Fans of the Ghost in the Shell franchise will be ecstatic to see this light-speed reimagining of the Arise storyline. Written and directly by the same people who made the original four Arise videos, the new anime plunges veterans into the Ghost world with remorseless speed and intensity. For everyone else, there aren’t enough drugs in the world to figure out what’s going on in this pilot.
As the title suggests, Arise serves as a pseudo prequel to the standard Ghost series. We follow Motoko Kusanagi on one of her earlier future-SWAT-style missions. Fear not — she’s already a full-fledged badass when the series starts. We open to a bunch of people rioting about corporations monopolizing water (totally believable in Japan due to the whole not being surrounded by water thing). Once this flimsy excuse for bloodshed is propped up, a hacker loads false memories into the robotic police units. This causes them to open fire on unarmed civilians and each other. Clearly, the only solution is to send in a group of underdisciplined half-robot anti-cyber-terrorism people. There’s no better way to stop someone from hacking cyborgs than to throw a team of cyborgs at him, because [reasons].
Like other people in this cyberpunk future, Motoko’s thinking bits have been put into a cyberbrain inside of a cybernetic body. Let’s just say “cyber” again in case anyone has missed the setting of the anime. Cyber. Unfortunately, the government owns Motoko’s manufactured body, so she only has limited authority to turn away missions while she works to gain ownership of her shell.
In the meantime, what creates her self-identity is little more than her mind. In a society full of people who are comprised of nothing more than their memories, this makes a hacker who can alter and implant false memories quite a bit more dangerous than a simple mass murderer. If those thoughts can be manipulated, changed, and erased, what ends up being real? What does a human life amount to? What does it mean to be alive? These and other fantastic questions that have already been posed by older Ghost series will doubtless be rehashed endlessly in this prequel, only this time they won’t make any sense because being overt isn’t edgy enough.
People who have heard of Ghost and think this might be a great time to catch up on all the hype will be in for a rude awakening. It’s important to note that this is a franchise that’s now over twenty years old (that’s right, the original GitS movie came out in 1995 and that was not five years ago, fellow thirty-and-ups). Right now, there are three books, three films, two television series, and four video games before you get to Arise. It doesn’t mean you won’t able to appreciate this series because all of that media is certainly not pertinent storyline. However, you’re in for a hell of a struggle because Arise is not keen on explaining anything. As much as veterans will want to use this premier to get their uninitiated friends into the Ghost franchise, it’s a mistake because newcomers will only be lost and frustrated.
Now that all the warnings are out of the way, we can definitely say that this series will be an eyegasm for those willing to sit through it. We watched this with both a Ghost veteran and a newcomer. They agreed that the biggest motivation to watch a second episode was just that it was so damned beautiful even if you couldn’t figure out what the bloody show was about. The cityscapes twinkle with life, backgrounds are vibrant, the shading is often layered in more than a two-tone anime standard, and the CGI is practically seamless with the animation. Visually, Arise is as breathtaking as one would expect from a series with twenty years of merchandizing to fund it.
Unfortunately, the music is nothing noteworty (noteworthy, Koral!) and culminates in a wretched ending theme. The characters don’t quite have anything one could describe as personalities by the end of the pilot, but it seems as though Motoko will be her usual unemotive self, Batou will do his best impression of Jet from Cowboy Bebop, and the most spunk in the whole series will come from an armory robot that inexplicably has the voice and enthusiasm of a young schoolgirl. Incidentally, we’re not going to make the cybersex joke most of you are bracing for despite Batou’s expressed desire to ride in her.
If you’re already a seasoned fan of the Ghost franchise, Arise won’t be a turnoff. If you’ve never done this particular brand of drug before, you’ll likely have to consult a friend or hit up a couple plot summaries to really get in the swing of things. That makes it fairly impossible to recommend. It’s intentionally obtuse in an age where that sort of artsyness is no longer truly avant garde or widely appreciated. The worst crime is really that, as a prequel, all of the deep and meaningful issues inherent to the Ghost series have already been absolutely beaten to death. Arise had a choice to make between sacrificing that philosophical vantage point in favor of action, or sticking with it at the expense of losing viewership. Its choice is very clear. Like its forerunners, Arise will sell mountains of blu-rays to the people who managed to sit through it, but most of us won’t find it difficult to walk away after the first ten minutes and feel no sense of loss.
Recommendation: Skip it.
Title: Ghost in the Shell Arise: Alternative Architecture (Kokaku Kidotai Arise – Ghost in the Shell)
Original Source: Manga
Source Writer: Junichi Fujisaku
Source Publisher: Kodansha
Director: Kazuchika Kise
Writer: Tow Ubukata
Music: Keigo Oyamada
Studio: Production I.G.
Run Start: 04/2015
Review Date: 04/2015
Episodes Reviewed: 01