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It found a voice... now it needs a body.
There's been two series of manga comics out that have been compiled into two graphic novels. The first, simply called Ghost In The Shell, is about Motoko and her adventures in Section-9. Most of the stories are independent of one another while some continue with a running plot. It contains a lot of nudity and fanservice too but not to the extent that it could be classified as hentai. Motoko is a police officer who is fully cyborg but has a human brain. Over the years her memory has diminished slightly and she doesn't fully remember her accident that caused her to have the need for a cyborg body. Her partner Batou (sometimes spelled as Bateau) is also partly cyborg due to the events that occurred during a recent war. He has two artificial eyes but unlike Motoko his eyes aren't realistic. Strangely the comic novel is partly in full colour but mostly in black and white. It also contains all the original covers from when they were sold as separate comics. If you've already watched the Ghost In The Shell movie then you'll recognise a lot of the events in the comic albeit some of them resolved quite differently.
The second graphic novel is called Ghost In The Shell: Man Machine Interface. Unlike the first novel she's more of an independent investigator and works outside of Section-9's control. She's also a lot more integrated with computers and a lot of the story takes place on the net. This makes for some stunning visuals, but can become confusing at times especially when you're not sure if it's actually Motoko or just her consciousness that you're seeing. Like the first comic novel there's also a lot of fanservice but it tends to be humourous rather than sexual. There's a lot of high quality exposed flesh during the fighting sequences.
The comics are an absolute must if you're a fan of Ghost In The Shell, they offer a lot more insight into Motoko's personality than any of the movies. They also pack a lot more story and have multi-layered plotlines. Quite often the story may be pure action while the underlying plot may be about what it means to be human. The only dislike I have for the comics is the fact that they've been reversed imaged when translated into English. In Japan comics are read from right to left and to convert them they've mirror imaged every page. It is noticeable especially in the second graphic novel. I've also heard that the sound effect text is nowhere as good as the Japanese version but I have no way to verify this.
The first Ghost In The Shell anime.
The opening of Ghost In The Shell sees Motoko on top of a building looking down at the city below. It's raining a fine mist and the first thing noticeable is how amazing the visual effects are in comparison to other anime. Motoko communicates with Batou while scanning the building below. Batou asks her what the interference in her head is and she replies with a witty comeback. (This reply is different depending on whether you watch in English or Japanese with subtitles). After a very violent scene the opening credits start and you're greeted with haunting music as you witness Motoko's creation. Motoko then awakes in her very simplistic Japanese style apartment with the cityscape viewable from her window.
The plot begins with a minister's interpreter having her brain hacked by someone calling themselves The Puppet Master who is wanted among other things for the crime of political engineering. But as the story progresses it soon becomes apparent that there is a lot more going on that meets the eye. In fact it does get a little confusing.
This was one of the very first animes I had ever seen and it completely blew me away. Even now all these years later it still excites me to watch. The music is hypnotic and there's a long sequence where nothing is being said as you watch Motoko in deep thought with the music conveying her feelings. Even the action sequences have the music responding to Motoko's emotions rather than the action taking place.
Motoko looks physically different than she does in the manga comics with a different hair style and eye colour but her personality is spot on being sexy, tough, and highly intelligent yet still venerable with inner sadness. For the most part the movie ties in with the story in the comics but adds an extra depth of realism without going overboard on robots.
Ghost In The Shell 2.0.
The title makes it sound like a sequel but in fact Ghost In The Shell 2.0 is the original movie with extra effects and computer animation. It is brilliant and the DVD also comes with the original movie so you can compare. My only complaint is that the visuals aren't seamless and it's obvious what's been reanimated and what hasn't so some sequences do appear rather odd especially the scenes with green tinted lighting changed to orange. As well as DVD it's also available on Blu-ray in high def.
Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence.
The visuals in this anime have never been seen in any anime before or since. This is an absolute must if you're into anime even if you're not particularly into Ghost In The Shell. It was made for the cinema screen and all of the details are spectacular. The music is amazing too and just like in the first movie it contains a lot of mood and emotion.
