“The year is 2029. The world has become intensively information oriented and humans are well-connected to the network. Crime has developed into a sophisticated stage by hacking into the interactive network. To prevent this, Section 9 is formed. These are cyborgs with incredible strengths and abilities that can access any network on Earth.” (courtesy IMDB)
Manga are Japanese comics that conform to a style developed in the late 19th century, and have a long and complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art. If a manga series is popular enough, it may be reproduced as an animated film or television series. Growing out of manga pioneered by its godfather Osamu Tezuka with his novel-length comic Shintakarajima also known as New Treasure Island, anime has undergone several transitions on its path to Western acceptance. Inspired by the success of Walt Disney Studios as well as Tezuka’s groundbreaking art, Hiroshi Okawa‘s film company Toei released the first full-length anime film The Tale Of The White Serpent (1958), and Tezuka himself entered the anime arena in 1961 with the television series Astro Boy.
Anime has grown in leaps and bounds since, gaining sophistication during the seventies with favourites such as Gigantor and Battle Of The Planets and spurred by the boom of domestic video during the eighties, the darker side of anime was beginning to emerge. Fueled by dystopian cyberpunk literature, anime took the form that many now recognise, exemplified by Katsuhiro Otomo‘s masterful Akira (1988). A modern anime masterpiece that was instrumental in bringing Western audience’s attention to the exciting world of anime, Akira is still a marvel of imagination and art. Backed by a then-record budget of US$10 million, Akira was the most expensive feature-length anime ever created.
It was about this time that a new and exciting manga appeared. Written and illustrated by Masanori Ota adopting the pseudonym Shirow Masamune, Ghost In The Shell was originally published from April 1989 to November 1990 and was released in book format in October 1991. Set in the mid-21st century in the fictional Japanese city of Niihama, also known as New Port City, the manga follows the members of Public Security Section Nine, a special-ops task-force made up of former military and police officers. Political intrigue and counter-terrorism operations are standard fare for Section Nine, but the various actions of corrupt officials and cyber-criminals in each scenario are unique and require the diverse skills of Section Nine’s staff to prevent a series of incidents from escalating.
In this cyberpunk future, computer technology has advanced to the point that many citizens now possess cyber-brains, allowing them to interface directly with various networks, and the level of enhancement can vary from simple minimal interfaces to almost complete replacement of the brain. This is combined with various levels of cybernetic prostheses, enabling a person to become a cyborg with a fully prosthetic body. Major Motoko Kusanagi is such a cyborg who, as a young girl, suffered a terrible accident that required her to use a full-body prosthesis. Unfortunately, this high level of cyberisation leaves the brain open to attack from highly skilled computer hackers, the most dangerous being those who hack people to force them to do terrible things.
Two animated films based on the original manga have been released, both directed by Mamoru Oshii and animated by Production I.G. Studios. The first, Ghost In The Shell (1995), takes place in 2029 during a time when nations have been replaced by city-states and mega-corporations, and the world has become tied inextricably together through a vast computer network. In this brave new world, Section Nine is a covert division of the Japanese police that investigates cybercrime and runaway robots. The story follows Major Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka) of Section Nine and her partner Bato (voiced by Akio Otsuka) in their investigation of a hacker known only as the Puppet Master, who specialises in implanting unsuspecting people with false memories and manipulating them to do his dirty work.
As it turns out, the mysterious character who has been operating behind the scenes is in fact an artificial intelligence program code-named Project 2501, that has become sentient and is now seeking asylum with Section Nine. But the government agency that created Project 2501 isn’t about to let it get away, and it still remains a mystery why the Puppet Master sought out Major Kusanagi in the first place or, indeed, what it intends to do with her. Ghost In The Shell is one of the most influential anime movies of all-time, and is frequently referred to as the first truly adult animated motion picture. It was also the first anime film to be released simultaneously in Japan, Britain, Australia and the United States. Director Mamoru Oshii was able to create a cinematic masterpiece with his dynamic unforgettable images, each of which is choreographed for maximum impact, never lingering too long at the expense of storytelling. For example, a fight scene between two cyber-enhanced characters takes place in a brief few shots, instead of dragging out for five minutes.
This film opened the doors for events like Disney’s pursuit of Hayao Miyazaki – creator of Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – and eventually the truly incredible pace of anime that exists today. The awesome success of Ghost In The Shell spawned a visually sensational television series entitled Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which focused on Section Nine’s investigation of the hacker known as the Laughing Man. It was followed in 2004 by a second season called Ghost In The Shell: SAC 2nd GIG, which looks at a terrorist group known as the Individual Eleven but, ultimately, it may be best to dwell on the mesmerising futuristic cityscapes and forgo the metaphysical and poorly dubbed doodlings.
Mamoru Oshii struck gold twice with the second feature film, Ghost In The Shell II Innocence (2004). Based on a chapter from Man-Machine Interface, the characters again speculate on what it means to be human and whether machines can feel anything, except in this movie they’ve been created for sexual pleasure. In 2008 Dreamworks acquired the rights to produce a live-action film adaptation of the original manga comic, with some impressive names attached: producers Steven Spielberg and Avi Avrad, director Rupert Sanders, screenwriters Jamie Moss, Laeta Kalogridis and William Wheeler. But, as everyone in the business knows, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the astronomical amount of funding necessary for a live-action version has inevitably led Hollywood producers to repeatedly shelve their plans. Keep that thought in mind for the next seven days, and I’ll politely ask you to please join me next week to have your innocence violated beyond description while I force you to submit to the horrible horrors of…Horror News! Till then, toodles!