This past week saw the release of the first chapter of the newest iteration of the Ghost in the Shell franchise with Ghost in the Shell: Arise border: 1 Ghost Pain. While the changes in the character designs have caused many to worry, let me assure you, the changes are only skin deep. Ghost Pain is a worthy addition to Ghost in the Shell.
Good — A Stand Alone Story That Packs a Lot In
I was worried when I first learned of Ghost Pain's 50-minute running time. I feared we were in for a serialized epic that would leave us facing cliffhanger after cliffhanger with months in between each chapter. Luckily, this is not the case as Ghost Pain delivers a complete, stand-alone adventure. After her superior officer is killed, it's up to the Major to solve the mystery behind his murder — though as is par for the course with Ghost in the Shell, it is far from a simple task.
Good — Classic Origin Team Story
There are more than a few ways to write a team origin story, but Arise portrays one of the best. Instead of someone swooping in to form the team, the various characters are each following up an independent lead before all their stories come crashing together. Thus the team — in this case, the Major's Section 9 team — is formed by chance as much as anything. It also gives the characters other than the Major a chance to show off just how good they are on their own, showing that her way, with all its hacking and fighting, is not the only way to solve a mystery.
Good — A Cyberpunk Mystery
Ghost Pain does a great job of exploring the implications of future technology with respect to a murder investigation. Sure there's the good old brain diving and optic camouflage we’ve come to expect in this series along with the hacking of computers. But one of the most interesting uses of technology is when the Major is watching the security camera footage leading up to the murder while simultaneously walking the exact same path as the victim. This practically puts her in the shoes of the victim.
On the action side of the story, watching how mid battle hacking affects a fight — be that controlling a giant robotic crane arm or hacking false images into your opponent’s eyes — is always a thrill to watch.
Good — What is Real?
The question of reality has always been one of the major themes explored over the course of the franchise. After all, what is reality in a world where your eyes and even your memories can be hacked? We've seen “ghost hacks” several times before, but what is interesting about the one in the film is seeing how the subconscious battles against the manufactured reality. The film also does a great job of showing the isolation you must feel when you're unable to find out if what you remember — or what you're presently seeing, for that matter — is reality or not.
Good — A Strong Yet Vulnerable Protagonist
The Major, as portrayed in Arise, is an expert fighter and one of the world's best hackers. The problem with a characters like that is that if they are too strong, there is no tension or compelling drama as they never seem to be in any real danger.
The titular “ghost pain” that the Major experiences during the film serves to give her an unpredictable weakness — balancing her unprecedented strengths with something out of her control. And it is how she deals with this weakness that speaks volumes about her as a character.
Mixed — New Continuity
From what I can tell (mainly by Togusa's presence in the film), it seems that Arise is not part of any past Ghost in the Shell continuity. This means it is not the same world as the manga, the movies, or the TV series. Fans of Stand Alone Complex may be upset that this is more a reboot than a prequel, but let's be serious: The continuity of Ghost in the Shell has already been reset twice before and it's always turned out OK.
With a fun cyberpunk mystery and a well-thought-out setting, fans and newcomers alike will find plenty to enjoy in Ghost in the Shell: Arise border: 1 Ghost Pain. However, if it has one problem, it is that much of what you see here — i.e., the themes and technology — are things you have at least somewhat seen explored before in the other iterations of the franchise. That said, the plot is original and entertaining and it allows us to explore the Major's character in ways we have never seen before. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise border: 1 Ghost Pain was released in Japanese theatres on June 22, 2013. Funimation will be releasing Ghost in the Shell: Arise in the United States but if you can't wait, the Japanese Blu-rays, which include English subtitles, will be released on July 26, 2013.
The second chapter of this series Ghost in the Shell: Arise border: 2 Ghost Whisper will be released in Japanese theatres on November 30, 2013.