Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell

GHOST IN THE SHELL: Where is the thin line that separates man and machine?

In a future where technology has advanced to the point where interfacing brains with various networks is common, brain hacking has become a threat. A famous hacker known as the Puppet Master has now infiltrated Japan, and is hacking the brains of people to do his bidding. Now it is Motoko Kusanagi’s job to track him down, and along the way, she discovers that there is something more about this hacker -- and about herself.

What I really like about Ghost in the Shell are the complex technology that holds it together and the organizations that make its world more believable. They are too complex and too believable perhaps, that they have the tendency to become confusing. I appreciate it that the show treats its audience as intelligent, but I think a little explaining could have gone a long way. The show simply assumes that the audience already knows everything, so it doesn’t take the time for exposition and just goes straight into the action. This is one of the reasons why Ghost in the Shell could be pretty hard to swallow for others, especially those who have short attention spans.

Another thing that makes it hard to swallow is that the plot often moves through dialogue. Important plot points are often embedded in the conversations. The storytelling is more of ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. I’m not saying that dialogue-heavy shows are a chore to watch. They could still be intense, and Gen Urobuchi’s stories prove that. But Ghost in the Shell appears to rely on it the wrong way.

Before you get any weird ideas, let me say that I actually love Ghost in the Shell. There are many reasons why. First, the plot is interesting in its own right. It’s like a cat and mouse game. Second, Motoko Kusanagi is the perfect perspective for this interesting plot. What makes it so is, Third, the plot and the main character blend well together to form subtle messages about humanity. When does a man be considered a machine? And when does a machine be considered a man? These questions wouldn’t become appropriate if the show is too plot-oriented, or if Motoko Kusanagi has not been a main character.

Let me explain that further. Most science fiction stories are plot-oriented, because usually, the messages they want to convey involve humanity, society, and how we have changed because of the decisions and actions we have made all throughout the years. Ghost in the Shell, on the other hand, is not just plot-oriented. It’s also about the character. This formula of storytelling is something similar to Inception – wherein the planting of the idea in Robert Fischer’s mind is the plot, but the main character, Cobb, has to deal with his own ghosts while trying to move with this plot. To put it in perspective, Ghost in the Shell is not merely about capturing Puppet Master. It is also about Motoko Kusanagi, and how she fights her own ghosts. And this combination of plot and characterization has resulted in the forming of subtle messages.

Another thing I like is the animation. It is very smooth. Even the dropping and rippling of water is majestic to look at. And the backgrounds are also very detailed. It doesn’t rely on minimalism, and that’s a good thing, because minimalism has the tendency to feel uninspired. The music is also good. It has its own character. Soundtracks are actually seldom used, but I think that has been an appropriate move to add a mature tone to the anime.

Overall, Ghost in the Shell is an outstanding movie. Its flaw, which is actually minor and subjective, is its immediate jumping to the action without exposition. But that could be overlooked because everything else is just bedazzling – the story and how it blends well with characterization, the animation, the music, and, most of all, the philosophical messages about the humanity of humans. I’m not surprised that this is considered a classic, because it is fairly obvious that its inherent messages have influenced not just anime, but also science fiction in general.

Additional Note: I decided to check this out finally because I am reviewing Ghost in the Shell: Arise, which is a reimagining of the franchise. You can find my first impression of it here.


  1. Again, I agree with most of your points about Ghost in the Shell. I think this was the second or third anime film I watched a while back and it was great, despite the few flaws. I almost wish the movie was a little longer because some parts seemed a little underdeveloped, but that is probably because those aspects were so intriguing that I wanted to see more. Since The Matrix is one of my favorite films, seeing the film that inspired it was great. Overall, the movie presented some very thought-provoking ideas. I really need to watch Standalone Complex soon.


    1. The best part of it is the fact that it has been released in 1995. I mean, if you're asking questions about man and machine in an era that is not yet fully exposed to cyborgs and such, you know you're ahead of your time. It reminds me of the books by HG Wells, wherein he talks about time travel, genetic manipulation, alien invasion, and such, during the 19th century or so. These guys are just brilliant.

      I'm also looking forward to SAC, but before that, I'll write a few more first impressions of 2014 winter titles. Hey, thanks for commenting on almost every post! Really appreciate it.

    2. Exactly, the only other movie that I have seen that asks similar questions before Ghost in the Shell was Blade Runner. Most people do not even realize how much Ghost in the Shell has influenced the cyber-punk and sci-fi genre outside of anime. I also agree with your HG Wells analogy.

      I am glad to comment! Your reviews are great and our opinions on a lot of anime are very similar.