Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
Ghost in the Shell is the animated film adaptation of the legendary manga created by Masamune Shirow. Set in a future where urban areas have developed into sprawling megacities and human civilization has advanced so far technologically that androids roam freely and are nearly indiscernible from humans. Some things never change, however, as cybernetics and the Internet account for the vast majority of crime that plagues Japan.
This is the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, one of the top officers in Section 9, a paramilitary organization that investigates high profile cybercrimes, be it corrupt political officials or syndicate crime bosses exploiting cyborg trafficking. The events of the film surround a mysterious hacker only known as The Puppet Master, a hacker who has the ability to invade into a cyborg’s AI and putting them under his control. Kusanagi’s hunt for the Puppet Master sets her down a road where she begins to question her existence and understand the power of artificial intelligence.
The Puppet Master plot is lifted directly from the original manga and has made the transition quite well, although readers might be surprised by the drastic changes to the character designs in the film. The work is also quite series, lacking the moments of comic relief offered by Batou, Kusanagi’s partner, and the self aware Fuchikoma battle mechs. While missed, these elements do not take away from the philosophical heart and soul tone of the manga, broaching such complex questions regarding the self and the ethics of artificial intelligence. The visual brilliance is Ghost in the Shell‘s brightest highlight as it blends hand drawn animation with subtle CGI effects. Stand out moments include Kusanagi’s pursuit of a suspected criminal in a rural slum and the climax involving a grueling battle with a high powered robot tank.
Shirow’s film adaptation is a revered work and to speak personally, it was my earliest exposures to the genre. It also made waves throughout the film industry as many prominent directors being drawn to it. Ghost in the Shell influenced the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix and earned praise from visionary film pioneer James Cameron. The critical success of Ghost in the Shell paved the way for a theatrical sequel, two television series and multiple video games.
Between the high quality animation and the ethical, moral and philosophical quandaries, Ghost in the Shell appeals to an audience outside of genre fans and followers of Shirow’s work. Because the Internet plays a large role in Section 9′s investigations and serves as the foundation of the Puppet Master’s crimes, readers of cyberpunk will find something to enjoy as well.
Why should you own this?
A modern classic, Ghost in the Shell not only excels thematically and visually, it has earned the adoration of its industry peers, making it an essential part of any library’s core anime collection.
Ghost in the Shell
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Standard edition: Manga Entertainment, 1998
Special edition: Aberle-Media, 2005