Two weeks ago we talked about the main characters of Re:ZERO: entitled teenager Subaru, noble magic-user Emilia and submissive, self-sacrificing Rem. This week we go in the opposite direction as possible to talk about the manga and anime versions of cyborg military professional Motoko Kusanagi in the Ghost in the Shell franchise with special guests Valerie Complex and Brian Ruh!
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SPOILERS: for the entire franchise of Ghost in the Shell
00:00 Intro: What has been your experience with Ghost in the Shell?
06:22 The manga, and manga artist Shirow’s other work
10:48 Different versions of Ghost in the Shell and Motoko
23:29 Motoko’s sexuality
30:24 Motoko’s body and clothing
37:30 Differences in Ghost in the Shell: Arise
45:50 How could Hollywood have adapted Ghost in the Shell?
Valerie’s Rotten Tomatoes page
Brian’s book Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii
Claire Napier’s series “The Major’s Body” (part 1)
Brian’s post “Who is the real Motoko Kusanagi?”
Valerie’s review of the remake preview
Recorded Saturday 18th March 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
AMELIA: Hi everyone and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Amelia, I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Anime Feminist, and I’m joined today by Peter Fobian, Valerie Complex, and Brian Ruh. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves?
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an associate features editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
VALERIE: Hi, my name is Valerie Complex and I do a lot of writing about anime and movies and film. I have a Rotten Tomatoes page or you can check me out on Twitter @valeriecomplex.
BRIAN: Hi, I’m Brian Ruh. I do some writing about Japanese animation and film. I wrote the book Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, who directed the first Ghost in the Shell film. So I think that’s probably why I’m here and…
BRIAN: …we’re talking about this.
AMELIA: We’re really happy to have both of you on. You’re actually our first guests on Chatty AF. We’ve never had guests before, so this is quite exciting.
And today we’re talking about Ghost in the Shell—not a big surprise there—and there will be spoilers for the entire franchise. But we’re only going to be talking about the manga and anime versions—that is, the films and TV series, but not the Hollywood remake.
So, we’re recording this actually before the remake’s been released in our respective countries. So we will not be covering that at all today. But we are talking about the manga, the anime, the 1995 film, obviously.
So I’d like to ask everyone first what your experience is with Ghost in the Shell. So, how and when did you first encounter it, and what’s your relationship with it been over the years? We’ll start with Valerie?
VALERIE: It was one of the first anime I watched. I was introduced to anime as a kid, I was around 10 years old, and somebody was like “Here, watch La Blue Girl and Akira and Ghost in the Shell.” And I was like, “What is all of this stuff?” And that was really my first experience with a strong female protagonist and anime. Parts of it also scared me. I don’t think ‘til recently I actually understood what I was watching until I watched Stand Alone Complex and some other things, but that’s pretty much my general experience with the movie and series.
AMELIA: Great. And, Peter?
PETER: I think Ghost in the Shell was probably the fourth or fifth anime I ever watched. I know number one was Akira and I saw Eva and Cowboy Bebop, and I don’t know if it came before or after Trigun, but it was kind of like that. I was a huge sci-fi fan back in—well, I still am—but that was my main reason for getting into anime. My first introduction was sort of like… my first impression of anime and what really got me into it, ’cause they had all these really creative ways of exploring the same ideas that a lot of sci-fi authors in the West have.
AMELIA: Great. And Brian?
BRIAN: So I started getting into anime… Well, my original experience with anime was, yeah, when I was growing up and watching things on TV. ‘Cause I grew up in the ‘80s, so it’s lots of sci-fi stuff on TV: Voltron and Robotech and Star Blazers, that kind of stuff. So that’s what I grew up with. And then in the ’90s I started getting back into anime again.
The first one that really got me back into anime was when I was watching Bubblegum Crisis in the early ‘90s. And so that very cyberpunk science fiction… That’s what I was really interested in and into. And so it was just a seemingly logical progression from there to watching stuff like Ghost in the Shell. Which, I don’t remember when I first saw it. It probably would have been ‘96 or ‘97 when I would have rented a video tape of it.
And I thought it was okay at first, but it wasn’t until… Yeah, I didn’t really, I think, appreciate it on first viewing, but then when I went back and re-watched it, especially in a subtitled version, I could really get more out of it. And so that’s where I started: watching that film and then keeping up with Ghost in the Shell as it’s progressed through the TV series and to the second film and so on.
PETER: So did you both start with the movie or Stand Alone Complex?
VALERIE: I saw the movie way before Stand Alone Complex came out. So I was familiar with the material and I had read the mangas—when I was first discovering what mangas were—I read the follow-ups. So I was familiar with it before Stand Alone Complex. Although I find Stand Alone Complex to be… better? I don’t know, that’s just my personal opinion.
BRIAN: Same here. I watched the film before Stand Alone Complex and that kinda stuff came out. I don’t remember when I first started reading the manga. It was probably after I saw the film. So I think that the ‘95 film was probably my first introduction to, just, the greater world of Ghost in the Shell.
VALERIE: Probably a good thing ’cause those mangas are… Well, they eventually get better, but the first one is like, weird, and…
VALERIE: …you know, kind of fan service-y, cheesecake-y…
PETER: It’s a really dramatic departure. I almost couldn’t believe it was the same thing.
VALERIE: [Laughs] I know, it’s really weird. And then it has some kinda explicit content. ‘Cause I had seen Dominion Tank Police and I know that that’s also by Shirow. It was such a different… thing. So it’s probably good that you saw the movie first.
