A strong new origin story for the cyberpunk classic
What They Say:
Border 1: Ghost Pain
When cyborg hacker Motoko Kusanagi is hired to investigate a devastating bombing, she must fight her way through a maze of phantom memories to unlock her mysterious past – and track down the evil mastermind behind the attacks.
Border 2: Ghost Whispers
Witness the formation of the legendary Public Security Section 9. When a clandestine organization hacks every car in the city, Kusanagi recruits a lethal team of cyber operatives that includes a badass brawler with Special Forces training, an explosives expert, a technology specialist, and a chain-smoking jack-of-all-trades with a sordid past. Together this ruthless gang of enforcers sets out to clamp down on the chaos and make the city safe again.
The show’s music has a lot of fast, exhilarating electronic themes, with a deliberately unsettling “disjointed” sort of sound to them. In contrast the opening song is surprisingly understated, which fits well with Ghost In The Shell’s blending of thoughtful plot and fast action.
There are two soundtracks, the original Japanese and an English dub, both in 5.1 (though I was only able to watch in stereo so I can’t speak for the surround effect). I’m not often a fan of dubs, but the English version of this was pretty solid. In both versions, it’s really nice to hear to hear voices with some depth, coming from characters that aren’t childish or cutesy. The sound during action scenes was suitably upbeat without a massive volume difference: whatever’s happening the focus is on voices because they drive the plot.
I think this series was created entirely in 3D rather than drawn. The fact that I’m not sure means they’ve finally got the hang of the technique, after decades of trying, and are able to render the full range of expression and motion you’d get with hand drawings. Colouring and shading all feel like anime – indeed, like Ghost In The Shell – only smoother and more precise than human artists could feasibly achieve.
Don’t expect any massive anime eyes or exaggerated emotions. Everything on screen has a hard realistic feel, even the unreal virtual segments. It’s both dark and colourful, with smooth animation. It’s a style well-suited to the hard urban landscape and its digital counterpart that the series takes place in.
The DVD is encoded perfectly well, but if you’re after a feast for the eyes I suspect this is one show that really would benefit from the high definition of a Blu-Ray release.
The menus have a smooth sci-fi flavour, but thankfully aren’t overblown. There’s only a slight delay between menu pages.
Along with the standard collection of trailers (including some unsubtle tie-in adverts to Microsoft Surface), these two disks include:
- A couple of short skits/music videos featuring the logikoma robots, Arise’s precursor to the tachikoma and fuchikoma
- An interview with the creators interspersed with cuts from American audiences, and a number of other publicity interviews
- A commentary of the second episode with the English-language cast
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In a future where cyborgs, robots and direct brain interfaces are normal, opportunities for criminals are also rife. Memories can be rewritten with a brain dive or with a virus; electronics can be hacked; and a skilled attacker can do almost anything that want to the real world. Motoko Kusanagi is a full-body cyborg: a human brain in a completely artificial body.
It’s nearly 20 years since the original film of Ghost In The Shell came out. In hindsight it can seem artsy and confused, but at the time it was a groundbreaking phenomenon, with a whole new look that was achieved without the advantage of modern technology, and that inspired any number of films and other media. It was also a lot of people’s first introduction to anime.
ARISE has the same premise as previous versions, but takes us back a couple of years to before Motoko’s team at Section 9 was founded. It fills in some of the origin of the characters; as a result there are some familiar faces in unfamiliar roles here. Rather than leading Section 9, Motoko is initially attached to a military unit who own her cyborg body, and consider her to be a piece of equipment. This is a prequel rather than a reboot – they make a point of sticking to the timeline of the original even though that puts the events of this series in 2026, which now looks hopelessly optimistic.
Each episode of ARISE is a 50-minute film, which gives them the freedom to explore interesting stories without splitting them up and wasting time on cliffhangers, previews and recaps. It’s a format that works well for this series. At its best Ghost In The Shell has always been about complicated stories that require attention and thought; at its worst it’s been psychedelic, random and confusing. It can be a fine line – in a world where memories can be rewritten, the truth may not even exist any more, which can be pretty confusing. ARISE is on the right side of that balance, with strong plot which may confuse you but always has real answers somewhere to be found. At the same it’s got plenty of action sequences, combining physical fighting, guns, vehicles, robots and electronic warfare all at once, making full use of the mechanised urban landscape. The fights are fast, multi-layered and clever, and though they’re unforgiving (wrenched off limbs are common, both cybernetic and real ones) the violence never feels divorced from the plot.
In the first episode, Motoko is investigating the murder of her commanding officer, gradually uncovering truths that may be inconvenient even to her. At the same time as showing how powerful an upgraded brain and body can be, it explores the weakness of them: when you compromise yourself you can lose track of what’s really you. It takes some time for the twists to unravel, but in doing so it goes into the to the question that Ghost In The Shell has always been about: how much of yourself is truly your own?
The second episode, a military officer accused of war crimes launches a digital revolution from within his prison cell, trying to prove his innocence by revealing the government’s darkest secrets. He manages to take practically the whole city hostage, and the fight crosses between the physical and the digital, the political and the psychological.
Despite the sales pitch, the Section 9 team still hasn’t been assembled during these two episodes, and the way Motoko crosses paths (and occasionally guns) with each of its future members goes a long way to showing how varied their backgrounds and perspectives are – which is of course what they’ll be selected for later. The only downside is knowing in advance who definitely isn’t going to die, but that’s true of any prequel. Motoko has always been a strong female lead, both physically and as a character, but it’s refreshing to see her in ARISE before she became the undefeatable badass. This Motoko is at times nervous, overconfident, panicked or even compassionate. She’s a more human character, and more relatable. ARISE is in part the story of how Motoko takes control of her own fate – including literal ownership of her own body – and starts building a team where she can act freely.
The violence and near nudity net this a 15 rating. But just as us old folks were inspired by the original film, I’d say any viewers who are able to follow this complex story are welcome to it.
If you liked Ghost In The Shell before, this is a worthy new version. If you haven’t seen any of it before this is a good place to start. Don’t be deceived by the action, this is not instant gratification, you really will need to engage your brain.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: November 24th, 2014
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung RF711 laptop, Iiyama Prolite B2403WS monitor, Koss PortaPro headphones, VLC.