Episode 11: “IN: Kusanagi’s Labyrinth — AFFECTION”

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If the world of Ghost in the Shell wasn’t so terrifying, I’d love to live in it. Stand Alone Complex especially, which is like a trip to Japan, but it’s 15% the future, so it’s 15% better. More beautiful — in the first scene of “Affection,” we open on a floating garden, as suspended on a bridge between two skyscrapers. What a view. In the foreground, some pretty garden café, in the background, the sky with the tops of buildings. Only trouble is wind, I guess, but if you’re a cyborg…?

I really like the structure of this episode. Here we intertwine a Major story, and a Batou story, and they dovetail in one final scene — it’s all very chill, though. There are no explosions, no arguments, not even any discussion of the case. It’s all just… heartwarming.

Which is an unusual feel for Ghost in the Shell, but just as this structure is typical for most other television, this kind of laidback emotional engagement (sounds contradictory) is a staple of successful shows.

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2nd Gig is experimenting — the prior episode was a courtroom drama, this one is a flashback with a new emotional dimension. While the season continues to hit strides that are fully Ghost in the Shell, like in the crisis resolution of “Reembody,” where every element is mixing to wholesome effect, the one experiment that’ll succeed and carry through to the end of the arc is this dramatic aspect.

The seeds of which, even if we don’t know it, are laid here. Tellingly, this episode is labeled: IN, if we even pay attention to those, so either this will have no forward relevance, or the creators are playing purposefully deceptive, however lightly.

The Major is walking around, being watched. Two men on surveillance are scoping out potential escape routes. She’s not going anywhere — there are bars on the bathroom windows. She wouldn’t be so dramatic. Meanwhile, she’s in the bathroom, and opens the windows, jumps out gracefully. It was a hack! Damn rookies. No bars, no bars.

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Togusa joins Batou in the car, says it’s so hot out — you need a drink? Batou answers by sipping at a beer. Togusa prattles. Must be nice to break down alcohol with a cyborg body. It’s a very quintessential scene between them. If by Episode 11 somehow we haven’t felt ‘back’ in the old ways, this should wash away your anxieties. However, Batou might be characteristically taciturn simply because he’s nervous. These rookies spying on the Major are in fact rookies, and he’s testing their aptitude for recruitment into Section 9. If none of them successfully track the Major, as none have, he’ll look pretty silly.

Togusa wonders if this test is a little out of whack, but Batou’s convinced. If they can’t do this simple job, they don’t have what it takes. As we see in the episode, perhaps nobody really does. And we only learn about one member’s recruitment — Saito’s — and even then, who knows exactly what happened after that fateful sniper battle, and if that fateful sniper battle was even true…

The Major asks Batou what the status is, and he says, “reading the newspaper, drinking coffee.” Still in mid-air (I imagine), she’s a little impatient: I was talking about them. “So was I.” To her dismay, it hasn’t dawned on them that they were being implanted with false memories. Batou said that that’s the first thing he taught them how to spot. Time to move on to the next set.

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But before I can move on, I have to parse that. I knew I could never qualify for life as a Section 9 agent once the Major was like: memorize the layout of this building, and I blinked. This is just crazy. How in hell do you even detect false memories? Or suspect them? Or erect them, if on the opposite side? G’lord. That’s really what Ghost in the Shell novels should go into, but in my highly limited experience, they’re not so hung up on the science.

The Major’s on the train, testing the last pair. She walks through a marketplace, and is followed by one guy, and Azuma, who’s the more recognizable of the two eventual recruits (spoiler), probably because of his hair and probably because he’s the one who lives (spoiler).

She walks up some stairs, and the two mooks lose her instantly. But it seems that the Major herself has lost her as well. Batou resigns himself: it’s over, Major. Let’s head back to the office. But neither he nor Togusa are getting her.

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Meanwhile, she’s got her gun drawn in the marketplace that’s suddenly depopulated, like a video-game environment when the violence is about to start. She tries to reach out to Batou. Is this a hack? The connections are down. It must be, but she didn’t feel anything slip past her four, count ‘em, four layers of defense barriers. If this is the trainees, that’s pretty impressive.

In a small character moment, she takes off those purple sunglasses, and begins to chew on the temple tips, lost in thought. It’s funny to see a moment like that because you want to wave your arms around and be like “look, look — that’s a human behavior, the Major! See! See?” Regardless, she’s wondering about this sensation. She touches the walls, the door, is picking up tactile responses but it feels like a dream. She goes in a shop and waves her hand over some smoke.

