Ghost in the Shell: Arise (1: Ghost Pain): resurrected science fiction series needs new spark to keep alive

Kazuchika Kise, “Ghost in the Shell: Arise – 1: Ghost Pain” (2013)

First of a new four-part series in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, this episode sees cyborg investigator / hacker Major Motoko Kusanagi called upon by Public Security head Daisuke Aramaki to investigate the murder of her mentor and leader of Unit 501, Lieutenant Commander Mamuro. His coffin is disinterred by Aramaki’s men and found to contain an animated robot landmine. Kusanagi pieces together Mamuro’s last movements and discovers that he has been framed for misuse of government funds and funnelling illegal weapons to foreign buyers. At the same time, sinister and unseen enemies are busily building up a case to frame Kusanagi with Mamuro’s murder and make her look as if she too is misusing government funds.

The plot can be quite convoluted and viewers not already familiar with the series may have a hard time figuring out the details of who is double-crossing whom. The plot starts to look quite incestuous as viewers begin to suspect that Kusanagi’s new boss Kurutsu might have been the one to order Mamuro’s assassination. Even by film’s end, I still wasn’t sure who exactly signed Mamuro’s death warrant and who exactly ordered the landmines to look like Miley Cyrus in her nude-coloured rubber bikini twerking phase. At least most of the film’s loose ends look to have been tidied up by the time Kusanagi hands in her notice to Kurutsu and is told by her bank manager that sufficient funds now exist in her bank account that she can pay for all her prosthetic and neural software additions and her body, brain and black-box add-ons are now her own.

For its length, the film does suffer from an excess of characters and plot detail but that’s forgivable for a first episode of a new series. Humour where it exists is tired and clich├ęd: a robot bodyguard with a child’s voice? – that’s very cheesy indeed! Issues of identity and truth versus lies and falsification of memories rear their heads wearily in the episode; though I haven’t seen the entire original GITS series, it always seems to be that in films about cyborgs and humanoid robots, the notion of identity and where the thin grey line between human and not-human must be dragged through the mud of the plot and its narrative structure (in the form of flashback scenes) as automatically as night follows day and dogs chase cats.

The animation is good, there is plenty of action, the pace is constant and there are the obligatory scenes of titillating female body shots for male viewers. This first episode is bound to please most fans of the GITS series if not necessarily win any new ones.

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