Saturday, 9 May 2015

Ghost In The Shell: A crash course

Following the recent announcement that Scarlett Johansson (Lucy) has signed up for the new English language, live action remake of Masamune Shirow's seminal cyberpunk anime Ghost In The Shell (1995), we have compiled a crash course in the series so far. The time has come to cast aside your bonds and elevate yourselves to a higher plane...





What is Ghost In The Shell?

Well, it's a story that has grown in the telling. So pay attention. It was originally created as a manga series by Masamune Shirow in the pages of Young Magazine between 1989 and 1990. Then in 1995 it became famous via the anime from Production I.G, directed by Mamoru Oshii and adapting one particular story thread from the sprawling comic (see below for details). Shirow returned for more comics in 1997, producing Ghost In The Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, again for Young Magazine. A chapter from that became the anime Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (again by Oshii) in 2004, but before that came the Animax TV series Stand Alone Complex and Stand Alone Complex: Second GIG, which told their own stories independent from the print source. That iteration finished in 2006 with Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society. Since then there has been another offshoot in prequel series Ghost In The Shell: Arise. Got all that?


The original manga

Ghost In The Shell was originally published in Japan under the catchy title Mobile Armoured Riot Police. Shirow has always maintained he preferred Ghost In The Shell as a title (a vague reference to Arthur Koestler's Ghost In The Machine) but had Riot Police imposed on him by his publishers, Kodansha. It takes place in a cyberpunk mid 21st century where humans with biotechnology implants – many of whom are fully cyborg – are commonplace, and artificial brains are under constant danger of attack from hackers. One such hacker is the mysterious Puppeteer, a habitual cyber criminal under investigation by our heroes at Public Security Section 9. Further stories followed, including one in which regular series protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi – a human consciousness in an entirely cybernetic humanoid body – has to fend off an invasive artificial intelligence.


The original film

Spoiler warning:
Oshii's seminal anime, stripping out much of the goofy humour of the comics, dealt with the manga's plotline surrounding The Puppeteer, here renamed the Puppet Master. Cyborg enforcer Motoko Kusunagi and her Section 9 team are on the hacker's trail when they find the remains of an entirely cybernetic body, which spontaneously assembled itself and escaped from a factory. It initially seems as though the robot was a bait created by rival organisation Section 6 to trap the Puppet Master's consciousness (or 'ghost'), but it transpires that Section 6 is lying and that one of their secret projects actually created the Puppet Master in the first place. It's not a human hacker after all, but a rogue artificial intelligence.

Somewhat confusingly, the film was controversially rejigged and revised in 2008 as Ghost In The Shell 2.0. Not to be confused with Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, which came out four years earlier and is an actual sequel.


Ghost In The Shell's world

Ghost In The Shell is as much a dictionary definition of cyberpunk as William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), which preceded it by a few years. Cyberpunk, as you most likely know, is a branch of science fiction taking place on Earth in a near and recognisable future. It concerns itself not with aliens, space travel and distant planets, but with industrial decay and noirish plots, often about corporate espionage and artificial intelligence. Like Neuromancer, Ghost In The Shell's world is much interested in post-human technology upgrades, such as the ability to plug yourself into a network via implanted sockets in your organic body. Also like Neuromancer, it fails to anticipate the invention of the mobile phone. The Wachowskis (Cloud Atlas) quite openly plundered both for their Matrix trilogy. Oshii was even asked to contribute to The Animatrix (2003), but had to decline due to his commitments to Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence.


The sequels

Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (2004) is a loose adaptation of the Robot Rondo chapter from the Ghost In The Shell: Man Machine Interface manga. Cyborg Section 9 operative Batou and his partner Togusa are put on the case of a series of murders committed through the creative medium of malfunctioning sex robots, or 'gynoids'. The trail leads to sinister manufacturing company Locus Solus, who are trafficking young girls in order to duplicate their consciousnesses and put them to use as more realistic 'ghosts' animating the kinky dolls.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex sees Section 9 on the trail of another hacker called the Laughing Man, while sequel Second GIG involves a terrorist group called Individual Eleven. The series was completed by Solid State Society – another hacker story revolving around forced suicides and a dangerous technological virus. The Stand Alone Complex itself, incidentally, is a philosophical idea underpinning both series. In a nutshell far too small for the job, it's basically concerned with the ability of individuals to trigger mass copycat behaviour.

Ghost In The Shell: Arise is a series of four feature length OVAs (original video animations) set two years before the first manga and film, charting some of Section 9's early cases.

We would also be remiss not to briefly mention the video games, especially the one for the first Playstation which had its own story. A new multiplayer online game is in the works, tentatively scheduled for release this year.





The live action remake

Meanwhile in Hollywood, Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and DreamWorks Studios picked up the rights in a brief flurry of publicity in 2008, with Jamie Moss (Street Kings) initially at work on the screenplay. He was replaced a year later by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island). The rest was silence for a few years until, in early 2014, Rupert Sanders (Snow White And The Huntsman) came aboard as director. A few months later, Margot Robbie (The Wolf Of Wall Street) was in talks to star. And then came the recent surprise revelation that Scarlett Johansson (Lucy) is officially aboard. As far as we know, she will be playing Motoko Kusanagi, which we would assume means we are looking at a new take on the Puppet Master storyline and the 1995 anime.

In the versions we know so far, Kusanagi suffered an accident as a child that required her 'ghost' to be housed in a full-body cyborg prosthesis. This allows her enhanced physical abilities, and, since it's not a real body, a complete lack of self-consciousness about it being clothed. We don't imagine for a second that Johansson will sign off on the anime's ubiquitous nudity. So that's at least one significant live action change in the works...

We should also mention that there is a new Japanese anime incoming, announced last September, with Kazuya Nomura directing. That one is due out in Japan this summer, in time to celebrate 25 years of the franchise.

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