Being a reimagining of Masamune Shirow’s cyberpunk manga and, by extension, Mamoru Oshii’s anime adaption, Ghost in the Shell: Arise had the fiercely loyal fans and the weight of history to contend with. Fortunately for the former, the OVA series has been a success. Told across hour-long episodes known as borders, the series saw how Major Motoko Kusanagi earned her stripes and formed her crack team to fight cyber terrorists in Japan’s not too distant future.
In recalibrating the source material some twenty-five years after its publication, the end result has become that much more contemporary, sometimes uncomfortably so. With its fascination with terrorism, cyber or otherwise, Arise presents a much more pertinent and unsettling reality.
The third border, titled Ghost Tears, offers an unconventional case for the Major, though one that sits comfortably in the franchise. It weaves two stories, which inevitably clash together, where Motoko and Batou try and stop a terrorist organisation, while Togusa plays gumshoe on a murder case. The victim died in possession of a prosthetic leg which belonged to the dubiously-titled Mermaid’s Leg corporation. Written down, it’s perhaps not the most intriguing of set-ups, but in execution it’s a compelling blend of detective tropes and futurist touchstones.
The following border – Ghost Stands Alone – further teases out the overarching Fire Starter plot with Motoko and the recently minted Public Security Section 9 team, wherein cybernetic brains are being affected by a virus. This entry opts for a more action heavy approach, with less emphasis on the character development that marked out Ghost Tears. The socio-political undercurrents are complexly intertwined with the showy explosions and gun fights. Then there’s its own peculiar brand of weirdness, with the robots an uncanny suggestion of the immediate future.
Motoko, ever one of the most endearing creations of the sci-fi genre, is at her most human in Ghost Tears. That’s not to say that she’s shed the hardened aspects of her personality that defined her, but she’s much more rounded and compelling.
The music is made up of digital drones and beats that have a familiarity in construction but an alien allure in its syncopation. The animation style couples earthly warmth against the cold skyscraped landscape, and seeing the city lights through the snowfall before the credits roll on the fourth border is magnificent. Despite the considered edifice of each frame, the animation is wavering, playing out as a marked improvement over the first two instalments, but with some of the same inconsistencies coming through.
At under the hour mark, the borders do feel somewhat rushed. Each further the story of the enigmatic Fire Starter, with the details tantalisingly drip-fed, but the main event of each is promptly resolved. Taken as single episodes, it’s not an indictment of the franchise’s strengths, but the four parts co-existing is another essential story in the wider Ghost in the Shell property. The treasure trove of extras only adds to that standing.
With the steady allusions to modern life, it’s gone beyond the boundaries of its source material. That isn’t to stay it has surpassed Shirow’s manga thematically or stylistically, but its shed the cyberpunk parameters for something that can only be termed post-cyber punk and left at that.GHOST IN THE SHELL ARISE: BORDERS 3 AND 4 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: KAZUCHIKA KISE / SCREENPLAY: TOW UBUKATA / STARRING: KENICHIROU MATSUDA, MAAYA SAKAMOTO, TARUSUKE SHINGAKI, AI KAYANO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW