Is this a clipshow? A recap in more western terms? As cyberpunk from Japan, Ghost in the Shell has always been a strange breed — the pure and yet the fusion. But in this case, it’s not some kind of common ground between a Previously On, and the clipshow tradition fundamental to television anime. It’s such a tradition that shows like Samurai Champloo and Kill la Kill do funny riffs on it.
But instead of that, Stand Alone Complex has Episode 9, only one in the number of ‘boring’ episodes from Season 1. A group of Laughing Man fanatics get together in a futuristic/literal chat room debate the recent developments in the famous criminal’s case, a thinly veiled review of past episodes with only the hint of new plot details.
For the world-building, or for character, we get a glimpse into the eerie subculture of admirers that springs up around a ‘cool’ super-criminal. Not only does new technology facilitate a better communication for these fans, it elevates criminals into the zeitgeist to begin with, as we’ll see.
The question for this episode is — what kind of artistic statement is Kamiyama making here, both on paper and in execution? Theory going forward, that the show is so complex as to warrant such a blatant pushing of the pause button and regaining things, including perhaps, one’s jaw off the floor?
This episode debuts Chroma, the Major’s virtual avatar for the net. I hope she didn’t spend too much time on the character create screen to make the perfect look, because she’s prettier than Chroma. About the same on the level of realness — one is binary code, the other is metal plate simulacrum — but Chroma’s got much sharper features. Literally sharp, like an anime nose that could cut through paper.
The ‘holographic,’ or just digital, representation of a chatroom here is interesting. We have spectators in the seats, visible here, unlike lurkers on forums. The setup is like some talk show panel — if this is what the future of online communication is, and given the right panelists, this is the kind of thing that might as well be broadcast (it makes for good TV here and now, after all). Although, in that future, ‘broadcast’ will be a relative term.
The group wonders if the Laughing Man from the two incidents were actually the same guy — and if he’s even a guy!? (Remember those two notes during the close of the arc). The sweaty, nervous guy states knowingly that the Laughing Man never referred to himself as a guy. Is this new Laughing Man fake? An imposter using the identity as a cover?
These groupies really think the Laughing Man is cool, and have debates about his coolness, before reviewing details of the case. They mention how the delayed action virus guy, that Nanao Ei, was snuffed out. Who did it?
The Major zeroes in on the nervous guy, who seems to know things, more than these other fools. They, for now, are going with the theory that there were many Laughing Men, and there was a fallout between them. This was the police’s story.
The administrator pulls up the news report, but this time there are smiley logos all over the weather symbols. Rumors say they were changed after the initial broadcast. Why? Well, people kind of fell in love with that logo. Why is that? Because the Laughing Man did something cool. Some in the group feel it was reckless. That’s exactly why it was cool, the nervous guy says, because he did risk himself by showing in public. The recklessness was captivating.
And soon the Laughing Man logo was everywhere. Composed of the lit rooms in an office building at night, or the desks atop an office building’s roof, or even in crop-circles. Those are always dependable for conspiracy stuff…
It made a huge cultural impact, surfacing in sentai movies and merchandising. This franchising of a sensationalized criminal is not too hard to imagine, but it has to be the right crime. Rolling Stone Magazine tries to be edgy by printing the living Marathon Bomber’s face on an issue — terrorism is not popular, but cybercrimes are. Depending. The leakers are romantic outlaws, and Anonymous does well. It’s the new frontier — we’re still figuring it out.
The nervous guy insists that the police were lying. He has inside sources, and they say that the assassination attempts were Nanao Ei. He had hacked into the surveillance cameras and saw when people started going crazy. This alerts the Major, of course. Seems this peeper also found Nanao’s server, still crawling with attack barriers. Inside, there’s plots for blackmailing corporations. The Major tells him it’s impressive work he’s done. It’s all he does, he says, meek pride poking through his dourness.
Suddenly — he has a heart attack? No, the Major is taking him out of the chatroom, puts him in the loading program from The Matrix (guns, a lotta guns). She asks if he saw her dummy barrier getting blown away that day. Indeed, and so he gives her a fragment of the virus. Hands it to her. She tells him to be careful, and he’s sufficiently spooked, calls it quits for the day.
The Major declares that the two Laughing Men we saw were the original, and an individual person. The rest were copycats. Then she falls into a library, and notices the administrator being kicked offline by his mom, probably. Some things never change. She’s gotta fax a form to the office, perhaps. In this library, she sees the Laughing Man.
Turns out she was conducting all of this listening and virtual touring while driving a car. So against my much-labored thesis on the podcast, maybe the Major isn’t the best role model. Of course, if you’re as professional as she is, you can text on the road all you damn feel. Also if everyone’s a cyborg.
Passenger-side Batou is understandably shaken that she’s been distracted while driving, and so won’t repeat what he was saying. Hmpf.
The Major doesn’t seem to learn much — this is just something she does in her off-time, this minor investigation stuff. So, for our thought experiment, turns out we learn a few things: about the Laughing Man’s influence on culture (which further characterizes it and expands its mythological scope), and that the Major never stops working.
It’s not even about taking a break, Major, it’s safe driving.