published in Empire No.69, Sydney
The complete release of the TV series Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex is on par with other Ghost titles (2 films, plus a second TV series) in terms of political attraction, dramatic intensity and social implications. S.A.C. especially teases out its socio-political reflection of contemporary Japanese society. Unlike anime that offers social comment through allegory, metaphor or phantasm, S.A.C. fastidiously moulds itself on the urban police crime genre. Its consequent power comes as much from its well-crafted scripting as it does from the way it takes a familiar dramatic form and employs it to speculate how futuristic advents in technology and crime are likely to affect the human psyche.
Key characters from the Ghost franchise are present: the lithe Amazonian fighter Motoko, and her hulking taciturn aide, Batou. Both work for anti-terrorist Section 9, and each are defined equally by their team roles and their cyborg classification. While Batou is a physically modified strongman now enhanced with cyborg strength and militaristic application, Motoko is a more advanced transformation of human consciousness fused within a cyborgian datascape. She is a living node in the neural network of techno-psychic communication in the future metropolis, at once hyper-sensitive to the currents of data flushing around her and well-attuned to the perimeters of both cyborg and human awareness.
A riveting originality permeates S.A.C. via the straightforward way in which it depicts Section 9's use of technological systems without claiming something grand in its depiction of the future. The result is a drama focussed on the team's hardened emotional state in order to reveal the effects and ruptures which shape their human composure. Motoko especially provides the crux to this, in that her assessment of the corporate criminals and techno terrorists the team battles is limed with a sparkling awareness yet bears gravity and an estranged sadness.
published in Empire No.74, Sydney
Compiled feature film 1
The Ghost in The Shell franchise is not your typical exploitative venture. Each installment – be it a feature film or a TV series – seeks to complicate its predecessor’s narrative model and thematic coverage. In the latest tele-feature, Solid State Society, the regular cast from the two Stand Alone Complex TV series regroup as Section 9 tackles another politically volatile world of webs within webs.
The expected unnerving mix of sexual allure and steely focus continues to frame Major Motoko and her cyborg stature. Batou remains the iron man with a hidden softness; the rest of the team’s characters retain their distinct purpose as developed across the preceding TV series. The main twist of Solid State Society is wrenched by Motoko’s departure from Section 9 two years earlier. This has left the team – especially Batou – slightly demoralized.
Irregardless, they soldier onwards into an unending wave of layered terrorist plots and atrophied governmental tie-ins. Solid State Society extends this premise with metaphorical precision, drafting a plot around kidnapped children, brain-washed parents, and already-dead elderly citizens whose networked robotic nurse systems continue to keep their online identities active.
The beauty of Solid State Society is a reserved one. Machine design, urban planning, architectural construction, mechanical logic, online representation – these categorical signs of the future are delicately and inventively rendered throughout. Personally I find more imaginative ideas in the background detail of how this film ‘imagines’ a future technological society than anything that has come out of Hollywood in the last 3 decades. But for those seeking over-designed, over-spectacularised, over-programmed sci-fi, then most introspective and analytical anime is probably not relevant. And maybe anime like Solid State Society fails when set against such expectant criteria. But for those seeking such failures, this title is a winner.
published in Empire No.78, Sydney
Compiled feature film 2
The Laughing Man is a tricky DVD to review. Ultimately it’s not much more than strands of the main story thread strung throughout the second Ghost In The Shell – Stand Alone Complex TV series, here compiled into an extended feature. On the other hand, this particular thread which follows the super-A grade hacker known as ‘The Laughing Man’ not only provides the dramatic core to the TV series but also thematically encapsulates the irresolvable issues which confront the Public Safety team of Section 9.
Key characters Motoko, Batou, Togusa, and Aramaki plus the Section 9 team and the endearingly infantile Tachikoma robots are all present. The shaded folds of their individual stature and collective composure are examined in great detail, making The Laughing Man enthralling viewing even if one already is familiar with the whole TV series. For such an audience, The Laughing Man offers a wide buffet for thought. A second viewing perspective sheds light on how The Laughing Man is born through his frustrated attempt to expose the injustices of the Serano Corporation’s suppression of medical reports pertaining to then-emergent problems with how the human corporeal system could merge with increasing cyborg implants, prosthetic enhancements and neural modifications.
The Laughing Man’s concerns with how human and cyborg define each other had initially prompted him to protect humankind, but in the process afforded him a higher consciousness of cyborg-kind. In this sense, he is the human agitator to Motoko’s cyborg activator: he ponders the potential condition of ghost-machine interfaces which Motoko lives and breathes every day. The climax of The Laughing Man – more an extended volley-match of soliloquies delivered by The Laughing Man and Motoko in the ‘information graveyard’ of an old library – is a philosophical finale and may not appeal to those wanting Tokyo to explode in a mega-pyrotechnic fireball of destruction.
published in Empire No.80, Sydney
Compiled feature film 3
The Ghost In The Shell franchise seems to be replicating itself in mimicry of its own story’s self-replicating networked intelligence which the series claims as the primary determining principle that will organize social forces in the future. Attempting to describe the plot of these series is a confounding tactic, so this review will again opt to ‘talk around’ the series rather than reduce its complexity to something digestible.
Indeed, the strength of the multifarious series and their offshoots is that they stridently retain their indigestible form. The Individual Eleven compacts and then extends one of the main terrorist storylines from the Stand Alone Complex – Second Gig series, involving a hyper-nationalist group who commit a bizarre self-execution in grand guignol samurai style. A lone survivor is the intensely disquieting Kuze who seems to be a cosmic force in supreme synch with the net, attracting all sub-strata online activity of the encroaching immigrant communities slowly merging into the Japanese metropolis of the future. Thus a nebulous movement is formed which poses a densely tacit problem for Section Nine – the series’ ongoing tactical team of counter terrorists. Utterly enthralling viewing yet again – but be prepared to play it twice to pick up on the innumerable subt