Masumane Shirow’s iconic cyberpunk manga Ghost in the Shell has been adapted in several different forms, most notably Mamoru Oshii’s chilly philosophical 1995 animated movie (and its inscrutable 2004 sequel) and Kenji Kamiyama’s more procedural-driven Stand Alone Complex TV series that premiered in Japan in 2002 and started airing on Adult Swim in 2004 (the Matrix series also took heavy inspiration; an official Hollywood adaptation has been in development for some time now). Now Production I.G.’s gone back to their big hit and is releasing Ghost in the Shell: Arise, an OVA (Original Video Animation) series telling an origin story of the security squad Section 9.
Note that I said “an origin story”, not “the origin story” or “prequel.” This series comes from a different director, Kazuchika Kise, and doesn’t seem to fit into continuity with either the movie or TV series (notably, Motoko Kusanagi’s backstory is completely different from previous versions). This isn’t a major reimagining a la what Sayo Yamamoto did with Lupin III in The Woman Named Fujiko Mine, however, and fans of Stand Alone Complex should feel right at home. If anything, the biggest criticism I have of it would be that in some ways it’s too familiar. This is especially true of the animation. While the character designs have changed to reflect the 10-years-younger cast, the general animation style looks almost identical to Stand Alone Complex 10 years ago. Given that previous GitS anime were on the cutting edge of animation for their time, it’s disappointing this new series doesn’t go further to wow with its visuals.
The higher budget does guarantee more action scenes than usual, and as expected they’re gorgeous (with the exception of a few distracting shots using a CGI model for Motoko) and a lot of fun. The greatest visual improvements have been in the design of the internet; there’s some awesome tricks with perspective and depth of field. Cornelius’s musical score is fine without reaching the heights of Kenji Kawai and Yoko Kanno’s contributions to previous adaptations. Setting the story earlier in time allows for some interesting twists: the technology has more bugs, and cyberization being much newer creates a different dynamic than in other GitS stories where it’s the norm and non-cyborg humans are the weird ones. The stories in the first two released episodes cover a wide range, the first being more mystery-driven with a bit of psychological horror and the second a more action-packed story with a political dimension. Each episode is able to stand on its own, so there’s no cliffhangers to make the long wait between episodes too frustrating.
I saw the two released episodes at a special screening at Kendall Square run by Tugg, a service that allows people to request events at theaters. If you missed it, feel free to request another screening. The two episodes are also available as limited edition import Blu-Rays and will be released in a more affordable DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack with an English dub in the near future.