At the top of the cyberpunk hill stands the Ghost in the Shell franchise. First formulated in concept by Masamune Shirow, it has been Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995) film and Kenji Kamiyama’s Standalone Complex series that have amassed wide and overwhelmingly positive reception. Ghost in the Shell: Arise—a four-part OVA series—is the most recent installment into the franchise, serving as a prequel set prior to Section 9’s establishment. With high expectations coming from a new Ghost in the Shell title, it may not come as a surprise that Arise’s first piece (Border:1 Ghost Pain) wields variable success.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes in Arise is the single point of view focus onto Motoko. Her actions and behavior play off as slightly more human in the OVA, whether it be displaying discernible facial expressions or occasionally acting by emotion. This causes her to seem more like her physical age than her typical, cold and cryptic self. Additionally, she holds more bearing on the story than normal. Aiming to solve a murder and later being implicated as the primary suspect, Motoko becomes pivotal in whether Arise can subtly yet powerfully grasp its story.
As a teaser and opener, Border:1 does a decent job. The mystery remains simple while still wafting that old GITS tension; it nicely paces through the narrative on tried and true grounds. The investigations murk about, action scenes go a-flurry, and exciting plot twists make the sketches of a solid storyline. Motoko also receives hints of development through a partially grasped backstory, and while this may seem incomplete, Border:1 is after all only one of four entries, and the allusions toward more (particularly Motoko’s development and thorough introductions to future Section 9 members) work seamlessly into the storytelling.
Yet, this is also one of Arise’s pitfalls. The simple plot structure—combined with a singular point of view and occasionally awkward pacing—can cause a few scenes to feel slightly linear and dull. Moreover, the restrictive point of view may narrow the scope of the OVA’s aims, and GITS’s recurring characters (namely, Araki, Batou, and Togusa) make a nice cameo but that’s about it.
This leaves a lurking, uneasy feeling about the work’s direction; many of the sci-fi themes prevalent in previous titles are also non-existent here. However, what’s fortunate is that Arise manages to keep many of the subtleties and charm within the character dialogues intact. It may not exactly feel like the GITS we’ve all come to learn and love, but it’s still a good sci-fi story nonetheless.
Much of the streamlined narrative can also be attributed to the limited time allocated in Arise. After all, a one-hour treat can only do so much into framing the beginning, middle, and ends of a mystery. However, this limitation is surely not the only factor causing simplifications in the work; the villains come and go, the action scenes are numerous yet not always relevant to the plot, and certain dialogues seem out of place and unrequired. Still, at the heart of Arise’s content lie the fundamental pieces which provide for good writing.
While Arise’s visuals proudly stands with its own style, its design choices have stirred controversy. The OVA beautifully flourishes a lighter opacity than previous installments. This luminosity offers a fresher appeal, leaving a tonal vibrance that nicely captures the ages of the slightly younger cast. However, paired with the more minimalist detail and brighter shade of skin tones, this can at times apprehend viewers. Motoko’s character design, for instance, almost (note: almost) has that moe appeal trending among current shows. This no doubt has spurred contentions among the loins of all otaku and self-appraising viewers. Fortunately, what rare fanservice does exist encapsulates the same seinen bloodshed-and-boobies common in the genre. In other words, you won’t be seeing Motoko pull off an Asuka catchphrase any time soon.
The soundtrack remains true to the cyberpunk theme, offering circuits of electronic pop, jazz, and smooth guitar riffs. The choreography and overall animation are generally both fluid and topknotch, oozing out creativity with Arise’s integration of cybertechnology in action scenes—realtime hacking wizardry, cybernetic organs, and quick-fire CQC. The 3D CGI works just as well as in Stand Alone Complex, with little to no intrusive vices; it’s great to know these elements have (for the most part) marched the classic beat encased within the GITS franchise.
With mixed success in its execution, Arise still serves as an admirable entry point into a new tetralogy. Production IG proves that its animation and visuals are still ever improving, and Arise’s plot—while “off”—makes a decent segway for the next three titles to come along. Whether one is a fan of Border:1 or not, high hopes remain for the upcoming installments.