The Laughing Man is creeping, as is his wont. The creep-locale though, is heavily guarded. Within, the man at the epicenter — Serano. In this episode, Section 9 makes its move, and we learn the whole truth of the Laughing Man case: political corruption, corporate warfare, medical conspiracy…
The Major asks Ishikawa if they’ve gotten any testimonies out of the three narc squad members since taken into custody (maybe two — I would’ve guessed the sexy doctor was dead). Ishikawa says: negatron. Section 9 is still going ahead, full bore after Secretary General Yakushima. This man, this is where the arm suit comes from. He’s a member of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, and he’s also a friend of the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force), which could be trouble.
Chief Aramaki is now walking with a cane, an ancient relic of elder days probably unfamiliar to the whippersnappers at HQ. He explains that Daido, from the beginning of the season, was Yakushima’s junior, and that Imakaruzu was his golf buddy. This guy is quite connected to the case, if I may say so myself.
He might be pulling the strings in all this, but for evidence, they need to go to Serano. However, our corporate friend has been under house arrest. Officially, it’s police protection from the Laughing Man. But as we see, nobody can really be protected from Laughing Man intrusion. Section 9 knows this, and are ordered to arrest him if they see him. He’s not only a key factor (previously, the key factor), but also a key witness.
Serano, as we see, is lonely in an empty large house full of wide shots. On cue, the Laughing Man shows up. Serano says that when he heard about the Sunflower Society massacre, it was only a matter of time. He’s escorted out, while the guards’ eyes are hacked in stunning realtime. Now on the road, the Laughing Man wants to know why he’s stayed silent all these six years.
Section 9 arrives at Serano’s, and Batou can swagger on about getting your eyes hacked, you damn rookies! Turns out the guards have interceptors, those cameras in people’s eyes for surveillance so clandestine the spy isn’t even aware, and these picked up the Laughing Man doing it again, kidnapping Serano. They inform the Major.
The two head to Star Child Coffee (another 2001 reference?). The Laughing Man notes that Serano’s hair has gone white. It’s stress, similar to the young girl in “Not Equal,” because the police are really there to ensure his silence. Serano says that the Laughing Man has changed too — he’s lost his naiveté.
This is where they met six years ago, that eventful day. They reminisce, and the scene fades back to when it happened, when the Laughing Man first asked him to go public with the truth. Serano had protested that he’s not on the drug evaluation council. The Laughing Man asks if he’d choose micro-machine therapy for his children, if they had CS? Of course, Serano says ‘no,’ in so many words. He’s urged to use his influence in the industry to promote the vaccine — reiterates that Imakaruzu had a special stamp made up to reject it.
In the English dub, it’s only when he’s yelling that we’re reminded the Laughing Man is being played by that grizzly Steve Blum. Makes sense, because he’s often opposite Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, the actress who plays the Major to perfection, and who went for Julia in Cowboy Bebop because she fell in love with Spike. But as Steve Blum is known for characters like Spike, this is uncharacteristic. You can’t doubt the results though, and it’s small wonder why this one of the most popular dubs in anime.
The Laughing Man, in the flashback, leads Serano out to a public space, and releases him of the braindive. Serano, spotting a news camera, thinks that if he can get in front of it, the hacker won’t do anything stupid. Newfound confidence, he goes back on his word, feels that he needs to protect his industry. That’s when the gun comes out, our little snub-nose anachronism. And we transition into our classic footage of the incident, the pieces leading up to it now in place.
The two days Serano spent with the Laughing Man were ruled a kidnapping, and that’s when the ransom came in — but Serano never thought it was him. Police interrogated him over and over again, and then the mico-machine killer was introduced into the line. Serano Genomics was teetering on bankruptcy, so they blackmailed their competitors, those companies being offered public funds in wake of the attacks.
So some guy shows up to broker a deal that will end the situation. This is where the Laughing Man comes from — manipulating the stock market. This guy — Yakushima. The real Laughing Man knew the whole time, but he was so discouraged by everything, he became a deaf mute. Now, he has to become the real Laughing Man, to pull Yakushima into it. Serano vows to become the copycat, hoping to bring the man down as well. The Laughing Man tells him not to die before taking the stand. By this point, with so much shared history, their relationship is interesting — they’re almost friends. At the very least, they share a secret nobody else knows (or so Serano thinks).
Section 9 arrive, and the police storm the place. No sign of the Laughing Man — he got away! Meanwhile, Batou meets up with the Laughing Man in the alley, who sheds the coat, and reveals that it was the Major in disguise. She laughs: she’d never been in a single school play. And now, she’s confirmed the connection between Serano and Yakushima, and that this whole charade might work.
To voice acting once more, that line “this might work,” is delivered with such a ‘not a big deal’ attitude it’s almost impressive in terms of character. For the Major, this operation was nothing. Using the Laughing Man’s memories, this was technically an undercover op — Serano suspected something was different, but concluded it was just maturity.
This is a very complicated episode, although the plot is simple: the Laughing Man kidnaps Serano for a chat, Section 9 goes after them. But learning the entire history of the case in one episode is no small thing — I get tripped up at Yakushima’s connection, what role he played, or rather, the nature of the deal he brokered.
It’s a detail, but not an overly important one. I don’t believe that Yakushima ever becomes a character, so the important thing is that A) this is all very complicated political stuff, B) it’s largely disconnected to the Laughing Man himself. It’s the perfect foil for the motives underlying the conspiracy. It began with a hacker’s wish to cure this century’s cancer, and spiraled into an impossible tangle.
The subtitle for this edition of Ghost in the Shell is Stand Alone Complex. There’s one thing I’ve been neglecting to address, but it’s very important. If we remember, the sub-titular stand alone complex was the Laughing Man incident at Daido’s press conference. Many unrelated people all spontaneously believed they were the famous hacker.
Now we know that the Laughing Man was manufactured as a cover, and yet, the stand alone complex was the first clue on the trail to Yakushima. So what does it mean? We also have the culture surrounding the Laughing Man, society’s interest in high-profile criminals. It could be about control, that in order to keep micro-machine therapy viable, human nature had to be manipulated against its will to survive. Given the technology of Ghost in the Shell, this great evil could be accomplished.