BRIAN: And talking about Shirow’s work… Yeah, before I watched Ghost in the Shell, I was also familiar with Appleseed a little bit too, which was the manga and there was an animation of it too that came out before that. And I watched the Appleseed—the first Appleseed anime quite a bit, actually, in high school, before I watched Ghost in the Shell. So, yeah, I was kind of… That kind of goes along with the whole techno-cyber-punky stuff that I was into at the time.
VALERIE: They’re all one thing.
VALERIE: It wouldn’t surprise me if they all existed in some wider universe.
PETER: The two main characters from Appleseed show up in the background in the first volume of Ghost in the Shell, don’t they?
BRIAN I was gonna say, yes, it’s just like… yeah, kind of in the background in a crowd scene, I think they’re sitting on some steps. But yeah, you do see them.
PETER: Yeah. Which could have been fanservice, or it could have just been like… I don’t know if he was implying that it’s the same universe or not. But I know there’s a big debate among Shirow fans as to whether his ultimate work is Appleseed or Ghost in the Shell, so.
VALERIE: Did any of you see the remake? Of Appleseed?
PETER: I didn’t, no.
VALERIE: Yeah, the remake is… I liked the remake, a lot of people don’t, but…
BRIAN: I know there have been some… I’ve seen a couple of the theatrical ones, but I haven’t actually gotten to the… was there like a TV show with some episodes?
VALERIE: I don’t know, but I know…
BRIAN: [crosstalk] Okay.
VALERIE: …as far as a TV show with some episodes, I don’t think so, I just think that it’s a three-part movie series.
VALERIE: ‘Cause I had the first film, and it’s like almost two hours, and then there’s a second movie, and then there’s a third one. Neither of them are good—
VALERIE: —but the first one, the first one is worth it. But as far as Shirow’s ultimate work, that’s really a good question. I still like Dominion Tank Police but, whatever! I mean, I’m always weird and on the outside of things.
Ameli: Well, I wanna ask about the manga actually, since we’re discussing it. Did you see the manga—sorry, did you read the manga of Ghost in the Shell before or after Stand Alone Complex?
VALERIE: Oh gosh, I can’t even remember.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Because I—
VALERIE: I think it was way before Stand Alone Complex. ‘Cause actually, I just actually watched Stand Alone Complex like four years ago.
AMELIA: Oh really?
VALERIE: So it was like way before.
AMELIA: Yeah. But you were already a Ghost in the Shell fan at that point?
VALERIE: Yes, yes.
AMELIA: Okay. And how did you respond to the manga then?
VALERIE: I was shocked!
AMELIA: [laughs] Yeah.
VALERIE: I was like, “This is so…” I don’t know, it just reminded me of, like, some cyberpunk version of Sailor Moon… It was weird. The illustrations were weird. I can’t really describe it, I don’t have a word for it.
AMELIA: Brian, how about you? Did you read the manga, like, after identifying as a Ghost in the Shell fan, or was that part of becoming a fan?
BRIAN: I think it was part of becoming a fan. And I do think that reading the manga helped me understand the film a bit more because that was one of the things… So yeah, when I was… Kind of the difference in the ending between the film and the manga that when Kusanagai, like—the new body that Kusanagi gets put into in the film is that of a young girl, whereas at the end of the manga the body that she gets put into is that of an effeminate man that Bato initially mistakes for being a woman, which there might be a lot… it seems like there’s kind of a lot to unpack there, but…
Yeah, so one of the reasons why I pursued the manga and wanted to read it was because I was interested in the film and I wanted to find out a little bit more about it, kind of figure out where it came from, and maybe give it a little bit more context.
AMELIA: Okay. ‘Cause Ghost in the Shell is a franchise where you have the same characters, but they’re represented differently depending on which version you’re watching and they tell slightly different stories depending on which version you’re watching, right? But each time they have different art styles, they have different personalities, sometimes they have different motivations.
So looking at Motoko—I mean, my personal experience with Ghost in the Shell is I’m not really a fan? I mean I saw the 1995 film back in the ‘90s I think, probably on the sci-fi channel in the UK starting at midnight, something like that.
AMELIA: Yes, anime was actually niche back then! So it was something I watched and I felt kind of an obligation to. And the older I’ve got, and the more I’ve kind of identified as an anime fan, the more I felt like I have this obligation to give Ghost in the Shell the respect it deserves. But I don’t really enjoy the sci-fi, I don’t really enjoy the philosophical content, and it’s hard for me to engage with it.
However, at the same time, I absolutely appreciate the cultural place that it exists in and the fact that it is fronted by this physically strong and professional female character. I think it’s just incredible that it’s achieved the level of popularity that it has and for as long as it has. The longevity of this series is really impressive.
VALERIE: I would say that the franchise is, like, loosely connected. Because if you read some of the material, you know, it says… there are different people who say everything is connected, and it’s all in the same universe, and that it actually sort of runs chronologically if you look at it with Arise—Ghost in the Shell: Arise—being a prequel, and that ending right where the 1995 movie starts, and then Stand Alone Complex, Solid State Society, and then…that’s it.
But, like you said, everybody… the motivation is different, the missions are different, everything is different. So I don’t know if it can be called an official sort of franchise because everything can be connected and sort of stand alone on its own.
AMELIA: Absolutely. Absolutely. So what I wanted to ask you guys: which is your favorite version of Motoko and why? In all of the franchise of Ghost in the Shell, in every one of its versions, which one do you feel most connected to—like, you most appreciate? I’m gonna start with Brian?
