Episode 19: “SA: Embraced by a Disguised Net — CAPTIVATED”


This episode is about the abduction of young women, and while tonally it’s not nearly as stone-faced as “Jungle Cruise,” and perhaps not as indicting of this crime as it should be, “Captivated” nevertheless asks some interesting questions in typical manner. Yet, in the last episode, I briefly complained about the bondage perpetrated on a young boy, how this was a plot convenience, and we see this imperiled lad for one shot. Here, ‘women in chains’ is more prevalent. Is this, then, to indict Kamiyama for indulging in this cultural ritual without a threat of gender equity in this specific regard? We’ll see where this one goes.

It’s a rainy day in the neon metropolis, the kind of artificial eclipse-esque event that our great-great grandsons and granddaughters don’t appreciate anymore. In the future, I trust that the images of scifi like this will inform how our cities will look, and rain is usually a perfect complementary factor. Nighttime helps too.

Reiko, a young and bespectacled woman, clutching at herself to typify vulnerability, vanishes in a flash. She had been scanning the bridge she was on with some fear, and indeed, she’s being watched. Any culture where the male gaze is the default makes this a very real concern. It’s telling that we don’t identify the captor immediately, which is not just a plot requisite — it could be anyone. Young women of a particular body type have enemies everywhere.

The reason Section 9 is on this seemingly ordinary kidnapping case is because it may be the work of the Blindfold Ivan, who are notorious for mass abductions. Also important is that Reiko is the daughter of the former Prime Minister, current assemblyman Kanzaki, who’d always denied the existence of the Ivan.

For protecting organized crime, he was ousted and took a beating from the media. Not a popular guy, but then, he’s kind of a dick. Even still, it’s a question as to why they kidnapped his daughter. Is this some kind of betrayal? Or just a coincidence?

Aramaki convinces Kanzaki on a press blackout, because they don’t want the info that Reiko is Kanzaki’s daughter to reach the Ivan. Information control is a delicate business, always time sensitive. Reiko meanwhile wakes up in a van with other girls, and a woman and her henchman talk outside about selling organs. A dark corner of the Stand Alone Complex world, one we glimpsed from afar in the episode “Missing Hearts.”

The other girls in the van recognize Reiko, making them better read than their captors. Before this scene gets out of hand, Batou and Togusa arrive on scene, following up a suspicion that it’s the northern territories gang. They recognize the perps, and the woman is pretty good at hand to hand combat — until her arm comes off. It’s a fun scene that ends with Batou shouting at Togusa to “throw the arm,” which is a pretty massive explosive. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable with that much C4 in my arm. Sneezing could be a danger.

This woman is a Russian operative who was active in the last century, who’s probably around 80 years old, but in a young cyber-body. The way she interacts with the abductees, you wonder if she has some kind of body jealousy, or youth envy or something. That’s the obvious route to go in connecting this character to the episode’s plot.

Aramaki makes a confusing deal with Kanzaki, to spread the information previously withheld. The Chief is reverse-engineering a plan out of a known enemy’s modus operandi, and even though this plan will acknowledge the Blindfold Ivan’s existence, and be political suicide, it’ll get Reiko back. The Russian operative will have to go to her bosses once everyone else has turned their back on her, and that’s when Section 9 will swoop in.

She heads to the assembly for passage out of the country, Reiko in tow. Convenient that. The gates close, and the Major pulls up, draws her pistol. There’s something of a John Woo stand-off, only it’s pistol versus evil Inspector Gadget arm. Not the best weapon-arm, but truly nothing can compete with Batou’s shotgun in Innocence. But we see what 80 years of cyber-body has done for this woman, and while impressive, it isn’t enough to navigate out of this trap.

It was orchestrated by a few people, even her northern territories people, who gave her a list of girls to abduct, with Kanzaki’s daughter on it. For Aramaki’s hand in it, he took a gamble, forcing the assemblyman to choose which was more important: his political career, or his daughter.

This is the last stand alone episode for the season, as the next seven form the end of the long arc. It has no bearing on the Complex plot in theme or plot beyond what the show already offers in being consistent. It’s random, but it is also perfect — to an extent. The Ghost in the Shell manga’s episodic formula was perfectly suited to the television form, with a show that would follow a line of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek.

The Twilight Zone is a bunch of short stories of high-concept scifi. Star Trek takes it further by connecting these short stories to a congruous universe. The anthology of ideas is applied to an ongoing fiction. For Ghost in the Shell, both the anthology of ideas aspect and the ongoing fiction aspect are wonderful, and they interface gracefully.

For this week’s anthology, it’s abduction and information warfare, which aren’t necessarily unique to Ghost in the Shell, but are made new with its technology. The endgame is demonstrating the Chief’s talent in a dramatic show. It does this however, at the expense of not addressing human trafficking. Two year later, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence would discuss human trafficking in vague but deliberate terms.

Beyond the obvious indictment of Russians here, making a woman the captor of women doesn’t mitigate or put a new spin on the theme of trafficking. However, there might be something in the Russian operative herself, who is actually very old, but does not appear that way. If she then has that youth envy, the issue of beauty standards might be relevant. Unfortunately, the sociopolitical dimension of the episode is lost, outside the fold of the otherwise tightly balanced elements.

The only other gripe I have with the episode is that it lacks a focus character. When the potential for the focus character to be the Major is pretty high in a series starring her, her brief appearance here is precious, and she doesn’t do too much. We almost focus too much on the criminal side, and on the politician angle, that we don’t get to see the team dynamics in play, those dynamics that so often create a platform for the Major to take centerstage and do something really badass.

Togusa takes us into the final arc here, and becomes something of a perspective character, despite a lapse for medical leave and then incarceration. It makes sense, and reframes the manga and movies in a sense. When Togusa isn’t our most relatable, near-proxy character, he seems kind of random. But following him makes the outlandish in the series more palpable, and grounds this crazy world of cyborgs and super-hackers.

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