If you were into anime during the mid-1990s, chances are you know a thing or two about Masamune Shirow. Shirow’s most popular work was Ghost in the Shell, a manga series that asked the question, “In a world where hyper advanced technology is the norm, what does it mean to be human?” Divided into several stand alone chapters, the comic presents various cases conducted by Section 9, a para-military police force that specializes in tracking and apprehending cyber criminals and terrorists. Led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, her team will uncover plots to use child slaves to mass control androids, hunt down a terrorist organization with ties to the police and pursue an extraordinarily intelligent AI birthed within the Internet.
Shirow’s work is interesting because the text shows a deep knowledge (obsession?) with technology, police tactics and military weapons. Characters often discuss, at great length, cyborg’s rights, political maneuvering and the advantages of futuristic military weapons over the favored, but antiquated, revolvers used by Section 9’s pure human officer. One chapter in particular covers the entire process of building a cyborg body, from synthetic skin baths to brain boot-up sequences. There’s a lot of interesting science to be had for comic that is essentially a futuristic police procedural. So that things don’t get too heavy, Ghost in the Shell contains a healthy dose of comic relief from the principal cast and the Fuchikomas, Section 9’s chatty AI tanks.
The artwork in Ghost in the Shell is as intricate as the script. Every environment in the book is filled with heavy details, whether it be a dense urban flea market or trash filled streets. Action scenes are heavy and eye catching with page-sized explosions that serve as exciting exclamation points. There is quite a bit of fan service in the book, as many of the female androids (some who function as love dolls) wear sexy lingerie or swimsuits to accentuate their female form, yet sex is never depicted. There are a few instances of nudity, but it never feels cheap or gratuitous as it is reserved for cyborgs fresh off the assembly line. Come to think of it, since they are essentially machines, should they conform to the human standards of dress? Food for thought.
Ghost in the Shell is appropriate for older teens, age fifteen and over. Apart from light language, fan service and violence, the script might be too heavy for younger audiences. There’s a lot of science, technology and ethical dilemmas being bandied about by the characters on every page, which is a large part of the graphic novel’s charm. It presents controversial and thought provoking subjects such as privacy and advance science in a manner that is approachable and entertaining.
Ghost in the Shell
Studio Proteus & Dark Horse, 1995