BRIAN: I probably have to say that my favorite version of her is from the second season of the TV show. So from Second Gig, so that… that stretch of 26 episodes. Because I think it’s really—it goes a lot more into her background and her relationships with the people around her. And it brings up some really interesting ideas about the nature of the body as you are growing up.
Because in that, in Second Gig, we see… we see her as a young girl who… I’m trying to… She’s in some sort of disaster, I think a plane crash of some sort, and she gets this experimental surgery, and that’s how she’s put into the cyborg body. And then… Yeah, it kind of deals with her a little bit growing up and adjusting to this body.
Which is, I think, a really interesting thing to think about especially from a science fiction—kind of extrapolating idea of—you know, “things that people might honestly have to think through and deal with philosophically in the future.” That we might have to deal with young people who have—who are kept alive through cybernetic implants and things like that, and how we deal with that as they grow up, and their conceptions of themselves and their bodies.
So I think that… in that way, I think that makes Second Gig one of the most interesting treatments of her in the franchise. But of course I have… my original love is for the 1995 film.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Sure.
BRIAN: So me, I always kinda go back to that. But I think Second Gig just kind of edges it out a little bit, for me.
AMELIA: And Peter, how ‘bout you?
PETER: I’d probably have to say the television series. The film, I think, really was like an isolation of the human essentialist themes that are in all of the Ghost in the Shell adaptations. So it was very—they were sort of going for this Kusanagi who was very, like, I don’t know, questioning her own humanity very often. Which I mean it—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] In the film, you mean?
PETER: Yeah, in the 1995 film. So that was… I mean, that was fascinating, but I didn’t… It makes it hard to connect with the character because the character is in the process of questioning her own humanity. She’s kinda pulling a “Dr. Manhattan” in the movie where she’s not… you wonder whether or not she is still a human. Then in the manga she kinda gets goofy a lot, actually. There’s a lot of jokes in the manga.
AMELIA: [laughs] Yeah, she does, doesn’t she?
PETER: Yeah, like where she says she’s gonna have to directly connect to one of their advisors’ brains to give him some information about a case and she just makes him punch himself in the face.
The… I like police procedurals as well, right? But, so, I think the anime kind of prolonged her as just a member of Section 9, and also I enjoy her position as the leader of Section 9, the one that all the other—I don’t know if they call them—agents, I guess, kind of respect, look up to, and follow. I guess that’s the experience with the character that I most enjoyed.
Second Gig does some interesting stuff too. My first impression was—I watched Stand Alone before Second Gig, so I’d probably say Stand Alone, but I don’t know if I could… I’m not sure which one I would really say if I had freshly watched both series. I’m gonna go with Stand Alone, probably, yeah. [laughs]
AMELIA: [laughs] It’s okay, you don’t have to make a choice, it’s fine. And Valerie, how about you?
VALERIE: I… I think I like her progression through Stand Alone Complex. I just think her look is a little bit more visually pleasing. The animation is really great by Production IG. They did a really good job with creating the sort of world. And I just like her look and how she matures from the first to the second gig.
And I really like the themes—the sort of relevant themes that are in both seasons of Stand Alone Complex. With the first one dealing with the medical companies and the micro machines, and then the second one dealing with refugees and things that are sort of relevant right now.
And that’s why I think Stand Alone Complex will always have a special place in my heart, even though I think that the uniqueness of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence—which nobody brought up yet—I think it sits in the back of my mind as something that’s very interesting in dealing with children and child-like cyber bodies and stuff like that. So I’d say Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and then Innocence.
PETER: Yeah, the movies were very philosophical, high-minded science fiction, whereas the TV series covered more societal discussions. So I think those are probably an easier point—or, it’s something—it’s easier to see the themes in real life with.
VALERIE: Right. And the thing about Innocence is that it’s really not for everybody. I don’t think it’s for the average anime fan either. ‘Cause I was sitting there watching it and—I actually went to the theatre to see it—and all the philosophical mumbo-jumbo made me wanna jump out the window.
VALERIE: “I can’t understand this!”
PETER: It’s like, nobody talks like that! Where all of them… like, the only reason you’re able to quote that many philosophers is ’cause you have external memory hooked up to your brain.
PETER: They’re like, quoting Buddha and Plato in casual conversations just to try to… I don’t even know what points they’re trying to make a lot of the time, but it’s kind of hard to engage with a conversation like that. Yeah, it’s really weird the direction they went. I think Innocence is kind of a contentious point amongst the fan base ’cause it was really… even visually and the part of the story they cover… it’s just very not like the rest of Ghost in the Shell, except maybe the manga.
AMELIA: What do you think of Innocence, Brian?
BRIAN: I haven’t really brought up Innocence yet just because there is… it is so dense. There’s just… I think that there’s a lot to talk about. It’s interesting thinking about Kusanagi in the context of Innocence because you don’t really see her that much. Only at the… She’s kind of omnipresent throughout, but you don’t really know that until the very end, when she shows up in this possessed—in a separate body that she’s kind of possessed—and so… She is kind of like this ghost that’s lurking throughout.
But yeah, there’s a lot. There’s… like you were saying, there’s so many quotations and different things and different literary illusions that’s going on in there that, a few years ago, when I was revising my book to include chapters—to include a chapter on Innocence in it—I really had to limit myself to what I was covering in that chapter. Because I could—there was just so much to talk about and to write about, that I could’ve kept going on and on in there. And it was just so much to… there’s just so much to unpack and talk about, and to try to figure out what, if anything, are they trying to say with all these different quotes and literary allusions, and things like that.
