I have long believed the science fiction that endures over time does so not because of futuristic technology or alien civilizations. It endures because it frames the current human condition in terms that force you to reevaluate it. The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series is a prime example. Humanity has cybernetics in easy reach, yet the same problems persist—poverty, the struggle between immigration and job creation, wars, an aging and declining population… Not much different than the world we see today. Two years ago was the ten year anniversary of the 2nd Gig TV series, and I found that it was as relevant and topical then as it was twelve years ago.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the Solid State Society film. I missed watching this when it was initially released and was very curious to see if it managed to be both as entertaining and relevant for viewers today. It did not disappoint on either point. The story begins two years after the events of 2nd Gig and sees many changes for Section 9. Kusanagi has resigned, and Togusa is leading an expanding team charged with investigating a rash of suicides among the members linked to a foreign general taking asylum in Japan.
All of the suicides are connected by a mysterious hacker known as the “Puppet Master” (no relation to villain of the same name from the original Ghost in the Shell film). Tangled in this web are disappearing children, a nursing system for the elderly, and a variety of government conspiracies. This is Ghost in the Shell at its best—a well balanced mix of action, character development, and a plot that will leave you guessing what is coming next. It is not without a few minor flaws though.
First, it tries to ensure all of the secondary members of Section 9 get some screen time. This is understandable given the two TV seasons spent building them up. However, the time constraints of a film leave a few of these pieces, brief as they are, feeling a bit forced. Given the expansion of the team, the film would have been better served using those scenes to develop the new members. In a similar vein, the film also mentions subtle but potentially significant details about the main characters yet fails to explore them. For long time fans of the series, they are tantalizing points, ones you want to know more about. For those coming to see a stand-alone film, they are odd, irrelevant facts to scratch your head at.
Despite these flaws, the film continues the tradition of being an enduring piece of science fiction. It is difficult to delve too much into the themes without spoiling large sections of the story. How do we as a society treat our elderly? How do we deal with child abuse? Difficult topics… But putting them in an almost foreign context, it allows the viewer to ponder those questions in a fresh light. And it would not be a Ghost in the Shell title without exploring how we define consciousness and identity in a world becoming increasingly interconnected with technology. The twist it puts on it was the proverbial icing on the cake, the moment you say, “Damn… I wish this was the launching pad for another TV series!”
You can still easily find the 2011 Blu-ray by Bandai. The film is accessible to newcomers to the GitS universe, and longtime fans will enjoy one last mystery, one last battle with Section 9. As someone coming to it fresh ten years after its initial release, it definitely has stood the test of time and also does not feel like a product of its time. I have no doubt that Solid State Society will remain a solid piece of science fiction when we revisit it in another decade.