For Years I Hated Ghost In The Shell, Then I Grew Up

Last week, fans rejoiced at the announcement of a new Ghost in the Shell anime set to come out sometime in 2013. So far, information on the new anime is scarce, with little more than rudimentary staff information and a single piece of character art to tide us over. Still, I cheered as loud as anyone else. But I wasn't always what you would call a fan of Ghost in the Shell. Rather, I hated it — hated it with a passion.

I've talked about it at length before, but when I first started out watching anime in the mid '90s, there wasn't exactly a lot available for an anime-starved middle schooler, looking for his next fix. On TV, the only shows I could see were Sailor Moon on USA and the random anime films on Sci-Fi Channel's Saturday Anime. It got a bit better when Toonami first started and we got Voltron — then Robotech and Dragon Ball Z. But beyond that, if you wanted more anime, the video store was where you had to go. In my local Blockbuster we had only two rows of a single small shelf dedicated to anime. But every once in a while, an anime would appear on the new release wall.

One day, picking up games and movies for a sleepover with my friends, one of them came up with the recently released Ghost in the Shell. He had seen it before and called it the most amazing anime he had ever seen. So of course I was excited to watch.

I remember watching it, late at night with my friends in my basement and really loving it. The action, the CG animation... the topless scenes with the Major (I was 14 at the time). It was my first introduction to cyberpunk in any form. Yes, I was really loving it — until the ending.

The moment the action stopped and the final conversation with the Puppet Master began, is the moment my feelings of love began a rapid descent toward hate. The movie had been so cool with tons of action and a great villain, but the ending was just psycho-babble as far as I was concerned. I didn't understand what happened even in the slightest — except that the major was now in a little girl's robot body for whatever reason. I remember in the late hours of that night playing Bushido Blade and just thinking that if it weren't for the ending of the film, I would have really enjoyed Ghost in the Shell.

Over the next few years, I saw the film once or twice more and got to the point where I, if nothing else, understood what happened at the end. But while everyone else I knew revered the film, I despised it as the perfect example of how to ruin a film in the last few minutes.

It wasn't until I was attending college in Japan years later that I really sat down and watched Ghost in the Shell again — this time as part of a modern Japanese film class. In the intervening years, I had managed to avoid both Stand Alone Complex and Innocence to my personal satisfaction, so it had been at least half a decade since I saw anything Ghost in the Shell-related. I figured I'd give it a second chance.

While I still didn't like it after that viewing, I found to my surprise that I didn't hate it. And as we broke into groups and began to discuss the film, I discovered something that legitimately shocked me — I had been looking at the film in completely the wrong way.

Since childhood I had been viewing Ghost in the Shell as a plot-driven film — as kids tend to do with everything they watch. But Ghost in the Shell is not a plot-driven film, it is a concept-driven film. The Puppet Master plot is just a vehicle to look at the deep questions of a cyberpunk society — especially those relating to humanity and gender: if the only thing that remains of your original body is a small piece of your brain, are you still human? What exactly is a soul? When anyone can have any body they choose, what exactly does gender mean anymore? Why is the most masculine character of the film (the Major) the only one with a woman's body?

Moreover, the movie is very big on "show, don't tell" and those scenes with little or no dialogue serve to explore the aforementioned questions (and others) through visual means alone.

Fast forward to the present day and I am definitely a fan of Ghost in the Shell — the film as well as its sequels, spin-offs, and the original manga. It taught me two important life lessons. Firstly, how changing how you look at something can change your enjoyment of it, and secondly, just because you hated something as a child doesn't mean you'll hate it as an adult.

Except for coconuts — they are and always have been completely and totally vile.


Comments

    Good to know you came to your senses. Also good to know their's a new anime (hopefully series?) coming out

    I get pretty mixed feeling about Ghost in the Shell, I mean I love the animation, the characters and I bloody well love the majority of games (dat ps1 title yo!), but a few years back when I watched it it felt like it took ridiculous queues from DBZ, the whole take five episodes to show something that seriously could have filled a five minute scene if it weren't for the fact that tachicoma's had to go derp around for a while or a slow apathetic conversation was required to get over a character inability to understand the meaning of life.