So, of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Innocence might be my favorite in that way. But if we’re talking about representa—you know, Motoko and how she kind of interact with things, I think that then Innocence falls down a few places, if that’s the criteria that we’re applying.
VALERIE: So with the major reveals… especially with Innocence with the major reveals… what… did we need that sort of existential conversation while we just stare at a marionette?
VALERIE: Like, it was weird. Especially when Motoko comes into the picture and she, you know, has the big reveal, I was kind of like, “Well, it would have been nice maybe to just examine that.” And… I guess, since we’re doing spoilers, the big reveal in Innocence is that one of the companies, Locus Solus I think it’s called—
VALERIE: —is kidnapping—has hired the yakuza—young girls and duplicate their ghosts and put them into the bodies of G-noids or Gy-noids or whatever, which are like female sex robots. Which is pretty disgusting, but it would be fascinating to examine in this cyberpunk world, and they just… went… left with it. So I was… it is… I mean, I agree with you, Brian, it’s pretty disappointing and it’s a step down.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] I’d like to—sorry, I’d like to look at this, actually, because I think that the way they represent sexuality in this world is absolutely fascinating. Because like you said, they do have these kind of sex robots, but at the same time, Motoko’s character is actually presented as being a queer woman?, and at the same time, that’s presented in the most male gaze-y way possible in the manga. So, I mean Valerie, how do you feel about the representation of her?
VALERIE: The manga depiction is just sort of… bad.
VALERIE: It’s… really bad, but it’s also really shocking—
VALERIE: —with the way that they went about it. It was—the panels, I’m thinking about the panels now and I’m kinda getting the willies—but…
PETER: The four pages.
VALERIE: Yes, it was like four long pages, and it was treated as a joke. It just was not… like you said, it was very… it was done from the male gaze. But I think they handled it a lot better in Stand Alone Complex, where you don’t necessarily… You don’t have to see tits and ass to know if someone is queer.
And the way that they sort of deal with it in Stand Alone Complex is a lot better. They didn’t have to be explicit about her being someone who may participate in ménage à trois and likes women, and likes men, and likes to talk about her period. Like, it’s… I just think that they went a better sort of way with that. Even though her outfits were always to be desirable, I think that the representation was done fairly well.
AMELIA: Okay, Peter, how did feel about the way that they represented Motoko there?
PETER: Ahh… well, God, the manga was really bizarre, I think… Uhh… ‘Cause…
PETER: Well, yeah, I remember there was a really long aside where she was talking to this other girl, and I guess the girl was technically a nurse and she was in for maintenance, but it was kind of like they were… I don’t know if they were supposed to be flirting or something, but I remember Shirow put a lot of, like, Cliff Notes or just little stuff on the bottom. Or maybe it was the editor, whoever translated it, I’m not sure, ’cause Shirow does that a lot [in his] manga.
But they were talking about how when there’s no reproductive pressure, people tend to search for similarity when looking for sexual partners or something. And I guess the bottom basically just said: this is sort of the reason why—this is, like, an excuse for her to be a lesbian or something like that. It wasn’t specifically stated like that, but that was essentially what it was saying. Which I thought it was… I mean, there was a lot of fanservice in the manga, so I feel like that was just kind of Shirow doing what he wanted with her character and the visuals.
Although, I do remember later on, she’s dating a guy who works for… I think it’s Section 6 or Section 7 and that little… It’s just like the beginning of a story arc, but it shows them in the same apartment in the morning, I guess, so it implies that they had spent the night together. The reason that stands out to me is ’cause later on, they find out that they were manipulated into hunting each other down and when they run into each other, they’re both surprised. But she still throws a knife through his shoulder.
PETER: But yeah, and then I felt like the anime… I don’t think it implied that there was nothing between her and men. It just had, I guess, more implicative indications of her sexuality, ’cause I think it was that one scene where she was called in and she was in her apartment with another woman or something like that. So that was—
VALERIE: There were two women in the bed. Two!
PETER: Oh, there were two?
PETER: Okay. So… [chuckles] I guess, I mean, it wasn’t four full-color pages of an orgy on a boat, so I can’t… I gotta say, the representation is probably more tasteful.
AMELIA: [unintelligible crosstalk]
PETER: Yeah. But it’s interesting the directions that they took it. I’d say the manga probably did it the worst because that was just… yeah. That was basically porn, so.
AMELIA: Brian, how ‘bout you?
BRIAN: I’m thinking about those… you know, those four pages.
AMELIA: They make an impact, don’t they?
PETER: [laughs] Yeah.
BRIAN: Yeah, they do. Well, I was thinking about them particularly because I think in the new edition that just came out over here in English that those four pages are omitted.
BRIAN: Which… I’m trying to figure out if that’s a good thing or not. Because on the one hand, they’re really kind of… very cheescake-y, very, you know… not really necessary… but at the same time the… Without those, there is that aspect of Kusagani’s personality and her sexuality that’s kind of obscured. That if you were picking up that version of Ghost in the Shell, and somebody was reading that for the first time, they might not necessarily pick up on certain aspects of her character without that.
So… and I believe that’s because that’s what Shirow wanted; that was what he thought that their deluxe edition should be; that was his vision of what the manga should be like now, so… And that’s another question. So if something like that is being removed at the behest of the creator, what exactly does that mean for the characters?
I do kind of like the nods to her relationships in Stand Alone Complex. Y’know, when she’s in the apartment, and you do see that there are… that she’s in there with other women and you do kind of get that aspect of her—of what she does when she is off-duty. I think that’s something that certainly could have been explored fairly interestingly, but that they decided against for whatever reason.
