Digital Culture –| 2008

electronic art, technology and culture

The Otaku Way – Tachiko, Fujiko, Uchiko…

with 5 comments

Ghost in The Shell is a series about the futuristic elite police force that deals with cyber-crime – each episode/iteration seems to involve cyberbrain hacking or cyborg going berserk or the combination between the two (the best show premise ever!) As a solid entry into the cyberpunk movement, it explored many philosophical concepts such as what is human and can machine develop a soul. It became inspiration to many other show succeeding, including The Matrix (1999).

Ghost in The Shell has many iterations – 3 series of manga, 2 tv show, and 3 theatrical movies, not including minor spinoff such as Drama CD, video game, and a couple of novel – each with its differences in the way the story is portrayed.

GiTS started of as a Japanese manga by Masamune Shirow, first publish in 1989 and come back again in 1997. It is said to be the heaviest of all the incarnations since Masamune Shirow is a crazy guy. He tried to cram all the philosophy, ideology, and reflection on technological advancement all into something, like, 2 tankubon (Japanese graphic novel) of around 600 pages. It is consider to be very hard to read since not only there are over 60 pages of nearly pure text devoted to explain the setting and the technology, we still have to keep up with all of his footnote as well. It was the first comic I read that actually has a FOOTNOTE! Some are informations that did not exist in the dialog but for other you just get “After this, there’s a scene where Mokoto takes over the driving and Togusa check his gear and put it on, but it was too much of a hassle to draw so I left it out…” Thanks, Japan.

Ghost in The Shell fanart:

To see how crazy Masamune Shirow is – CLICK HEREYOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The first of Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation film of the manga came out in 1995 as Ghost in The Shell, with a sequel released in 2004 as Ghost in The Shell: Innocence. Oshii is a successful anime director, his prior works before Ghost in The Shell included Mobile Police Patlabour series – a cult classic for the giant robot Mecha fan about futuristic police force in a world where giant robot, regarded as weapon of mass destruction in other anime series like Gundam, were used in everyday life chores such as construction and crime. Oshii got his fame from directing Urusei Yatsura, a late 70’s super famous quirky love-comedy show in Japan (You have to know this one, Hide!) Adaptation from Rumiko Takahash’s manga of the same name, it influenced and spawns horrible, horrible spiritual offspring in several other shows collectively known as Rumiko Takahashi’s effect where the main couple are trying to get together and as they take a step forward, they got 2 steps setback – in which it became an obnoxious loop that goes nowhere for A FEW HUNDRED EPISODES. Thanks, Japan.

Mamoru Oshii’s version of Ghost in The Shell is considered to be very focused on the philosophy’s side and discarded many procedure/detective/cop-show elements exist in Shirow’s manga. Instead, Oshii’s version has gray overtone – mute elements – that veil over the source materials in his later works. Most of Ghost in The Shell’s franchise is unpopular in Japan, but is a huge commercial success in the west – all thanks to Oshii’s first film which is so penetrating in the late 90’s, just like how Akira was in the late 80’s. It was, at that point, a show where every anime fan outside Japan – no matter how casual or hardcore they are – must have seen. The first film was focused on the Major (Kusanagi Motoko) and her struggle to identify, and perhaps to confirm, her existence as human. The sequal, Innocence, is all about Batou walking around, talking. No wonder why they did one version of the dubbed with the original cast from the first movie, released it, then go back and re-record THE SAME CAST saying THE SAME LINE and release it again. Excellent dubbed, both times, by the way. Thanks, America.

The “crew” from Innocence

The TV series was the latest addition to the franchise; Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex was released as a 26 episodes in 2002-03 while the sequel, Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig was release in 2004-05. The TV series does not share the same universe as the manga nor Oshii’s film – almost all iteration of Ghost in The Shell in different medium did not share continuity in the same universe, but with the same premise. The name Stand Alone Complex comes from the psychological disease in the show as well as how the show structured – a Stand Alone episode for an episodic one-shot, while a Complex episode contain an overarching storyline throughout the series. Both GiTS:SAC and GiTS:SAC 2GIG have different arching storyline and could consider to be its own complete show.

Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is the definitive version, in my opinion.

Kusanagi’s butt

I’ll say it again; Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is the DEFINITIVE version to watch, according to me.

Let’s face it, Shirow’s manga was confusing as hell and while being very good, Oshii’s film has limited running time and as a result there was not much of a character development which should lead to more discussion of their dilemma. As a TV series, GiTS:SAC has time to pace things out. The first season is about Section 9 trying to corner the elusive cyberbrain-hacker The Laughing Man while the 2nd GIG try to do Oshii’s plot in 26 episodes.


