Friday, 28 June 2013

Ghost in the Shell: Arise - Border:1 Ghost Pain

In might not be in quite the format or with the staff many had hoped for, but nonetheless Ghost in the Shell is back!  Set before the events of any of its previous iterations, Arise gives us a chance to see Major Motoko Kusanagi at work prior to the hardened Section 9 veteran that we're used to.

Indeed, this first movie-cum-OVA starts by pitting Kusanagi against Section 9 as they attempt to investigate the murder of her commanding officer - a murder investigation which also doubles as an investigation into charges of corruption against the man in question, who happens to be an old friend of Aramaki's.  Initially seeking to stop Section 9 from exhuming the man's body, this priority soon changes when it becomes clear that this coffin doesn't contain a body at all, but rather a booby trap in the form of a cyborg "moving land mine".

With Kusanagi's future and independence on the line on account of her commander's death, our protagonist is keen to get to the bottom of his murder and any charges of corruption - an investigation that naturally takes her into dangerous territory as it becomes clear that his death is more than an unfortunate moment of misadventure.  But with Motoko's body seemingly malfunctioning from time to time and her unusual tendency to see things out of the corner of her eye can she trust her prosthetic body, and even more importantly the faculties of and memories stored within her cyberbrain, to lead her to the truth?

For anyone steeped in at least some of the history of Ghost in the Shell (aka pretty much anyone who has ever watched anime), seeing these new takes on the show's character designs in action can feel jarring initially, but as a whole this opening episode of Arise does a good job of capturing the feel and aesthetic of the franchise's world as it blends the present day with the decidedly modern - although its animation quality is variable, and it can put together some decidedly slick action scenes when it counts and the visuals as a whole are at least passable here.

Where the series has always done its best work however is in its story-telling and sense of place, and its ability to dig into the crux of the social, moral and practical issues that come from the technologies inherent in its world.  In that sense, Ghost Pain is a real triumph - although you could certainly argue that at times Tow Ubukata tries a little too hard to recreate iconic scenes and concepts from the original movie in particular here, his sensibilities are broadly in the right place.  As a result, this episode's examination on the unreliability of memory and the particular susceptibility of that memory in a digital world is an interesting topic smartly applied to the show's protagonist, and the introduction of some of the rest of the show's cast worked well for the most part even if it felt a little forced from time to time.

In a sense, bringing something new to Ghost in the Shell is an almost impossible job in a world where everyone is pining for more Stand Alone Complex or more of Masamune Shirow's original works, but if this opening gambit is a gauge to what Arise can achieve then the outlook is largely positive.  Yes, there's still a danger that Ubukata's love of the original material may turn the series into more of an homage than an original work, and some of its choices (those moving land mines particularly) feel a little outside of the principles of the franchise as a whole, but in terms of providing a thought-provoking and well-realised character-driven story that hit all of the beats you'd expect from something with the Ghost in the Shell name attached, this was an enjoyable effort that did virtually everything that I could have hoped for.

Unless, of course, someone has hacked my brain and I watched something completely different to everybody else...

No comments: