As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hello, otaku readers of MANGA.TOKYO! I’m Mokugyo, and I love anime and movies. Like in 2016, I plan to watch a lot of anime and movies in 2017 as well. And here is one movie that will be released this year that I’m very hyped for:
The live action film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell! It stars Scarlett Johansson and Takeshi Kitano, a very famous Japanese multi-talented movie director. I’m half positive and negative at the same time about how it’ll turn out, but seeing a series based on a manga getting adapted into a Hollywood movie is definitely something noteworthy. Our UK friends recently told us that the original anime movie returned to English theaters for a limited time, and I thought that maybe I should write ‘Anime Basics’ article to introduce the series to those who hear of it for the first time or to those who just need a bit more info before they see it on the silver screen.
Unfortunate that it took me so long to watch Ghost in the Shell, but it was well worth the wait. pic.twitter.com/7pFDtvv3Od
— Hannah Coatney (@boatneyy) January 16, 2017
Ghost in the Shell is a manga series created by Masamune Shirow. Back in 1989, it used to be known only to enthusiastic manga fans and sci-fi fans, as it was first serialized in Kodansha’s Young Magazine Pirates Edition, the irregular extra issues of“Weekly Young Magazine. The volume (tankobon) was published in 1991.
Mamoru Oshii adapted it into an anime film in 1995. It was then that it amassed huge popularity and the title became famous. Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell was the first anime video to reach the Billboard’s top video slot in North America. The series became the signature show of the anime studio Production I.G., and grew into a media franchise with multiple TV adaptations.
Time has passed, and the title is now getting adapted into a live action film in the US. Starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, it will be released in theaters this spring. This film is a remake of Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell anime film.
— PosterSpy.com (@PosterSpy) January 26, 2017
Set in a fictional near-future Japan, most members of the public possess cyber-brains. Once they undergo the operation, the technology allows them to interface their brain with various networks without a computer. The protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is a female cyborg, or a full-body prosthesis augmented-cybernetic human, and her brain is the only human part of her that remains. She is the field commander of Public Security Section 9, aka Koukaku-kidoutai (mobile shell-armored special operations task-force). Section 9 is a law-enforcement division created to deal with cyber-criminals. They use networking technologies, weapons, and tanks.
The original manga has very detailed illustrations and technical narratives, and every page included a lot of additional notes and definitions for all of its confusing terminology. It’s great for sci-fi fans and those who love reading information-flooded stories, but it’s quite unapproachable for those who are familiar with easy-reading manga series. The manga also features what I consider the most sexy and highly-detailed drawing of a woman’s rear. It isn’t for everyone.
Oshii succeeded in adapting this original source’s unique elements into a stylish anime film. The later TV adaptations all follow the film and are based on its images. It was a box office hit, and even James Cameron, known for Titanic and Avatar, spoke highly of this film. It’s also well-known that it has influenced the world-famous Matrix series.
The highlight of the series is its action animation. In particular, some of the most incredible combat action scenes happen when Major Kusanagi renders herself invisible with a technology called ‘therm-optic’ camouflage. The detailed scenery of the cities is also notable. CG technology wasn’t yet very common when this film was created, and it’s amazing to realize that all the frames were hand-drawn.
Its poetic and philosophical story aspects are very appealing, highlighted by the solemn music by Kenji Kawai. The series dares to ask you many challenging questions: ‘What kind of crimes could happen with highly-developed networks in the future?’ ‘What might our society face when AI evolves?’ ‘Would you call a cyborg with no human tissue other than its brain a human?’ ‘Do machines have “ghosts”? Something like souls or spirits?’
The internet wasn’t common yet in Japan in 1995 when the movie was released, and it amazed the viewers with its topics. This is why it is highly regarded as a series that anticipated the modern world. Its film sequel, Innocence, was released in 2004.
All versions of Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell series
— wauhti (@SpiidiOnNoita) January 24, 2017
We can’t skip talking about Mamoru Oshii when introducing this series. He is one of the most important Japanese anime directors, and this film pushed him to his current world-wide fame.
Hayao Miyazaki, the most well-known Japanese anime director, has a unique relationship with him. Miyazaki believes that anime films are for children. On the other hand, Oshii strongly believes that he is creating what he himself wants to watch. Whether he does it on purpose or not or not, whenever one of his new films is released most of those who come to the theater are adult male fans (it wouldn’t hurt to have more female fans too.)
Ghost in the Shell is the perfect example of his works: sci-fi series filled with a lot of tough technical terms and poetic and philosophical messages. Their unique atmosphere is not for everyone. Sometimes if feels like his works themselves choose their viewers. His creations have a different direction from any other typical work of the same genre, and they are very different from both Japanese standard anime and Hollywood entertainment movies.
Above is a Japanese dubbed trailer of Garm Wars, one of Oshii’s signature sci-fi films about a tribal war on a fictional planet. It was first released in English in North America in 2015, and then in Japan in 2016. It took him more than 15 years to write the amazingly detailed plot and setting, design the new mecha, and create its stunning world view. However, its eccentric side of the world didn’t appeal much to the public and it didn’t make a box office hit. I think that more people need to see this movie and enjoy his impressive style.
Oshii’s works tend to be in the ‘love or hate’ category. If you see one and you love it, then chances are you will like most of his movies. My recommendations besides Ghost in the Shell for Oshii beginners are Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer, a fantasy comedy famous for its repeated time loop of a school festival day, and Patlabor: The Movie, a post-cyber-punk movie about robots going out of control.
— Aurao ビリビリ♪ (@Auraoo) November 29, 2016
TV anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex aired its first season in 2002, followed by a second season in 2004. A TV film sequel called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society aired in 2006.
These anime series share the same world and the same characters as the first anime film, but the story focuses more on the police crime drama. Section 9 is not actually a police per se, but it is a fictional law-enforcement division. Think about it as a specialized military SWAT unit. The first season focuses on investigating an unknown hacker criminal called ‘Laughing Man’, and the narrative focuses on the mystery surrounded the main antagonist. There aren’t many sci-fi action series that include mystery in the Japanese anime industry as it’s quite hard to produce such shows. That’s why the series was a big hit.
By the way, the director of the TV anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Kenji Kamiyama, is also releasing a new film in 2017 called Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari (Napping Princess: The Unknown Story of Mine). I know it’s not Ghost in the Shell, but here is the trailer of the film:
The Ghost in the Shell: Arise series was released in 2013. It is a prequel story set before the original task force Section 9 was formed. You can see that Kusanagi has a different hairstyle.
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie was released in 2015 as the last entry to the Arise series for the franchise’s 25th anniversary.
The Ghost in the Shell franchise is as much otaku history as is Akira, Dragon Ball, Osomatsu-kun, and all the titles that have endured the test of time and continue to produce new series and movies. I’ve tried to introduce this amazing series in a way that will make you want to check it out. I would really like as many people as possible, and especially those who wouldn’t consider themselves as sci-fi fans, to give Ghost in the Shell a shot. I’m sure you are in for a pleasant surprise.