I appreciate that sometimes the scale of this show is very small. This episode begins with a maintenance worker moving a book from a library into a park, with tracking focus on this character in characteristic Japanese scene-setting, and it ends with submachine guns and a cyborg evident in eye trauma only. It’s a relatively low-key scifi world, especially when compared to its Landmate and octotank world of cousin Appleseed.
Why does this appeal to me so much? Not entirely sure, but the answer begins to show itself here, as we dive ghost-first into the thick of the Laughing Man case. This is the beginning of the end, a seven-episode arc that begins with narc squads and ends with Umibozu. Guys with guns on either side, but before all that…
Togusa concludes that there’s a mastermind behind the Laughing Man case within the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. He wants to dive their database, but Ishikawa and Boma had already, and never found any falsified records. Aramaki admits that there’s something to Togusa’s theory, and something going on at the Ministry, but going forward like this would alert their quarry. They need to ensure the ends will justify the means. Not because of like, violations of privacy, but you know. Wouldn’t want to cause a scandal.
So our Togusa goes home, and his wife catches him working at the dinner table. Except, not really. He just apologizes and she tells him to try the potatoes — they’re so good! His wife makes infrequent appearances in the first season, and she’s kind of an odd duck. Very robotic, or maybe just more patient than most depictions of police-wives. Not to say it’s a very positive depiction — she is not a character, not even remotely. Just an extension of Togusa, who reads to our lizard-brains as ‘good,’ so she should be ‘good.’ But where Togusa is an active participant on this show, he doesn’t come off so one-dimensional.
And here he is, drawing the Laughing Man smiley in the bathroom mirror. This is clearly getting to him, and he’s having flashbacks to the asylum. He’s got something, and goes to the Major. Now, if you want to talk about perfect women… Here she is, standing atop a roof, basically shirtless (wearing pants this time, though), and doing some kind of death-defying exercise. Maybe like scuba-diving in the first movie.
I think it’s funny though, how the nudity of Ghost in the Shell, by Mamoru Oshii, which was a bold and maybe not always successful (but indelible) approach, is translated to this TV-14 to TV-MA rated television show toward her being just very blasé when it comes to clothing. And we’re gonna show her ass a lot when she’s in a Tachikoma. Making it not as confrontational gets us closer to indulgence, but luckily that doesn’t carry into 2nd Gig as much. (Until the China episode).
The Major and Togusa discuss the new theory, all the while doing book club, history class, all the usual for classic exposition. The “Or should I?” Togusa saw at the asylum gets to him. Maybe it’s the Laughing Man talking to himself about going back into the world. What is he saying, in rewriting the Salinger prose? It’s not like copying your favorite artist — you’re coopting the artist, putting yourself on the level of the original. Perhaps we’re looking for paper media. She tells him to follow up.
Now, for all the harangue, this scene actually does an impressive job demonstrating a range of the Major’s character, in both subtle and overt ways. She’s in turn friendly, authoritative, easygoing, athletic, sexy, and charming, which may all be positive features, but it’s uncommon that a character taking the supporting role in a scene is allowed so much ‘idle’ characterization.
Togusa heads to the library from the cold open, and finds that the book taken out was a file on recipients of the Murai Vaccine, which is a contested treatment for Cyberbrain Sclerosis. As we’ll remember, this is the disease that took Chief’s war buddy from “Assassination Duet.” The vaccine was never approved because it had effects that couldn’t be linked to a cause, and so didn’t hold up to medical standards. It was in essence, an accidental discovery.
Togusa narrates that CS is in a line with cancer, and AIDS, the devastating diseases of prior centuries. Most people were treated with micromachine therapy, rather than the vaccine, and experts believed that such a miracle vaccine would have held back micromachine development. And so we have that classic corporate conflict of interest: we could save lives, or we could make money.
Togusa traces the list to the Sunflower Society, and goes undercover as a journalist. The Sunflower Society, which shares a logo of striking similarity with the Laughing Man’s, is a non-profit that helps victims of CS in litigation against the government. Togusa meets with a guy who has the list, and pitches a scandal, noting that many listed are celebrities.
The DEA Narcotics Suppression Squad is introduced, and these guys will form the first wave of enemies, these repurposed law enforcement agents made to be some politician’s personal assassins. This is where the real action core of Ghost in the Shell comes from, in pitting Section 9 against teams of similar design, such that paramilitary tactics need to be deployed, and it isn’t as simple (or big) as the blowup gunfire of “Not Equal.”
The Sunflower man shows Togusa that Dr. Hisashi Imakurusu, chairman of the board that rejected the Murai Vaccine. This file came from Imakarusu himself. Apparently he’s tired of the secret, and is about to go public. Before they uncork the champagne though, the Suppression Squad barges in. They’ve actually been sent by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, and they want that file. It’s a matter of conspiracy, so they can’t leave witnesses. Tactically, this immediately revokes the element of surprise, but maybe that’s why our friend here, the narc leader, is packing heat (some very modern-looking sub-machine guns. He’ll upgrade later, though).
The Sunflower guy knows that Togusa, who revealed himself as a police officer, has a better shot of making it out alive, but Togusa isn’t about to abandon him, so pushes him outside. Unfortunately, this guy seems to have a death wish. Togusa is shot in the belly, but returns fire, exposing the head guy as a cyborg, in a Terminator-like reveal. I don’t know which future is preferable, the one where Terminators look like humans, or where the same is true, and they’re the DEA.
The scene is very blue, that monochromatic cool for atmosphere. Togusa jumps out a window, and falls down into an alley. The squad, having murdered the Sunflower guy, finds that the list is a copy. Niimi, the bureau chief of the DEA, yells at Imakuruzu, who he’s apparently in contact with. The old doctor indeed has CS…
Togusa, ever the jokester even while mortally wounded, wonders if he should have gotten a cyborg body. We cut back to the wife and child, the cost should Togusa ever fall in one of these operations. See? The wife isn’t completely useless. She’s like a plot device, but for character. A character device, perhaps, just not a character.
Interesting that he calls out to the Major, and then the Chief. Not even his partner, Big Guy. But he did discuss moving on his new theory with the Major, and honestly, if anyone’s getting you out of a jam, it’s good ol’ Motoko. And then we end on a cliffhanger. Is Togusa really dead? (Could you imagine?)
Cyberbrain Sclerosis is a huge element of the world of Stand Alone Complex, as Togusa story-tells for us, and so Stand Alone Complex, wherein the Major and her friends solve the conspiracy and put the matter to bed, is an important event in its own world. But it’s relatively unimportant in the context of its franchise. It’s like the difference between these two movies: Blade Runner, and The Surrogates.
Blade Runner takes place in a world of replicants and war, but it isn’t about the war, or shutting down the factories because Soylent Green is people. The Surrogates is about avatar technology, the remote piloting of android bodies, but it is exactly about that, and in the end they shut down the factories. Some scifi stories create a world and populate it for the story, and some stories create a world and that’s their story.
Being part of a greater series, Stand Alone Complex can have its cake, thereby doing something very crucial, but ensuring that the factories will still run tomorrow. So the scope is big, but scope and scale are too different things, and here, may correlate to intent and execution. The story is big, encompassing a fictional universe, like Mass Effect 3 versus Mass Effect 2, but in the moment, it becomes more about those disguised cyborgs and black-ops. When Ghost in the Shell does expand its scale to a civil war in the next season, it does so gracefully.