As raved about over Twitter just a short while ago, subscribers to Hulu Plus can now enjoy the recently released HD edition of Mamoru Oshii’s classic adaptation. Now alongside the later (and equally thrilling) television series’, Koukaku Kidotai has itself a nice little home base with the mega streaming service. Debate no more about Hollywood film renditions, irrelevant casting controversies, and just drink in why Production IG and company have Masamune Shirow’s crowning achievement well in hand with its exploration of political intrigue, cybercrime, and groundbreaking hybridization between science fiction and faith.
Memories come rushing back during Ghost’s initial US art house theater run via the folks at Manga Video, and just how well LA audiences reacted to Oshii’s vision. A vision that until this point was largely either unknown or patently ignored by westerners. Coming hot on the heels of the ultra-personal Patlabor 2, Ghost was a pretty unexpected theatrical and home video success story stateside. And considering the cinema world pre-Matrix, this somber and flawed mood poem had so much stacked against it, save for those who knew what a terrific coup between director and material this was. And when I say flawed, I mean this as pure compliment. Before INNOCENCE veered into near ancient library obscurity, Ghost finds itself beautifully poised between crime thriller and existential voyage. And despite it’s occasionally jarring three segment structure, it’s pretty hard to impossible to envision it work any other way.
It is Oshii at his thoughtful, grounded best.
This is especially cool news since the only version Hulu has had available for years was the irksome 2.0. Rust color and unnecessary bad CG no more!
That’s right, I said it. It is no longer the “salad days” of fandom. It’s train that has long passed. In fact, when the best possible celebration of these things came to our doorstep, it was the international audience who came brandishing that flag to wave it, not us in the states. Solidarity is a nice thought, but it’s something that if even came to pass, wouldn’t make the mainstream quake in its collective boots.
Adaptation should always be about more than casting. These words have been on my mind for almost two weeks now. Whether it happens or not, the Ghost In The Shell project has again stirred the hornet’s nest. After yet another attempt to adapt a beloved Japanese property to the Hollywood realm did its part to unsettle and stir the pot, it felt time to again dish out the whys. Also, to hopefully quell minds with a few good realities to consider.
A quick fix is rarely a good thing.
We see tech offer up simplified answers to often step-packed questions, and technological development does what it can to leapfrog those steps. But skipping about can very often obscure room for nuance, and specificity that can occasionally be important to many. Which is why many stalwart admirers of the longview tend to gather more understanding of process.
As far back as I can remember learning about it, my love of anime has been a protracted lesson in how localization works. From the beginning, it has long been a held reality that direct translation leaves quite a bit to be desired, nor does it better grab the cultural and psychological nuance of a foreign work. So tweaking and fine tuning are an expected norm. And while we have made substantial leaps to best synthesize this into a palatable shared language, there is still nothing like learning and better understanding other languages and cultures. So when the mainstream is confronted with work almost completely in step with classic anime tropes and ideas (see- Pacific Rim), it’s understandable to see the average moviegoer take in such ideas and cock their heads sideways. The response is often not that of revelation.
Even when manga and anime properties are adapted on their home soil, there is disconnect. This is another huge hurdle I have had to get past these last few decades. In writing the column, Live Action Manga Blues at the Kaijyu, it over time came into sharp focus that even the Japanese are saddled with both the budgetary and literal limitations that come with taking something iconographic and making it into fleshy reality. And the reasons here are multifold. After all, we are talking about taking what is often seen as Japan’s hidden id, and bringing it into another plane of existence. To assume that the two can co-exist seamlessly without losing some grand component remains paradoxical, and often unrealistic. Sure, we have had success with certain more “experimental” fare such as Oldboy, Video Girl Ai, and the Speed Racer. But very often, there is a temptation on the part of live action filmmaking to conform the work into a language that rarely melds with the weight and necessity of itself. It either has to be almost indistinguishably gritty, or it needs to be completely gonzo. Rarely anywhere in between. And to a degree, big films like Racer and Pacific Rim are indicators that they can only work in the hands of the rare risk taker that is willing to bet the farm to see their vision to fruition. Artists with the acumen and sneakiness to ostensibly fool already cynically inclined studio heads that this is worthwhile.
(Something the director of Snow White and The Huntsman, hasn’t proven himself to me. Just saying.)