The story follows on from the first movie and pretty much ignores any references from the comics. The plot is very dark and contains a lot of violence including lots of blood. There's no nudity or fanservice unless you consider unclothed robots as nudes in which case there are lots.
Batou looks the same yet appears a lot tougher especially during the many action sequences. Most of what goes on through the story is told through his point of view so the plot unfolds gradually whenever he discovers something new. I won't mention anything about Motoko as to not ruin the story.
It's also available on Blu-ray bringing the visuals into spectacular full high def. Some versions of the DVD/Blu-rays omit the number 2 from the title on the cover label which I guess is to avoid confusiion with Ghost In The Shell 2.0.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
This anime is a 26 part series available as a box set as well as seperate volumes. It's is neither a sequel or prequel to the movies and is based purely upon the comics. It even features the robotic tanks called Tachikomas with their childlike squeeky female voices, as well as human-like cyborgs with AI ghosts. If you're looking for realism then it's out of the window, but if you're looking for exciting episodes with complex storylines, meaningful dialogue and just a hint of fanservice then this is for you.
The main plot, that covers a lot of the episodes, is about a computer hacker known as The Laughing Man as well as his many followers that are known as copycats. The Laughing Man has the ability to hack into people too so very often the copycats are unsure themselves as to The Laughing Man's true identity. Many of the episodes are seperate from the series plot and in my opinion are a lot better as they usually involve more insight into all the characters and in some rare instances Motoko's home life.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - 2nd Gig.
2nd Gig is the series sequel to the first Stand Alone Complex series and also consists of 26 episodes.
Similar to the first series there is a main plot that spans across most of the episodes while some are separate stories in their own right. The main plot is about a group of terrorists known as the Individual Eleven. Their leader is a cyborg with a strange ability to speak out loud without moving his lips, yet sometimes he does. This makes it a little confusing and sometimes you're not sure if he's talking to another character directly or with a communication link inside his cyborg mind.
Like the first series there's some insight into Motoko's home life, and her close friends, as well as the robotic tanks known as Tachikomas who feature throughout.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - The Laughing Man.
This is pretty much the original Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex series in an abridged form as one long movie length episode. There is a lot excluded but the story is a lot more understandable due to everything being condensed. I would only recommend it if you're a hardcore Ghost In The Shell fan otherwise there's no point. Also the English audio has been re-dubbed with different voice actors than were used in the original series. I cannot fathom as to why they would do that.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Individual Eleven.
Just as with The Laughing Man this is an abridged version of the 2nd Gig series in the form of one long episode. The English has also been redubbed with the same cast as with The Laughing Man. Alison Matthews makes a good attempt to be Motoko but she does appear to be attempting to sound like Mary Elizabeth McGlynn which makes me wonder as to why they bothered re-dubbing in the first place.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society.
Unlike the previous Ghost In The Shell movie length episodes, The Laughing Man and Individual Eleven, this DVD is a brand new story and the English voice acting is the original cast again. It's also available in high def on Blu-ray disc.
It's somewhat similar to the second graphic novel in that Motoko is no longer part of Section-9 and is going about her investigation alone. The rest of the characters in Section-9 are still in the story investigating the same crime and are aware that Motoko is also on the case and won't necessarily do things by the book. The plot follows Batou for most of the story with Motoko only making brief appearances until it nears the end.
One of the most noticeable differences from the previous Stand Alone Complex episodes is the music being a lot more upbeat.
Ghost In The Shell: Arise.
It shames me to say it but I didn't like Arise. There's nothing wrong with it per se as an anime, it's certainly enjoyable, but it reaches nowhere near the high standards that Ghost In the Shell has set. It contains no state of the art animation as the first Ghost In The Shell and Innocence had, and none of the character qualities of the Stand Alone Complex series. The music doesn't have the enchanting mysterious feel to it, and only follows the action taking place, with no atmosphere or emphasis on the story. It simply doesn't sound like Ghost In The Shell.
Story inconsistencies are not the issue, I don't mind it being a prequel or reboot as in many ways Stand Alone Complex was exactly that, the problem I have with it is that pretty much each character has been rewritten with different back stories. Motoko's back story for being a cyborg is totally at odds with the previous stories ruining the plot and removing any mystery.
A lot of elements appeared forced just to please the fans with references to previous Ghost In The Shells such as the way in which an attacker grabs Motoko's face, certain phrases she speaks, and the voice actress Mary Elizabeth McGlynn playing a totally different character. I don't want to be reminded and teased by a buzzword that appeared in a previous incarnation of the anime, I want to see a new Ghost In The Shell.
Arise isn't complete and I will certainly purchase new episodes as and when they come out, but I don't want to be one of those hopeful fans who continue to follow their favourite show hoping it will soon improve over time, when in the past every episode was product of beauty. Sorry if you're upset by this review but I didn't want to be dishonest.
Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie.
Alas this isn't a sequel of Ghost In The Shell 2 but rather a spin off from Arise. It wasn't as bad as Arise however and there were certainly some good scenes within, but just as with Arise it didn't really reach my expectations of what I hoped it would be and in many ways it felt rather flat.
I was pleased that it wasn't simply action all the way through and there were multiple scenes containing meaningful dialogue explaining the entwining complex story. I also loved the way Motoko's face was expressionless for the most part, not even with the capacity to blink, yet her smile was natural as she mentioned to another character.
Her back story was clearly taken from Arise with her being born as a cyborg yet the ending of the movie implied it was a prequel so it was rather confusing, but it was possible the ending was just for fun and not to have been taken seriously. Chief Aramaki's voice in the English dub was particularly annoying having a young voice for an old character. The music was sub par, background music to fill silences nothing more.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - The game.
Out exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and PSP this is one of the best games I have ever played in my entire life. Everything about it is spot on with what Ghost In The Shell is about. It even has the same voice actors and atmospheric music. It also features ghost hacking where Motoko can take over the mind of other characters. The majority of the game is played as Motoko but you do get to play some levels as Batou and one level as a Tachicoma. Unexpectedly Motoko has a particularly noticeable girly run which was probably due to motion capturing while the game was being made.
Once you've completed the game you can replay levels to find secret fans hidden around the map giving the game a lot of replayability. You also unlock extra outfits for Motoko, Batou and even the Tachicoma by completing the game.
The only annoyance I had was the jump button being one of the joypad shoulder buttons which meant I got finger ache quite soon into the game. There's also a sequence where you have to jump from one ledge to another but the game doesn't allow for a sideways jump. It took me quite a few attempts before I realised just pressing the jump button on its own would cause Motoko to correctly jump to the other ledge. I think it was a design bug in the game. If you can't jump sideways from a ledge then why include a part of the map that requires it?
If you play on a widescreen or high def television then be sure to remember to select widescreen on the game options menu within the game itself otherwise all the characters will look noticeably fat.
I still occasionally play it again especially trying to find all those hidden fans.
Ghost In The Shell: The live action Hollywood movie.
Other than the teaser trailer I never knew much about this movie before sitting down to watch it. I was sceptical if Hollywood would manage to pull it off but was pleasantly surprised for I did actually enjoy it. It's over the top Blade Runner style visuals are stunning while the music matches the mood of the characters even to the extent of fading into silence during a particularly violent battle sequence.
The plot wavers a little at the beginning but about halfway through everything suddenly snaps into place. I was crying when The Major visits her mother. In many ways the movie teases anime fans into thinking it had gotten something seriously wrong about the story before the big reveal of which I won't mention. There are a lot of "easter-eggs" too that play homage to the anime.
My only complaint is that there was a scene in particular in the teaser trailer that didn't make it into the final film. I've a feeling other scenes may have been cut to in order to reduce the certificate to a 12. There's also a mistake in the opening credits where the title appears twice which is rather odd.