Ghost in the Shell: ARISE, the newest installment of Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell franchise, began airing the first of its films in theaters just a few days ago. Set as a prequel to the stories fans already know, Arise will be four fifty-minute episodes. The first of the episodes, titled "Ghost Pain," will be released on July 26 on Blu-ray. Long time series partner Production I.G. handles animation duties. When I noticed that ARISE was on the Anime Expo premier list I had to get this up before then. Production I.G.'s Kazuchika Kise and Mitsuhisa ishikawa is also on tap for attendees. There's even a panel where you can ask questions on Saturday.
Ghost in the Shell was one of the first exposures to manga I ever had (and also one of the first things I ever had confiscated, but that's another story) so it holds a lot of memories for me. Through it I purchased quite a number of Masamune Shirow art books and did all I could to track down as much of his art as possible (and back in those days it wasn't very easy). The franchise is one of my favorites of all time and it's one of those things I just can't get enough of. When I heard early this year that Arise was coming I was immediately pumped.
So what we have is familiar yet unfamiliar for existing fans. You have Batou, you have Motoko, you have Aramaki, but they're different. They're veterans and yet they are not so much as we know them for. Motoko has an all-new design with a haircut very unlike the one we're used to. Her voice, along with many of the others, is different. Maaya Sakamoto gives life to Motoko, taking over for Atsuko Tanaka. This actually isn't Maaya's first time as Motoko; in the first and second films she voiced the Major in her days as a child. For that matter, this younger brand of Motoko is a lot less the seasoned warrior as shown from her words and interactions with others. She's still as much a bad-ass as we remember in terms of combat abilities.
Ghost Pain opens with a standoff between the current personnel of Public Security Section 9 led by Aramaki with Major Motoko Kusanagi of Unit 501. S9 is in the process of exhuming the body of 501's Lieutenant Colonel Giichi, Motoko's superior officer, who naturally takes offense to that and the corruption charges against him. It devolves into a cybernetic melee when a third party jumps into the fray. We then follow Motoko as she attempts to track down what happened the night Giichi died and whether or not he truly was corrupt. Along the line We run into a frustrated Togusa while he is still working for the metropolitan police and Paz from his undercover days. Batou even joins the fun and spars a little with Motoko (and handily gets his butt kicked).
Arise is set in 2027, a few years after World War IV. Full-body cyborg soldiers that were designed for the war are still learning to reintegrate with a peacetime world. Motoko, as one of these full-body cyborgs, has much to deal with including the fact that the military outright owns her body and the technology contained within. They are walking weapons and tabs must be kept on them. This, along with other things, stood out for me as implications for the future of warfare. If soldiers do become full cyborgs, what happens to them if they want to exit the service? Do they have to pay back the costs of the body? Do they have to buy a separate, "civilian" body for transfer (and how much will that cost)?
The walking bombs are another point of contention. Suicide bombers are frowned upon today. Once science advances to the point that robots have small self-contained power sources and high-speed non-wheeled mobility systems will robot bombs become more prevalent? Right now the technology is far behind (see DARPA's "Big Dog" which clatters along and requires a gas-powered engine) but that can't hold forever. In Arise, both of these are non-issues. Imagine a wave of robots whose sole purpose is to run at you and explode. Nothing quite as horrifying as that. They can infiltrate at will into crowds without fear or need of extraction. Oh, did I mention they can run like spiders and leap trenches? At least the controversial UAVs today watch more than they destroy things
No Ghost in the Shell would be complete without a walking, talking, robot tank, and today they are the Logikoma or "Logistics Conveyer Machine." Being in the past these are nowhere near as advanced as the Fuchikoma or Tachikoma we know and love but all the same they have that happy-go-lucky -koma flare. When given the order to disappear it takes it quite literally and turns on its optical camouflage with childlike glee instead of the implied "go somewhere else."
A partnership with Microsoft to help promote the Surface tablet was revealed a few months back and I was curious to see just how they'd be using it. The first bit of product placement happens less than a minute into the film (just a small flash on a digital billboard showing the Surface logo). The tablet itself is used by Motoko as a data terminal. It's actually not that blatant a product placement; if I didn't know that there was a partnership I wouldn't have given it a second thought.
In the meantime you can catch a manga version of Arise titled "Sleepless Eye (Nemuranai Me no Otoko)" written by Junichi Fujisaku (screenplay veteran of the two Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex seasons, Appleseed XIII, and Real Drive, all Shirow created works) in monthly Young Magazine. It too depicts the early days of the people who would eventually come to be known as Section 9 including the first encounter of then-Ranger Batou with Motoko Kusanagi.
The next episode of Arise is titled "Ghost Whispers." A release date has not been announced.
Make sure you watch through the end of the credits!
As mentioned earlier, Anime Expo is going to show it this Saturday, July 6. If you're in Los Angeles and have a badge you might want to check it out.