AMELIA: Yeah, ’cause I heard the reason for the four panels being just—[to self] the “four panels”—the four pages of manga being just women was that he didn’t wanna draw some guy’s butt? That was the reasoning behind it.
PETER: I remember hearing something about that too. Or he said he didn’t like drawing guys’ butts. That was it.
AMELIA: Yep. Yeah, so, y’know, good decision on his part.
It’s part of the law, isn’t it, that her body is that of a sexbot basically. Isn’t it?
PETER: I don’t know if they say that…
AMELIA: This is what I heard. There’s this amazing series about the body of women in Ghost in the Shell, on, I think it’s womenwriteaboutcomics.com? By Claire Napier. She’s just written this whole series and it’s absolutely fascinating. And at one point, she mentions that it’s an established part of the mythology that Motoko’s body is kind of a fairly common replicated body that’s used for sex robots. But that’s a second-hand source, obviously. I haven’t consumed a lot of Ghost in the Shell, myself. So I was hoping you guys could correct me.
PETER: I think it depends on which thing you’re going for. I don’t remember reading anything about that in the manga. I know in—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh, really?
PETER: —in Innocence they say that… well, that’s for bots that don’t typically have human ghosts in them, they usually don’t put in sexual organs, but in this case they did since they were “recreational.” Quote-unquote.
PETER: In both… I think in the manga, Arise, and the first anime, I think they keep going over how all of her software and her hardware and even her memories are basically possessions of the government because—well, normal robots can’t do a lot of the things that she can do, like rip a wall in half…
PETER: So that’s the… She’s basically got a military-grade cyber-body, so I don’t think… it couldn’t be a sex-bot and a military cyber-body. Hopefully not.
PETER: But that was a big theme in the movie, too. They basically said if she ever quits Section 9—and I think they mentioned this in the manga and Stand Alone Complex as well—they would be able to basically repossess her body: take away all of the classified memories that she had regarding just, all that, all of her work… and take away a lot of the parts of her cyber-brain that allowed her to do various kinds of e-hacking and external memory and that kind of thing.
So, I don’t… If it was mentioned with that, I don’t know if that would… Could just be… considered a continuity error since so much that she has is obviously military equipment, so I don’t see how she could also be a sex-bot.
AMELIA: No, no, that makes perfect sense.
BRIAN: Yeah, I can’t think of a particular part of anything in the franchise that specifically talks about her body as being kind of a sex-bot body. I could just be completely misremembering and overlooking something.
The only thing that I can think of that might be close to that is in the 1995 movie, where it’s that long sequence where it’s wordless, and we see her riding down the canals and she’s looking at various things and various people and there is… We see her looking at a woman who is seated in a building across the way that looks very much like her. And so maybe we get this idea that’s—at least, from a very superficial point of view—that her body might look like other mass-market bodies that are out there.
But… of course, you would have, like Peter was saying, definitely military upgrades and things like that that you wouldn’t have on your average cyborg body that would be out—that you could purchase regularly. But, yeah, I don’t know about that aspect of her body. There’s nothing specific that I can remember watching or reading… [crosstalk] that I can put my finger on that…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] There is absolutely a chance that I misread or I’ve misremembered—
AMELIA: —and I’m misrepresenting Claire Napier horribly at the moment. So Claire, I’m sorry, if you’re listening.
PETER: I mean, it’s not hard to make that… just [based on] sort of her figure and body design. Especially, I mean… well, his art style just draws these impossible female anatomies. But later on, you kind of have to question the utility of some of the—like, assuming it was a military body. It might not have been.
AMELIA: Well, that’s kind of what I wanted to ask, because… I mean, from a feminist perspective, that is really interesting, the idea that this… Her body and her memories—her body and her mind—are completely owned by the government.
But at the same time, the body they have selected for her is one that, like you said, you question the utility. Like her breasts, for example, they do stick out a lot, they’ve got really obvious nipples on them. That’s not something that you need for military purposes. It’s also not something you need for reproductive purposes, because she can’t reproduce. They mentioned this.
AMELIA: So what purpose does it serve? And the fact that her body is constructed presumably by men—because I can’t think of another reason why it would be like that other than male gaze—but it’s also owned by the government. I just think that’s really fascinating.
VALERIE: I don’t remember where… tons of different things about Ghost in the Shell, but… I don’t, I guess she can’t reproduce, but I know she has her period.
[brief burst of unintelligible crosstalk]
PETER: She mentioned that in the movie, but that might’ve been a joke.
AMELIA: I think that was a joke.
VALERIE: I was gonna say that could’ve been a joke, as well. I think a lot of it has to do with just… you know, anime in general, just drawing women like that. I mean, look at the outfit that she wears throughout the first season of Stand Alone Complex.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yes.
VALERIE: [crosstalk] It’s a swimsuit. With like a bomber jacket. So she flips off a building, and she’s like, you know, doing parkour in this leotard.
VALERIE: It’s ridiculous! But, um… But I think what I do remember actually reading somewhere was that because Motoko was one of the first people to get a cybernetic body, that they bought… her body and her ghost was more prepared for the upgrades. ‘Cause she has something even other people don’t have. She’s considered a dangerous weapon. But if I remember correctly, they didn’t take anything from her. When you look at Solid State Society, she seems the same.
Solid State is kind of hard. I remember watching it a long time ago, because I thought it was a separate movie until I found out it was a part of the Stand Alone Complex series. So, a little bit about that, that I have a hard time remembering, but from what I understand she’s still very dangerous with the way they left it on. So…
AMELIA: But then you go to Arise and her body is not as mature. So she’s given a much younger body in Arise, isn’t she?
