Episode 18: “SA: Assassination Duet — LOST HERITAGE”

SAC_18

The Chinese Vice Minister Jin is visiting a war memorial, which wouldn’t be an issue, except that this particular war memorial is centered in Japan. A death threat has been made, and Section 9 is called upon. In this episode of Stand Alone Complex, the political history between these two nations is brought forth and then backgrounded for a reflecting story of peace, and memories.

Aramaki is the lead character in the opening scene, which makes for some nice continuity after last week’s, the London adventure. He meets up with Kobuta at a friend’s grave: the Colonel’s, this guy who was perhaps the apex of their triangle, a mutual military buddy who died of cyberbrain sclerosis. Aramaki is somber.

Saori is the Colonel’s daughter. She appears in the parking lot to tell Aramaki that her brother, Yu, is beginning to resemble their father. Isn’t that nice. You’ve been doing a job and a half raising this little punk. No, that’s not it — sure he’s the very image of the Colonel as a young man, but he’s been behaving strangely. He once referred to her like a daughter. In this world of cyberbrains, ghost stories aren’t so much campfire matters anymore.

But Aramaki tells Saori and reminds us that he can’t use his authority of position for personal issues. She just figured that since Aramaki and her father were once best friends, he’d help, but Aramaki remarks that he wouldn’t be so forward — instead, they were old war buddies.

Meanwhile, there are local protests of the Chinese Vice Minister. He’s arrived, and a few Japanese nationalists are none too pleased. Tensions between Japan and China are depicted one-sided here, but it would’ve been nicer to get a little bit of voice from Jin. He’s just ‘China,’ but that’s okay. It moves metonymic pieces into place for our foreground story.

Ishikawa and Togusa are working together directly, perhaps the first time since the first part of the original episode, and they determine that sniping is the most likely method the assassin will take. They’ve also collected enough circumstantial evidence to point to Yu.

Yu meanwhile is making bullets. A 22-minute runtime in this show, so disciplined in not splitting one episode into three (as was the entire modus of Black Lagoon), doesn’t allow for false and multiple suspects, so once Section 9 suspects someone, they’re probably right. It’s a shame though, because Saori is still around, listening to this guy talk to himself about having to do it himself, because he’s his mother’s murderer…

The next morning, Saori wakes to an invisible hand over her mouth — the Major has broken into her room and is silencing her. Later, she scolds Togusa for not knocking on the door to that same room. I don’t know. Regardless, they tell the girl that they’re here for Yu, but Yu is long gone. She tells them to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone. Oh little girl, how smart you are.

But this is another high concept with dramatic consequence. This is what the Ghost in the Shell formula can do, and nowhere is this better utilized than in Stand Alone Complex, with its straight-laced and serious approach to the same episodic/longform but utterly goofy manga source material. Here, through a phone call from Yu to Aramaki, we learn that the Colonel cheated death by merging his ghost’s with his son’s, and he had at one point intended to exact vengeance on Jin.

The technology of Ghost in the Shell, once in place in Shirow’s mind, would produce a number of what-if scenarios. What if a man’s brain could be implanted with false memories? What if a lifeform could be born on the sea of information (that one is sort of nebulous, isn’t necessarily product of cyborg stuff). Kamiyama provides a few more, in this instance, what if a cyberbrain could be shared?

This, like all of the other Ghost in the Shell what-ifs, has human ramification. This episode’s writing was handled by Junichi Fujisaku, who was also tasked with the first Stand Alone Complex novel, The Lost Memory. It’s no coincidence that Saori, the soul of the circumstance, is the first character we meet.

Section 9 digs up info on the Colonel as he exposits via conversation with Aramaki. He became something of a legend in the military by training soldier, and of course, was part of the fearsome threesome with Kobuta and Aramaki. As he explains to Aramaki, he’d only wanted to reveal the truth about Okinawa, but revenge consumed him accidentally.

The memories of the two people in that one body began to mix, and this was affecting his will. Seems that Yu was harboring more anger than the Colonel was prepared to interface with, and also maybe, less factual evidence. The Colonel wonders if he’ll become a new person in the end, and doesn’t want to turn his son into a killer. He asks his old war buddy for forgiveness before signing out. The time is drawing near.

Jin is paying his respects, and Section 9 is having no luck finding Yu. Saito can’t pinpoint a sniping location — he has an eye for this kinda thing, and Yu isn’t atop this hill. Boma pays a suspicious fisherman a visit in a VTOL, but turns out this guy is indeed just fishin’ in the rain. Batou is on the ground, and scans those Ranger eyes between these groups of people — where is he?

Togusa finds a boy tied up in the bathroom, his uniform stolen. Turns out the sniper theory was just a decoy. Now, just to pause here, it’s unusual a boy is left tied up in the bathroom, and consistently, we don’t linger on the image. Because there’s nothing titillating about that. We will see some imperiled females next episode, but remember that we didn’t see the British SWAT guy that the Major left tied up in an alley last episode — maybe she just killed him. If you don’t tell me otherwise, show, I’m just gonna assume the worst.

Yu, dressed in this stolen uniform, runs at Jin with a knife, and hits him. But the Major, once more invisible to surprise a Colonel child, intercepts him in time. She’d perused the Colonel’s files to find that his philosophy was that the best way to assassinate someone was to get close, which precluded a hope for escape. It also allows the element of surprise, but what it doesn’t allow is practice. Yu is technically inexperienced here, and doesn’t it show. Bomb in the flowers was a good attempt, but Section 9 will always be a step ahead.

They had to overwrite Yu’s cyberbrain with a memory of the kill. This added memory, this additional tampering, leaves the boy’s fate uncertain. They tell Saori that when he wakes up, it’s possible he doesn’t remember her, that he may be neither brother nor father. Just as the Colonel feared.

But Aramaki comments, medical expert he is, that the Colonel’s memories may be lost forever, that Yu might return. This would be good, because Saori vows to continue being his guardian. Unfortunately for the Chief though, it means losing a friend twice. The Major thought he was just an old war buddy? The Chief grumbles. Of course

While Saori might’ve been the human center for the episode, our sympathies were directed into the air; misdirected, maybe. Aramaki is deeply affected here, so this episode and “Angel’s Share” are both about him, but the two couldn’t be more different in approach. “Angel’s Share” is much more explicit about centering him in our attention, but it only really touches upon an old romance, and that the Chief puts his professionalism above all things.

Here, we see where that leads, and just what it means. This is the Major’s show, and so his professionalism means blending into the background for the most part. So even though he gets involved, and the Major goes out of her way to save Yu rather than kill him, it doesn’t matter. According to some cosmic order, he still gets burned, and the effects of a major crime flow out like a virus. And to that cosmic order, the Chief must have resigned himself to the notion that one in his position can’t act out of personal feeling.

As China and Japan continue to work out their brutal history into the near future of Ghost in the Shell, the memories are real. For our episode, they reincarnate in new bodies, to violent and potentially cataclysmic ends. There are layers of complexity even in this fictional extrapolation, where an assassination is revenge, the Chinese might be infringing but only to pay respects to the dead, and the assassin is a victim in some ways.

The human element must be considered at the heart of everything. Jin is always viewed from a distance, and this in fact is deliberate, regardless its other story consequences. We see him filtered through wide shot on press coverage, his narrative taken from him by preconceived notions and political context. One man can remember the departed and stir powerful tensions, and another can do the same, but the memories haunt him in a way made incredibly internal as invented by cyberbrain technology. It doesn’t become an issue of national importance for Aramaki, just a private implosion that reflects and reinforces the darkness of old imperialism.

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