Review written by Tenoq. Follow him on Twitter.
It’s a brave new world for the anime industry and securing production deals with streaming platforms like Netflix is quickly becoming the norm. For a property as old as Ghost in The Shell, ditching the antiquated production committee system in favour of the Originals model must seem like a natural path to progress. If you are new to the franchise, GITS is the story of Section 9, an armoured police unit under the Department of Public Safety composed of cyborgs skilled in warfare, spec-ops and intelligence.
There are generally two broad groups of GITS fans: one group favors the Mamoru Oshii films and the other prefers Kenji Kamiyama’s Stand Alone Complex TV series. While this writer immensely appreciates Oshii’s works, he proudly belongs in the Kamiyama camp. This new series is a direct sequel to Kamiyama’s work, which chronologically ended in the 2006 film Solid State Society.
Prior to SAC_2045, there was another ambitious take on GITS called ARISE. It was a fresh approach with an all-new cast, and new character designs which were largely inspired by SAC. Even their version of the Logicoma nods to SAC’s bright and cheerful Tachikoma. Still, it tried too hard to be a hardcore, cyberpunk military action piece that it missed out on some of the best things that Kamiyama captured in his previous works.
One Dimension Too Many
First off: the technical bits. SAC_2045 brought back not just Kamiyama, but the incredible Shinji Aramaki as co-directors. Presumably because Aramaki has more experience with 3D work, on top of his impressive portfolio of animating mecha. In the past, Kamiyama and Production IG worked with Eiji Enomoto for the 3D animations (especially the Tachikoma). Enomoto later goes on to become the founder of Studio Orange (Land of the Lustrous, Beastars). It is not exactly clear why he wasn’t brought back for this new project considering his vast experience.
Instead, they opted for Sola Digital Arts – the studio that produced Aramaki’s Appleseed films. They also have a previous history with IG where they jointly produced Netflix’s Ultraman – which possibly explains the collaboration this time (i.e. known quantities). The result is an awkward, tokusatsu rubber-suit look to its characters. It looks like they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to go for a cel-shaded look or full-on photorealistic and now they’re stuck in this awkward in-between place.
The characters behave more like NPCs usually seen in video game cinematics rather than TV characters. That is a real shame because the updated character designs from Kuvshinov Illya are absolutely wonderful. The mecha battles were ‘cool’ but it lacked the visceral punch that came through Enomoto’s work in SAC and 2nd GIG.
Purin is one such glaring example. A lively, bubbly new element in Section 9 whose movements and character acting were so overdone that she looked completely out of place and her presence constantly jerks you in and out of the immersion. Throwaway characters like Clown were a lot more interesting in this respect, as his dynamics with the core group reminds us of Azuma in the previous series in the best possible way.
Not Too Deep, Not Shallow Enough
Before Black Mirror, nay, before even The Matrix, there was Ghost In The Shell. It remains one of the most enduring cyberpunk cult classics thanks to its world-building and sheer depth. Its wide variety of graphic essays on the human condition challenges our values today with “what if” questions brought upon by present tech and tech that is yet to come.
The Laughing Man and Individual Eleven were some of the best sci-fi stories ever told, and Kamiyama created an anthology of short stories against these epic backdrops. To this writer, it was these little anecdotes and side stories that made SAC and 2nd GIG so special. Unfortunately, it is also where SAC_2045 fell short.
There was the story of an engineer who planted his brain into a giant spider-tank to take revenge on his parents. A young man trying to elope with his android lover. A terrorist who tried to assassinate a wealthy man using coins as shotgun ammo. A little girl learning to use delicate movements to make origami cranes with her new 100% cyborg body. The Laughing Man and Individual Eleven arcs were generously peppered with these one-episode stories. They lent so much depth to the world-building on top of exploring deeper into the personalities and individual histories of Section 9 members.
SAC_2045 commits too much of its airtime to the Posthumans backbone plot. It spent a whopping SIX (out of 12) episodes to reintroduce Section 9 and set the stage for this new Posthumans story arc. This could have been done in three episodes or less. There was a brief explanation about some major Global Economic Crisis™ (it has another unique yet meaningless and forgettable name) but it was executed so poorly that you will quickly forget how it affects the main story.
It does, however, find a saving grace in episode 7, where Batou gets caught up in a bank robbery. In a single episode, the bank heist immediately lends so much clarity and perspective to said Global Economic Crisis™ and how it affects the average person. After that, it’s back to detective mysteries and big guns that make big booms everywhere.
Season 1 ends with a cliffhanger at episode 12, and although we can expect another 12 episodes this December, one may hope for more little stories that build this new 2045 world and the characters that navigate through it.
Measuring Up To Oneself
For better or worse, Kamiyama has set a terribly high bar for himself after 2nd GIG. His 2007 Seirei no Moribito and the 2009 Eden of the East animes were both outstanding shows in their own right (the Eden movies do not exist).
Despite this, he still couldn’t top Stand Alone Complex. Surely for himself and his adoring legion of fans, SAC_2045 would mark a return to his best performance to date. They even rounded up the original voice talents for Major Kusanagi (sorry Maaya Sakamoto, I love you but Atsuko Tanaka is THE Major), the Tachikoma as well as the rest of Section 9. The only Lego piece missing from this set is the musical maestro in Yoko Kanno.
Music in SAC_2045 was… forgettable, at best. They amounted to nothing more than elevator music to keep scenes from feeling empty. It lacked the kick and beat that Yoko Kanno brought to the fore in SAC and 2nd GIG. “Inner Universe” “Rise, Run Rabbit Junk”, and so many more immortal songs live on to this day.
Character acting that was full of life and energy in the hand-drawn anime was all but lost in the glittering yet wooden 3D puppetry. Amidst all the shiny special effects and head-spinning camera swings, it lacked that “breath” you would find in pencil illustrations. It appears that the script and voice-acting were the only things that carried the entire weight of this new adventure.
All that being said, the Posthumans arc is very much a thoughtful and engaging mystery. This writer looks forward to the escalation of the conflict but also wishes there would be more side stories to chew on along the way. Thankfully, we already have an estimate for when Season 2 drops. Until then, for both Kamiyama and the viewers, we are still only halfway there.
FINAL SCORE: 60/100
(Ghost in The Shell: SAC_2045 is now available worldwide on Netflix)