After the last two episodes, this might be read as a blatant attempt to regain whatever broad audience the show might’ve dropped, where in the prior hour of programming, a total of six gunshots were fired. In “Not Equal,” that deficit is rectified. But just as with the season’s second episode, a more action-focused Ghost in the Shell is not a thoughtless one.
A series of photos with a face familiar to Section 9 are examined. This is Eka Tokura, daughter of a cybernetics company’s CEO, who was so on the forefront over sixteen years ago, he had his daughter get cyber-surgery to demonstrate and model the products. This girl had been kidnapped by the New World Brigade, a human liberation extremist front. The Major remembers the case, and remembers taking it personally at the time. Thing is now, these photos of Eka were taken two days ago, and she hasn’t seemed to age. They were taken by members of the Maritime Safety Team, who were stationed aboard an abandoned radiation scrubbing station off the coast of Okinawa. Special Security Team members of the Japanese Coast Guard were dispatched to rescue her, but they lost contact.
Where other teams lose contact, Section 9 steps in. For a covert insertion, they take the submarine, and this makes me wonder if they had this submarine on loan from another organization, or if the Japanese taxpayers have it rough. What on God’s green does Section 9 really need a submarine for? If it appears in any future episode, I’ll retract this line of questioning, but I don’t see that happening. Regardless, the sub allows for the team to drop in much like the opening scene in Metal Gear Solid.
The Chief has verified the signal of one SST member, so they have at least one surviving member to evacuate. The Major, Togusa, Batou, and Saito are on the ground with Tachikomas, armed with what are probably their usual assault rifles, but with protective casing I suppose for waterproofing.
As a Tachikoma takes the Major and Togusa above ground, Togusa wonders if this could be an elaborate trap. He asks the Major if she believes this girl is for real. She could be a prosthetic body, but in the New World Brigade’s hands, the Major doubts that. And what about the DNA that matched her to Eka Tokura? Maybe a clone then, he offers. They’ve cloned her to go after the Tokura fortune. But in the Ghost in the Shell world, cloned humans cannot inherit property, so that would only serve to cause the father some added misery. Togusa can’t figure it out, and the Tachikoma observes that his ghost still isn’t whispering to him. The Major laughs.
Saito turns his nose up at some cyborg food, and the Tachikoma is excited to be in another marketplace. This station could be crawling with terrorists, he points out, and Saito and Batou discuss how this is a strategic trade location. It’s nice to travel outside the city, and this artificial island makes a good setting for a gunfight.
Batou gets a fix on the SST signal when a shopkeeper bothers them about some product that excites only the Tachikoma, so in a moment of levity (as per usual, it’s brief, but funny enough), Batou claims he doesn’t care if the guy’s a friend or foe and goes after him, which frightens the shopkeeper. It isn’t tough to imagine, especially in our world where the kids are so distracted by text messages they’ve forgotten what it’s like to have real, natural conversations over the telephone (which is overall the least natural form of modern remote communication), that it would be off-putting to see someone talk into the air at somebody because they’re speaking telepathically. And it isn’t tough to imagine that that kind of technology is only fifteen to twenty years off, given where we were fifteen to twenty years ago.
Batou and Saito rescue the SST guy from suicide. He’d been muttering about ‘erase them’ with a gun to his head. They find that the other three members had been killed, and the leader of the Brigade was some woman. He’s pretty freaked out, this SST guy, and about the woman. Seems he’d linked with her, as Batou discovers, and unbeknownst, they’re being monitored by a militant-looking guy from a distance.
The Major grabs one of these guys and taunts him about dental torture. I’m glad it’s only an idle threat, though it’s still unfortunate that even in a world of imprintable false memories and hacking, sadistic physical torture is still the go-to. She punches him out instead and goes on to find Eka yelling at an old woman in the control tower. Batou reports in, saying that the SST guy may have been infected with a virus, which is why he couldn’t respond to Section 9 in the first place. The reason he went off the deep end might’ve been that girl, so be careful.
The Major corners Eka as the sun drifts behind clouds. She tries to dive her brain, but finds no cyberization. The old woman says that she’s got the wrong girl. And then an action scene starts, lasts for three uninterrupted minutes. It’s machine-gun fire and explosions, and although we bust wide for a lot of the carnage, there’s a lot of carnage. These Brigade guys are pretty bad at fighting, taking little cover, and failing to understand that if the enemy is armed with explosives, piling into one another is not an effective formation. Batou goes off to rescue the Major.
Not being pinned down or anything, the Major only asks Batou, brusquely, why he did that. Saito snipes an RPG guy, and the VTOL takes off with the girl and old woman in custody. The girl calls the woman her mother, and later, Togusa muses that the woman is actually younger than he is. Hard to believe, but she was the true Eka after all.
Once the SST got confirmation that it was her, they tried to link with her, and spoke with her cyberbrain. They couldn’t mentally handle that a ten year old girl could age so rapidly in sixteen years. The one survivor wanted to erase the memories. His madness was where the episode could express Eka’s internal state, allowing her a solemn quietness.
In this episode, the dub script actually does not adequately explain the plot, at least to my own brain. Wikipedia has it that the stress of being a hostage caused her to age so rapidly, to which Batou’s saying that he ‘doesn’t want to imagine what went on during that time,’ makes sense. My first interpretation was that maybe the cybernetics were to blame, because Eka defines ‘early adopter’ above and beyond, and when early iPhone users run into trouble, it’s bad for them, but with cybernetic implants, it’s probably an even worse scenario (put on your scifi hat and speculate, if you must).
If the cybernetics were faulty, perhaps they had a biological effect, but that doesn’t really make sense. I just don’t know that such rapid aging from stress exists in reality, and if it does, that truly is as terrifying as that SST member would have it. The violent extremists would then be so characterized as heartless monsters, where nothing was sacred in their quest to keep the world from moving forward, and here we’d have the devil’s advocate to the Laughing Man case and other cybercrime.
Ghost in the Shell’s technology might facilitate some horrific terrorism, where even the policing resultant is dystopic, but keeping that technology from developing is established as barbaric. At both ends, there is violence and pain, and so we can’t blame the Tachikoma for taking a personal day, or the moviegoers from being so captivated. In this universe, alien yet familiar, we just have to find the human element in between: the Major’s elusive heart, Batou’s peace.
But, I don’t know. That could be wrong. Even though this is the action episode of Ghost in the Shell, it has me stumped.