Popular usage of “idolatry” tends to cast the word as negative, and if it’s a religious usage, negative for some. We might compare it to misguided worship, with relation to stalking or obsession. The idol in question here is not under threat of such things from devotees, but is at the epicenter of that same culture. This episode is about the illusion and falseness of hope, of images and well, ghosts.
The shift from complex to stand alone, following the Laughing Man’s first act, may be jarring, but this is because the show’s plot is ankled in being an adaptation. The story can only stray so far, and showrunner Kenji Kamiyama takes nods from Shirow, but primarily Oshii, particularly in 2nd Gig. Better plotting would’ve meant for the creation of more original stories, but the existing pieces from the manga are adapted to the Laughing Man arc — these pieces were not designed to do so, and have only accidental thematic relevance. Of course, Ghost in the Shell is Ghost in the Shell, and we’ve been fortunate that up until Arise, every entry (barring, arguably, the manga) has been overwhelmingly deliberately designed. So even this, an early stand alone episode, has something to say consistent with the overall thesis.
The Major is staked out at an airport and spying on one Marcelo Jarti, Genoma People’s Army Advisor and something of a legend in the flesh. The Major has a Behavior Specialist on hand, and this fellow confirms it is the man with the walking pattern that indicates prosthetic legs, and arm scratching, which may be phantom limb syndrome. He isn’t just flesh, clearly, but although parts of his body have been replaced, it’s his spirit that’s the most important: apparently he’s survived an assassination by unknown assailants in a hotel, and so he continues to do as he does, staying a simple soldier, never a politician. He’s an undying hero.
Section 9, or Batou, is convinced that he’s using lookalikes, and six lookalikes to be specific — all dead. Togusa tails him as the team learns that Jarti’s visited Japan twelve times, but the Foreign Affairs Section 1 hasn’t been able to figure out why. They hand the case off to Section 9, who rule out drug trafficking right away. They work so fast. Of course, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is involved, so they have to work very carefully.
Jarti arrives at the Newport hotel, and not soon after, Togusa shows up as well. Section 9 heads out there. Batou takes a Tachikoma down from the VTOL and uses thermal vision to spy on Jarti. He’s drawn a crowd. The Major ‘borrows’ the eyes of a maid robot, assures Batou she’ll be careful with the threat of back-hacking. She sees a mystery man, Gondo Kanekichi, who’s yakuza. This fellow is the virtual lynchpin of his organization, and it could be trouble that he’s meeting with Jarti.
The police arrive to have a chat with him, but they’re intercepted by a mute giant, a less visually interesting precursor to the crab-man in Innocence. This giant brutalizes a few cops and is shot to death — a stray hits the maid robot and the Major loses her eyes. These police turn out to be undercover narcotics detectives. The Chief orders the Major to not allow them to take Jarti, lest things get messy. So the Major drops in to the tune of “Run Rabbit Junk,” Stand Alone Complex’s go-to action theme.
Jarti and Gondo escape but tell their android escorts to stay behind and deal with the cops. Rabbit keeps running as the Major karates these two out, and Togusa goes after the men. Gondo is quite scared — for a yakuza kingpin, he spooks pretty easily.
Fear not, because Jarti’s pretty slick, and loses Togusa. Section 9 looks at Kanekichi-owned properties where they might hide out. During the last five years, Jarti’s stayed at this warehouse. Easy enough. The Major and Batou quickly follow up and run point while Togusa catches up. The Major does some sweet jumps, continuing to show off her physical abilities in celebrated cyber-flipping tradition.
Batou grabs a peeing, miserable Gondo in one of the show’s more deliberate moments of intentional comedy. Usually Ghost in the Shell humor is high-pitched and blue, but here Batou gets to stretch his face out and remind us that while short-tempered, Mr. Boat is one of the more human on the squad, along with Togusa the family man and Ishikawa the wise, Freamon-esque investigator. One can divide Section 9 along a number of categories, and in this one, Pazu, Saito, and the Major form a group as the stoic, dangerous-looking badasses. One wonders what their social lives are like, beyond gay nurses and expeditions to Africa.
Togusa believes he’s got Jarti, and the Major also has a visual. She’s getting static over the comm., but is able to coordinate with Togusa to grab the guy. Togusa confronts him, but simultaneously, Jarti takes the Major by surprise. This is the reveal of the two Jartis — Togusa shoots his as the Major finds a better karate opponent.
She gives him a pretty vicious kick, putting him right out, but another Jarti appears and grabs her from behind. He chokes her, which is probably more like attempting to crush her spine or collapse her throat or something that would kill a cyborg, but she turns the tables and wallops him in the face.
The Major, Togusa, and even Batou all have their Jarti in custody. The Major goes on to discover the clone room, with a line of Jartis hooked up to machines, in pods. At the end of the room is a ghost dubbing device.
This is a global scandal, but because the replications believe they’re the genuine article, Section 9 won’t declassify this case. They decide that the Kanekichi didn’t want bad blood with their connection in South America, as the original Jarti had died while in Japan. So they copied him, but Batou doesn’t follow. The Major gets it — he’s their immortal hero. Even the illusion can keep dreams alive as the fake flies back to his home country.
We can make a quick connection here to Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch, the latter being the soldier who allegedly unloaded her entire clip before being captured by enemy forces — went down fighting. Later, Lynch herself would refute the claim, which was first published in a story by specialist paper the Military Times. She told Newsweek that she “didn’t even get a shot off,” and was actually immobilized due to the rocket-propelled grenade that struck her Humvee and caused the driver to crash.
This mythmaking confused her and also minimizes the actual valor on the part of herself and her team — indeed, there’s a great sensationalizing of battlefield realities, these episodes that are repackaged and sold to the American public. A female soldier war hero is a story too fantastic to ignore. It’s telling that while Jessica Lynch’s narrative was widespread, a contemporary and near-identical incident made no waves. Shoshana Johnson served in the same company as Lynch, and was also captured (but was actually able to put up a fight), but she didn’t get nearly the same disability pay, never mind a TV movie on NBC. Common wisdom and public relations hold that a white face is better than a black one.
Ethics be damned, be it truth or racial inclusion, because the temptation of propaganda is too much for some. Selling wars became especially difficult during Vietnam, and everybody loves a hero. The question that the Lynch fiasco and that this episode brings up is whether or not there truly is heroism, or if it’s just an illusion.
With Lynch, the Pentagon decided made an interpretation of orchestrated tragedy and matched it to Hollywood invention to compare. Actual heroism, whether Lynch’s or Johnson’s, isn’t enough, because the American masses are an amorphous and temperamental audience. The South American country in Ghost in the Shell is better not knowing the violent and convoluted backstory to their beloved Jarti.
Heroism is more subjective than we might think. But for the most part, they know what sells. So when it becomes currency, it becomes a mission to uphold, which can lead to conspiracy. In the business of heroes there are villains, so long as it’s war, and in the technologically advanced future of Ghost in the Shell, we can literalize this idea with the series’ introduction of ghost dubbing.