So a huge part of me isn’t expecting much of this recent news. Many would dare to still hope that one day, their favorite property would make the transition, changing the perception of at least one more set of eyes to their favorite thing. But time has perhaps hardened my purview, I suppose. Because the allure of anime is truly its own organism. And it doesn’t require further validation. It’s wild, weird, and enjoyably dysfunctional in ways that would lose fathoms of itself in being conformed to a more docile cinema language. The average mind accepts new ideas when it is time. And frankly, in twenty years we have seen Ghost In The Shell become something of an evergreen that continues to make converts out of film and science fiction fans the world over. And as new animation continues the adventures of Section 9, such windows will continue to open. Because of this shared world we now reside, it takes more than one obligatory, stunt-casting laden feature film to turn heads. Especially when the genuine global article already exists.
Whilst exhuming a murdered body under investigation, Chief Daisuke Aramaki of Public Security Section 9, meets a young and already dangerous Motoko Kusanagi. There to protect the honor of the man in the casket, the once highly respected Lieutenant Colonel Mamuro, who was working as Security Official for massive tech corporation and arms titan, Harimadara. Concerns regarding what led to his killing and his possible connection to shady arms dealing make this auspicious meeting a little volatile. The investigation party at the cemetery is shocked to discover that within the casket, is not the corpse of an honored soldier, but a small, but very lethal android known as a “Land Mine”. Will the truth ever out? Can Kusanagi uncover the clues, and will she take up Aramaki’s offer of creating a special team of augmented experts to become one of the most feared cyber crime units in the world? Rarely will “more of the same” be something I can equate with sparks of positivity, but in the case of the new Ghost In The Shell, I’m inclined to let that cliche work for me.
As advertised, ARISE offers up an untold backstory to the world of Masamune Shirow’s evergreen universe in a tale of intrigue, hardware, and philosophical questions which are well worn trademarks. This time, we are hosted to the future Major as she tussles with not only authority figures, corrupt officials, cyborgs, and barrier mazes, but with a struggle for her own autonomy.
The revelation here, while not surprising, is in line with many fans already know of her. Raised into the military life, and possessing a largely cybernetic body allowed her to be a prolific Wizard-class programmer, and fighter of cyber crime at a frighteningly young age. She is a prodigy, harboring within her a surprising past that may jar some fans of the second TV series.
Being a privileged member of Mamuro’s 501st unit, her quest for the truth is a personal one. But with her expensive cyberized body on loan, and the stakes ever increasing, her very physical freedom might be in jeopardy. Not to mention concerns of a “phantom pain” that is slowly causing problems for Kusanagi.Couple this with run-ins with rivals new and old (including longtime sparring opponent, the Batou The Ranger, gambler Pazu, and up and coming Niihama Special Investigator Togusa. .), and twists making the young Major a prime suspect, and ARISE, is full blown GiTS with revelations to spare.
It’s a fresh start to a personal favorite since I first read the Dark Horse release in a Barnes & Noble over two decades ago. Growing up young in the late 1980s left me quite enamored with the myth of cyberpunk, and outside of authors like Gibson or Stephenson, Ghost has long remained a personal visual go-to when talking stories of human flesh intermingled with technology. For my money, it’s a perfect mix between comic pulp, and hard science fiction with an almost spiritual center. Everything that The Matrix adopted, but rarely understood. A big reason as to why Koukaku Kidotai has become so well entrenched in the global anime and manga consciousness, is largely the often successful balancing act Production IG has displayed between the complexities of the show’s world, coupled with sly character dynamics. Since its’ beginnings in the form of the classic Mamoru Oshii film, it has remained one of the most universal examples of the medium. Always feature film ready in its presentation, and borderline literary with its leanings. And thankfully, under longtime Ghost collaborator, Kazuchika Kise, this tradition remains strong. Getting to know some favorite characters again from a refreshing new angle makes for fun, busy viewing (Even if it’s all a bit familiar.)
The first two “Borders” focus on getting us up to speed on these early relationships as the complex digital world post-WWIV has everyone scattered, scraping to define themselves as freelancer types with guns and gear. Aramaki, sporting not-so-gray hair as he attempts to employ Kusanagi’s expertise in hopes of understanding the truth about the military man who trained (and possibly raised) her. The allegations are looking heavy, and her isolation is well reflected in her future colleagues who tend to see her as part of the threat. In Batou’s mind, she is prime suspect in the murder of a comrade and his family, while evidence eventually points to memory tampering. Meanwhile guys like Pazu are working undercover, and not so sure who to trust anymore. Even Kusanagi’s relationship with cute, sentient multiped mecha are in limbo as she is given a LogiKoma as a bodyguard and partner! Penned by science fiction writer, Tow Ubukata, there is mind-bending fun to be had, but little in the deep surprise department. The theme hovering over these first two episodes seems to be shedding pretense in the name of simple bonds. Which feels about right for a series so largely set within the often deceptive realm as cyberspace.
The second of these two episodes, “Ghost Whispers” expands on the first by this time pitting the authorities against a this time disgraced military hero on trial, who may be manipulating a transportation crisis in the city through a secured channel. While not terribly far in model from the first, there is a leap in visual ambition that works for and against the story as Kusanagi and Aramaki seek to make a team come together. All while being led by a mysterious american special agent known only as VV, the story does have its share of fun dips and swerves as allegiances are bought, and exchanged. Where it does make up for this lack of fierce originality, is in the mecha and chase sequences which remain impressive. There has never been a time in the history of this series that this crew of artists have skimped on the hard, weighty action detail, and almost fetishistic love of kinetic showmanship. In fact, once we get to the hard driving finale on the winding freeways outside the city, it becomes clear that this is what the episode was really about. Don’t let the Assange-esque plotting fool you, the action and reversals are marquee here.
Now to the package as a whole, it would be silly to call this a simple “prequel”. Considering these first two installments, there is a feel that IG was looking for a way to re-introduce rather than to make any hard connections between incarnations. More than anything, ARISE falls closer in feel to a reboot, and as such the voice cast is pretty much entirely new. And unless you’ve been an ardent fan, it’d be hard to notice. But to have Atsuko Tanaka and Akio Otsuka replaced by Maaya Sakamoto (!!) and Kenichirou Matsuda as Kusanagi and Batou respectively, it should have felt..off. It doesn’t. It works quite well actually. Even Ikyu Jyuku’s turn as “Old Ape” Aramaki, is pretty impressive. Everyone acquits themselves to this rebirth with great enthusiasm and grace. There is certainly a feel that is classic GiTS that implies many more adventures to come, and it’s quite welcoming. It’s also a nice way to re-approach the material without giving away all the mystique that so many so-called prequels seem hellbent on demystifying. Even here there is an admission that not every story will be told, and that’s always cool. To top it all off, the musical score by Cornelius is thoughtful, thrilling, and achingly human. With so much quality coming out of every pore, it’s hard to fault ARISE for being what made the world of Section 9 as prolific as it has been. And as long as our current world becomes further entangled and altered by what seems to be our inevitable date with the Singularity, the Major and company will remain thrillingly relevant.
-And no, it didn’t get past me that the so-called “Mobile Land Mines” were in the guise of little girls. Which is especially gallows funny, seeing them mowed over by a speeding APC. Feels like the franchise’s revenge for being gone long enough to let certain proclivities contaminate anime for as long as it did.
While this could merely be the interpretation of this writer, what else could that scene possibly mean?
Despite taking place within con-unfriendly temperatures, post-holidays, and amidst a remarkably harsh flu season, fellow podcaster, Jenny Park & I braved on to the Marriott near Los Angeles International Airport for what would become an anime convention experience now a world apart. Our day at the 8th annual Anime LA began around roughly 9:30am, hours before central events would take place. And even so, the halls were ringing with activity where most current cons often find themselves quiet until at least 11. As mentioned before, the world outside is more demanding on human health, which results in what should be lighter numbers. Not so here. Anime LA is what divides casual admirers from the fanatics, and as such, is perhaps a far more exciting and immersive event than many of California’s most industry-centric shindigs. Creatures, heroes, robots, and all manner of fantastical entities were in attendance, and even so there was still room for what I crave most from a convention–great people of passion.
So how much Anime LA could we marathon experience on a one-day pass?
Over the years, I have found anime conventions to mostly be more like a customary gathering of friends and family. Anime LA is definitely no exception. However, this particular role takes on even greater significance here. Beginning the day by way of wandering over to visit old buddy, Polo & pals as they make a heck of a morning impression with Eyeshine. Imperial E was bursting with sound as we walked in, taking in what was easily the most active early show audience I have seen this side of a music fest. Not normally a sound I gravitate toward, but potent enough to get one feeling it with aplomb. Things became so energetic, that once time came for the show’s finale, Johnny Yong Bosch’s call for all to join in resulted in an impressive crowd on stage, more than up to the task of leaving a mark. Earnest edge rock, by a most earnest group.
Outcasts Among Outcasts
And then minutes later, came what would become perhaps the day’s standout as we attended the Anime Fandom Before The Internet panel in LP3. Moderated/Hosted by ANNCast’s Justin Sevakis and Otaku USA/Colony Drop’s Matt Schley, and featuring such American anime pioneers, David Keith Riddick (US Renditions), Meri Davis (Founder and chair of A-kon), not to mention several more of the original CFO guard in attendance, this was a truly unique and packed to the gills event featuring stories of the early days of American anime fandom. Davis shared some heartening tales of the days before cons such as these were ever a thing. A nasty truth revealed when she stated ” We would attempt to always have an anime screening room at sci-fi conventions, horror movie conventions, Star Trek conventions. But even then we were given “the look”. It never ended. We were the outcasts among the outcasts!” Riddick’s recollections regarding their early attempts at fansubbing, which led to the creation of the first subbed anime VHS company, US Renditions were detailed and inspiring reminders of an era where everything was “hands-on” and filled with firsts. (One of the more popular activities being knocking on the doors of their Japanese neighbors in hope of some translation scraps here or there. Having no internet in those pre-Compuserve days meant going out and making an effort to gain understanding of these titles that never saw major release here.) Tinkering with crude analog methods to create well-timed subbed tapes, ready for mass production was also a journey. Stories of early anime clubs, strife, and a screening of Royal Space Force under the name Star Quest at Mann’s Chinese in the 1980s were also on the roster.
But the most important piece of wisdom heard throughout the hour came via Riddick, which was something that I feel many a younger fan would do well to consider: “This all started by a multitude of tastes and backgrounds. If we let all of that get in the way, none of this would have happened. There were trials, sure. But we felt that there was a higher cause at stake.”
At any major anime convention, such words would feel missed as panels such as these rarely get major attendance. This one however, was packed the entire time. Felt like a summit meeting in a Toho kaiju eiga, or even a bunker conference before a grand battle. Filled with openness and excitement, this was easily the day’s centerpiece for me.
“What does it take to be Ultimate?”
Mere minutes later, and in the same room, it came time for local animator and Star Blazers/Votoms luminary, Tim Eldred’s Animation Workshop to begin. Much like an introductory class in animation production, Eldred touched point with visiting students, and offered a compelling visual journey into the art of making life from drawings. A majority of the panel was a study of previsualization via footage he brought for Ultimate Spider-Man, a series he had a decent hand in. We were able to catch a shot-for-shot comparison between the original storyboards in montage with partial audio (an Animatic), and the final for-air footage for the show’s initial episode. In the rough footage, it was easy to see where shots were leading into others, character dynamics would add nuance, and how vital planning is to visualized action. The pre-viz also featured many different styles due to the number of unique artists tasked with making each scene come to fruition. While some of this does remain intact in the finished film, the objective is primarily about creating a cohesive whole that won’t distract the viewer. Hearing input and questions from the students was also fascinating. In all, it was a fun primer for what is still a competitive and challenging artform that remains refreshingly hand-drawn.
Bring The Pain
After a short break, it came time to dive headfirst into the animation abyss with the popular Buried Garbage panel, hosted by original columnist, Sevakis. An hour dedicated to some of the most painful moving images this side of a malignant tumor. (make of that what you will) Starting things off on an infamous note, Sevakis shared choice moments from one of the most hilarious misfires on both sides of the Pacific, Yoshiyuki Tomino’s interminable Garzey’s Wing. For those unfamiliar, it is a late-1990s OVA from the world of Aura Battler Dunbine that must be seen to be fully comprehended. Scratch that, there is no way to make sense of the unrelenting bizarre that is Garzey’s Wing. Attempting such a thing is akin to looking into a Lovecraftian inscrutability that could only result in sheer madness. Add to it, one of the most painfully constructed dub jobs ever executed, and you have something that could only induce laughter. And this was mere prelude to clips from an obscure piece of anti-North Korean anime propaganda, Megumi which loses credibility points by way of melodramatic direction, and some truly hideous dubbing made by the original Japanese producers. And while these anime productions read as possibly the worst things ever animated, they are nothing compared to the collective horror that was bestowed upon a near-capacity audience. Indonesia’s Ali Baba, and India’s Naughty Monkey (Not a joke) burn a mark on the soul that is nigh-impossible to remove. This is no drunken tramp stamp, these suckers are going to haunt many con-goers nightmares for years to come. The bloodlust in that monkey’s eyes alone..
A Perfect Day For A Jungle Cruise
Fresh out of that ball of unforgettable, it was off to the spacy LP5 for the much-anticipated Ghost In The Shell: SAC 10 Years And Counting panel featuring Schley, and special voice actor guests, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Major Motoko Kusanagi), and Richard Epcar (Batou) celebrating a decade of the prophetic science fiction masterpiece. Looking back at Kenji Kamiyama’s tv version of Masamune Shirow’s classic manga, and the films it inspired led to some interesting revelations about the property’s legacy. Epcar and McGlynn spent a great time sharing memories of working on the series, as well as candid revelations regarding their relationship to the Koukaku Kidotai franchise. From Epcar’s longer history as Section 9’s rugged cop, to McGlynn’s favorite SAC episode, the Q & A session that followed did something that so many modern conventions simply do not — inspire very real technological and ethical discussion. From character dynamics, to the very core of living with organics and tech rendered virtually inseparable, the questions that GiTS poses came though both the guests, and the audience quite clearly and earnestly. From privacy concerns, to transhumanism these were topics that remain every bit as relevant now as they did in the wake of the initial series’ run. Another panel unlike most. And a mythology far more resembling our world that many may be willing to admit.
Delight In Dysfunction
Lastly, what has become something of a convention ritual returns, as Zac Bertschy & Sevakis bring ANNCast Live to Anime LA. Having done this a few times in the past, we knew what to expect for the most part; off-the-cuff anime Q & A with an acerbic edge. For a few moments, it seemed like attendance was well below normal numbers. But soon into the show, the line of audience members with questions for our hosts eventually increased long enough to cover an entire hour’s worth of recording. Questions ranged from the state of streaming anime, to favorite films of the year, and were given the kind of unpredictable fun listeners have come to expect. While it also invited some of the usual strange questions one would almost come to expect from an event like this, there was enough knowledge and humor on display to make the now-infamous giveaways more than worthwhile. Topping it all off was a sudden bolt of interest in my partner who suddenly decided to step up with a question regarding TV anime’s history that will make for her first non-Double Chop appearance.
So to sum up, one day at Anime LA was akin to what is often a weekend for me elsewhere. With more familiar faces per square yard than I have been privy to an event in years, there was almost too much to do. Sadly, I missed the 20th Anniversary of Giant Robo gathering. Was also unable to attend other musical performances that I had hoped to catch. (including Momotama which took place every day but Saturday) But this only serves to support my enthusiasm. As a celebration of anime, it was a little strange to see an increasing meme, as well as Doctor Who fan presence. Despite this, there was also a healthy crowd of fans far more ready to salute an artform that while in recent years has suffered some significant falloff, also has engendered a unique collection of generations. All unique, and yet collectively excited about colorful moving drawings. There is a higher purpose capable of being sought out in this crazy anime world. So fittingly dramatic that it should be found in the dead of winter.
Tim Eldred is hard at work on the upcoming Marvel animated follow-up to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which is to premiere everywhere in May. On the anime front, he can also be found hard at work at his new Yamato fan realm
I wrote about my thoughts on Cyberpunk in a paper back in 2007! http://animediet.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/cyberpunk-anime.doc , and I must say, I’ve become much dumber and can’t carry on an intelligent conversation like that. In addition, the entire article or parts of it = tl;dr. But after years of yearning, I can’t believe (Hallelujah), they finally made another hard core Cyberpunk anime…
Disclaimer: I never liked making a top 10 list because I watch shows from a varieties of genres and I believe that comparing them on the same level playing field is vastly unjustified. But as a tradition, I made mine. Merits? What merits?
Without any fancy blogwork or word wizardry, here’s my top ten for the last decade.
It appears that another teenager tried to kill his dad, but fortunately for the father, this attempt was unsuccessful.
In recent days, after watching Ghost in the Shell the TV series, a lot of crimes were committed.
However, there are no original crimes committed in the wake of these Ghost in the Shell episodes – just believed crimes. But there are copycat crimes that emulates crimes that are not there realistically.
Our agency is still trying to learn what exactly “Stand Alone Complex” is all about. But we speculate that Section 9 is already involved in the investigation.
Two real victims of these crimes are the anime “School Days” and “Higurashi”. Both had their latest or last episodes canceled.
Recently, the Diet 3 Daily has received a death threat, saying: “I AM GOING TO KILL THE BASTARD WHO KEEPS ON POSTING USELESS NEWS AND INFORMATION ABOUT SHOWS THAT NOBODY GIVE A F*&%K! BE AWARE, RAYMOND! DON’T MAKE ME PULL A STABBY STABB ON YOU!”
However, our news source and other new sources haven’t reported any stabbing crimes yet. We did report some people who used cyber paper fans smacking on other people’s head for memory stealing from cyber brain crimes, in which the only thing that the victims could remember is that the perpetrator screamed: “NANDEYANEN!” All the way down the streets after committing the crime.
We would like to advice the citizens to wear special purple safety helmets and watch out for Japanese folks with tattoos eating boxes of Takoyaki and speaking in Kansai-accent Japanese.
“I want to whack all these TV station guys,” said a male who appears to be 35-years old without wearing a wedding ring but wearing a “BURN IN HELL! MAKOTO!” t-shirt and a pair of greasy jeans. “One million gigaslaves up there in the arses shall do the job quite nicely.” He said with a Alucard-mockery-British accent.