Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ghost In The Shell: Arise Review 1

As a fan of GITS, I found myself caught off guard by the new reimagining/prequel Arise; I didn't realize it was even here until last night when I sat down to watch it, and I was skeptical about doing so.Generally, reinventions of stellar series don't go as well as I'd like.But I found myself pleasantly surprised by how familiar and...and GITS-like it all felt, even though some elements have indisputably changed.

SUMMARY: When the Lt. Colonel of Motoko's division dies and is accused of corruption, Aramaki's Public Services division gets on the case.Motoko, at first objecting to Aramaki's exhumation of her former mentor, soon agrees to work with his group to get down to the bottom of the affair even as she fights off the insistence of military officials that, with her letter of recommendation from the Lt. Colonel under shadow, her body is officially military property.During her investigation of the affair and the mobile land mines involved, she runs afoul of the captain of her division - and also comes across Batou and Togusa, who also find themselves seeking out the truth of the matter.All signs point to Motoko's guilt, but she soon discovers she's been infected with Firestarter, a false memory virus, and she soon sets matters to right - uncovering a division conspiracy in the process.Aramaki invites her to become the commander of a group of six in his division; Motoko seems ambivalent about the offer but, in the last scene, wonders aloud which six members she might scout for her team.

THOUGHTS: I was surprised by how freaking comforting it felt to watch this.The landscape, the color palette, Aramaki's presence, and even the dynamics between the characters felt so unmistakably GITS that I ended up not being jarred by some of the other changes as much as I might have been.As always, there's a seemingly simple event - the death of a Lt. Colonel - that masks a labyrinth of deception, politics, and questions of identity.

Particularly striking is the way in which this installment emphasized the questions of memory, body, and identity: Motoko's memories are altered, which essentially alters her reality and her relationships to others, the film opens with Motoko intending to protect the metaphorical memory of her dead mentor by resisting his exhumation, and Motoko can hack Batou's eyes to make him see things that aren't there.In GITS, to some degree the body is reality, and so it's interesting to see that dynamic play out amongst the characters.Adding to this of course are the fraught politics of having a cyborg body, and the narrative plays out as a story, too, of Mokoto's independence - of her desire to own her body rather than literally having it rented by the government as a weapon.

Some of the most comforting elements of GITS remain in play here; Batou is as self-confident as ever, and I found the dynamic between Aramaki and Motoko to be reminiscent of the series as I remembered it.We see the Tachikomas here as "Logikomas," and the one assigned to act as Motoko's bodyguard is as playful and helpful as always.Plus it's nice to see Togusa being his very human self.The themes, the tone, the questions, the characters...they all work nicely together here to set up a sense of familiarity and continuity that felt helpful to me.

Still, differences abound, some more jarring than others.I didn't find the music in this series to be particularly compelling in the same manner as the original series - though it would be hard to surpass that, so what can you do?Motoko's character design also threw me off initially; she seems younger, somehow, more "cyborg" (which fits with her description of herself, I suppose, as having never had a human body), and somehow more...blank.To a degree I suspect this is natural.If this is a prequel, then it makes sense we'd be getting a less-formed Motoko in some ways, a woman not as arch or sharp as she will later become.Still, there are hints in this series of the attitude she has that will develop later, and I'm fine with seeing that come to fruition.

All in all, I found this far better than I expected.I do think I'll miss the organization and length of an anime series, here; one of the series' strengths was the way it built its world and characters over a longer span of time.I'm also not sure there will be a steady chaotic presence like The Laughing Man or Hideo Kuze, but we'll have to see.At the very least, this series reminded me of why I liked the original so much and seems in a fairly adept way to capture its spirit. I look forward to the other installments as they arrive, and can't wait to see what light they shed on what was, for me, a seminal anime experience.

P.S. My one problem with the episode was the new wrinkle they've added to Makoto's backstory, effectively stating that she was never human when, in the original series, she did experience life in a human body at least as a short while and is aware of that transformation and what it means.I'm not sure why they've changed that here - aside from the fact that they can, I suppose, since the series is meant to be a standalone - and I found it quite jarring.
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