11:00 - 30th December 2014, by David West

Ghost In The Shell: Arise

2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Ghost In The Shell movie, which made its debut in Japan on 18 November, 1995. The origins of the film date back to the manga created by Masamune Shirow that debuted in 1989 in the pages of Young Magazine and introduced the world to Major Motoko Kusanagi, a specialist in cybercrime working for Public Security Section 9. GITS seems eerily prescient in its depiction of a world where human lives are increasingly interwoven with the technology that surrounds them, both virtually and physically.

The original film was set in 2029, but the new four-part series Ghost In The Shell: Arise takes place two years earlier in 2027. The series is arguably both a prequel to the classic film and a reimagining of the franchise that hits the reset button on Kusanagi and the members of Section 9, showing familiar faces in unfamiliar ways.

Motoko Kusanagi is one of the most iconic heroines in all anime, even as she embodies the contrasting impulses of the medium. On the one hand, she is a highly capable hacker, investigator and combatant – very much a powerful woman. On the other, she is portrayed in a sexualised manner that objectifies the character. She is the only member of Section 9 to dress in revealing outfits and throughout the various films and TV series she is often shown in the nude.

In Arise, she has been re-designed with the figure of a younger woman, arguably the body of a teenager, rather than the more mature and busty physique of the original film and manga. The sexual element remains – throughout the four OVAs, she regularly appears naked, and in one episode, she swaps trousers for hot pants. This can be hard to reconcile with her role in the stories, which again cast her as a highly competent operator – but she is both the protagonist of the plots, and eye candy intended to appeal to a predominantly male audience. Gender roles are very conservative in Japan, where men are expected to pursue a lifetime climbing the career ladder. One of the plotlines in Arise concerns Kusanagi trying to secure financial independence as an investigator, so she is not beholden to her old boss in the military and her budget is not constrained by her supervisor in Section 9. The theme of someone struggling to achieve such fiscal security will no doubt resonate with any hard-pressed office worker with spreadsheets to balance and a mortgage to pay off.

Arise is less ambitious than its predecessors when it comes to asking big questions. In Arise, there are references to Kusanagi having been a cyborg since birth, which is definitely an idea new to the canon and quite problematic. How did her cyborg body grow from infancy to adulthood? And what sort of relationship would she have with her own body if it had always been artificial? It also prompts questions of gender. An artificial body has no inherent sex – it doesn’t have XX or XY chromosomes, so any concept of gender is imposed upon it externally. How would she view sex without the possibility of procreation? Or clothes on an artificial body? Why would she have hair? Why be human in appearance at all? There are characters in Arise whose appearance is not naturalistically human but more explicitly robotic, but the show never explores why they might have made that choice. It’s an incredibly challenging concept but Arise doesn’t have the time or capacity to do it justice. Instead the four stories are essentially action thrillers that detail the formation of Public Security Section 9. At the outset Kusanagi is still in the military – a member of Unit 501, under the command of a fanservice-friendly new character, Lt. Colonel Kurtz. Kusanagi catches the eye of Section 9 chief Daisuke Aramaki, who sets out to recruit her for a new team he is assembling to counter cyber terrorism and cyber crime. The plotlines set Kusanagi in opposition to the characters who, as any fan of the franchise will know, are destined to join her in Section 9, including ex-Army Ranger Batou, police detective Togusa, as well as regulars Saito, Boma, Paz and Ishikawa. The biggest change is in the relationship between Batou and Kusanagi. In the past, Batou has always been the Major’s right-hand man, but in Arise they start out on opposite sides and the viewer is treated to the thrill of seeing the two toughest fighters in Section 9 taking each other on head-to-head.

Plug into a new version of an old favourite when Ghost In The Shell: Arise Borders 1 and 2 comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on 24 November from Manga Entertainment.

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