Episode 21: “C: Left-Behind Trace — ERASER”


The next three episodes follow up on last week’s (yesterday’s) in a cohesive unit, culminating in the naming of a prime suspect, and finding the truth behind the Laughing Man case. This is a highly serialized arc of the show, and so the question shifts: what in episodic storytelling is sacrificed? Do these episodes represent whole units?

The Major and the Chief come into the hospital for Togusa. A nurse runs up and says “You can’t come in!” but Togusa waves them in. Nurses are constantly being defied in movies and television. I doubt if there’s ever been a nurse who wasn’t a dick in popular culture, particularly in these scenarios, where the patient needs medical attention, but we need to see him!

Togusa is alive, but he’ll be out of commission for a while. Damn that fleshy body. He tells them to extract his memories. Using them, Section 9 looks over the events, and recounts the investigation. Togusa felt that the hacker at the asylum was using paper media, which led him to that library. The name that keeps coming up is this Imakaruzu, a fat pipe to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW, let’s). Batou is emotionally affected by the memories, which is cute.

It also singles out his character, because nobody else is so affected. Don’t expect anything from the Major, Saito, or Pazu, but Ishikawa and Boma aren’t exactly war-hardened psychos. The Major keeps him on desk duty while she and, indeed Saito and Pazu, go out to investigate the DEA. Ishikawa tells Batou it was a good call — he needs to calm down.

Aramaki drops in on Niimi, bureau chief for the DEA. He wants to know what happened, and Niimi says that the raid on the Sunflower Society was a precise operation, and those poor bastards retaliated, and even burned down their own building! Aramaki, apparently satisfied, turns to go, but then informs him that one of his investigators was at the scene. The try-hard assistant asks him if they should let him go. Niimi is convinced they’re in no danger. He sends the NSS to Imakaruzu’s house, and warns the lead guy about Section 9. Oh, those ex-military cyborgs? I’ll need… it. When Section 9 arrives there later, they find it’s been burned down. The Major calls it ‘the opening salvo.’ Much like the missiles in 2nd Gig

Section 9 uses the advanced surveillance technology of the American Empire (I’ll let you take a moment on that one. It’s like this Japanese show’s final [but only the first of many] middle fingers to the US: we might have this crazy police force that violates civil rights, but you guys are worse. And you know what? They’re not wrong). Regardless, it’s enough data to crash the system, and the operators pay the price, so Ishikawa turns to his pachinko parlor for power.

Meanwhile, Imakaruzu is talking with the Laughing Man, making a body-snatching appearance akin to the press conference of Superintendent Daido, who we haven’t heard from, but may want to thank the Laughing Man for giving him the best day, hey, of his life? So the Laughing Man had actually stolen that list, and is regretful for those who died at the Sunflower Society, but is convinced of his mission. He needs to expose the truth.

They chat some history — Serano Genomics jumped in late on the whole micro-machine industry, and this will come in later. Anyway, Imakuruzu is guilty of, among other things, corporate fraud perpetrated under direction of the state, and made trillions of yen selling what were essentially sugarpills. The old doctor rejected the Murai Vaccine out of pride, being a micro-machine developer himself. The Laughing Man seems particularly transfixed on the idea that Imakuruzu had a special stamp made up with “Approval Denied.”

Yet, Imakaruzu may have a point when he turns it around: you’re a criminal too. Why don’t you just take over my brain and make me expose the truth? The Laughing Man is a young, idealistic person, and needs this to be orchestrated correctly — a confession by free will is the only option. And he stresses that he never called himself the Laughing Man, and also that someone else stole all that money. He was only after one thing, but the world seemed bent on manufacturing a boogeyman.

Togusa’s wife shows up in the hospital. As the kids are being anime-adorable in the out-of-focus foreground, the doctor tells her something distressing, that prosthetics may be a consideration. Meanwhile, Ishikawa and Boma locate Imakaruzu, right after the DEA also find him. Batou takes the helicopter, as the rain starts to fall.

The NSS rolls out in the thermoptic raincoats from the 1995 film. This time, it seems that the team is made up of marines, including one female member. For now, it’s this franchise’s general, and relatively progressive gender equity. The head NSS guy is outfitted in an arm suit, Ghost in the Shell’s less fantastical Landmate equivalent. Batou inserts himself into Imakaruzu’s country club room, and is soon pinned down by the NSS.

