The first thing I said when Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie ended was "Wow, that actually makes Arise better in retrospect."
When you get down to it, The New Movie is not so much a sequel to Arise as it is the end of Arise. The characters complete their given arcs and the mystery behind the memory-altering Fire Starter virus is finally laid bare for all to see.
The film begins with an excellent scene showing the Major's childhood in an orphanage for cybernetic children. It reveals the Major's backstory as well as introduces the beginning of her relationship with Kurts — the woman who will eventually become her friend and commanding officer. The scene is completely without dialogue, but the old maxim "show, don't tell" makes this the emotional foundation to the film.
From there, the film's opening credits compare and contrast the Major and Kurts as adults — with the Major now a police officer and Kurts an army colonel — by showing both attempting in different ways to deal with the terrorist threats plaguing their country.
The plot proper starts as the Major and her team attempt to defuse a hostage situation — which soon spirals wildly out of control when Fire Starter is thrown into the mix. Moreover, while Section 9 is occupied, both the Prime Minister and Kurts are assassinated in a terrorist bombing. From there, the story follows the Major and her team as they hunt those responsible for the assassination.
What makes The New Movie more enjoyable than Arise is that as much as it's a cyberpunk murder mystery, it's also a personal story. The Major's origins and friendships are at the core of the film. Several supporting characters from Arise are revealed to have long, deep relationships with the Major, and we in turn learn what exactly the Major turned her back on by joining Section 9.
Given how much she lost by leaving her old unit, it's no surprise that she views her new team as a family. More than once in the film she refers to the team as the parts of a perfect machine — and given her fully cybernetic nature, it is the highest praise she can give. At the same time, the team is forced to decide how important the Major is to them — and them to each other. And while you have no doubt which way they will go in the end, each get some character development through debating the issue.
The other side of the story is filled with politics, mysteries, and lots of action. In fact, the action scenes in this film are excellent from start to finish — with a fight scene climax that reinforces the idea that when Section 9 works together, there is nothing they can't accomplish.
There are only two small downsides when it comes to The New Movie. The first is that the identity of the villain is obvious from the start for anyone who has watched Arise — though finding out the villain's motivations is quite satisfying.
The other is a problem that Arise has struggled with for its entire run: too many homages to previous Ghost in the Shell works. The 1995 film is full of iconic moments. But Arise (The New Movie included) can't go a single episode without having the Major jump from a roof top or lose an arm while fighting. Homages are fine; but like any trope in film, they lose their charm if you use them too often. What should be special becomes little more than background noise.
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is a solid addition to the franchise and a great capstone to the often shaky Arise story. It is a character building piece for all the characters and gives the Major a worthy backstory. Moreover, the action is top notch. So while this film brings the saga of Arise to a close, I for one would gladly sign on for a sequel if they could keep this level of quality going.
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie was released in Japanese theatres on June 20, 2014.