One braindead detective notwithstanding, this stand alone episode is relatively lightweight, but still manages to explore both world and character in an economical 24 minutes. The Major is called by her nurse friend — she startles this friend upon arrival, probably because there’s nothing scarier than a Real Doll who trades in exploding people’s heads, but we quickly see that this cyborg retains a sensitive touch.
The nurse is concerned because this young girl here was about to get a heart transplant, but the donors didn’t recall offering their son’s heart because the cybersurgery would’ve been to much of a strain on him. They went to the police, but the detective went missing. Of the girl, who’s coloring with crayons and hugging on a large teddy bear, the nurse says that she was fortunate to have found a donor, as prosthetics would’ve been tough. She just turned six — the Major is clearly impacted by this, but because she’s a consummate professional in this iteration of Ghost in the Shell, emotions are buried deep within her and kept there under lock and firewall, so the show itself has to portray this in a stylistic image, as pictured above.
The Chief takes the case and sends the Major and Togusa to Meditech, the company that handled the transplant. He believes it could be related to domestic black market trade routes and organized crime groups. So the two arrive at the Meditech HQ, where pigs with barcodes are kept in pens, awaiting a grisly fate with the promise to be taken to the Island, unless they can prove they have souls with artwork or what have you.
Mr. Iwasaki introduces himself, a man inside a tin box, the Jameson model robot body sometimes seen in the Tachikomatic Days shorts. Iwasaki is a good ol’ boy, but the Major doesn’t buy it. He verifies a statement of delivery, confirming their involvement in the donation, but it’s strange because they don’t usually handle that kind of thing here. He shows them around, makes a pitch, and lets them snoop.
The Major and Togusa decide that he’d sold off his own organs, being such a dedicated company man. The company itself splices genes into pigs in order to grow organs, which is a much less horrifying solution than those proposed in films like Repo!, Repo Men, or Never Let Me Go. And yet it is on a parallel level of believability as clones, because these pigs would essentially be new, artificial species, with the physical makeup to contain human organs. Creepy in its own right.
Ishikawa and Boma show up to report a discovery of possible external tampering on transactions. Ishikawa is an interesting element in the show, because much like in the early Laughing Man arc, he essentially invents some amazing cyberhacking scenario that he’s encountered in the investigation, and proceeds to explain how it works and why it’s relevant. I think he’s just making stuff up to be impressive.
The Major and Togusa are off to visit the detective who’d gone missing. He’s at the hospital, and the doctor explains they found evidence of a drug and there was minor memory confusion. The guy is looking pretty gone — three guys dressed up as doctors run off. Togusa goes after them and loads a tracker into his revolver. He’s a pretty good shot, which is good because he’s opening fire in a crowded public area, much like Batou in the marketplace in the original film.
The Major yells at a Tachikoma to keep up. She’s pretty upset. These three idiots are in for a world of hurt, but only two of them seem to understand. The third is the cocky leader who is explicitly a rich man’s spoiled kid, run amok like Better Luck Tomorrow, which sucks, because they’re real stuck, and thinking it’s the yakuza after them.
The Tachikoma is an eye in the sky, and the Major sends out a probe virus, despite that being in violation of some law. This is an emergency. The virus clears the road and identifies the car, as well as its owner. Some college kid punk. The team predicts they’ll attempt to lie low in the warehouse districts, and Batou’s already there.
Batou’s Tachikoma shoots the wheels out and then blows up the car. As advised by the Major, Batou only scares them. They’re scrappers too, fleeing the car even after it’s been exploded by an unknown and unseen assailant. Batou and Togusa secure the two, more spooked criminals, and the Major goes after the last in a Tachikoma, but not before mooning us. When she puts on pants for 2nd Gig… that was better. Batou and Togusa don’t know what’s up with her, and are shocked when the two guys think they’re both yakuza, even the family man.
In one of those great comeuppance scenes, the rich kid tries to weasel out of the Major killing him and selling his parts on the black market, which will not only net a tidy profit but get rid of the evidence. He sees she’s not messing around behind those purple sunglasses, which make a strong showing in this episode, and does what anyone would do in that situation — shrink to the ground and talk about how your dad can set her up real good!
But again, she’s not messing around, and boy, if she had killed him — the editing and shot selection would have made it particularly brutal, but turns out she was just messing around. It’s not a cold-blooded murder but a PSA. You kids better start using your own organs — your brain — and grow your organs — a pair — straighten up and fly right, because next time, it won’t be a hardcore cyborg black-ops police officer, but a low-level thug, most likely.
To cap off the comparatively lighthearted nature of this episode, a Tachikoma squeaks that she (or he?) is stuck between warehouses! And later, a Tachikoma is playing what she thinks is checkers with Togusa, as Batou works out — impressing those big blue robots. Batou explains that the little girl from the beginning of the episode was the same age as when the Major got prosthetics. Togusa contemplates the situation, of the company man who sold his body parts away to live in a toy, med students who fancy themselves Robin Hood, and the little girl for whom prosthetics are a last resort. He wonders which side of it all the Major is on.
The Major in question strides in to chide Batou about his spending habits. He teases her about switching over to a male chassy so she’ll be more authoritative. The Major challenges him to a fight, to which he’s happy to oblige. But he punches himself and goes down — the Major says that as long as female bodies can transfer aggression and turn them around on the opponent, she’ll stick with it.
Walking off, the Major examines her prosthetic hand and puts her wristwatch back on, the token of her humanity. Cases like this clearly shake her, reminding her of how much humanity is tied to a human body. Yet, as we see, character is transferrable between shells, and human flesh can be rotten.
This is a quintessential example of how characterization in Stand Alone Complex works. The Major is our protagonist, but her past is shrouded in mystery — as we learn late in 2nd Gig, even her original name is long forgotten. Character is often delivered by way of theme, because again, Ghost in the Shell can be a very economical show. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly warm or intimate. We get tantalizing hints about the Major, about who she is and where her headspace might be.
In the manga, the Major wasn’t a complex character, but did have some personality. That personality was mostly stripped away in the film, in favor of cold existential wanderings. She comes into her own at the end of the movie, and is more confident during her appearance in Innocence. Stand Alone Complex isn’t a balance of these two borderline inhuman versions but consistent along this track. She, like all of Section 9, is more professional than any agent, officer, or soldier ever depicted in media.
She is robotic, but is never deconstructed, only explored as is. What would it be like to chase your memories, before you begin wondering if you ever had them at all? In a way, the Major’s overall character arc in the two seasons is an adaptation of the one in the original film, that same struggle for identity. Because the new Motoko is so professional, her struggle is silent and understated. The dialogue is subtle in accordance, for it’s never made explicit that she once loved Kuze, even though that would come up with more human people.
The hints setting that eventual conflict up are laid throughout but are never the top priority for the show. But who knows? Maybe they are, but the Major works best in the moment, in the present. She’s compelling not because of a tragic backstory, or for tense relations with supporting characters, but because she is that level of professional. It’s at once the reason she isn’t all these other things, and is the reason she’s unbelievably cool. Cool doesn’t always have to be complex. Stand alone, maybe, but the Major does in the end, work best in a team.