VALERIE: But I think Arise is a prequel.
VALERIE: [crosstalk] That’s what people keep saying. I don’t know how—
PETER: [crosstalk] It is.
VALERIE: It is? Okay. Well then, she’s just a younger Motoko.
PETER: Yeah, they talk about how they keep on… I think they revamp her past from Second Gig a little bit, saying it was an accident, by some sort of like… No, no, it’s like a chemical attack. So they saved her brain, and as she grew up, they gave her larger and larger prosthetic bodies to kind of simulate growing, until finally—and like, right now, I guess she’s a teenager or something?
PETER: Preteen, even. But even then, I… the first story arc is, I think, they want her for Section 9, but she currently is essentially government property because her body is so expensive and she’s gone through several of them, that they basically said she has to work for them because she owes the government millions and millions of dollars at this point, just from all the prosthetics. Yeah.
VALERIE: Interesting, interesting. I didn’t think about that before. Because when I think… I’m sorry, I’m jumping ahead, but when I think about the movie—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] No no, please do.
VALERIE: The movie has a lot of Arise details, from the costumes to how they take her brain and sort of make this body.
AMELIA: When you say the movie, we’re talking about the remake?
VALERIE: I’m talking about the live-action one that’s coming to Hollywood.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah, yep.
VALERIE: Yeah. A lot of details are used from Arise, which I thought were interesting since—now that you mentioned that, Peter—now, it makes total sense because Arise is kind of like a blur because I found it really boring, but that could just be me.
AMELIA: No, no, it was me too. [chuckles] Okay, Brian, have you seen Arise?
BRIAN: I have seen Arise. It’s probably… talking about favorites in the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole, Arise would probably be my least favorite.
AMELIA: Oh, really?
BRIAN: Just in general and for the character of Kusagani. Just because, yeah, it’s not the Kusagani that we see in really any of the other—in Stand Alone Complex, in the movies, and the manga. She’s not—and this could just be because it’s supposed to take place earlier, supposed to be kind of a prequel—but she does seem… even though she’s—we see her commanding Section 9, she makes a lot more mistakes, she’s a lot more immature. Which again, kind of makes sense, but I just don’t like that representation in Arise as much as some of the others.
And also talking about maybe our least-favorite aspects of Ghost in the Shell, I think Valerie you brought up her outfit in the first season of Stand Alone Complex, which is probably my number one reason for being skeptical of that series. And I didn’t actually watch Stand Alone Complex until a number of years after it was out just because I saw those character designs, and it really made me take a step back and made me think that this was not something that I would necessarily want to watch just based on that ridiculous—
BRIAN: —completely, completely inappropriate outfit that they had her in. When everybody else that you see in the entire series seems to be dressed reasonably and then, yeah, she’s got that leotard and leather jacket ensemble that she sports throughout. That seems rather impractical.
AMELIA: [laughs] Understatement.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, Arise—
VALERIE: [crosstalk] It’s bad.
PETER: I do think the part about the Major being very unflappable—she’s kind of like a Batman, I guess—is kind of iconic to her character. Like, the reason everyone trusts her so much is because she always has a level head and is prepared, and is very capable.
I personally enjoy Arise. I don’t know if I’d say it’s my favorite or anything, but I do think that it presents a very different Major, especially like, uh—one thing that stood out to me is, in the first story arc, somebody hacks into her cyber brain and they’re like… it’s so that she can’t see certain things, or—ah, no, they actually rewrite part of her memory. And I don’t think that happens in any other Ghost in the Shell, pretty much ever. She never gets hacked by anyone else. It’s always her hacking into someone else.
Which is actually a pretty strong statement for that series because it’s so prevalent. She typically does it to win fights a lot. Like, as I said, she made that guy hit himself. But there’s… also, hacking is sort of portrayed as this very dangerous thing that can happen to people because—especially in the first movie, you have that garbage truck guy, who was sort of tricked into remote-hacking this secretary for this is very important to government—I don’t know, chief statesmen, something like that.
And they did it by making him think that he was trying to hack into his estranged wife’s brain because he thought that she was cheating on him. But it turned out that he was single, he didn’t have a wife or a kid, and they had just created this scenario in his brain where he would be doing all this—to motivate him to do this—that just didn’t exist. And they said, “This is what they did to your memory, and unfortunately there’s no technology where we can restore your normal memories.”
So, in a world where that is such a present danger, I think that’s kind of… It says a lot about the Major that she, until Arise, was basically immune to that. She was so good at what she did, that no one could touch her in that way.
VALERIE: Right. I mean, outside of the first two movies, she seems pretty invincible, like you said, like Batman without the prep time. She can just leap building and just sort of do things. And I think Arise shows her as someone a little bit more inexperienced and more vulnerable. Which I think is great, it’s just… the execution just wasn’t…
I like the look of Motoko. I like that young, youthful look. And I noticed that when a lot of people reference Ghost in the Shell, they reference the Major from Stand Alone Complex, but forget about how she looks in Arise and some of the others. I just think Arise, the execution is… ugh.
PETER: I guess that is kind of dipping into a very current theme in anime, where we have moe art styles which are drawing women to appear, like, younger and younger, and a lot of series that focus on teenage, high school-age girls. That this new rendition has everybody essentially looking the same, but the Major looks like a preteen-to-teenage girl. But Bato looks the same, I can’t remember what the bearded guy’s name is—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Togusa.