      Not entirely sure what you mean. Most episodes (especially the ones with the tachikomas) were like animated philosophical essays and not all the episodes were connected like they were in DBZ so I think it's unfair to say "nothing happened in five episodes" as most of The Laughing Man saga took place over several episodes with stand alone episodes filling in the gaps. The second season has a lot more episodes that are connected, and those that aren't focus a bit more on the same philosophies carried through the rest of the season anyway. Anyway, my point is if it felt like "nothing was happening" that's because the show wasn't about pushing the plot forward as such, but pushing it deeper and deeper as a philosophical discussion ... with guns.

    When I saw this as a kid it held my interest for the first half hour, then I got bored and went to do something else. I didn't really come to appreciate it until I was 18 or so, and had spent a few years arguing on the internet why the original ending of Evangelion was brilliant.,

    If plot-oriented is what you want then Stand-Alone Complex does that very well.

    Not excited for the new one at all honestly, it looks like they're going to reboot everything - no name director, writer credited for the most boring stuff I.G. ever did, no Kenji Kawai or Yoko Kanno involved with the soundtrack and really crappy looking art. Hoping I'm wrong about it.

      This is he stuff I wanted to know, GITS:SAC was amazing and have forever been waiting to hear of a third season.

      Alas, this new version isn't sounding to hot right now..

    Glad you changed your mind :)

    The movie was absolutely amazing. Watched it again at the beginning of this month, blows me away how well done every aspect of it is. The animation and artistic design, the plot, the pacing, the characters, the dialogue, the way it makes you think... Blows my mind at just how short the film is as well, yet it very effectively manages pack a tonne of content in there. More films should take note.

    If you like plot-driven movie Anime, go watch Patlabor 2, used it hate it but now I think it's one of the all time best examples of such movies. Excellent stuff.

    Good but not great. It was my very first anime, think I watched it around 97. For many years it was the only anime I had seen till I started to get into it later in life, so itll always have some sort of special place in my mind. That said, Ive seen quite a few shows since that blow it out of the water.

    The concepts in Shirow's Ghost in the Shell universe are extremely dense, all about the future of mass communication, being fully connected with the datanet all the time, what it really means to be "human", being "post-human", awareness, intelligence etc. It's not always a good fit with the rest of the material, which does tend to be very plotty, fast, and exciting, so there can sometimes be a bit of a disconnect:
    it's not always so easy to process all those ideas when the action is so fast paced.

    what do you get when you covert "Ghost in the shell" into a live action plot driven film for a western audience?

    The Matrix

      You say that like it's a bad thing!

    First few times I watched Ghost in the Shell it was the English dub when I was young. I've watched it since with Japanese audio and English subtitles. Much much better film in terms of story and dialogue. The English dub is not a direct translation. Some dialogue was completely different and a lot of the subtlety is lost.

    I get it I really do, but seriously the pacing of the film just stops for that scene and it is jarring, no thanks to that fact the characters have basically stopped just to have the exposition, even if the point was the concept: like they need to stop and say "Since you clearly didn't get it in the first hour of action we need to slow down and tell you."

    Somebody mentioned the Matrix and actually in Reloaded it had the exact same type of broken pacing when Neo meets the Architect.

    I never truly understood why they wanted to make a series and other movies from a movie that gave you everything.

      They're all individual adaptations from the manga, they're not based on one another. The voices and differences in art direction and execution of similar plot concepts should be cue enough there that they're pulling from a mutual source.

    Someone should show this article to Serrels (in relation to olives, not Ghost in the Shell).

    The first GITS movie was pretty great, I still just love the comics a lot more than the Anime.
    I Never fully got into the whole anime series, I probably watched the first season and you could see they tried to put the lighter side of the comics into that with the fuchikomas and Batou's sarcastic undertones. The 2nd comic was a little more on the adult side, but still enjoyed it a lot more than the Anime again.

    The 2nd movie looked fantastic, and the only real scene I loved was where Batou
    blew all those dudes away with his giant machine gun, in a bar. But that was basically it for me.

    The original film is brilliant. Innocence is even better.

    "Show, don't tell" is one of the reasons I love Japanese film. There is often a poignancy to scenes that could never be expressed in words. The Japanese do that so well.

    >Why is the most masculine character of the film (the Major) the only one with a woman’s body?Because Shirow loves his buff action girls. Yes, really. You can infer additional layers of meaning if you like, but that's the heart of the matter.

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