|About the Series:
It goes without saying that every art medium has its share of influential works. Japanese animation is no different. It’s virtually impossible to name them all off the top of my head, but shows like Akira, Astro Boy, Macross, Dragonball Z, Evangelion have all become quite well known and influential for one reason or another… and the original Ghost in the Shell movie from 1995 is no exception. Truth be told, there’s just so much to discuss regarding this movie—why the anime’s so good, its influence on anime as well as other mediums, its sequel, alternative universe stories etc.—that it’s impossible to discuss in this single post. As such, I have to split this post into two parts, with the first part focusing on a quick description its influential nature and the second part focusing on what in the movie itself made it great in my view. I will save the TV series (Stand Alone Complex) for a later Blast From The Past post. Also, just a quick disclaimer/note before starting: “As long as this post is, I have to say that this article merely scratches the surface and is in no way complete. There are so many aspects that make Ghost in the Shell so great that I just can’t describe in words or write out completely without making this too long for anyone to read.” Without further ado…
The Influences of Ghost in the Shell:
While many, its biggest influence probably involves its animation style. At the time, traditional cel animation or hand-drawn art was the standard of Japanese animation. But, the technique was quite time consuming and required an insane amount of work to combine into its finished product. Combined with deadlines that would usually require some kind of shortcut to meet, this technique ultimately limited the quality of the work that could be produced. Digital techniques and things such as CGI were available but still developing for the most part, with CGI being widely used only in the American movie industry through the 80’s and early 90’s. As such, Ghost in the Shell became a pioneer in terms of animation when director Oshii Mamoru incorporated digital techniques in addition to hand-drawn art in his production. The end result—a seamless mix of digital art and hand drawn cel animation—was an work which redefined “state of the art” animation at the time, setting new heights in regards to what animators could do. Effects that people only dreamed of at the time became possible, as did art that was exceptionally more realistic than its pure hand drawn counterpart. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Ghost in the Shell one of the most influential anime ever, from an animation technique standpoint.
Moving on, the fact that Ghost in the Shell was one of the first animated films to be released in North America also played a key role in introducing anime to the Western hemisphere. In fact, it’s played such a large influence on the west that it inspired films like The Matrix. To top it off, Ghost in the Shell is also one of the first anime to be heavily reliant on cyberpunk and thus sets quite the standard for the genre and how its depicted. Furthermore, the fact that the movie was one of the first animations to have a deep, adult orientated plot demonstrated that Japanese animation could incorporate more complex issues/topics, as well as cater to older audiences. In the end, it really can be argued that the movie is worth watching just because it has so many influential aspects. However, for you guys still unimpressed, here’s the next section.
About the Movie:
As mentioned previously, one of the biggest positives of the movie is the animation. A seamless blend of digital and hand-drawn art, it really is an amazing piece of work. Considering how even some modern series struggle to seamless combine CGI and hand drawn art… it really hammers in how innovative Ghost in the Shell was to be able to combine digital and hand drawn art over a decade ago. If you’ve watched other anime released around the time, you’ll know what I mean when I say that you can really tell the difference in quality of animation in regards to other works at the time. Furthermore, for those worried about it looking dated… the art style is old-fashioned and reminiscent of anime from the 90′s, but the seamless integration of digital art makes it so that it still looks quite good in modern times. It doesn’t look nearly as aged as other anime from the time period and really, it’s just a testament to how far ahead of the times its animation was. Notably, an alternative version of the original movie was released in 2008. Known as Ghost in the Shell 2.0, it adds a bit of modern CGI and some slight alterations in art to make it conform more to the more modern Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. These are the screenshots you will see at the end of this post.
But don’t get me wrong. I know I’m talking quite a bit about the animation, but by no means are the other aspects any less great. For one, there’s the exceptionally solid plot. The main premise is straight forward per se, but it supplements it with a large amount of complexity from the philosophical issues it brings up. What does it mean to be human? Are complete cyborgs with ghosts (an individual’s consciousness) really still human? What about artificial intelligence? At what point do you consider one an individual, living entity? These are just some of the many complex questions the movie asks of its viewers. And really, there are just so few anime that are so amazingly complex, yet so easy to understand. Heck, few ever bother incorporating such complex ideas within, but Ghost in the Shell does this without hesitation and to great success. Really, Ghost in the Shell is more than just an anime. The plot and the way the world is presented, the questions it asks… it’s a spectacular vision of a possible future come to life.
