In an uncharacteristic television finale, where the story conclusion isn’t sacrificed on the altar of a jaw-drop twist, we settle in, and return to normal. Plot-wise, the action is over. All that’s left is questions — what’s the status of the Major? What’s the future of Section 9? And these are answered. Wanted more?
Well, there’s still Togusa, who is once again our proxy, but this is by function of biology, and not will, as we’re eventually to discover. It may have also been his biology that led him to the undercover op at the aid center, which put him as the de facto lead investigator on the Laughing Man case. Remember also that it was his old police buddy from HQ who contacted him about interceptors.
This case affected him like no one else in Section 9. Recent events have affected him further. When we rejoin him, he’s looking like a homeless fellow. Disheveled, despairing. The cold open clues us in that the Major is still an element, but perhaps in the form she typically leaves us in — disembodied and reborn on the net.
When Togusa was released from police custody after fifteen days, he found that Section 9 was disbanded. We see that process from an outsider’s perspective, as the only resource he has now is future google. He discovers that each member of Section 9 was charged with high treason and imprisoned. How could the Chief abandon us? Given his final moment with the Chief, when he was being dragged off, his character is in question.
More pressing though is the status of the Major. Could she really be dead? Hard to imagine somebody got the better of her. That brief research was three months ago, and for Togusa, that was hard time. Frustration, sadness, confusion. He compares it to long term investigations, but he never suffered during those. His family sees him as an unemployed husband.
When he looks for a new line of work, he turns on the TV, and all those emotions funnel down into anger. A news report checks in on the Yakushima case, which is now being handled by the Public Prosecutor’s office. Togusa laments — Section 9 gathered all that data! We uncovered it! Even the paper trail that led to Serano! He pulls back: it’s not important who collars Yakushima, just that he’s caught. Still, it bothers him. How does this make the world a better place?
That sentiment can be dangerous. The ambition of a young police officer, now rejected by the system, with no options left. He digs his Mateba out of the closet, and contemplates next steps. He’s got no aspirations to be a hero. For a moment, he compares himself to the Laughing Man, that he’s been similarly inspired, as when the ol’ hacker came upon the first pieces of evidence.
And per tradition, Togusa dons a blue hood, and stalks toward Yakushima at the ruling party’s headquarters. Crosses an empty street, heads into the crowd. His gun is raised, and jabs someone in the back. But it’s Togusa’s back — Batou is behind him, must have fished the gun out of his pocket. Togusa is shocked. Batou is all smiles, and tells him he’s a dummy. No way in hell he could’ve reached Yakushima…
It’s pretty crazy. There was plenty of build-up, but Togusa was determined to assassinate someone. And while the Major wouldn’t blink (ever, in general, but also) about murdering someone, it was always in the confines of justice. Her justice, maybe, given the sovereignty of Section 9. So maybe this is Togusa coming into his own as a member of Section 9, but if we know where he ends the series, it’s an episode he’d rather forget. He’s always moral.
So this isn’t an instance of dramatic characterization in a disproportionate amount of time, though it may be characterization after all, just not of Togusa. Kamiyama and the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex Committee have a tricky way of detailing their world and its inhabitants. It can be ephemeral, especially when considering that these robot people rarely open up to their police shrinks. How do we show Togusa’s allegiance to Section 9, while at the same time establishing Section 9 as more than an organization, but an ideal?
Togusa could never go back to his old life at the HQ, because that’s what it’d be, about his life, not his job. So the ripples of relief washing upon his shores of confusion and brainfreeze are palpable on his face. Batou takes him to a temporary Section 9 headquarters, where the gang’s all here. Except for the ringleaders.
Batou had been tailing him for a while, and they explain how the official dissolution of Section 9 was a play by the Chief. We flashback to the moment the Chief confronted the Prime Minister, which was the moment everything started here. It was a bold move to make Section 9 into the bad guy, but this was all to force the Prosecutor’s office to take action. Meanwhile, the Chief was confident that they’d each survive and regroup. He even arranged it so that Togusa would be taken early, and kept clear of the Umibozu.
He asks about the Major, and Batou pretends not to care about her. But this is obviously proven false, as each Section 9 member saw via satellite recording his reaction to her seeming death: “MOTOKO!” Ishikawa thinks it’s particularly funny, and while probably it is, it’s only a reminder that everything is again status quo — good for Togusa, and for us. We like Section 9. The only victim here is the relationship between the Major and Batou. After all the progress, we’re back to square one.