He says that they can cloak, but they can’t completely hide themselves. Before he can make his move, whatever that would’ve been, the Major comes from behind, and takes them out with a pistol. She’s powered by a catsuit, perhaps, but we learn later on why the outfit she’s got on is relatively simple-looking.

In another nod to the original film, an invisible robot stands over a car. The Major orders Batou to get Imakaruzu out of here, because he can’t take on this arm suit. He tells her not to get killed, and obeys — he’s come down from the beginning of the episode. The Major engages, doing some sweet flips, and meanwhile, Pazu and Saito are transporting your standard issue big gun. The Laughing Man too is en route, as “Silent Cruise” begins spooling up.

The Major’s arm is shot off, and she’s thrown through a window into the rain. The arm suit grabs her and crushes her underfoot, but Saito is there to shoot at it. A direct hit didn’t punch the armor? Pazu is shocked, playing support for the gun. This is one of the rare instances where genuine surprise will register on his face, and his eyes will be wide.

The Major takes the enormous sniper rifle, which required both those two to operate properly, and one-hands it (out of necessity sure, but even if she had both arms, she appreciates style), shooting at the armor to slowly crush the man inside, impact by impact. She’s a little peeved, standing over the robot as the rain continues to fall.

Batou attempts to escort Imakaruzu out by helicopter, but the guy wanders off and talks with the Laughing Man, one last time. In doing so, that female marine is able to assassinate him. Seeing him dying, the Laughing Man pulls down his hood — this is what he really looks like. He’d hacked Batou’s eyes, and the Ranger is having none of that, starts firing into the sky. I guess Section 9 is exempt from the paperwork, typing up those reports justifying the use of deadly force. I suppose that every time they take a step in those cyborg bodies, it’s deadly force.

So this episode is easier to follow for a Complex arc, because it’s mostly a manhunt and operation. Granted, there’s plenty of history lesson and technology stuff — the surveillance and data overloads are kind of a headache, but what really matters here is that the DEA has been corrupted, and will offer some further leads. It’s kind of a Kill Bill 1 & 2 between this and the next episode, where we get the big action scene between Section 9 and the NSS, but the conflict is much more low-key yet darker later.

Structurally, this is a fine episode, even if not as self-contained as a stand alone. Only with a close read did the climax seem overdramatic (“Silent Cruise” will do that), because the whole time, our mind is elsewhere, with Imakaruzu. Who cares about the NSS? Just kill them. But it’s a protracted battle, and maybe this is something of an unexpected turn for our question at the top.

The serial sacrifices the tidiness of the episodic, but it will do so for a reason. It needs to tell its story a certain way. With the missing ingredient in Stand Alone Complex, the center-staging of this moment where the Major is plugging the robot suit in the rain reads as slightly false. That missing ingredient being character arc. Not development — the Major is fine, but she has no personal stake in the case, one comprehensively established over the course of the season, and is just showing emotion here because she’s momentarily pissed her body got chopped up by machine-gun fire. Has no meaning beyond.

For other shows, that ingredient could be what Stand Alone Complex has enough of to share, namely ideas. But other shows might be able to better reconcile the episodic with the serial, in less explicit ways than differentiating “C” and “SA,” aka “Mytharc” and “Monster of the Week.” It’s about how certain sequences are played, their weight, because it’s all contingent on the context of the greater arc. An episodic moment like Batou’s confrontation of the boxer Zaitsev feels very important in the moment, but as soon as the episode is over, it isn’t. Those feelings the audience gets are valuable, but deliberately momentary.

This is one of the chief reasons why 2nd Gig is the superior season, in my opinion. As interesting and sort of perfect as the Laughing Man case is, the emotional stakes are basically non-existent. Until Togusa returns that is, but that isn’t for a while, until after the NSS are put down.

And again, the Major puts them down with a righteous spin-kick, but in this instance, that’s just not enough. I can enjoy that sort of Ghost in the Shell formula, but it’s the formula of longform storytelling I need, and that isn’t fully maximized until the next season.

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