Episode 1, "Ghost Pain"
Synopsis: After the murder of her superior officer and mentor, cyborg soldier Motoko Kusanagi becomes suspicious as to the events surrounding his death. Kusanagi assists the government's Special Section 9, led by Daisuke Aramaki, in looking into the investigation of the former Unit 501 leader for bribery. During the investigation she begins to have doubts concerning her own memories, which have clearly been tampered with, and her fellow members of 501. What's the connection between Lt. Col. Mamoru's supposed corruption, illegal weapons sales, and Kusanagi's superiors? And why is her body malfunctioning and her mind playing tricks on her? Motoko Kusanagi teams up with Batou, Togusa, and Paz for the very first time in this compelling action thriller.
*****REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*****
I was (and still am) a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series directed by Kenji Kamiyama, so when I heard there was more GitS on its way, but it wasn't a continuation of the TV series, I was a little hesitant to give it a shot. Kamiyama wasn't involved, Yoko Kanno wasn't involved, the Major looked much different from her SAC design, and it wasn't in the SAC continuity (supposedly, but you can make arguments to the contrary). The description for the first episode revealed it would depict a younger Motoko Kusanagi before she went to work for Section 9 and the Japanese VAs will be different.
As I can get at times, I was probably judging it a little too harshly before it even left the gate. I wanted more Stand Alone Complex, not some new interpretation, but it's not like SAC was the only interpretation of the material. Masamune Shirow's original manga had already been adapted into the perennial favorite movie helmed by Mamoru Oshii in 1995, and it's less successful sequel in 2004. Stand Alone Complex received two seasons and a television movie, Solid State Society, so where was the harm seeing a new version of this material? SAC had it's due. Now was time for a new incarnation, and Arise... well, arose.
The set up for this OVA is very similar to SAC, to the extent that, if you squint slightly, you can see it as a prequel to it. It's the future, there are cyberized human beings, military and paramilitary groups like Unit 501 and Section 9 exist to investigate cyber crimes, terrorist plots, and big honking cyborg-related mishaps. This future has come at the end of a long series of wars that has everybody and their brother pretty paranoid, and with good reason, because even the governmental bodies and their police force are actively spying on and sabotaging each other, sometimes unaware of it. Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg, is highly-skilled, but is ultimately one cog in an enormous bureaucratic machine that oftentimes doesn't really have the public good in its best interests. Or rather, it believes it does, and believing that, is willing to justify any misdeeds it does.
One of the interesting elements of this OVA is that Major, a cyborg, doesn't even really have much autonomy. Her body literally belongs to the state, until she can afford to buy it from them with her work in Unit 501. She is literally military hardware and has to be signed off on like so much equipment before she can even investigate something on her own. So not only is she a soldier bound by a soldier's duty to her superiors, but, through no fault of her own, without ever having been asked, is beholden to them for the body she inhabits. She's little more than a government asset. It explains some of that sense of detachment she has from even the people helping her. How can anyone really understand her, when she isn't even free to be a person of her own? There's a sense of longing there, and her attachment to her dead mentor and sense of loyalty to his memory makes her determination more palpable. She wants to have human attachments, something to anchor her to the real world, to humanity.
As usual in any GitS narrative, there is not a little government corruption. The government in this case was desperate during the war and illegally sold firearms to third world nations, which is justified as for the prosperity of Japan. When Kusanagi's boss, Lt. Colonel Giichi Mamoru, attempts to blow the whistle on these illegal dealings, and their cover up, he's ordered assassinated by the Vice-Minister of Defense, to avoid an embarrassment from a scandal. What's more, after he's killed, he's framed for bribery so any investigation into his death will be shallow at best, and he'll be dismissed as corrupt himself.
This is where it gets a little convoluted and messy for me. My understanding of the finale of this episode is a bit unclear. It seems that Unit 501 knew that their former leader was investigating the illegal weapons trade, but allowed Mamoru to be killed so they could lure out the killers and punish them themselves. This is because if they saved Mamoru and he continued investigating, the scandal surrounding his framing would have gotten the unit purged. So they intentionally stood by while Mamoru was killed, then they hijacked the mobile mine sent to kill him and used it to attract the attention of the Vice-Minister's subordinates, like Captain Kanzaki and his men. Kusangi, however, killed both Vice-Minister Sadamoto and Kanzaki with the mobile mine and Batou killed Kanzaki's assassins on his own to avenge the death of one of his Ranger buddies.
This is the best that I understand this part of the episode, and there are some questions I have left regarding the false memories implanted into Kusanagi. What was the point of them and why was important for Kusanagi to believe that there was a woman that helped raise her? While under the influence of a virus that was in Mamoru's cyberbrain (I guess it was put in there to keep tabs on his movements?), Kusanagi transferred funds into an account she believed to be this woman that helped raise her, who didn't actually exist, and those funds were the money Unit 501 used to lure out the killers? Then they simply framed Kusanagi for the Lt. Col's death by making it look like she was given money to assassinate her boss, while she would argue that she sent it to a woman who didn't really exist. Am I right or is there something missing? I keep catching new details with every viewing of this, so I'm liable to get it all eventually.
So, yeah, as with most GitS media, isn't the most easy to understand piece of fiction out there, but I admire the challenge, even if it seems a little excessive at the end. But with the good production values, solid voice work, some decent fight scenes, and compelling twists and turns, even the "same old same old" is still worth watching when it comes to Ghost in the Shell.
I guess you can call it a stand alone that's complex.
4 out of 5