Episode 26: “IN: Return to Patriotism — ENDLESS∞GIG”

“Docile consumers. That’s the way to go.”

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This is arguably the farthest reach of the Ghost in the Shell brand. In our cyber-police action-drama, we investigate a new kind of virus as framed in the context of social revolution. And our visuals speak to this dynamism most immediately — the AK-47s and harbors — this feels more like Children of Men than anything else, and yet the application of the requisite cyberpunk element to a brand new setting can’t be undervalued. This is only scene-setting however, step one to the greatness that is Ghost in the Shell SAC: 2nd Gig.

The airstrikes continue, as the hallucinated nightmare in Innocence of battleships assaulting a city’s coastline is made real, with stakes well understood. We start from a wide angle, surveying the carnage from a comfortable distance, and punch in close to see the victims, engulfed in fire or washed away by debris.

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“Torukia,” begins to play over out title interlude, as the Tachikoma are scrambling. The Major calls on them with the new order, to facilitate the refugee migration onto the net. The Tachikoma and the Major are in a role reversal here. The Major been watching over the Tachikoma during their rescue of Mr. Batou, and now the Tachikoma have become the eye in the sky — though more like a guardian angel in kind. Yet, they’re unsure about the refugees’ salvation.

The Major informs Kuze that her support AI have cleared space on the net, and he thanks her for her help. She asks him about the refugees who don’t have cyberbrains. “I suspect their families who ascend will lose faith.” She tells him that it’s difficult. When you lead people, you have to make difficult decisions. I’m sure they’ll understand. “I hope you’re right.”

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Whether or not we’re even conscious of it, the Major has had to make several tough calls this season. Ghost in the Shell is never ever about morality, so we have to take it from her perspective. She’s taken Section 9 away from Kayabuki in a moment of desperation, and even now, she’s doing what a Major from one month ago would have stood aghast at. It’s been an emotional, turbulent ride for her — but above all, an elusive one. How does she feel? She hasn’t always known. But now she’s found her center.

Kuze is someone she can relate to, and maybe for a reason. Batou is closing in however, and loses contact with the Tachikoma. We stay with the Tachikoma for a moment — the missile launch could be imminent! They gasp. Back to philosophy: “I want your honest opinion. Will the refugees really be saved with their memories uploaded to the net?

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Without ghosts… seems unlikely. But isn’t the Major betting it all on this? Not to mention that… we won’t be able to save Mr. Batou, and the others. We should ignore her orders! More gasps.

Kayabuki isn’t getting through. She’s frustrated, finally breaks down. “I know I was just being used as the face of the new administration, but this is too much…” She decides to end this her own way, and makes a call.

The Tachikoma use a satellite map trajectory, and map it out. They’ll drop satellites in the path of the missile. Yay! But yeah. What’s wrong? Well, isn’t this satellite the one that our AI is kept on? I mean, we’re being stored on an American satellite launched in Japan. “Aw what the hell?!” (I hope you have the dub on for that moment — so funny). Why would the Major do that? Maybe so we could spy on them. Either way…

Ishikawa is pulled over, just resting. The Tachikoma with him rolls up, tells him that it has to be with the others. There’s something I have to do. It deactivates — takes the ferry right up to AI heaven — and the body just drops. Ishikawa’s dry as ever: “Looks like I’m on my own.”

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Batou, having been struck in the attack, is getting up. “Major… where are you?” He spots her fish-rifle. Under, the Major asks Kuze if… he can fold origami cranes with only his left hand. “With the correct control software…” That’s not what I meant. “Can you?” No. “Sounds like you’ve endured your share of pain.” Here comes the Ilaria. “What’s your name?” Don’t recall. Same as you, I’m sure. Kuze begins to reflect. Perhaps he joined the refugees to quell his loneliness.

But in the end, the Major says, others could rely on you, but you couldn’t rely on them. “Do you have someone you can open yourself up to?” I suppose I do… We see Batou in silhouette, attempting to break through the ground with a giant cross. “I’ve been looking for mine for a long time.”

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Aramaki’s brother is helping refugees on the bridge. The SDA spots Section 4 and Section 9 approaching, waving arms for a ceasefire in unison. Kuze can link with three million refugees, but in all his superheroism, what people neglected to notice in him was his humanity. They saw what they wanted to see. This may truly be the reason why things can never be as he wants — the connection is there, but it lacks intimacy. There is still distance among the refugees.

Gouda rises, and the nuke launches. We cross fade to Batou shouting “Motoko!” and slamming the cross into the ground. The Major and Kuze hug — she’s about to take a bit of the apple in her hand when she hears something unusual…

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It’s the Tachikoma singing — and in Japanese. Batou stops, Section 9 looks up from their position on the bridge. Proto: “I bet… you all have ghosts,” he says, and falls over, seemingly dead. The Tachikoma are arranging their data in the net, as the satellite burns up in the atmosphere.

A silent, distant explosion, and the Tachikoma’s voices fade in their eerie harmony. One more sacrifice.

The Chief asks Proto what’s going on. Androids don’t die. “Seems the Tachikoma rammed their satellite into the missile.” So they averted a worst-case scenario, he says. The Prime Minister is confused — you’ll have to explain that. You lost men? Indeed.

In all their time, and even after being resurrected once, the Tachikoma have been developing to this end, to make the call to ‘avert a worst-case scenario.’ They duck the Major’s orders to do so, which on one hand speaks to our ingrained fear of SkyNet, as that relates to UAVs. Pretty soon our cars will have brains, and if there’s an obstruction on the street, will they swerve into another lane to protect us but kill someone else, or swerve us into a tree?

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But in science-fiction, these robots that gain sentience and are then persecuted have the argument of individuality, that they are valuable souls in a world where such a thing is literalized in culture — they have ghosts. This is what they chose to do with their lives. It isn’t a fatal devotion to the mission, per programming, because even back in the day, the Tachikoma were pretty bad at their job. It’s something more human.

Gouda’s also upset. The missile was intercepted? He steps out in his sunglasses and hat, the trenchcoat. He’s got contingencies: they’ll frame Kayabuki’s actions as a Cold War framework. What a shame. No hero-engineering after all. Section 9 is on the bridge. They can’t believe it was really them that stopped the missile.

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Love this scene

Kuze asks her what happened. “I can’t explain it, but… the support AI did something other than what I asked.” Batou comes in to share the news. “Major, the Tachikoma…” I know. Course, he’s shocked to see her all hugging up on Kuze the Killer.

The Chief, Togusa, and a few men stand outside Takakura’s office. “Our priority now is arresting the Chief Secretary and Gouda,” the Chief says. “It’s slim, but it’s possible the events of today won’t be made public in our lifetimes.” They go in. “Tako, your actions amount to a coup de tat and mass murder under the guise of war.” He makes some patriotic defense about nukes, and the Chief is quick to remind him what he already knows. “There are no nukes!” His fate is to be put through a rigorous but unofficial trial. He sneers at Kayabuki, who’s also in the room, if I haven’t mentioned her. He makes some remarks about her being a typical weak-willed woman.

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Kayabuki fires back in a monologue that rolls over a sequence in which two Americans, painted without malice, are surveying the island from their sub. Should we fire again? Not yet. Look for the signal (look for Kayabuki’s connect), the insignia on the planes and stuff. Kayabuki imparts her vision the future, one that Takakura won’t be a part of. There will be reconciliation across the board. No! Takakura thinks. And the planes fly by the sub — no more nukes.

Batou takes Kuze in, dragging him around by the collar. Kuze has no more reason to live, never mind resist. It’s all over. They board the helicopter and lift off as the Major checks in with Saito, de facto leader (of Pazu and Boma). Batou notices the bite taken out of the apple in Kuze’s hand. The Major’s eyes go wide. “You are…!” We have a closeup on Kuze.

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For some break, we see Ishikawa almost get jacked. A black suit tries to take the plutonium, a gun cleverly concealed. But Ishikawa just punches him with his arm that’s in a cast.

Gouda chats social philosophy with Americans while on his exit. Section 9, flanked by the police, moves in, surrounds him at the elevators. The Chief says he’s accused of conspiring with a foreign power to start a war for personal power. “The final act of your play was a flop,” Togusa adds. Are you so sure? He’s informed that Takakura confessed to everything. That may be true, he snarls, but he and I had a standalone relationship.

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Not only that, Gouda has sent a letter to the metropolitan police. He’s defecting. But Togusa counters his letter with a letter of his own — this one from Kayabuki: she values your skills, and hopes to retain you as an asset. Were you to defect to a foreign nation, the police is authorized to use lethal force. The American guy’s like pff, it’s a bluff. Gouda’s like, right. Let’s go.

And the elevator opens — who’s there? The Major’s voice? And her bullets? Gouda’s riddled with ten thousand bullets, which move up his body and pop his head like a grape. She and Batou decloak — “Gee, what a cryin’ shame,” Batou says, and notices that one of the Americans is a familiar face from “Jungle Cruise.” The Chief’s like ‘how long have you been–’ let’s just note here that nobody is taken aback by the ultraviolence just perpetrated on a person in their direct proximity — ‘pulling the strings?’ The Major’s eyes go wide again — Kuze!

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Get him before they eliminate him! She shoots out the window and jumps out. Her last dive (for now). But too far away, or maybe even long before, Kuze is on the floor in a CIA van. An agent is preparing a needle. “What’s that you got there? A crane?” Kuze is immobile, but he’s used to it, and even now, can make a crane despite physical limitation. He transcended his form, transcended fate. And this is where he lies. “These micro-machines will give you a painless death. You sure are fascinating. But your country has no use for charismatic leaders they can’t control. Docile consumers. That’s the way to go.”

Kuze moves his lips. “I’ll… go on ahead.”

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We fade in from white, slowly. The smoke has long cleared. But something remains. Section 9 is sitting around on big green Fuchikoma, at the cherry blossoms. The Chief calls in to wake the Major: your supplementary budget has passed. The Fuchikoma is like… blurp. It’s all mechanical. Batou winces. The Chief notes that the refugee situation is back to square one. So the Major calls off their round-the-clock cherry blossom op, and each member has a quip and locks into their vehicle… as “Christmas in the Silent Forest” begins.

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The Major sees Batou giving her the eye. “What?” Nothing. They roll out along the highway, to Ilaria’s greatest tune. Things have changed, things are strange. Even stranger, some things are uncomfortably the same. It’s a bittersweet song, and the feeling reflects that. It’s an extended sequence of the highway-riding, Section 9 in their natural element, but the Major drifting off on her own. As ever, the statement is vague, inconclusive. But it’s enough.

Today’s Tachikomatic Days is a sullen one. A Tachikoma ‘wakes up’ in the usual all-white background. “Am I back in Tachikoma paradise? I’ve don’t got a halo… And where’s everyone else?” It bumps into a Fuchikoma, and they stare at each other. It’s so faceless, so empty. But the cherry blossoms begin to fall in the foreground, and they both look over to appreciate them as we once again fade to white. “I’m a Tachikoma.”

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Ghost in the Shell SAC: 2nd Gig is a war story. This is what we apply the cyberpunk to, the technology of mind and body — what if instead of dying, soldiers could instead live forever. In this season, soldiers have at various times sniped enemies in a ruthless game before becoming someone we know, and traded a rifle for a camera to descend upon refugees with a newfound spirit.

Even in this world, where bodies are meaningless, and so too are minds, where a single man can write the narrative of a city, there’s a silver lining. We’re looking at things a different way. We have this incredibly robotic thing with the Tachikoma — they don’t have any brains! But they become human.

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Gouda’s script is a deconstruction of why we fight and throw our lives away. He manufactures an enemy out of fear and mythology, and his plan is wholly contingent upon our capacity for evil. And he comes close, but ultimately fails because there’s still some good in there. Just… not enough for the good guys to win.

This isn’t the end of Stand Alone Complex, but it could’ve been. We end on a note of deep sadness. The unshakable Major is unhappy, and everything else’s stasis is irrevocably reframed. Kamiyama’s anti-violence soul, more fully answered in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, explores wonderful territory here. He adapts the Ghost in the Shell brand, despite having defined so much of it.

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For me, this is the height of the franchise. It may not be completely emotionally fulfilling, but that’s the Ghost in the Shell curse. Must take the good with the unfortunate, and that’s an easy task. I look forward to revisiting this one again.

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