ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:06 - 24th February 2016, by Andrew Osmond

Ghost in the Shell Arise

This is the second volume of Ghost in the Shell Arise, which is the latest version of the cyberpunk cop franchise Ghost in the Shell. However, for some readers of this magazine, it may be their first Ghost in the Shell, a point we’ll get to later.

As with the previous volume, this consists of two stories, just under an hour each, called Ghost Tears and Ghost Stands Alone. As the first story begins, the young cyborg woman Kusanagi is still trying to put together her independent police unit. The “natural” policeman Togusa is on her radar, but Kusanagi is also considering her own boyfriend – and you read that right, Kusanagi has a boyfriend now, and it’s not Batou, whom she’s punching on a regular basis.

Both stories deal with conspiracies, hacking and detecting. Like much Ghost in the Shell, they require a lot of concentration to follow, although it’s relatively simple to pick up their gist. Ghost Tears is lower-key, with more on Kusanagi’s personal life, while Ghost Stands Alone starts with a humungous – and disturbing – Christmas terror attack. Once more, Kusanagi dives down a skyscraper; this time, though, a helicopter catches up with her halfway down and starts blasting the hell out of her.

Apart from such action, there’s solid world building in the tradition of Ghost’s original manga author Masamune Shirow and newer titles such as Psycho-Pass (for example, the pointing up of the loss of civil liberties). Design remains consistent with the first Arise volume, with the characters looking sometimes unnaturally simplified – Togusa looks particularly “off” in his first scenes – and movement that’s blandly anonymous compared to the franchise at its greatest.

But most importantly, what is Arise bringing to the franchise? The Mamoru Oshii cinema films had their director’s poetry, visualising philosophical questions. Stand Alone Complex presented a team with warmth, humour and trust. Arise replaces them with characters who are suspicious, uneasy, ever sniping at each other.

Arise’s world is violent and bleak – the Christmas massacre in Ghost Stands Alone is chilling in light of current news headlines. Ghost Tears has a scene where a character is found to have been turned (without his knowledge) into a living bomb. The “heroes” pick up the screaming man and chuck him down a lift shaft to his death. You can say it’s hard-boiled, but does it motivate the viewer to stay with this world, these characters?

Moreover, these episodes don’t have many other differences from past Ghost in the Shell. Beyond Kusanagi’s love-life and a clever Wizard of Oz motif, it’s the usual diet of brain-hacks, conspiracies and geo-politics. Both episodes in this volume end with reveals that could have taken the franchise in new directions – a hidden episode of Kusanagi’s past, a lovers’ yellow brick road into cyberspace – but too late, the story’s over. (In fairness, further Arise stories have been made in Japan, including the feature film shown at Scotland Loves Anime, answering some questions left dangling in this volume.)

But comparisons to the past are irrelevant if Arise is your first experience of Ghost in the Shell. If so, then it comes with one of the anime’s most elaborate, fascinating future worlds and the angry, suspicious characters may seem a natural part of its texture. Just remember, different versions are available.

Lots of ideas, quite a bit of action, but fans of older Ghosts may find it hollow.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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