VALERIE: [crosstalk] Ishikawa?
PETER: Yeah, Ishikawa. So the Major is this… I definitely think that as far as Major outfits go, I think the red bike leathers is pretty good. But the fact that they reduced her age and it didn’t appear to happen to anybody else is kind of… It says something.
AMELIA: It does. And I think, when I think of Motoko, I do think of her in the same bracket as action heroines like Ripley from the Alien Series.
PETER: Oh yeah.
AMELIA: Or, like Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max. I think that she’s in that bracket, and to see her kind of reduced without anyone else being treated similarly to make it truly like a prequel, it does seem odd.
We need to wrap up soon, but I just want to touch very briefly on the Hollywood remake coming up. Now this has been very controversial, I think rightly so, but what I wanted to ask you was: how could Hollywood have adapted Ghost in the Shell in a way that would retain its mainstream appeal while also being sensitive to the cultural context and the impact of the source material?
BRIAN: As far as positive things that an adaptation could have done: I don’t think that, as we see in Stand Alone Complex, we don’t necessarily have to definitely adapt all the philosophical concepts of Oshii’s films. And I say, “Of Oshii’s films”—I mean, he’s basing it on things that are in Shirow’s manga as well. So it’s not like Oshii necessarily imbued all this philosophy. This was stuff that Shirow was talking about as well in his original. But it was just kind of adapted.
But… and without having… of course, without having seen it, I don’t know how much of that aspect is being retained. So I hope that some of it is. Some kind of deeper philosophical concepts. I’m not expecting a whole lot from a Hollywood film in this regard, but at least allusions to or gestures at some of these greater concepts of mind and body.
And certainly, just the aesthetics of everything is… I think that, in some ways, Shirow’s original and Oshii’s films, they take all these different cyberpunk-y aspects and they put it in a Japanese or East Asian context very well. And I think a lot of this has to—you know, going back to the original source material and extrapolating from it, so that we get things that aren’t necessarily just a Hollywood vision of what such a thing would look like. “We see this and we think it’s cool and we’re putting our own spin on it.” Maybe going back to some of the original designs and incorporating those a little bit more.
And of course, we haven’t even really talked about the casting issue, but I think definitely casting an Asian-American female in there would certainly have been what they needed to do in order to respect the source material, in order to…
AMELIA: Yeah it would’ve been a bare minimum, wouldn’t it?
BRIAN: I would have thought so. I would’ve thought so. But without having seen the film yet, I’m not necessarily sure about how it’s going to deal with all these issues. Up until very recently, I’d been saying that I was cautiously optimistic about the film. I don’t think I would say that anymore. I just I hope it’s better than I think it’s going to be.
AMELIA: So much enthusiasm!
PETER: I think that’s a little low, just in general, across the board.
AMELIA: What do you think? What do you think about the… How could Hollywood have remade it in a way that was culturally sensitive, d’you think?
PETER: I guess from what I know of the movie so far, I think pretty much all of the things I want or was hoping have already pretty much—I have evidence to indicate that that’s not happening.
AMELIA: [laughs] [crosstalk] What would you have wanted? [pause] What would you have wanted?
PETER: Well, first of all, yes, there’s the casting issue, not just for Kusanagi herself, but for all of Section 9. I think they only have one Japanese actor, where pretty much all of them are Japanese.
AMELIA: Yeah, Takeshi Kitano’s in it, isn’t he?
PETER: Yeah. I feel like if they wanted to do this, they should have just, maybe made something without using the Ghost in the Shell franchise. But, uh…
VALERIE: Called Lucy. That’s what I thought.
PETER: Yeah. Oh, God. That was such a bad movie, too.
PETER: I don’t know why Morgan Freeman signed up for that one, but… In addition to that, I would hope that they would have a lot of either the societal commentary or the existential or human essentialism discussion within the… ‘Cause, I mean, those are like the two pillars of Ghost in the Shell, almost.
And it sounds like it’s just going to be a revenge flick. So I don’t… I have definitely seen a lot of Western cinema—I am a fan of Western cinema as well—that is able to explore these kinds of concepts, but not typically in mainstream action. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a mainstream action film that had any kind of—just that, at all.
So, it seems like they’re going for a very strong action story, and from what I understand, it’s also… Well, I’ll touch on that a second. I think it’s mostly just gonna be, like, Matrix action that we’re gonna get.
And then… Oh, yes, yeah. The Major’s character as well. One thing that she always—she’s rather impersonal, I guess? She’s like a consummate professional. So pretty much any conflict that she gets into with anyone else over—like, this is all of Ghost in the Shell—she never gets emotional about her job. She’s very objective. And I just don’t see that from any of the promotional material so far.
So I don’t feel like, even in regards to her psychology, the character is going to be in any way similar. So I can’t really point at anything besides a cyber-body—which has been done in a lot of different cyberpunk and science fiction stories—that would indicate that this is even the same character.
So yeah, pretty much everything I wanted, I don’t think I’m going to get. Although I will watch the movie. [laughs] Probably just so that I can justifiably criticize it, I think, is—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Exactly.
PETER: [crosstalk] —the reason I’m gonna watch it.
AMELIA: Exactly. There’s a chance I may end up seeing it, but specifically to be able to talk about it from a feminist perspective.
PETER: [chuckling] So I can speak badly about it.
VALERIE: Well, if any of you are in New York, let me know, ’cause I can help you see it for free. But—
AMELIA: [laughs; crosstalk] See, that’s preferable.
