Behind the Ghost in the Shell

Disclaimer: The contents of this post may contain light spoilers to the Ghost in the Shell anime television series, but try to focus on the general concepts of the series without revealing specific story details.

Anime interests and fascinates me, as it allows us to be taken to fantastical worlds that we normally wouldn’t get to see, even with the leaps and bounds that computer-generated imagery is able to provide for us these days. Many series’ of anime involve things that we would never see in real life, such as demons, magical powers, or even the technological advances of sustainable life in space, which we hope will happen someday, though not within our lifetime. Other series try and keep themselves rooted in a realistic type of world that we know of ourselves, but with certain flourishes that, for all we know, will become real one day. This brings me to Ghost in the Shell, an anime, and originally a manga, which takes place in a cyberpunk-like near future of 2030 in Japan in which people have become cyberized, including having cyberbrains and often times having prosthetic limbs which can give them strength not found in our organic bodies. Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite anime series’ of all time because of this, which prompted me to take a closer look in to the television series titled Stand Alone Complex, and subsequently, Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG for the second season.

Before we dig too deep into the specifics of the series, it is important to grasp the major details of the world in which they live in. To begin with, cyberbrains are a device which contain and augment the standard human brain, allowing humans to access computer networks, or to be transfered between bodies if the need arises. Since, in most cases, the brain still exists within the cyberbrain shell, it is believed that the ghost, or soul as we refer to it to, is still contained within. Because of cyberbrains however, hackers are able to potentially modify or take control of the contents within, allowing them to alter memories or even, in some cases, be able to control the victim’s body. Similar to real life, there are many issues with security when it comes to hackers and cyberbrains, which is a major theme in the Ghost in the Shell series. In regards to the time frame and setting of the world, nuclear World War III has occurred which has changed some of the topography of Japan, as well as non-nuclear World War IV, which has also been called the Second Vietnam War, which caused the collapse of many major powers in the world, including most third world countries, and has even divided the United States into three separate factions. Many organizations that existed in Japan originally, such as the Japan Self-Defense Forces, still exist, and follow articles of the Japanese Constitution that have existed since real world 1947, including article 9 which outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes involving the state. Details like these help root the story in a more realistic world.

Ghost in the Shell focuses on the members of a Japanese intelligence department called Public Security Section 9, a mostly black ops group which handles investigations and operations involving cyberwarfare and counter-terrorism. The group’s structure is based off of the real life Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei, also known as the GSG 9, which is a German counter-terrorism unit. Following a Palestinian terrorist attack at the Summer Olympic Games in Germany in 1972, which ended with the deaths of many Israeli athletes due to the lack of training or equipment by the German police for such an attack, the GSG 9 was created as an anti-terrorism police force, due to the fact that German law forbids the use of military force in the civilian realm. According to many documents, the GSG 9 has completed over 1,500 missions in hostage-taking, terrorism, and other high value cases, though this number cannot be confirmed due to the fact that most of the missions are kept confidential for obvious reasons. In Ghost in the Shell, Public Security Section 9 is a small but extremely talented team, many of which have prosthetic enhancements due to various reasons, and come from varied backgrounds, such as an ex-Ranger, an ex-civilian police officer, and even a supposed yakuza member.

When many people see the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, they will notice that it focuses on the Laughing Man incident, and will recognize the logo from around the Internet. The Laughing Man is an extremely skilled hacker who found that many corporations, including the Japanese government itself, had covered up information of an inexpensive cure to a cyberization disease called cyberbrain sclerosis in order to profit from a more expensive treatment. Cyberbrain sclerosis is a disease in which brain tissue hardens due to the process of being cyberized, and is considered to be the cancer of that time frame. While it is described as being extremely rare, it is said to be incurable by current means. The Laughing Man tries to expose the truth by abducting the owner of one of the companies associated with the more expensive treatment and attempting to force him to admit the truth on live television, hacking into the feed and plastering the iconic Laughing Man logo over his face so that he isn’t recognized. Even though he failed, he was labeled as a terrorist and thus the story of Stand Alone Complex takes place. The Laughing Man name is based off of the short story with the same name by J. D. Salinger, in which a young adult named “The Chief” recounts stories of a man called the Laughing Man, a man who wears a mask and performs fantastical missions to help people. One of the quotes in the story reads, “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes”, a phrase from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. This quote can be found in the Laughing Man’s logo which you see throughout the series.

The second season, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, focuses on a much different issue than the first season. After the third and fourth world wars, many Asians became displaced from their original homes and became refugees, in which Japan created special refugee districts to house these people. They were considered cheap labor in the post-war economy, but eventually, the need for them became less necessary, causing civil unrest among the now unemployed refugees. A terrorist group known as the Individual Eleven surface, with the goal of enlarging the rift between the refugees and the Japanese government in an attempt to spur them to declare war and fight back against Japan. The Individual Eleven group tries to base themselves off of what is known in real life as the May 15 Incident, in which a group of eleven navy and army units in 1932 assassinated the prime minister in an attempt to overthrow the government, to be replaced by military rule. Following the assassination, the group turned themselves in immediately and were brought to trial. However, the Japanese population sympathized with the men and signed a petition pleading for a lenient sentence, some going so far as to ask that they be executed in place of the men and sending eleven severed fingers to the court in a gesture of their dedication, a theme of which is mirrored in the anime series. Due to this, the court ruled a light sentence against the men, strengthening the power of the Japanese military over their government.

Researching all of these details really drove home my enjoyment of the world of Ghost in the Shell. Cybernetic implants have been researched by companies such as Medtronic, Advanced Bionics, and Blackrock Microsystems, and some are even being used today in order to allow people who are unable to hear to get an implant in their auditory nerve, a brain implant which stimulates the nervous system to prevent tremors that accompany Parkinson’s disease, and even a small implantable pacemaker which is the size of a large pill. Prosthetics are also not entirely fiction, as artificial limbs are able to be created which attach to the severed nerve-endings and, theoretically, are able to be moved by the user as if it were always their limb to begin with. On the story side, many of the details dealt with in the series’ are things that we similarly have heard about today. While not necessarily as eloquent as the Laughing Man, Edward Snowden is a type of modern day hacker, having found out about the overreaching global surveillance programs that the United States, and various other governments, had put in place, and taking the documents that he found and disseminating them to the public in order to expose the truth about it. In terms of the refugee crises, while not necessarily in the same vein, the Syrian refugee crises has left a lasting impact upon the world and has caused many political and military troubles due to the Syrian Civil War that is still taking place today. We still haven’t seen the final fallout of the amount of refugees pouring into various countries, with reports showing that Turkey has taken in almost 2.5 million refugees as of this month.

Not all anime has a lasting impact, and some of it is meant to be entertaining in a comedic sense instead of an action sense. One of the most interesting things about Ghost in the Shell is that it isn’t all about this group of hyped-up military folk running around and shooting everyone they see, although that is a part of what they do. Its also about the journey and discovery of solving the mysteries of each conflict. Many people have compared Ghost in the Shell to a CSI-like show, and there are definitely some similarities to be taken from that comparison. If you have an analytical mind as I do, Ghost in the Shell is a very good choice of an anime to start out with. Since the original Stand Alone Complex series was created and released on 2002, the episodes are very easy to find, and are available in both the original Japanese voices, and also in the excellently dubbed English versions as well. You can head over to Hulu right now and watch the entire two seasons by clicking here.