Episode 5: “C: The Inviting Bird will Chant — DECOY”


The scandal has blown up and now the Minister of Home Affairs, that toad-man, is feeling the heat. There’s hostility toward police following the Interceptor scandal, and so Aramaki is advised to not rush into anything — take this investigation slowly and carefully. Aramaki agrees, but however believes that this is a problem with police HQ, who’s attempting a steamroller campaign while there’s an active threat on the Superintendent General’s life.

He takes it further down at Section 9, pitching the Laughing Man debacle as a farce by the Metropolitan Police to push the Interceptor situation out of the limelight. The team is stunned at such an accusation, but Togusa has something they need to see.

This episode is dense. Although just two episodes into the main arc, we feel already in the thick of it, and so if this episode is pure exposition, it’s expertly handled by a talented crew of storytellers. Not, perhaps, in regards to audience comprehension, but we’re sure to get just enough to understand the gist.

But first, as follow up to yesterday’s entry, the Minister of Home Affairs references people pushing back on police because of their mishandling on surveillance. While families of the detectives implanted with Interceptors were promised by Daido to be compensated, that this technology is being used in such a freewheeling manner is sure cause for great concern. I fail to understand how any civilian can begin to exist in the world of Ghost in the Shell, where potential outrage over such an invasion of privacy is counteracted by the common fear of being hacked by a cybercriminal. They might implant false memories in your head, never mind surveillance. People can be creative, and there’s no better genre to express that than SF.

Togusa presents Nanao Ei on the big screen, and says that this is Fukami and HQ’s material witness. The police’s Special Investigations Unit has been watching him for three months, thinking he’s the Laughing Man. Ei is the son of a police officer, yet joined Green Tower — part of the human liberation front who championed a direct action policy along with New World Brigade, a powerful left wing group at the time.

How’s that — two extremist groups for your one world-building. Introducing ostensible ‘guest’ characters like Nanao provides the perfect opportunity to sneak in details about the world, not only to put them out there and expand our understanding, but also to outline how the world may have informed this character. He exists specifically here, creatively manufactured to a unique end.

Ei, after being jailed and then released for violent crimes, went to work for Serrano, but was promptly kicked out when they learned about this criminal past. SIU is trying to link him to the Laughing Man threat because they’re playing this grudge against Serrano angle. Batou voices what the team is thinking: no way this doofus could actually be the Laughing Man. He’s clearly a decoy — once the police link him to the threat, they move in. And then, maybe… the real Laughing Man will know and change up?

Well, Aramaki reminds us that police conspiracy is still a part of the investigation, especially since, as Togusa solemnly recalls, Yamaguchi was killed in the crossfire. So it’s a theory worth considering, but clearly going forward, nobody has all the information.

They need to find out who’s duping the SIU, who’s put them on the Nanao Ei track, so Section 9 interviews the man’s colleagues in a moody montage. Did he have a grudge against the company? Surely. They claimed the rights to his work after they fired him, so he’d certainly be angry. He could’ve fought for those rights, but going against a team of corporate lawyers seems like a bad bet.

Pazu talks with the seeming manager of some video casino parlor, a fellow who smokes and watches pornography, as reflected against glasses. Pazu shows him a picture of Nanao for the record — yep, that’s the guy. Nobody gathers too much here, and the clock is ticking — they only had two days before the attempt on Daido’s life would take place.

Batou, ever impatient, asks why they can’t just grab Nanao and make him talk, as per Section 9’s specialty. SIU is better for the stakeout surveillance he and Togusa are currently engaged in. If they arrest him and their timing is off, things could be bad interdepartmentally — it’s a very delicate case, and probably always is when dealing in suspected police corruption. They’re looking through his email as they watch him — no viruses in his outgoing mail, just spam. Nothing dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Major checks in with her gay nurse friends, a filtered carryover from the manga no doubt, to check up on the original Laughing Man appearance. She was out of the country at the time, and wants to hear the rumors. Can’t get it from police files, which are too dry. We learn here that being friends with the Major is tough because she’s barely around. I’m surprised it isn’t tough because of crippling PTSD or other psychological instability — if you look at her wrong she’ll snap you in half, cyborg or not. But the Major is a well-oiled machine inside and out. Even if she was an alcoholic, her system would break it down and she’d have to live with the demons that aren’t there in the first place. She loves her job, just not her friends.

The Major watches the original news broadcast that was interrupted by the Laughing Man holding Mr. Serrano at gunpoint — it’s a very atmospheric piece of exposition, with the grainy video footage and off-kilter music by Yoko Kanno, which doesn’t precisely match the chipper reporter and all her smiley face graphics. Everything’s just a little off, as she talks about mico machine dispersal later in the afternoon for CO2 cleanup, like a minor hazard warning.

Then the Laughing Man appears, face already obscured by a heavy coat, even before the logo appears. He tries to get Serrano to talk, to tell the truth, but Serrano insists, holding it together under the barrel, that it isn’t the right time. The Major then transitions over into straight exposition, flashbacks with voiceover that recount Serrano’s kidnapping that demanded a ransom of one billion yen plus some gold bullion, and broke with this theatrical media stunt. Serrano’s guards and even he had been hacked.

If you thought that hack was impressive, of course the Laughing Man was also able to plaster his goofy logo over his face in the eyes of the camera and of the onlookers in real time, save for two homeless men who didn’t have cybernetic implants. It’s almost like a reverse-superpower, powering them in this one exact specific moment and none other.

The Major, nearly naked, stands and mentions how kidnapping is beneath the abilities of a Super Class-A hacker. The Laughing Man would go on to blackmail the company by planting a virus on their production line so the stock would plummet (this must be the same virus Nanao is going to email?), but the blackmailing stopped, and resumed later but with six different mico-machine manufacturers for three months.

I don’t really know how that constitutes as blackmailing — I suppose the idea is that there was blackmailing, Serrano didn’t comply, and the virus was leaked and had a major financial impact. The Major wonders if the blackmailing was the whole point, but it’s a passing thought. When the government began allocating funds to the victims companies, the Laughing Man disappeared into the Net. A talking head on television theorizes that the Laughing Man is a kind of lifeform generated out of a meme — never one person but several, like the Puppet Master, but more like a stand alone complex. Those nurses sure do live in a crazy apartment on the hillside.

The Major takes herself off the Nanao case because her ghost is whispering. She requests Saito and Pazu to protect (tail) Daido. The Chief shares some sans-elephant wisdom, that the Major works best alone, but her efforts reflect the team.

Batou and Togusa are able to spy on Nanao through the blinds with a heat signature. I’m surprised they don’t have some technology that creates a composite image based on external surveillance they jack into, even sound waves. But I suppose something slightly more analog is more dependable. How foolish, this Nanao.

Daido arrives and the Major, Saito, and Pazu are in place. The Major is getting static — Togusa says the SIU radio frequency is busy. As we see, they want to move in on the guy just like Batou, but the HQ Interceptor thing screwed with their field work. They blame poor Fukami.

Ishikawa gets play here, finding that reports substantiating Nanao as the Laughing Man have been falsified, because of his activities during each crime. Cross-referenced, they don’t match up. During Ishikawa’s research of the 43 files, he came across some weird stuff in the testimonies of people who knew him — a trend of admiration which seems like the result of a forced recognition language program.

The descriptions of Nanao in these testimonies are composed of several different personalities despite all identifying Nanao in the pictures. This is something that could’ve easily slipped by the cops — an expert forgery. Even conceptually, I can’t wrap my head around it. So the people Section 9 interviewed believed they were talking about Nanao, agreeing that was him in the picture Pazu shows, but it was actually a fictional creation.

So the Chief orders Batou and Togusa to go in and make the arrest, for threatening to kill the Superintendent General. Ultimately, he isn’t the Laughing Man but a fabrication by the police to distract the public from the Interceptor scandal. Section 9 coming in to blow the lid off the conspiracy will do a lot of harm to public relations, but what’s important is the truth. I think that’s what’s going on. The SIU are just being strung along as a matter of course.

But Nanao isn’t there — it’s a sex doll! An ancient kind of sex doll. Nanao laughs — he was the Laughing Man after all! The static the Major was hearing was Nanao sending out a modular delayed action virus, and he had been peering through the Interceptors in the SIU’s eyes the whole time. Batou’s gonna try to trace the source as the virus goes out, and we close on a cliffhanger.

This episode is a puzzle. For 22 minutes, the Stand Alone Complex series can cover a lot of ground. Even if it were an hour-long procedural, one wonders if they’d slow down to explain. And compounding on the puzzle-like nature of the episode (or maybe just puzzling nature) is that this whole police conspiracy is just a red herring. Otherwise the arc would close in just a few episodes — the true Laughing Man is soon to rear his head. Did Aramaki plainly get it wrong, and what does his distrust of top brass say about his character? Or is it distrust or just good police-work?

The question for the series though, is why bother with all this upfront stuff?

Well, not only does it give a good taste of the depth Ghost in the Shell is willing to reach, in technology, police-procedure, and bureaucracy — the nature of investigations as they might exist with advanced surveillance and counter-surveillance technologies, it also adds to the mystery. Solving this case is a process, and that case must be characterized as well as any character in order for it to be effective. It in turn characterizes those solving it.

In a recent show like True Detective (Season 1), the case was dripping with cosmic dread. The episodes of something lighter like Law and Order: SVU are more about suspense than mood. Ghost in the Shell’s approach is one of complexity at the highest level — everyone is involved, and all the pieces need to be fit together. It’s worth it because once the pieces are fit together, we get the cathartic release of the Major putting the boot to someone’s head, but both that and what precede it are satisfying in themselves.

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