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I mean, that’s why, no matter how many floating gardens you offer me, I could never live in the Ghost in the Shell world. Even this incarnation of the Major can be unsure of her reality. So when the future happens, circa 2030, I’m never visiting Japan. Then old enough to be of average age — a late cyberbrain adopter, so with a new model, I’d be an easy mark for cyber-pirates. One trip to the sushi bar and I wake up pantsless, dead.

The Major heads upstairs and glances at two child prosthetic bodies sitting in a car — she sees how similar that one looks like her, right? This isn’t one of those ‘suspend your disbelief’ things? Well, if this is consistent with the first Ghost in the Shell movie, the Major might see herself all over the place — prosthetic bodies are rarely custom, as we learn in “Make Up.”

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“Adorable, aren’t they?” an older woman says, approaching. This is the proprietor, who’s in the business of looking after people’s external memories. It might seem like a useless pursuit, but they’re people after all. Sometimes she feels like she’s suffocating because this place emanates with their psychic imprints. That’s probably why the Major was drawn here in the first place.

The story of these two children always makes this woman, and me, sad. The Major begins to ask what kind of memories she senses from them, but is interrupted by a booming grandfather clock. Sorry, we’re closing. The Major is then outside, and a little kid runs by, but basically into her, and actually moves her, doesn’t just bounce off the modern golem and fall flat on his ass. She’s fixated on something. Looking up at the fireworks over the marketplace, this sensation… it’s nostalgia.

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Batou and Togusa are still waiting down at HQ. Togusa’s about to give up when the Major arrives. Batou’s like “don’t just up and disappear!” The Major asks if there were any promising applicants. Surely she knows the answer. Batou says, not really. He wonders if he’s doing his job, even. Pobre Batou. The Major skips, and Togusa tries to cheer him up: She would’ve shaken me too, as a trainee. Batou’s like “NO WAY.” Togusa balks at his balk. “You could’ve tailed her?” You bet your ass.

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Next day, the Major’s back at the floating garden, talking with a new friend. It’s not the nurse, but maybe it’s the nurse’s roommate from that one episode. The Major tells her about the experience she had last night, if she’s ever had a psychic experience. The friend appears bubbly and unhelpful, but actually talks about how sometimes when she drives, she begins to sense the car becoming an extension of her body, which I used to think was based on some work by an Australian psychologist or philosopher, but I couldn’t really find anything online. Here’s a brief article by Psychology Today.

Batou follows the Major through the same marketplace. What the hell’s she doing? Retracing her steps from yesterday? As we see in one shot, she does so in high heels. This is perhaps the only time she’s taken honest vacation time in the series — I try to keep myself appraised of such things. She goes up the stairs once more and Batou loses her. Shit.

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The Major wants to hear about these two children. Straight shooter, the proprietor says, and prompts a flashback. The boy was in a plane crash that claimed everyone aboard, including his family, sparing only him and the little girl sitting next to him. She fell into a coma and never regained consciousness. The boy was paralyzed except for his left arm. When he found out that his parents were killed, and that his relatives had begun distancing themselves from him, the only thing giving him strength was the girl. He wanted her to wake up — this is what he lived for.

Concerned, unwrapping the sugar cube for her tea, the Major’s like, “something happened to the girl, didn’t it?” The boy was told that she’d gone far away (like Heaven?), and so with his one hand, he made origami cranes. Two years passed, and he spoke to nobody, just made cranes. It was like a duty that had been assigned to him — for the girl.

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The doctors offered him a prosthetic body, with the promise that he’d be able to live a normal life again. But he had no incentive to. He had no interest in fact, only wanted to make these cranes. So the doctors brought in the one person who was thought to give him the nudgerino in the right direction: the girl.

She’d undergone prosthetic surgery, and was up and around on her scooter and having a backwards baseball cap, a cheerful and energetic child who came to visit him every day. She never complained about her body, and in fact encouraged him to get one. He asked one day if she was able to fold origami cranes. If so, perhaps he’d consider it. She tried again and again, as we see, all set to “I Do,” by Ilaria Graziano. Her persistence became a source of hope, but even still, she succeeded only in ripping the paper, her fine controls needing work.

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He said that if, in a robot body, he couldn’t make the cranes, he’d be fine the way he is. So she left, determined to practice so that one day… she can fold them for him. Only then did the boy realize that she was that little girl all along. But she never returned. He then decided to get a robot body, and search for the girl.

The proprietor says that the boy grew up to be a first-rate prosthetic body user, but his adjustment must’ve been hard. It’s a unique situation, but doubtlessly, the thought of the girl having done the same must have pushed him forward. The Major asks if he ever found her, and indeed he found the girl’s body, at a lab in college, but couldn’t track down the former owner, who’d switched into a more mature one. And the boy? He shipped out in the final days of the war. I suppose it’s possible he died.

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The Major stands, thanks her for the story. She smiles, and says that even now, she’s sure the girl is still searching for the first boy she ever loved. The proprietor’s eyes go wide, and the Major leaves an origami crane in the car.

“The ice in your ice tea is melting,” Batou says, leaning into the cooldown room at Section 9 HQ. He sits next to her. He asks what she thinks about resetting the level of difficulty on the whole, you know… trainee thing. He remembers being wet behind the ears, getting chewed out by his CO. Softly, she says that nobody’s good at something right away. He’s taken by this. “Yeah. You know, to hear you say that, it really takes a load off my mind.”

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The animation of Batou in that moment was very unusual — he doesn’t often make that face. He’s just very earnest, being revived from shame — relieved, thoroughly. He and the Major understand each other very well, to the extent that other members of the team don’t know about. Granted, it’s hardly an intimate relationship, but it is maybe… enough. For this moment, for Batou, certainly.

And for the Major, maybe she’s slowly coming to that revelation that the Chief had during the NSS fiasco in the first season — the job isn’t everything. At that moment, when the Chief declared that that could be a possibility, the Major was decidedly on one side of the issue. But her relationship with Batou is coming to the point where clearly they could be together, but the possibility only exists if they’re not working for Public Security.

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After 2nd Gig, that’s what makes the conclusion of Solid State Society (and of the Stand Alone Complex story by extension) kind of frustrating, as well as the nature of television at its intersection with business, and the nature of Ghost in the Shell specifically. If we compare the ending of 2nd Gig to that of Solid State Society, there’s an indication of conclusion, which would of course be answered in the followup OVA.

The Major becomes disillusioned with the job after what happens with this case — so if you’re in the dark, get ready for some disillusionating stuff — but Solid State Society kind of brings her back. Maybe.

We always have to return like that. Remember The Office? From the very beginning, the character of Jim had a dramatic need: to quit his job. So if we want a happy ending for him, he has to not be on the show. And that eventually happened, but far too late and sort of without tact. The Major is the Major. She can’t not be our dancing monkey.

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It’s also the problem with stasis in this franchise. Don’t do anything too drastically different, lest the meta-continuity be spoiled. If you throw a real ending into this mess, that ending becomes canon just like the Puppeteer storyline, and maybe you tie the hands of Mr. Ghost in the Shell: Arise, maybe he feels pressure to do a riff on your ending! Or reject it, or otherwise acknowledge it.

But here, Mr. Kamiyama is trying to push past, reaching — and maybe too far. Without even being unconventional, he’s exploring the Major, and suddenly we want more for her than the rendezvous with destiny in the virtuo-cosmic stars of the net as a disembodied crime-fighter.

It’s like a big tease.

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So, what can we do? We have to hope that the ending of 2nd Gig is wholly fulfilling in the moment, slam-braining and resonating through the beautiful “Christmas in the Silent Forest” credit scroll, despite it having little consequence for the long-game. One last spoiler: It does.

So anyway, what’s the key to selling a sad story about kids? Oh… They don’t speak. What’s interesting to those looking back on this episode, having seen the finale, is that the romantic arc exists in two pieces, and the second piece is even more vague. But that has to do with what makes the end of 2nd Gig work, alongside its impressive scope, and its finding emotional catharsis in unusual places.

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But that’s sort of the thing with this show, isn’t it?

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2 thoughts on “Episode 11: “IN: Kusanagi’s Labyrinth — AFFECTION”

  1. There’s this famous Japanese folklore that if one folds a thousand paper cranes, then one can be granted a wish, popularized by the touching story of Sadako Sasaki.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousand_origami_cranes

    That boy has definitely made more than a thousand, but for some reason I fear that he might not be able to realize his wish…well, not in the good way at least. (this is my first time watching 2nd Gig)

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