white with bird shit, I don't know). The Japanese seem to have an obsession with junk cluttering the air. This was impressive back in the day, when one had to figure out a way to animate a thousand cherry blossom petals. Now, when computer animation has trivialized the task, I think the directors need to rethink scenes wherein characters can breathe without inhaling lungfuls of crap. I don't think a single city scene had air that was clear of foreign objects.
The agents meet with a hacker who provides one of the more entertaining parts of the movie - a set of psychotic episodes which are actually somewhat disturbing. If the movie had been able to maintain that atmosphere throughout, it would have been excellent.
After this, Bateau infiltrates the evil company, the Major comes back long enough to help him (why she gives a damn isn't established - I'd have let him die on general principles), and they emerge victorious. The last scene is a chilling view of the daughter of Togusa holding a doll. (This is chilling because... okay, it's not. Never mind.)
Overall, the movie is 20% excellent (interesting scenes, conflict, some tension, a psychotic episode or two), and 80% slug-paced filler. The only good reason to see it is for the animation. And even that, in my opinion, was overdone - there were good moments, but most of the movie was too cluttered for its own good. This is sadly common for movies that belong to set A. I'm not sure if that's because of a culture barrier, or if the people who decide which movies have artistic merit are just mindless twits.
It would be nice to have visually attractive film without the pretentiousness and the deliberate snail's pacing. I've seen them, but somehow they just don't end up being considered up to par by the snobs. If you want to see animation that have good visuals, insightful things to say, and yet manage to be entertaining throughout, try starting with Utena or Cowboy Bebop.