VALERIE: [unintelligible beneath crosstalk]
AMELIA: Yeah, exactly. Okay—
VALERIE: But um… Did you want me to say…? [sighs] Ah, God.
AMELIA: I do. [crosstalk] I want you to come down on one side of the fence.
PETER: [crosstalk] Hit us with everything you got.
VALERIE: Um, I went… I went to a [indistinct], actually, of the film, about two weeks ago. And they showed us like 20 minutes of footage. And they really gave away way too much about the story, because I was like, “Wait, what?!” Like everybody, they got popcorn, people spend 20, 15 dollars on popcorn and they got, like, 15 minutes. Which I thought was pretty funny.
VALERIE: Anyway. I digress. But you know, just like what Peter said, it reminded me of RoboCop?
VALERIE: It doesn’t seem like anything outside of your average cyberpunk-ish revenge story in this film. I know a female does create her body, but there are some things that are problematic. The whole existentialism, I don’t know if we’re going to get that. But one of the film mottos is, like: “They created me, but they don’t control me. I’m coming for them.” That’s pretty much what she said, and it’s kind of like…
PETER: [pained laughter]
VALERIE: That’s. Not. What. I had. Anticipated? And it’s unfortunate because I wish they would have went the Matrix route, where they took ideas and elements from the source material and made their own thing, as opposed to calling it Ghost in the Shell when it’s nothing like anything—from the character design to everything is just… Everything is just not in place. It’s not in place.
And they have elements of different things that… elements from Solid State Society, from Innocence, from Arise, from Stand Alone Complex. They have Kuze from Second Gig. They just threw a bunch of elements together, and I guess they created this story. I’m thinking they created something like a one-off. Maybe they’d already known that… You know, when you look at the history of Hollywood adaptations, how many have been successful? Like, zero. So I just don’t think this one is going to be any different.
What I would liked to have seen was something a little more existential and something with a little bit more representation. The guy—actor—Chin Han who plays Togusa is from Singapore, and then they had Aramaki be Takashi, and that’s pretty much it. So you have this white woman controlling a whole group of people of color.
Oh, no, the guy that plays, um…
VALERIE: Yeah. Uh, not Bato, but… I forgot, the one on the team, the sharpshooter, with the eye? [crosstalk] What’s his name?
PETER: [crosstalk] Oh. Uh…
AMELIA: [unintelligible under crosstalk]
VALERIE: Saito! I think he’s a Japanese guy, too.
PETER: Oh. Okay, good.
VALERIE: But the guy that plays Ishikawa is Black, like—it was just weird, it’s weird. It’s really weird.
PETER: You brought up a good point though. Ghost in the Shell had a huge influence on Western cinema, actually. There’s shot-for-shot things that you can pull from the 1995 movie that have made this way into Western cinema. The Matrix was heavily influenced by it. Like, obviously we’ve seen a lot of Ghost in the Shell in Western cinema already, it’s just this is the first time somebody’s slapping the label on it and trying to say “It’s the Major in this movie.” And this, I would say, is probably one of the ones that I would say is least similar so far.
PETER: Yeah, if it felt like it was gonna be more like Blade Runner-esque, I felt like it’d be more appropriate, but you just don’t get that vibe off the movie.
VALERIE: Well, because Ghost in the Shell is inspired by Blade Runner. But it took those elements and did something else with it, instead of making an anime version of Blade Runner. So I just find it very odd. There’s a lot of—I’ve written a lot about this, and if you guys are interested I can send along the links. I’ve written about why these adaptations fail—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Let’s include it in the shownotes.
VALERIE: —I’ve written about a lot of this kind of thing. ‘Cause there’s a lot of factors that go into it, and a lot of it is casting or marketing and just, in general, they set these remakes up for failure.
PETER: You had a really good article that had a lot of different Hollywood renditions of Kusanagi, right?
VALERIE: Yeah, that was me. [surprised laughter] I didn’t think anybody read that.
PETER: Oh yeah, I was definitely—I checked your work out. [crosstalk] I knew you’d be on the podcast.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] We read your work.
PETER: Yeah, yeah.
AMELIA: And that’s the thing is, I do genuinely believe that you can remake anything in a way that’s sensitive and appropriate and a real kind of homage to the original material. And I think they completely failed at that because that wasn’t a priority in the slightest. But I do believe that it is possible, so it’s interesting hearing your thoughts about what you wish they’d do.
I think that’s gonna have to wrap it up for today, though. Thank you so much, guys, for joining me.
Just to say that you can find more of our podcast, more of our work, at www.animefeminist.com. You can find us on Twitter @animefeminist, you can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/animefem, and we do have a Patreon which is patreon.com/animefeminist. It’s been our priority to pay all of the team from Day One, and thanks to the generosity of our patrons, we actually reached $800 before we were two-and-a-half months old, and that’s enough to pay for four articles a week.
Now, we’d love to be able to make podcasts weekly as well, but we only want to do that once we can pay our editor $15 an hour for their time. Because when you’re doing something fortnightly it’s kind of volunteer work; when you’re doing it weekly, it is a job. And we wanna pay people for jobs that they do.
So if you can spare a dollar a month to help us to do this—as soon as we hit $900 we will make podcasts weekly. We have so many ideas, we have so many guests that we want to invite. We really have more than enough capability to come up with weekly podcasts, but we don’t wanna do that until we can pay people fairly for their work. So if you can spare a dollar a month, it really does add up. Please go to patreon.com/animefeminist and help us continue our work.
So thank you so much to Valerie, Brian, and Peter. Please get involved in the comments and let us know what you think.
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