Over the course of 2013 and 2014, four hour-long Ghost in the Shell: Arise episodes were released in theatres. This past anime season, these were broken up into eight episodes — along with an extra two new episodes that continue the story — in Ghost in the Shell: Arise: Alternative Architecture. The result is a mess.
Alternative Architecture is a bit of an odd beast right from the start. The first two episodes are actually the fourth theatrical release. In other words, they begin with the climax of the series instead of the beginning. Telling the story in this way is more than a little confusing. Most of the characters — heroes and villains alike — are not formally introduced as they had already been established in previous theatrical releases. Character motivations and their corresponding histories are likewise absent for the same reason.
To a new viewer, there is absolutely no context for what is going on — and knowledge of past Ghost in the Shell works (besides the original Arise, of course) does little to help. Seeing something like the Major blatantly execute an unarmed woman for seemingly no reason is more baffling than intriguing — though it makes perfect sense and carries much emotional impact when the series is watched in chronological order.
Adding to the confusion are the numerous cuts needed to fit the TV show's 24-minute run time. As each movie is between 56 minutes and an hour long, to turn it into two 24-minute episodes, 8 to 12 minutes are lost. While cutting that much footage every two episodes may seem not so bad, the original Arise was already jam-packed with content and losing even those few minutes is noticeable.
The two new episodes, Pyrophoric Cult, don't suffer from this problem, however. Pyrophoric Cult takes place after the fourth original Arise episode, Ghost Stands Alone, and deals once again with the fledgling Section 9 coming up against a Fire Starter-related threat. The broker — and perhaps creator — of the memory-altering virus comes to Japan and uses the virus to bring down an entire airline, killing all those aboard. The Major and her team set up a sting to capture the so-called "Pyromania," only to discover he may just be yet another pawn in the whole Fire Starter debacle.
One interesting aspect of Pyrophoric Cult is that it continues to show the implications of a virus that can alter memories. World governments and powerful individuals alike see the potential of such a computer virus: Normal people can be transformed into fanatically loyal and skilled soldiers in an instant and even the most principled person can be turned into a spy. However, few seem to question why the virus was created in the first place.
So it's no surprise that Pyrophoric Cult focuses a fair bit on Fire Starter itself and what its true purpose is — namely, the next evolutionary leap for mankind. How it is supposed to do this, on the other hand, is left as a mystery. Regardless, before it can fulfil its purpose, the virus must be refined — namely by being defeated again and again in various ways as it has been over the course of Arise. Thus, each victory for the team so far has actually been a hidden defeat.
And at this point, only the Major and her team are inoculated against the virus — though said vaccine only allows them to tell which memories are false and doesn't protect them from being infected. So even as the Major unleashes her own secret weapon against Pyromania in Pyrophoric Cult's climax — quite literally her own personal internet filled with top class hackers — the war against the virus seems far from won.
And that's largely the point.
While an entertaining enough addition to Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Pyrophoric Cult's real purpose is to get all the pieces in their correct places for the sequel, Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (which hits theatres this weekend).
Aside from Pyrophoric Cult, Ghost in the Shell: Arise: Alternative Architecture is an inferior rehash that does nothing to improve on the original Ghost in the Shell: Arise releases. The reordering of the story and cuts strewn across the series do more than a little harm to an already complex story. If you're going to watch this one, just watch the theatrical versions of Arise and then follow up with Pyrophoric Cult. It will save you a headache or two.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise: Alternative Architecture aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It (along with the original versions) can be watched for free and with English subtitles on Funimation.