Episode 2: “DI: Well-Fed Me — NIGHT CRUISE”

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Get this. Guy walks into a Japanese tea house in winter, murders his boss, and a politician. Whoa. The violence on display here is stylish but very bloody, as in the prior episode. This could very well be a hardcore cold open, after which we hard cut to Section 9 getting the details. What will the Major have in store for this cold blooded murderer?

Guy walks in, eh? Heard this one before? Well — this and the next episode borrow heavily from pre-existing material, proving that well… Oshii and Shirow are probably the best sources for references in this arena. Not that the upcoming “Cash Eye” is bad, but today’s “Night Cruise,” a deliberate homage to Taxi Driver, is not very well-liked, and maybe not very successful.

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This fellow is Gino, a cyborg who works as a private pilot for some rich bastard. He’s a veteran of WWIV, and has clearly been imprinted with the conflict. It’s made him moody, and he lives something of a double life, appearing normal to his pilot co-workers, but secretly resenting them and everything. He’s got grand dreams of anarchy, a regular Fight Club douchebag — narration and all.

He feels bad for his cyborg co-workers who want to grab oysters after work. It’s just an illusion for them. The main co-worker pal, whose name I don’t remember, asks if public security is on Gino’s case again. Here, Susan is hinting at some history there, but we need to keep this in mind for his future.

These cyborgs were called in for that Second Vietnam War, but Gino believes the war was just a farce, a trade fair for corporations promoting the latest in cyborg hardware. These people, man. They don’t understand. They gave up their human bodies. And for what?

There’s a news report about the terrorist group, who we know as the Individual Eleven. Gino thinks their whole thing is a bluff. He’s not a fan of mass media, feels the chairman of the big three networks would rather control a personal empire than report the truth. This is a common idea, but only because it’s true, and especially in America. The idea that FOX News is driven by an agenda of promoting fear, at the expense of also spreading racism, sexism, and ignorance, is so well known we just ignore it. One of the great criminals of our time.

We see that Gino’s gigantic Desert Eagle is real, when he practices his shooting stance in front of a mirror, the direct echo to Taxi Driver. Of course, Gino isn’t the real deal, so perhaps we can contrast this with our introduction to Kuze, who’s also alone in a room with a weapon and narration, but he chooses more to meditate.

The thing with Gino is that he becomes obsessed with a prostitute, another Chroma, who’s escorted around by Batou. It’s an undercover op by Section 9, but from the opposite perspective. He narrates, upon witnessing this woman, that this full prosthetic is true beauty, and ironically, the only one he can be sure is human. He can connect to her — she’s stubbornly trying to protect her humanity like he is. And indeed, his murder fantasy turns into a rescue fantasy, where the Major is his damsel in distress.

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The fantasy of him crashing the plane is pretty intense, and indicates that while maybe the premise of an episode might be comparatively weaker, the execution is always consistently good. The creators of this show always commit. But maybe we wish they hadn’t in this case, because the day in Gino’s life continues in much the same way, spiraling — but only ever slowly.

He’s thrown out and robbed by a prostitution den. We find that he’s prosthetic from the waist down. No penis. Then he calls the refugee aid fund — it’s a Tachikoma on the other end. They offer no help. Maybe for entrapment?

He goes crazy thinking about cyborgs eating food, and then learns that Susan’s been arrested for a terrorist act. Things are strange. And to cap it, he’s assigned to take the beautiful Major home. He asks her what his boss did to her, and she says it’s her job. They exchange more silent discussion about looking for each other forever. Gino wants to just keep on flying. Maybe get a farm, start a new life. Here’s some pictures of my kids…

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The Major realizes that this Gino isn’t the revolutionary he fancies himself as. Nothing links him to the latest terrorist events. In fact, his prosthetic body wasn’t due to combat, but an STI he got while deployed. After everything, the fantasy is a fantasy. The Major says he’s just one in a number.

Characterization has been a focus in the Stand Alone Complex recaps. The way this show goes about it is unusual, and this is how we characterize the refugees. They become a central aspect for the Complex arc, the defense of Dejima and the rise of Kuze, the humanity at the center of everything. This is our formal introduction to them, and intelligently, we get to know them on an individual level. But it’s not some regular joe, it’s someone who has to be relevant to cyberterrorism. The show has it both ways, with this character who is pathetic, but perhaps dangerous enough to warrant Section 9 attention.

It’s a smart move, and again, well-executed. So where does it go wrong?

Well, I come to Ghost in the Shell for the Major. You take that element out, we’re left with the world of Ghost in the Shell, which is great, but needs that last element to transcend. This isn’t a bad episode of television, it’s just an unusual episode of Ghost in the Shell. And to follow up the premiere? The prior episode is perfect, embodies everything good about Ghost in the Shell. This one explores a corner of the universe.

It’s world-building, and even though it’s framed with a story, it’s not framed with the over-arching story. So it has the same effect as a bad or early scifi novel taking time out of its story to world-build.

However, we get some interesting insights. 2nd Gig is more expansive than the original, and this is our first hint at its scope. We talk about the wars, and see their effect play out in their aftermath. There’s economic and political consequences, but with “Night Cruise,” we see the heavy toll taken on human individuals.

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