And well, no future vision is complete without its people. And Ghost in the Shell delivers here with an exceptionally strong cast of characters. I don’t want to go into much detail here considering how many members there are in Section 9, but I have to at least talk about Major Motoko Kusanagi (Tanaka Atsuko): my favorite anime character of all time. And considering how much anime I’ve watched in my life and the multitudes of characters I’ve loved throughout… that should give you an indication of how much I love her character. I mean, from her exploits throughout the movie, as well as the TV series and manga, I can’t think of any character (especially a female one) anywhere near her caliber. In fact, I could probably write an entire post just on her character alone, but that’d make this post way too long and involves some spoilers, so that’s something I’m saving for another time. But let’s just say for now that there really is no one who can hold a candle to her. She has all the physical prowess you could want, being a full cyborg. She’s as skilled as they come in terms of military related aspects. And she’s also extraordinarily complex to top it all off, contemplating philosophical issues few people would even dare to ask, while balancing life as a cyborg and maintaining the cool and calm exterior necessary to lead Section 9 and its corps filled mostly with military veterans. Oh right, did I mention how she loves jumping off skyscrapers and single-handedly fighting tanks too? And this is all just scratching the surface! Anyway, I believe you guys get the point: the show’s theoretically worth watching just due to her character alone. Combine this with the fact that the other cast members are also pretty memorable, and that’s what I mean when I say “strong cast”.
Moving on, there’s also the music aspect. The soundtrack for the movie is made by Kawai Kenji, a man whose recent and past exploits really speak for themselves. The style ain’t quite like his more modern compositions for shows such as Gundam 00 and Towa no Quon, but considering the type of anime this is and the fact it was over a decade ago, I’m not surprised. Regardless, the fact of the matter is he captures the atmosphere of Ghost in the Shell perfectly. Haunting chants give way to calm ambiances to really emphasize how different this world is compared to any other. Furthermore, the fact that he utilizes such a different style while maintaining his normal quality really just emphasizes why he’s such a good composer.
And last but not least, I’d like to go back to the bit about Ghost in the Shell being a vision of a possible future come to life. See, no post about this series is complete without discussing the fact that everything in the Ghost in the Shell universe is indeed a possibility. Sure, it’s labeled a science fiction genre… but that’s more something that results from the fact we haven’t developed the technology yet, rather than it being impossible. Think about it. We’re already developing prosthetic limbs with ever improving capabilities. We’re starting to improve both our AI technology and introducing direct thought systems. We’re developing materials capable of rendering things invisible. Heck, a variety of scientific journals have published articles on the possibility of full cyborgs and even digitizing ourselves by 2050. And well, given the fact the movie was made in 95′ (based on Shirow Masamune’s original ideas in his even older 1989 manga) and managed to predict this, you can’t help but be awed by it. Furthermore, it’s something that makes you really wonder about what the future holds… the potential for immortality, the ability to literally surf the net with your mind etc. It’s stuff that makes your head spin, but in the end is a perfect representation of what Ghost in the Shell is: a series which words cannot adequately describe.
Ghost in the Shell is a deep, complex experience to say the least. Few anime have the capability to be so memorable… to be so influential to the point where it deserves to be watched just to see what the hoopla is about. Few anime have such amazing complexity in the philosophical topics it touches upon and in the world the story takes place in. And even fewer involve such spectacular visions of the future, let alone one where many of its visions have come true, and the rest is entirely possible. But this movie fits the bill. And to top it off, it adds in all the great anime staples: a strong plot, great animation and characters, and power music. Furthermore, there is a sequel movie, an alternative universe setting with 2 TV series and a movie, and multiple manga iterations to boot… things that further enhance the experience this movie gives, as well as things that demonstrate its popularity.
And well, at this point, it’s pretty clear how much I love the Ghost in the Shell universe as a whole. It’s my all time favorite anime series and as such, is something I feel everyone should watch regardless of their preferences. There’s just no excuse. You need to watch this movie, as well as the other iterations of the series.
Bonus: (**SPOILERS**) Similarities between GITS and Matrix
|Screenshots from Ghost in the Shell 2.0: