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[ a parent's guide to anime ]

[ rated m ] Ghost in the Shell

A Parent's Guide to Anime
Rated: M
Recommended for Mature Audiences

Review by C. J. Scott:

In the near future, critical individuals sometimes have their brains or bodies augmented in order to perform their jobs better. Some are modified so extensively that little remains of their original being but some bits of brain matter containing their personality or "ghost." One such individual is Major Kusanagi, the intelligence operative heroine of "Ghost in the Shell."

[ Major Kusanagi ]

"Ghost in the Shell" (or "GitS") is a very violent, thought-provoking, disturbing, flawed, and intelligent film. It failed to acheive its intended goal of being the first "breakthrough" anime theatrical hit in the United States, but it was the number one best-selling video in the U.S. for a solid month in the summer of 1996.

We'll start with the flaws. Firstly, Major Kusanagi often wears a skin-tight, semi- transparent suit of "thermoptic camouflage" that enables her to blend into her surroundings to the point of invisibility. It also tends to give the impression that she is entering combat in the nude. This, along with a lengthy opening montage of the Major's naked body being created, is supposed to be ironic: There is so little of the Major's "ghost" still intact that she has trouble seeing herself as anything other than an efficient machine-- sexually, there is nothing left of her. This approach could have been effective, but the nudity is so overdone and so frequent that it comes across as gratuitous and distracting.

The film's second major flaw is the tendency for the characters to "talk" their way through scenes. Instead of showing us how the characters feel through their actions, the filmmakers present several long, static, philosophical discussions that tend to stop the movie cold.

[ Bateau ]

So, why should we watch? Because even with the flaws, this is the most intelligent, gritty, and realistic sci-fi movie in a decade or more, animated or not. Major Kusanagi is a being in torment. She relies on the "ghost" that still remains in her cyborg body, but there is so little of her true self left that she has begun to doubt whether she was ever really human. She fears she has become something else, but what? When a mysterious entity called "The Puppet Master" begins to use the internet to hack into living human minds, she sees in it a clue to her future, and views its capture as a desperate and almost religious quest. The ending comes suddenly, but logically, and begs for a sequel. That sequel is currently being published in manga (comic) novel form in Japan, but there are no firm plans as yet for a second film. That's okay, as this film only improves with repeated viewing, and I can't believe those plans won't materialize.

Approach: Thoughtful, dark, and violent.

Parent's Guide Rating:

red (recommended for mature audiences)

Nudity: Lots. The camera pans sensuously over every inch of the Major's perfect and frequently naked body at every opportunity. Another female cyborg, also nude, is shown being reactivated after having been hit by a truck. The spasmodic contortions this cyborg goes through could be disturbing.

Harsh Language: Quite a lot of it.

Sex: None. Despite the frequent nudity, there isn't one bit of sexual innuendo or even romance. The Major is so far removed from her emotions that she can't even see her partner, Bateau, carries a tragic and literally hopeless love for her.

Violence: There is an exploding head before the opening titles and it doesn't slow down much after that. There are several particularly gruesome gunfights. Near the end of the film, the Major literally tears herself apart attempting to break into a tank. After that the tank lifts her cyborg body by the head with a steel claw and tosses her around like a rag doll. Shortly thereafter, her head is ripped from what remains of her body. This is all very disturbing, and is made moreso by the fact this film is done in much more realistic style than most other anime.

Additional Comment by: Matti Laasko

Ghost in the Shell was originally a manga drawn and written by Masamune Shirow (of Appleseed fame). The anime takes only the very basic elements of this epic graphic novel - roughly 20 pages from both ends of the book, missing maybe 200 pages in between!

If you're looking for brilliant artwork, realistic future technology and a deviously complex plot, give this one a try.

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