Not only we have time for character developments for everybody on the team, SAC also introduce other technological concept as well. From Oshii’s film we have the concept of the cyberbrain –

“This is the implantation of powerful computers directly into the brain, greatly increasing certain mental capacities such as memory. Coupled with ubiquitous access to the informational net, this is shown as a fundamental technology integral to the future Japanese society. Applications include wireless communication just by “thinking” it, massive informational recall capabilities, and digitization of printed media and the encryption thereof. The series is notable for portraying a comprehensive and believable user interface to this technology. At the same time, drawbacks are revealed in the form of “Closed Shell Syndrome” or cyberbrain autism and “Cyberbrain Sclerosis”. This technology is in many ways the crux of the series” -Wikipedia

Two more philosophy-related technologies that were missing from Oshii’s film included the ECHELON wiretap system which, because everybody’s brain is hooked up to the computer now, can wiretap every communication from everyone in Japan. A secret technology employed by the government without consent from the citizen. Yawn, I know.

The other technology, and the reason to watch GiTS:SAC is the troup of Tachikoma, sentient light “think tank”. Design to be Section 9’s artillery units, Tachikoma resembled spider while the AI personified little children with heavy dose of curiosity which became a stark contrast between the depressing human interactions in the series. Base on the manga’s Fujikoma, non-sentient light tank, the development of Tachikoma’s AI and the questions it poses (with or without it verbalising them out) drilled deep into what regards as a living’s “soul”. I was quite disturbed at a time when the Tachikoma was “decommissioned” because of its erratic AI.

Oh, and the cloaking device, thermo-optical camouflage, inspired a research in University of Tokyo to produce similar thing in real life.

The TV series spawn a film – Ghost in The Shell: Solid State Society in which the complex episodes were condense down to a feature-length film. Only watch this after you’ve seen the TV series. Please.

The animation of Ghost in The Shell has always been top-notch. The TV show is no exception, since new episode air only just twice a month on a pay-per-view channel, the budget of the show were bigger than normal. The production studio Production I.G. is also an excellent studio with proven track record.

The soundtrack of the film was done by Kenji Kawai, Japan’s excellent composer. Yoko Kanno’s SAC score kept very close to the spirit of Oshii’s film, and some more – in my opinion. The opening to both SAC and SAC 2nd GIG was superb. Check it out

GiTS:SAC Opening

GiTS:SAC 2nd GIG Opening

Let’s not talk about the hidden opening only seen on TV and not the DVD version 😛

In conclusion, I highly recommend the series. Run, people, don’t walk, to your nearest DVD outlet and buy a box set of SAC and possibly the two movies, if you still haven’t got it yet.

Sorry, I was a little bit rush at the end. I’m hungry…

Till next time!

5 Responses

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  1. Same as Pete, I highly recommend the Stand Alone Complex series and sequel 2nd GiG. Also I love the Tachikomas, they are cute and lovely, just like regular pets but is able to talk.


    September 16, 2008 at 3:48 am

  2. We can talk about the the Evangelion next time or next class?? It is one of the greatest anime!! I think it strongly relate to the topic of humanoid robots and cyborg.


    September 17, 2008 at 6:37 am

  3. It’ll be a lively conversation indeed since I don’t like Evangelion 🙂


    September 17, 2008 at 12:44 pm

  4. How come you don’t like Eva? I actually didn’t watch it in real time (1996) but many young poeple are still crazy about it. You are the first person that I heard someone does’t lilke Eva. Many people recommended me to watch it, so I finally watched the TV series of Eva (DVD) last year!! In my openion, I’m in neutral. It involves a lot of philosophical and psychological theory, so sometimes it is difficult to understand… I only like combination of the graphic representation and music in scenes. Anyway, I think it is one of the good examples of robot/cyborg animation.


    September 18, 2008 at 2:43 am

  5. I have one counter : RahXephon

    If you think Evangelion is deep because it’s philosophical and psychological and, whoa, what the hell was that ending – then sure, go and read the discussion at It’s the biggest fan discussion of anything eva-related on the net.

    (Music? Yoko Kano did RahXephon’s soundtrack – same girl who did GiTS: SAC. You know which one I preferred.)

    Let me re-watch both series, and I’ll show you what I mean. For now, Hideaki Anno’s biggest joke is the Eva’s ending IMHO.


    September 18, 2008 at 1:20 pm

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