As I delve deeper into the manifold manifestations of the cyberpunk genre, I’m discovering that, as the social atmosphere changes with new technologies, the human condition remains the same. There will always be criminals and officers of the law. There will always be profit-minded conspiracies pitted against a lone few with a passion for the truth. And there will always be the struggle to retain individuality in the face of conformity.
The franchise is centered around the activities of a Japanese counter-terrorism unit in the far future called Public Security Section 9. Led by Major Motoko Kusanagi and Chief Aramaki, Section 9 is responsible for dealing with cases related to cyber warfare and consists of a handful of ex-military operatives and one former police officer. In this series, their most sensitive and critical assignment is the Laughing Man case, an act of corporate terrorism (based on the real life Glico Morinaga case) that spawned several copycats and has become a global social phenomenon thanks to a very distinctive logo.
I found it interesting that, despite there being eight people working for Section 9, there are only four characters who really stand out. Aramaki is the gruff but lovable “old man” of the team, acting as their liaison with the Japanese government. Kusanagi is the field commander, putting herself directly in the line of fire with her comrades and spearheading most of their investigations. Batou and Togusa form the heart and soul of the team, the former being a big guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and the latter being an ex-cop who compensates for his lack of cybernetic enhancements with sheer grit and resourcefulness.
One of the more unusual aspects of this show–and probably unique to Japanese culture–are the Tachikomas, a series of sentient “think tanks” who assist Section 9 in a variety of ways. They speak with high-pitched voices and take a very child-like approach to the world of human beings, providing a bright and more innocent foil to the show’s dramatic tension. Yet for all their curiosity and impetuousness, the Tachikomas prove themselves to be quite loyal and capable near the end of the series in a truly heartwarming sequence.
My final point about this show is that, in spite of being another police procedural, there is an awful lot of philosophy and obscure references involved, particularly as far as the Laughing Man is concerned. The show raises some good questions about the condition of the human soul during the rise of cybernetics, the possibility of AI programs becoming authentic individuals, and many aspects related to social theory. It might detract from the action sequences, but I think the philosophical questions are important, as they at least prove that the show’s creators aren’t just using cyberpunk as a backdrop without any concern for issues about emerging technologies.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a series that runs deep into the world of cyberpunk, providing excellent visuals and a complex story that’s worth checking out. It’s also been successful enough to spawn a successor series, Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG, along with the TV film Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society. I’ll be reviewing these two spin-offs–along with the original 1995 film–at a later date.
‘Til then, go take another dive through the Net, folks, and have some fun!
Bibliography: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Directed by Kenji Kamiyama. Production I.G. Cartoon Network (Adult Swim). October 1, 2002 – March 25, 2003.