The Chief is asked, after all is said and done, what remains for him? He’s just glad that justice was served. His current plan now is to recreate Section 9, in much the same way, but with one minor change. He’s offered a job at the Prosecutor’s office, but turns it down. He’s on his way to meet with a prospective new member. Although the main prosecutor guy passes Aramaki by, three younger suits give him a salute as he stands atop some stairs. It’s more than he’ll get at the close of the next big case.
We check in on the Major, and she’s in a library, the digital version of which we saw during the chatroom episode. It’s momentarily unclear whether this is reality or not, until the Major reveals the facts of her current anatomy. Before she meets up with Aoi, we tour the library, bristling with automated book-organizing robots. A technology that’s a forward kind of anachronism: surely libraries will be extinct before we’ve funded them the military’s surplus.
The Major slides her hand over an engraving on a rail that says “Fuck you.” I’m not really sure. Aoi, the Laughing Man, sits there, and the Major taunts him. Says she’d wondered what she would do with him, in that time she was floating around. Turns out it was only a remote controlled body that was blown up, so she never did a full body swap, and in fact, got her arm fixed from the robot suit incident.
They talk, and we learn that Aoi, by synching his information with so many, has lost his individuality. Even the Major played a copy of the Laughing Man. But perhaps not even he is the original. He’s a pretty heavily cyberized person, and so was deathly afraid of contacting CS. One day, he stumbled upon a blackmail document that contained a thesis comparing the Murai vaccine to micro-machine therapy. The author of that document was probably the original.
While this conversation goes on, he continues to quote philosophers, but the Major knows each one. Maybe it’s more google. When I get lost is when they start discussing the Stand Alone Complex, the name the Major would give to this situation. Who knew that copies could be made without an original? For Aoi, this marks a new era of despair.
What? I don’t know. I’m still shaky on what Stand Alone Complex means, and why the meme aspect of the case was so thematically relevant, since it isn’t really plot-relevant, in the endgame of the case, which was more about corruption. How do all these pieces connect? Since this episode double features plot (the regroup of Section 9) and theme (Stand Alone Complex), both weigh equally. But our proxy for theme isn’t friendly Togusa, it’s the Major…
The Chief arrives at the library, and Aoi asks if he’ll be arrested. For kidnapping and terrorism. Aramaki asks if he’ll continue preserving and reading these books. He says yes, if he’s allowed. The Chief extends the offer to join Section 9. But he’s not a team player, and this would run counter to Shirow canon. So the Chief tells the Major that Section 9 will continue to operate as an anti-crime unit, so long as they want it to. They walk away, and “Inner Universe” begins playing.
Another confusing moment, especially considering the emotional rhythm of victory, is the final fate of Serano. He’s all ready to make his case against Yakushima, but is seemingly assassinated — and is it by Togusa’s other police contact from back in the Interceptor days? Dub or sub, I know I’m not the only one confused by that. Either way, we never hear from him again.
To close out in parallel to the very opening of the series, the Major is atop roof, and given an order by the Chief to assemble the team in an A2 loadout. Batou arrives to give her a wink and smile by helicopter, and each member of the team checks in. Togusa’s driving, Saito is with sniper, Ishikawa is at computer, Pazu and Boma are heading over.
And the Major jumps off the roof (never once do we see anyone landing from one of these jumps), leaving the last shot of Stand Alone Complex an echo of the 1995 film’s. It’s fitting, as we return to normal, and return to our roots. Leave it to 2nd Gig for transcendence.
Not that we haven’t gone afield in this first season. As much as this is an Oshii-inspired, Shirow-involved off-shoot of the Ghost in the Shell name, it’s an adaptation like all the rest. It’s more character intensive than any yet, surpassed only by Arise, whose choices in that characterization make it questionable, so there’s something to be said for the subdued approach here.
We get hints about who these people are. Batou may be haunted by old ghosts, the Chief tortured by his commitment to the cause, but in the end, each of them put these aside for the greater good, when that good called upon a huge sacrifice. And as to the matter of the Laughing Man case, it’s a pretty perfect story for a longform Ghost in the Shell. The case that goes everywhere, and it isn’t about a rogue AI or a singular company like Locus Solus.
In their comprehensive exploration of the Ghost in the Shell world, this iteration of the Section 9 team saw and did plenty, but always made sure to keep the Major centerstage, even when she was without a head for a half an episode.