Ghost in the Shell: Arise is likely to spark a debate among the fans of Masamune Shirow’s seminal work. A special four-episode OVA series, Arise reimagines the world of Ghost in the Shell, changing the look of Motoko “Major” Kusanagi and following her early work for the military.
While investigating the murder of her superior officer, Kusanagi is courted by Chief Aramaki to join the newly-created Section 9, which will grant her more autonomy than the military could ever afford her. The first two episodes—“borders,” as they are referred to in the parlance—her working beneath Aramaki and putting together a strike team. Familiar faces make an appearance, but they stand on different sides of the war on cybercrime. Batou, for example, has long been portrayed as Kusanagi’s closest friend and confidant. In Arise, his affiliation with the military puts him at odds with Kusanagi, culminating in a brutal and awesome fistfight.
The OVA follows the formula of previous Ghost in the Shell adventures in which cyber criminals commit daring acts of terrorism or larceny, covering their tracks with superior hacking skills and cybernetic enhancements. The cases presented to Kusanagi are politically motivated, in keeping with the show’s backdrop of post-war reconstruction. Whether crimes are committed to protect people or cover up dangerous secrets, technology and its effects on memories and individuality figure largely into these two episodes. Memories and the traits that make us human are an important theme within the Ghost in the Shell universe; technology has progressed to the point where bad memories and post-traumatic stress triggers can be erased or manipulated using advanced computer viruses. What is perceived as fact could merely be fiction and the consequences of such meddling make for terrifying prospects.
Arise is a bold direction for Shirow’s work, and some changes are likely to cause a rift among the franchise’s dedicated fan base. Kusanagi has undergone a complete redesign and her cybernetic body makes her appear much younger than she did in Stand Alone Complex. To the studio’s credit, Kusanagi’s personality has also changed: as intelligent and capable as she is, this version comes off as inexperienced, brash, and emotional, traits that are frequently used to describe younger people. As if the design shift wasn’t enough, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who voiced Kusanagi in the Stand Alone Complex series, has been replaced by Elizabeth Maxwell of Attack on Titan and Space Dandy. To her credit, Maxwell does a fine job imitating McGlynn, so much so that I didn’t notice the difference at first. I expect that heated forum wars are being fought over the new Kusanagi, but given the radical changes to the main character, it’s odd that the supporting cast remains the same. Batou, Paz, Ishikaa, Aramaki, Togusa, and all of the secondary characters look exactly the same as they did before.
No matter how viewers feel about Kusanagi, everyone can agree on Arise’s beautiful production. Production IG has always had a sizable animation budget and the quality of the artwork—both hand-drawn and computer generated—is telling. The new series continues the tradition of fetishizing the military with a camera that favors close up shots of advanced weaponry. Production IG has a knack for scripting exciting and intense combat scenarios, such as the second episode’s freeway chase. The first episode features a fight scene so well animated it made my jaw drop. The fluidity of movement and the realistic contortions of both bodies as they grapple, punch, and kick looks so lifelike, I couldn’t tell whether rotoscoping was used.
Battles often end in violence, but no more than in any other Ghost in the Shell product. People are shot and killed with bullet wounds that leave blood spatter on walls and floors. Kusanagi has a tendency to lose her limbs in battle but because she is a cyborg, oil and other viscous fluids are spilled instead of blood. The calmness that follows dismemberment is almost comical in a way, especially at the end of episode two when the characters engage in a battle that’s one step away from recreating the classic Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise may look and sound different, but its heart and soul are there. Kusanagi’s redesign shouldn’t dissuade anyone looking to fill their lives with more of the franchise. The hyper-technology, gun, and robot porn that defined Ghost in the Shell for millions of readers and viewers remains as gorgeous as ever. The only thing I’m worried about is its brevity. Arise will wrap up in two more episodes and it isn’t easy to tell where the story is going after the second episode. There’s the hint of AI entering the picture, but there’s no “holy cow” moment to suggest where the story is moving. The Section 9 team we know and love has just formed, leaving two more episodes to produce some sort of overarching villain or conspiracy, assuming there is one. So far, I have no idea where Arise is going to end up. Will the next two episodes be stand alone cases or will there be something that bridges the final two borders together? I hope so, because right now, I’m worried that there won’t be enough for Arise to go out with a bang.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Borders 1 & 2
Directed by Kazuchika Kise
114 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: 17+
Related to: Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow