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If Section 9 from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was real, would the world be a better place? It seems like an odd question, one possibly born of contrivance. I need another topic for The Battle Beyond Planet X, why not fabricate an excuse to further discuss Ghost in the Shell under yet another arbitrary sociopolitical lens? It’s gotten me this far!
It’s our mash-up culture, or those mock headlines leveled against clickbait outlets, like “How Pokemon Go is like Game of Thrones!” If you combine enough words that interest people, buddy, you’ve got yourself content! Top Ten Anime Babes! Top 50 Anime Babes!! But I’m not even on that level, with my paltry “Halo and Religion, Ghost in the Shell and Feminism…” I put those in the damn promo…
So where does that leave us with Stand Alone Complex and Utopia? Well, for whatever perverted and incredibly dark reason, it’s something I just can’t shake. You know, Stand Alone Complex was just so beyond me at all times, whether in high school, college, or now, I’m never really equipped to understand what it’s saying word-for-word. So when I do read something into it, that’s very exciting to me.
And so while my main man Kenji Kamiyama might be more interested in the standalone complex as a speculative sociological phenomenon, I see its utility as a reflection of and commentary on that society. One that must be policed, protected from itself. Because in the series, of course the two standalone complexes beget police intervention. And the way that each respective investigation plays out and facilitates expression of law enforcement on the Major’s part especially… is fascinating.
Round the clock cherry blossom op… What do it mean??
One of the questions hanging over Solid State Society, the last piece of Stand Alone Complex material outside of the narrative-less video-game First Assault, is the nature of Section 9. They found themselves unequipped to fully deal with the Dejima incident in 2nd Gig, or the unfolding Individual Eleven conspiracy as a whole, and as a result lost their star quarterback, who resigned and disappeared into the vastness of the net. Togusa took her leadership position instead of Batou, and they incorporated a number of new recruits into the fold. But the Chief continues to wonder about the organization, and it’s left ambiguous as to whether the Major will come back, just because she did one more job with them.
Throughout the entire series, there’s this issue of new recruits and the team’s use of technology, in the smart tank robots, the Tachikoma. In place of traditional drama between characters we have philosophical discussions about all manner of things, whether identity or reality, and the element most interesting to me is this paramilitary team under the command of the most badass lady in science-fiction, operating in a seemingly major metropolitan city.
Section 9 is a counterterrorist organization, but operates under the flag of Public Security. Although not explicitly voiced in the series, I see the team as policing more than violent criminals, but in fact, the culture that enables the violent criminals. Does this depiction of futuristic law enforcement have resonance with regards to our own future? How do we make that transition from the primal darkness we’re mired in now to that better tomorrow? Because we are imperfect, and need to be corrected. And yet, here and now we can still dream of utopia, as some of us, like my main man, already have.
“You’re simply… second rate.”
Japanese creators have been dreaming up fantastical self-defense for decades of tokasatsu filmmaking, not only formulating the Mysterians, kaiju, and abstract aliens which threaten the Earth, but also the defense forces to be mounted against them. Oftentimes, as most famously in the Godzilla cycle, these defenses are a foil, or seemingly made of foil, blown away by atomic breath after their flashy and creative show of lasers and explosions.
From the G-Unit’s various inventions, we’ve wrought such terrors as Moguera and the Super X, as well as the relatively more pedestrian freeze-tanks. The question at the heart of this scifi largess is an intriguing one, regarding the logistics of defense against the most destructive of all things –preparedness for anything. It’s a genre unto its own – speculative military defense. Not military science-fiction, because that genre requires some technical dive into the details. But Godzilla movies have other priorities, so just roll some weird looking ordnance on out there and call it a thing.
This has come as a logical extension of the Godzilla series’ original premise. When Godzilla first set its eyes on Tokyo, the military responded with all it had. In the subsequent films—disregarding the lapses in continuity between them—Tokyo was prepared to bite back (as hard as it could). And so, we think that this is the collision of two worlds, where Gojira (1954) has its infamous anti-atomic message, and the later films build Mechagodzillas and make deals with aliens. And yet, the original film’s monster is defeated only with the creation of another weapon – the Oxygen Destroyer. This thematic piece is reiterated in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, one of many finales, where the original film’s premise is repeated, only this time with the Oxygen Destroyer taking Godzilla’s role, in a sense.
This is not to automatically conflate the Hondas and Tsubirayas with the Shirows and Oshiis, who we may be talking about this evening, simply because they share nationalities, but this particular nation does have a unique history with national defense, as well as militarism. On top of that, manga and anime is incredibly connective, some might say incestuous, an organic mass built on apprentices and studio off-shoots iterating via homage, reimagining, and anniversary projects.
Masamune Shirow, creator of such works as Black Magic, Dominion, and Appleseed, seems preoccupied by cute girls and military hardware – a man after my heart, except for the cute girls part, and I guess the military hardware thing. But regardless, a frequent touchpoint with his manga is futuristic police. So, the Godzilla in question becomes androids, gods and galactic empires, evil catgirls, or in the case of Appleseed, a city on the edge of utopia, where human beings vie for control with their next stage in technological evolution.
How do you deal with these threats while keeping a civilization standing? And that metric isn’t that the last human couple is left in the apocalypse movie and somehow that means humanity has a chance, because for me and many listening, the binary measure of a civilization is whether the police shoot an unarmed black person to death even once – or don’t. When they do, at that point we’re no longer living in a civil, ideal society, and that’s the reference point for this conversation.
Masamune Shirow based Section 9 off of the German counterterrorist unit known as GSG 9, which was formed in response to the failure to rescue the Israeli Olympic athletes kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in Munich, September 1972.
Like Section 9, the GSG 9 is a highly successful team of agents with top secret identities, a similar bent toward missions classified to the public, and comparable specialties, like hostage-rescue and the capture of high value targets. There are some key differences, where for example, GSG 9 has more of an international scope, and notably and endlessly impressive, in over 1,500 missions, they’ve only discharged weapons on five occasions. As we know, Section 9 lets loose at a pin drop, and for the most part sticks to Japan, although sometimes they ship out for interagency operations, for example in Germany.
Wikipedia supplies a handy section on recruitment for the GSG 9, and maybe this could give us a little hint of what it might be like to join Section 9. You can apply for the GSG 9 after serving at least two years in the various German police services, and there’s a series of tests: marksmanship, medical, physical, and then psychological. For the physical, it’s a 5,000-meter run, which is just over 3 miles, a 100-meter sprint, ‘jump,’ which I don’t know what that means, pull-ups, bench press, and an obstacle course. So probably tires and a big wall at the end. Once accepted, there’s a 22-week training program.
For Section 9, I suppose you’d add the cyber component. In addition to being recruited from the military and police and possibly the yakuza, there’s a focus on hacking skills, which represents the primary science-fictional dimension, where terrorism in the Ghost in the Shell world can often be remote mind control. Cyberbrain invasions or infections, people behaving out of the ordinary due to computer viruses. And the other science-fiction consideration is the cyborg bodies.
In the Ghost in the Shell universe, one of the prominent technological conceits is the cyberbrain, which is essentially having a computer in your brain, a seemingly inevitable invention in our universe, more and more plausible each day. And so a lot of the crime is based on that, where people are susceptible to the same manipulations as a machine, and the resulting philosophical questions form a basis for what the franchise is.
Cyber-terrorism can also mean a robot tank run amok or cyborg serial killers, so it’s a pretty dangerous place to live, New Port City. This is why we need specialized sections of Public Security, with Section 9 being so secretive they answer only to the Prime Minister, and even then… only if the Chief feels like giving his girl a buzz.
But that seems to present the problem where a police force locked in an arms race with an increasingly inhuman opponent would lose its ability to “serve the public trust,” and “protect the innocent,” so to speak. Most of what they do regards conspiracies between government agencies, for example, the hostage situation in the very first episode which turned out to be propagated by a spy as cover. It gets complicated when the main arcs of the two seasons involve everymen who are foisted onto that higher stage, and that’s where theoretically the problem arises, again so to speak.
Let’s first take a look at the Laughing Man, the subject of the first season of Stand Alone Complex. Six years ago, a man named Ernest Serano, head of the Serano Genomics micro-machine company was kidnapped. When he suddenly reemerged, he was being held at gunpoint in public by a mysterious man who concealed his identity by hacking all eye-witnesses and even the TV cameras. He covered his face with an eerie happy face logo, and this man would become known as the Laughing Man. He demanded that Serano expose the truth on live TV, but it never happened. The Laughing Man ran off, and his logo became a pop culture icon.
“I’ll be forced to remove you from the stage.”
You’d see it on backpacks and movies, but also graffiti and other stranger types of vandalism. Criminals were using the theatrical advent of the Laughing Man to their advantage. While Serano was missing, six major micro-machine companies were blackmailed for about a billion yen, the largest case of corporate terrorism since the war.
At police HQ, the investigation into the Laughing Man incident has been going on for all these years, such that it comes as a surprise to Togusa when he’s phoned out of the blue by an old colleague. This detective, Yamaguchi, is on the Laughing Man unit, and has some suspicions about the people around him. Soon after being assassinated, Togusa does some Blade Runner-style police work and discovers that the unit had interceptors implanted in their eyes. Interceptors are essentially video feed wiretaps, and are usually planted on a suspect, but not detectives without their knowledge, as is the case here. And the crazy part of the story is that the company manufacturing the Interceptors was none other than Serano Genomics. They sold the camera implants to the police who were investigating them.
So Superintendent Daido had violated the Sensory Perception Surveillance Act, and has the chief of police fall on his sword. Daido holds a press conference, where the Laughing Man reappears for the first time in six years, remotely hacking into another police higher-up and plastering the logo over his face. Through this puppet, the Laughing Man threatens Daido’s life, saying that unless he exposes the truth he’ll be murdered in three days.
That’s where the story begins, and it only gets more confusing from there, because what transpires is a series of seemingly related events surrounding the Laughing Man, but turn out to be subterfuge by a cabal within the government. The titular standalone complex refers to the attempts made on Daido’s life three days later, by everyday civilians and even security guards. During the interrogation of each Laughing Man suspect, they’re all convinced they’re the real Laughing Man, and everyone else is a poser.
May God forgive man and machine for their sins
Wikipedia puts it succinctly: A standalone complex is a meme, “a phenomenon where unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort.” It’s like copycat murders or terrorist attacks by people inspired by an Internet-aware group like ISIL. However, the science-fiction conceit here, so buried in the thing itself, is that it’s copycat behavior without an originator. Some people just want to become vanishing mediators, but we’ll get there much later.
And as it does in the episode where Daido is being attacked, this standalone complex spreads like a virus. And I guess the idea is that because everybody’s brains are connected via the cyberbrain and the Net, this sort of thing might happen without direct interference by, for example, hacking. That because we share this connection, we will begin to lose our individualities, which may fade inside made-up personas like the Laughing Man. This conflict is retained throughout the show, and becomes one of the last words with the end of 2nd Gig.
It’s the philosophical thrust of the series, and it only really applies to something in 2nd Gig. In the first season, it’s really fascinating, but if it’s just a really intricate way of saying we’re gonna lose ourselves to cyborg technology, that’s not much more than what the 95 movie said in 82 minutes.
So let’s follow this track. Section 9 begins its investigation into the Laughing Man, where Daido, the police, and Serano Genomics are all factors in play. The course of their journey is interrupted by Episode 6, a standalone episode, and doesn’t return in earnest until Episode 20, when Togusa looks at things from the angle of JD Salinger, after a blown undercover op in a mental health facility. He thinks about the infamous words on the Laughing Man logo, which read: “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes,” which is a line from The Catcher in the Rye, and “The Laughing Man” is a short story written by JD Salinger. Togusa found an additional phrase at the mental health facility. Where the actual quote continues as “That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddamn stupid useless conversations with anybody,” what Togusa saw was “Or should I?”
So he rationalizes that this points toward paper media, because it’s the Laughing Man having the audacity to rewrite the original. So Togusa finds a missing record at the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare: a list of Cyberbrain Sclerosis patients treated with the Murai Vaccine. Now, Cyberbrain Sclerosis is the epidemic of the 2030s, like cancer and AIDS in prior centuries. Most people are treated with micro-machine therapy, the kind that Serano Genomics trades in.
The Murai Vaccine was essentially discovered on accident by a scientist named Murai, and was a proven cure against CS. However, the vaccine was never made available to the public. Another scientist named Imakarutzu was on the board of health and had a special stamp made out to deny approval of the vaccine. As it turns out, it would have severely slowed down the much more lucrative development of micromachine therapy. This is something of a trope both in reality and fiction, that conflict in the medical industry between treating people and making money.
On the list of Murai Vaccine recipients is none other than Imakarutzu, who was diagnosed with CS and has been secretly treating himself with the vaccine. So the Laughing Man appears before him and urges him to testify that the Murai Vaccine is a viable option. But that’s when the DEA Narcotics Suppression Squad comes in and assassinates him after having slaughtered a watchdog group known as the Sunflower Society, an organization that provides assistance for CS victims in litigation against the government, whose logo bears a striking resemblance to the Laughing Man’s.
The Narc Squad has been tasked with keeping Imakarutzu from talking, protecting the interests of those who spearheaded this micromachine conspiracy, and of course they run up against Section 9 who attempt to secure Imakarutzu at the same time. After failing to do so, Section 9 is hunted down by the survivors of the Narc Squad, most of whom were brutally murdered or alternatively brutally arrested by a particularly pissed off Major.
So they’re pretty much in the dark at this point, with their only goal being ‘getting to the bottom of the Laughing Man incident.’ So I guess it would be the corporate extortion driving them initially, but after that it was the alleged standalone complex, which in a truly bizarre twist turns out to have maybe just been a hack job by the police?
Regardless, Section 9 loses their best lead but arrests the head of the DEA. And while the Chief is doing that, he runs into a former assemblyman who he helped out in an operation that required the guy tank his political career. So the ex-assemblyman is both grateful to Aramaki for his hand in rescuing his daughter from a Russian trafficker, and also has nothing to lose by indicating that the man behind the Laughing Man case has friends in high places, pull with the navy. The Chief catches on right away – it’s Secretary General Yakushima.
And in reality, the Laughing Man incident with Ernest Serano and the corporate blackmail turn out to be two completely separate things. Not only did the Laughing Man not choose that moniker, he never blackmailed anyone. Instead, it was Yakushima and his people within the Japanese government who used Serano’s high-profile kidnapping as a cover for their own extortion racket on micromachine companies.
Yakushima has had Ernest Serano under protective house arrest for these past six years, and so the Major goes undercover as the Laughing Man to confirm these details with Serano himself. But before they can make a move on Yakushima, who has such political standing, the Prime Minister passes the Special Forces Restrictions Bill and Section 9 is disbanded by force.
They say masks don’t make the man but damn I’m wearing masks
Togusa is arrested, and everyone else goes underground after a battle with the Umibozu, a legendary black-ops unit without an official name. One by one each are captured, although there’s a kill order on the female commander. The Major is assassinated while boarding a plane, her head taken off clean by a sniper.
Soon after, the information is made public that Yakushima was the ringleader behind the Laughing Man case, and a prosecutor brings a case against him. One of the most touching moments in the first season is when a younger group of police notice Chief Aramaki walking out of the courtroom and they turn and give him a salute, knowing it’s really him who brought justice. Plus, it turns out the Major isn’t dead, because even when she does die she doesn’t die, and Section 9 will go on. But where does this leave the actual Laughing Man?
The Laughing Man is a young man named Aoi, an expert hacker who was surfing the net one day and came upon a file disclosing the truth behind the Murai Vaccine and the micromachine therapy. So inspired by righteous indignation, he did everything in his power to bring this truth to light, which meant having a lengthy philosophical discussion with Ernest Serano, and then holding him at gunpoint, kicking off the grand conspiracy by Yakushima.
Okay, so that plot summary gives me a fucking headache. I promise 2nd Gig is less granular with its complexity, but I guess time will tell. For now, let’s just take a breather before we do a deep dive.
Identifying the true puppet master, let’s say, behind these grand-scale crimes is something also articulated in the show The Wire. The good cops know that making street-level busts only serves to waste time and engender antagonism with the local community. As is said, if you follow the drugs, you get drugdealers. But if you follow the money, you never know where it’s gonna go. But usually, it’s politicians who are bankrolling urban decay.
That truism applies in this season of Stand Alone Complex, where the miracle vaccine is being kept out of the hands of the public and the rich are getting richer. How would you solve a problem like that?
Aoi, the Laughing Man, is a whistleblower. He is the catalyst for Section 9 finding out about this corruption inside the government, but he’s the initial target. So in this case it took two equally crucial components: (1) Aoi had to actually discover the corruption, and (2) he needed the manpower to do something about it.
Voice of Steve Blum
As we know his attempt failed, so he turns to Section 9. The idealistic aspect of Section 9 comes in here when the Major accepts the Laughing Man as something more than a suspect. She hears him out, although in that moment she doesn’t really have a choice, as she’s incapacitated by a Narc Squad member during a body swap.
In truth, the Laughing Man is a criminal, he did kidnap Serano and threaten him with a gun, but that may be simply because what government would provide a safety net to ensure whistleblowing on them can become a casual pastime? In the end, instead of locking him up, the Major offers Aoi a job. But in that moment where he passes the torch, it’s instant. There’s no ego, there’s no conflict with cognitive dissonance. The Major is always able to reset a course if the destination is always… doing what’s right.
And doing what’s right is a complicated idea that we’ll have to return to later. But the actual act of the doing is another matter to consider. Section 9 operates as an independent body, and doesn’t have a political hierarchy. The Chief is decidedly not a politician, unlike his military friend Kobuta. He’s not looking to climb a ladder, and so moves that would otherwise be career suicide, like going after a Secretary General, can happen. In reality, politicians like that have so much money and so much influence that nothing they do is ever criminal, because they… write the laws. In our world, we see that a lot with megacorporations like Bank of America and I guess Wells Fargo. A willingness to investigate anyone, no matter how powerful, is important.
And then there’s the ability. Because of course… there is hell to be paid, the cost of pursuing Yakushima being an assault by the Umibozu. But Section 9 is equipped to at least put pieces into place before being dismantled. I will say, though, the excessive force used by Batou in surviving is one of those moments of the show that doesn’t really scan. I mean, straight up execution is kind of a dick move there. Unless it’s Gouda. That guy had it coming, and the Major did it with style. But that’s just a little preview. How does Section 9 get the job done? How do they work?
The leader of the Narc Squad is excited to take them on with a unit of marines because he identifies Section 9 as “the ex-military cyborgs.” It’s true, and they represent a spectrum of cyberization. The Major of course is entirely prosthetic, Batou is mostly cybernetic. Togusa is barely cybernetic, making him somewhat vulnerable despite that he’s one of the most active on the field.
The Major, Batou, Saito, Boma, the Chief, and Ishikawa all have military backgrounds. Boma specialized in explosives, Saito was a sniper obviously. That leaves only Pazu, who may or may not be an ex-yakuza, and Togusa, a former detective. So the first thing here is the diversity of specializations, which goes back to the 1995 film. Togusa might seem like an outlier, but as we remember from his driving the action throughout the season, he’s an integral member. If they were all cyborgs or all ex-military, overspecialization leads to death.
So when they deploy, they typically break into cells that highlight this. Batou and Togusa team up like in Innocence, and conduct most of the investigatory fieldwork. Boma and Pazu work together on the field, and Boma also works with Ishikawa in the dive room, where they surf the net for clues and for surveillance purposes. The Chief only makes rare appearances in the field, and usually operates from the headquarters. This leaves the Major and Saito. Now, Saito is the sniper, so usually he’s off on his own. And the Major is the main character who also likes to do things like dive off rooftops and assassinate terrorists through a window, not something anybody else can easily follow. But sometimes she’ll take Saito along with her, or Boma and Pazu, or Batou. It always changes up, but those are the most common cells.
And they’re always effective at what they do. There’s inherent organizational structure as dictated by specialties, and then two kinds of leadership which never conflict. There’s the Chief, who decides which case they’re gonna pursue, and the Major, who makes calls on how to pursue that case. But these lines are really blurry, and again, there’s no ego involved. Batou gives an order to the Chief in 2nd Gig, for example. Saito decides the formation in a tactical retreat. It’s just about who has the latest intel and can make the calls. So, basically the Major is really only the field commander because she’s so good and gets all the intel, and typically always makes the right calls. And also because in Solid State Society they make it sound like she and the Chief created Section 9 together.
It’s give orders or wear pants, dawg. I can’t do both.
Ghost in the Shell and Stand Alone Complex take place in a dystopia but it is essentially the dystopia that we live in right now. That oppressive government trope isn’t built into the premise like Psycho-Pass, it’s just a fact of life, that bad things happen because the system is rotten. There’s a softly spoken to question of humanity in terms of morality, against this backdrop of cyborg bodies. The Chief goes to confront the Prime Minister in season one hoping to get the ball rolling on arresting Yakushima, and the PM says that the Lower House elections are coming up; can’t make a scandalous move like that without hurting his party’s image. So to counterbalance this, he passes the Special Forces Restriction Bill, I think, because Yakushima used the Major’s kidnapping of Serano to expose Section 9, which we’ll come back to.
The Chief is not too happy about putting his team in the line of fire, because their absolute trust in him is an asset he spent years building. The PM says that as long as he’s alive, he can rebuild his unit, intimating that they won’t survive. But as we see, even with the very much robot Tachikomas, it’s about more than bodies. People are not replaceable, because they create relationships and have thoughts and feelings, all of which help them become elite police agents or soldiers. Otherwise we could just use drones. Indeed, it’s not only the strength of their training and experience that matters, it’s their ability to remain human.
Section 9 takes up the mantle of the Laughing Man for a chat with Serano. They get so close to those who incite these events that they’re able to solve problems, and do so—primarily because as protagonists they’re so good at what they do—but this is backed up in the text. They are all consummate professionals, to the point of personal frustration on my end, where I wish for more insight into who they were as characters instead of what they do as cops.
So where I would summarize the first season’s relevance to this question is with identifying the true target and being able to actually solve a real problem, the second season’s has to do with the concept of police as intervention on a military crisis.
2nd Gig gets underway with a hostage situation in the Chinese Embassy by a group of terrorists calling themselves the Individual Eleven. Section 9 is standing by just outside, waiting for the Chief to finalize negotiations with Kayabuki, the new Prime Minister, on lifting the Special Forces Restrictions Bill. Unfortunately, the papers are still being drafted, so when the situation inside heats up, the Chief offers a typical TV solution: action over bureaucracy, courage over democracy. Section 9 will go in and if they fail, the Chief will say he acted on his own. Kayabuki agrees, and the team heads in under cover of the impending siege by the Japanese SWAT team equivalent. The Major jumps off a roof and explodes a guy’s head, the hostages are A-Okay, and the Special Forces ban is lifted. Also, the Tachikoma come back! They died, I guess I forgot to mention that and also what they are.
Well, the Tachikoma are the smart tanks that can either be used for easy all-terrain travel, terrain like the sides of buildings, or put on auto-pilot for assistance in a firefight. Because not only are they packing serious heat, they’ve also got these super smart brains. Too smart, actually, because their artificial intelligence begins developing to the point where the Major has them decommissioned and sent back to the lab, which is a pretty sad episode. Batou is a big fan of the Tachikomas, and they actually return at the end of the first season to rescue him, sacrificing themselves in the process. In doing so, the Major begins to think that maybe they had ghosts all along.
“WE ARE ROBOTS WE ARE ROBOTS”
So, the terrorist group identifying themselves as the Individual Eleven demanded that Kayabuki repeal the Refugee Special Action Policy, put in place by the former PM as a temporary measure to receive an influx of Asian refugees from I assume non-nuclear WWIV. Kayabuki had planned on repealing the policy anyway, and so she has to silence the terrorists before their demands leak to the media, so it doesn’t look like she’s caving to them. What’s also interesting is that they didn’t seem to have any kind of command structure, they were all just giving out orders and following orders.
While it seems like the Individual Eleven is upset that the refugees are a drain on the Japanese economy, we see things from the other point of view in the pursuant episode, often considered to be the worst of the series because it doesn’t really feature the actual main characters. Always a recipe for success, but I like the experimental nature of it. We get a glimpse into life under the Refugee Special Action Policy, that it isn’t enough simply for countries to open their doors, although that’s certainly more than nothing. These people, many of them veterans, take on low-paying jobs, which does supplant the Japanese, but this is degrading work that may even drive some to anti-social fantasies.
A little bit later, the JSDF conducts the largest live fire exercise ahead of Kayabuki’s planned announcement to repeal the refugee policy. Ground Self Defense soldiers run through a simulation near a refugee residential district, testing out among other things their Jigabachi helicopters. Things go a little haywire after the pilot has a heart attack and the Jigabachis start circling a radio tower after opening fire on the rest of the fleet. Section 9 arrives to observe the scene, which is a powder keg. The Chief is confronted by a man named Kazunda Gouda of the Cabinet Intelligence Service, who’s got severe facial disfigurement and cops a holier than thou attitude.
Gouda passes along the theory that the Jigabachis are going out of control because it’s still receiving transmissions from the dead pilot’s brain. So he essentially takes command of the situation and Section 9 rolls out in accordance with his plan. The Major and Batou are in Tachikomas and they’re gonna get the Jigabachis into position so that Saito can put a bullet in the dead pilot’s brain. The plan works, but Section 9 leaves with something of a bruised ego. The Major was first worried that they’d be Kayabuki’s lapdog, and that seems to be true now that they’re just hiring out to any old government agency. Not only that, but it’s suspicious that the Cabinet Intelligence Service knew exactly what was going on. As Gouda had earlier explained to the chief, they specialize in information and data manipulation.
“A unique face, a unique moniker.”
After Kayabuki repeals the policy she receives a death threat while on tour in Dejima, an island off Japan that’s become a central hub for refugees. The would-be assassin who made the threat is a man named Hideo Kuze, who’s got a pretty face that doesn’t move when he talks. His bible is a series of essays on revolution entitled “The Individual Eleven.” One of the essays discusses the May 15 Incident, a real world moment where a group of Japanese army officers assassinated a former Prime Minister and attempted to assassinate one visiting Charlie Chaplin. The officers stood trial and gained sympathy from the public after cutting off their fingers and putting them into a box.
Kayabuki hires Section 9 as her personal guard, which Section 9 grumbles about before rescuing the PM from Kuze, who tries to kill her with a samurai sword. He escapes, and in doing so demonstrates that his body is reinforced cyborg. Later, the issue transitions into plutonium. Section 9 is assigned to escort a shipment of plutonium out of the refugee district, because there’s worry that terrorists may try to reclaim it, because I think they already paid for it. Section 9 runs into their old friend Gouda once more, who oversees the operation and actually incites a GSDA member to shoot at the refugees, which starts a firefight leaving several refugees dead. After mission complete, Section 9 learns that they were being used as a decoy, and the plutonium was shipped by sea.
This continual antagonism toward Section 9 is what prompts the Chief to start a covert investigation into the Cabinet Intelligence Service while they’re also looking into the Individual Eleven terrorists. As he said at the end of the Jigabachi fiasco, he senses groundwork being laid for a crime on a massive scale that they can’t even see.
“Argh! Their heads!”
Individual Eleven terrorists have been going around murdering key refugee people, like politicians who support them or even a rapper who speaks to their hardships in his music. Section 9 thinks they got a hit one of these terrorists, but Section 1 comes in and kills the guy, before they both realize that it wasn’t the guy – they’re being fed false info.
So the Major decides to take the direct approach and storms into the Cabinet Intelligence Service building and hacks in. Meanwhile, the rest of Section 9 is led all around the city chasing suicide bombers. There are two more explosions and Batou theorizes that it could be the refugees. He and Togusa confront a young girl in the subway, who has a bomb in her jacket, which echoes Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. The Major dives into the CIS and talks with some kind of Gouda simulacra, which possibly echoes The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch but I don’t remember so well.
The Major learns that Gouda has a dangerous ego, but no longer wants to be the hero who starts revolution. No, he wants to create that hero out of the crisis he’s pulling the strings on, all in an attempt to return Japan to its imperial glory days. In the subway, Togusa attempts to talk the girl down, and Batou shoots her in the face and then rips the detonator out of her teeth in easily the most gruesome moment of the show, alongside the Strange Days serial killer from the first season.
Boma and the Tachikomas are surfing the net and discover the file that may contain the virus which prompted the Individual Eleven’s attack on the Chinese embassy. The virus works by infecting the victim after they’ve read all of the Individual Eleven essays, and Togusa goes out to find a physical copy of the essays. He’s kind of the go-to guy for books, after proving himself such a scrapper on that front last go-around!
The Major follows Kuze to a war dead memorial but he’s already gone, off gallivanting with the men behind those terrorist attacks on the refugee icons. A news helicopter picks them up as they gather on the Kyushu Radio Tower, where they cut each other’s heads off with samurai swords. All except one – Hideo Kuze. He had some last minute anxiety about the whole thing.
See, en route, Kuze says he forgot to bring his copy of their bible, the Individual Eleven. He asks someone for their copy, but they all forgot too. Something’s up. Soon, Kayabuki attempts to address this murmuring of a refugee uprising in Dejima, convening with her cabinet who do nothing but point fingers around the room. We see how she even has people inside her administration attempting to seize power from what many see as a weak female figurehead put in place to save the party’s face after the last administration.
Ishikawa comes back from Dejima with some info on Hideo Kuze. He was a soldier with the GSDF deployed to Korea to defend the locals from the People’s Army. Other units like his didn’t see combat, but he did. They came upon a village raid by People’s Army soldiers, who had essentially become mountain bandits. They react to the brutality by taking out the enemy soldiers in an overwhelming invasion. Shortly afterward they’re haunted by the massacre, and Kuze leaves the camp after trading his rifle for a camera. He goes into a nearby village and becomes well-liked among the locals, despite his stoicism. The Major goes to Taiwan and learns that he’s kind of like a folk hero, a revolutionary who people will follow no matter what. He gives them hope.
The refugees make the declaration that Dejima is a nation independent from Japan. The Major continues her pursuit of Kuze, hoping to capture him so that this crisis may be resolved. But she loses track of him after diving his cyberbrain, and then learns that he’s planning on purchasing plutonium from the Russian Mafia. The Major has learned more about Kuze through her dive, that he could become some sort of influential leader, though his philosophy is more like Martin Luther King or Gandhi. They go after the Russians and confront Kuze while he’s making the deal, which the Major learns is being orchestrated by the Cabinet Intelligent Service.
Kuze defeats Batou in hand-to-hand combat and escapes before the Major arrives. Section 9 is slowed in their pursuit by a suicide bomber that blows up their tilt rotor and injures Ishikawa. Kuze slips by the navy’s dragnet with the help of the refugees, who cause a power surge all along the coast. He learns however that he doesn’t actually have the plutonium, that he got ripped off.
The city of Fukuoka is evacuated when a bomb is discovered in a radio tower. Section 9 goes in to defuse it and they covertly transport the plutonium to Spring-8 to see if it matches to a CIS nuclear plant from earlier in the season. They feel that the CIS is behind this entirely, not the refugees, but they don’t have the evidence yet, making it hard for Kayabuki to stop the impending invasion by the GSDF on Dejima to seize the plutonium that they and the refugees believe Kuze has.
To slow down the invasion, Kayabuki calls on the United Nations to dispatch inspectors to Dejima and collect the plutonium. This prompts Chief Cabinet Secretary Takakura to put plans into motion to oust Kayabuki and put her under house arrest. He’s a big fan of the whole invasion plan, as a pro-American neoconservative who nonetheless believes Japan needs to be strong enough to stand on its own. The Chief and Togusa of course are with Kayabuki at the time of her arrest, and soon the signal from the island is jammed, cutting off his communication with the Major. The refugees are also plunged into this standalone state, and interesting is the key visuals before that happens – as the military rolls out over the bridge, we follow coverage on TV, and when Kuze hears that their signal’s been jammed, the TV behind him goes off. Now the outside world is licensed to make up their own stories about the island.
The Major and Section 9 are headed to Spring-8 with the plutonium, but word from the chief changes their plan. She decides to go to Dejima, grab Kuze and hand both him and the plutonium over to the UN inspection team. Section 9 heads in as fighting breaks out between the refugees and the GSDF. Section 4 Rangers are dispatched to the island, and so too are Jigabachis, which attack Section 9’s stolen Army helicopter. Batou makes a hard landing after the Major is dropped off, and he crashes in a residential area. Section 4 heads in to retrieve the plutonium, and engages with Section 9 through abandoned buildings.
The Tachikomas monitor the situation and discover an American nuclear sub off the coast of Dejima, which seems to be ready to fire a nuclear missile at the island. Micro-machine radiation scrubbers had been deployed, which will reduce the fallout. The missile will go up into space and then come back down which I guess makes it impossible to track, and that will then make it seem like the refugees detonated their bomb in a suicide attack. Independence or death, huh? Talk about telling your own stories.
As the JMSDF is firebombing Dejima, the Major finds Kuze and is then trapped under rubble with him. Again incapacitated, the Major learns that Kuze’s true intention is to move the refugees’ ghosts onto the Net, so that they may survive a nuclear strike and finally know freedom. However, the science behind this is murky; nobody knows if it’s possible. But both the Major and Kuze lost their original bodies at an early age, and have always felt this drift. Maybe this is where they belong. So the Major orders the Tachikoma to clear some space on the Net for the refugees, but they have one last philosophical exchange for the road…
Batou goes searching for the Major as the American sub launches the nuclear missile. The Tachikoma decide to disobey the Major and instead bring satellites down to intercept the missile above the atmosphere, and they succeed, but realize that the satellite they put into its path houses their AI. So they sing a song that seems to resound throughout Dejima and the quiet explosion in the sky brings it to an end. Second sacrifice.
Batou finds the Major and they take Kuze into custody. The rest of Section 9 teams up with Section 4 and delivers the plutonium to the UN. Kayabuki has Takakura arrested, and Gouda attempts to slip out of the country. The Chief, Togusa, and a SWAT team surround him and a few American Empire compatriots. He plans on defecting to America, but Togusa informs him that the Prime Minister authorized Section 9 to use lethal force if such a thing were to take place. Gouda brushes it off, so elevator doors open to reveal the Major and Batou, and the Major executes Gouda with her submachine gun. Meanwhile, Kuze is assassinated by the CIA before the Major can get to him.
The overall story of 2nd Gig has to do with the logistics of preventing war, and we’re taken through several stages – the earliest levels of the conspiracy all the way through fighting on the ground. And so of course Section 9 has to fail on each of these levels so that the season can continue, and this inspires a bit of a personal crisis with the Major, as well as an existential conundrum with Section 9 as a unit.
So we talked about the makeup of the team but also critically important is how that team is implemented, in term of tactics. Although occasionally they’ll fire an RPG indoors, Section 9 is all about surgical precision, as those in the know tend to say… on television shows. In Stand Alone Complex and The New Movie, they’re perfectly designed to defuse hostage situations, like the GSG 9, and that makes sense, given how counterterrorism would seem to manifest.
In terms of fictional media, you know, this type of engagement contrasts with the more bombastic, where Arnold Schwarzenegger is shooting everyone with an M60 or Chow Yun Fat is jumping around shooting everyone with dual-wield pistols. That’s just not how violence might be utilized in a real world setting in any way that would be helpful. Section 9’s is more thoughtful, requiring coordination and teamwork. Every bullet fired has to be aimed, because there are people you can’t shoot. Imagine. It would be better if situations like these could be defused non-lethally, but that’s not really the Major’s concern. And even when she disarms somebody, she does it quite literally.
I meant Fem, but didn’t have a picture on hand
But one of the reasons I really like Ghost in the Shell is because this kind of action scene is rare, and never better executed. Ghost Recon is one American analogue to Ghost in the Shell, a video-game series about an all-male team of super… military… dudes… Anyway, at E3 2016, the creators of Ghost Recon: Wildlands talked about how they consulted with real Special Forces soldiers, who explained that teamwork is absolutely essential to these kinds of operations. It’s fun to see the lone hero gunning everyone down, but high-level military stuff requires further dimensions of the soldier. But while this Ubisoft rep was explaining this, they’re showing footage from the game, and for a while it is tactical, but then the shit breaks wide and these Special Forces soldiers are blowing everyone away – one of them is jumping a motorcycle off a ramp.
We get the most tantalizing glimpse of tactical paramilitary fighting between Section 9 and Section 4 towards the ends of the season, where they both use the environment to their advantage and make use of formations. I really like that stuff and would’ve loved to have seen more, and also would’ve liked if the Major were more of an active player at the end of 2nd Gig, it’s like a real Roberta’s Blood Trail situation, but she didn’t get to kick Rock’s ass.
What do you want on your tombstone?
But it appeals to me because Section 9 planning and executing a careful operation is kind of the apotheosis of Ghost in the Shell. I don’t know that the film entitled The New Movie is all that great, but part of why I like it so much is because it has one of these amazing hostage rescue sequences, where Section 9 brings all their technology, tactics, and skills to bear, for the ultimate alley-oop, for Major to do some wild finishing move on a guy to top everything off.
And a battle with a symmetrical force is something that only really happens in that moment in 2nd Gig. The Umibozu makes for an interesting holdout sequence, and then it’s just overwhelming numbers of poorly-equipped mercenaries and things of that nature.
That’s kind of what becomes an issue for Section 9 in 2nd Gig, the idea that as a unit they aren’t equipped to handle every situation. If they were in one of the refugee districts, they could be overwhelmed by superior numbers, as happened with the Umibozu situation. So the solution in Solid State Society is more manpower. But this doesn’t really solve the central dilemma. Not only is Section 9 pretty much able to work only one case at a time, they weren’t able to save Kuze in the end, which is what led to the Major’s departure.
Section 9 is irrevocably part of a greater system, no matter how independent, because they’re working against these huge crimes that involve all of society. So operating within that system means that they’re handicapped out of the gate in some regard. There’s something philosophical going on here, where the Chief wonders about starting from scratch in Solid State Society, and that movie’s also where the Major has broken off to pursue a kind of purity of justice, in essence, a more responsible form of vigilantism.
There’s also an interesting exchange in the episode “Scandal” from the first season, where the Major visits the Chief in the hospital, and explains that his estranged brother is doing just fine. He laments that he never made time for the people he cared about, and when the Major asks him if he’ll continue to fight the good fight, his response kind of sounds like a resignation more than anything. This plays in contrast to an earlier episode where we learn about the Chief’s other life, the one he could’ve lived if not for his dedication to the good fight. Togusa was always able to balance work with a family, but not without causing his wife grief and anxiety.
Section 9 as an organization is presented as imperfect, ever-adapting, and requiring updates to its infrastructure and foundation. That’s where the introspection comes in, if not elsewhere, which we’ll touch on briefly with the episode “Trial.” For the purpose of this discussion, it’s actually pretty convenient, because not only does Section 9 do so much, they point toward areas of improvement. It’s a good way to cover one’s ass. So let’s get into what it is they do.
High Altitude – No Opening
Like with the Laughing Man, eventually the Major sides with one of the subjects of investigation against the other, in this case Kuze. She hears about his plan and actually goes along with it. We’ll get to the why of her going along with it in due time.
For a creator like Kenji Kamiyama, writer and showrunner, a character like Kuze must be a hard bargain, more so than Gouda. It’s pretty rare, and outside of Stand Alone Complex, I don’t think there’s been an original character in Ghost in the Shell, since the manga, that’s supposed to be sympathetic. They’ll have villains, but a new hero? Ghost in the Shell 2 is a pretty small cast of characters, and the new characters in Arise are mostly villains, from what I can tell. I would understand if there’s a hesitance to add original material to a preexisting franchise, but it paid off, and Kuze is one of my favorite characters. The extended dialogue he has with Aramaki’s brother is a really incredible sequence, one that manages to make me cry with just a touch from the music.
Kuze’s arc is one of my favorite tropes in media, which I like to call the demilitarized soldier, after Joint Security Area. I’ve also seen it in Halo 2, but not too many other places. That image of him offering his rifle to the journalist is so powerful, especially given that it’s, again, underscored by Yoko Kanno’s beautiful themes. I feel like that image kind of becomes the microcosm for how he goes on to wage a war for peace, and so we go on to gain some specific insight into how that might work.
He’s very aware of the power of public opinion in a situation like refugee independence. He wants to win without firing a single bullet, and never intends to actually use plutonium. And of course, the independence of Dejima through military action is only one step to the larger goal of this mythic salvation on the Net. It’s playing by the enemy’s rules for as long as possible, until the alternative solution can provide an out.
But the whole of it begins, and maybe ends, with listening to people, once more that utopic keystone, communication. At first he doesn’t talk too much, and lives among the people. He is moved by the refugees’ plight in this really profound way, but in his discussion with the Major we learn that maybe he came to link with them in the first place because he was looking to quell his loneliness. That’s how Kuze lived and died, wandering through Asia searching for something he might not have even understood.
At one point he’s confronted by a young kid who has a bomb in his jacket and threatens to kill the both of them. His issue is that Kuze’s the leader of the refugees now, even though his old outfit, the Individual Eleven, murdered their previous leader. Kuze listens, and uses his words rather than his fists or weapons to diffuse the situation. And later when the kid blows himself up to slow down Section 9, it’s a surprisingly touching moment, very well directed. You don’t really hate the kid, and in the end Kuze did win him over peacefully, but this is the only way the kid knew how to express that and contribute.
The heartbreaking thing with Kuze is that he essentially goes unheard like this through to the end. The refugees get weapons and they want to demonstrate their fighting force. In the last episode or maybe Solid State Society we learn that the refugee situation has gone right back to where it was in the beginning, that nothing changed. In might seem silly that Kuze’s face never moves, but that it is sculpted I think speaks to how people will ascribe their own values onto him, and so just like Gouda intends he becomes a figurehead, a cipher for all of the refugees’ ambitions. Another loss of individuality.
Of course, they’re taken by the idea of revolution, having built up this culture of asymmetric warfare. But Kuze is coming at things from a much different angle. He simply wants to be around people, and that’s kind of the exact opposite thing as suicide bombs. Because as we learn in an episode called “Affection,” Kuze was in a plane crash as a very young boy that killed everyone on board, including his family, leaving only him and a young girl. The girl fell into a coma, and he was paralyzed, left with only the use of his left hand. He learns that his parents were killed and soon his relatives stopped visiting, so the only thing that kept him going was hope that the girl next to him would wake up. So he uses his hand to fold origami cranes for her, for weeks, until the girl is taken to intensive care and presumably dies.
He continued to make cranes, and one day the doctors came in and offered him a prosthetic body, but he didn’t really have a will to live. So then they brought in a young girl with a prosthetic body and she attempts to convince him, although he never speaks. She rides around on a scooter and plays with a ball, and finally he asks if she can fold origami cranes with her robot hands. She tries, but lacks the dexterity to do so and ends up ripping the paper. He says that if he can’t continue to make cranes for the girl who died, he’s not interested. So she heads off, telling him that she’ll keep practicing, so that one day she can make cranes for him, too.
So it turns out that the girl was the one on the plane, and who also turns out to be the Major. She never told the boy who she was, likely because she had feelings for him and was shy. So the boy goes on to get a prosthetic body and later on in life ships off to war. He never found the Major, until the events of 2nd Gig where it takes basically till the end for either to realize who’s who, when it’s too late. And at that point, the Major has Batou, as we see when he risks everything to go find her in Dejima.
Kuze, I think, is driven by loneliness, and the way that manifests in his character makes him a unique soldier, and certainly a unique villain. He’s someone who, like the Korean soldiers of Joint Security Area and the Arbiter from the Halo series, deprograms, though his original ideology is literally an ideological virus, the Individual Eleven. He establishes himself outside of Gouda’s script, and becomes the tragic hero of Dejima.
For the Major to go along with his plan and again have that open-mindedness to hear him out and consider him on a deeper level than we’re used to in the exchange between good guy and bad guy, required humanity on her part. She too wants to save the refugees, and identifies a commonality of motive between her and Kuze.
Beforehand, she becomes fascinated by Kuze and suspects that he may be someone she knew, and if we could all just suspect that everyone else was potentially someone we could know, I feel like that’s one way the world would be a better place. And we’re not all running around with machin-guns and a mean spin-kick. Kuze labels himself a terrorist, and the refugees see him as the generic leader to their various revolutions. But the Major sees him differently, and she’s the one who under ordinary circumstances would be able to make that final difference, like she does with the Laughing Man case.
This self-contained trope where elements on either side are sympathetic, where you see politicians, police, soldiers, and criminals as multidimensional is always a profound creative choice in media, and a rare one, despite its reflection of reality. We perceive it to be political to say that a drugdealer might actually be a human being, and so it isn’t right to shoot them to death.
In 2nd Gig, we come very close to a manmade apocalypse, or a cataclysmic dystopia that functions by reversing progress. Gouda wants to return Japan to its glory days, and that requires nuking an island of refugees and GSDA soldiers alike, seeing them both as pieces on a chess board, as nothing more than bodies.
The alternate protagonists of Stand Alone Complex are the Tachikoma, and throughout they serve to democratize the value of humanity. That even in this world of cyborgs and a woman who exists only as a ghost in a shell, you still matter. And so it’s those who take that philosophy to heart who struggle against those who don’t – that’s the good versus evil binary in Stand Alone Complex, individuals struggling with identity for the sake of themselves and others versus those who manipulate sociological phenomena in society and thereby reduce human beings to their basest states.
So to sum up, Section 9 is able to solve areas of dystopia by being open, to a whistleblower and then a voice of the people, having connections to the system such that they can pull the strings, having enough of a sense of independence to not lose themselves to that system, and finally, having the skills to pull everything off without moral compromise. That mostly speaks to the organizational aspect of Section 9, and we’ll have to go deeper into the individual a little later.
But the funny thing is, as you’ve probably been thinking this whole time, the characters of Ghost in the Shell across all media and including Stand Alone Complex, regularly peddle in killing, police brutality, and invasion of privacy. Another American analogue to Section 9 is CTU from 24, the Counterterrorist Unit which saw Jack Bauer roll the Bill of Rights up and shove it down your throat and just leave it there so your stomach acids could partially digest it.
At the very least, torture is one taboo that Ghost in the Shell never breaches, thank God, although the Major does threaten a guerilla with dental torture via her knife before she just punches him in the stomach. But you remember her introduction in the first episode, where she shoots a guy’s ankle out of his body and just crushes him underfoot, which is a pretty on the nose visual.
Aside from which, there’s some television simplification going on that makes it hard to make 1:1 comparisons with the real world. I like how the Chief essentially becomes the Prime Minister’s advisor after a fashion, which largely undermines the empowering commentary she may have had with being a woman in that position of power. But the Chief’s influence then on the nation becomes a little bit trite. This is not really how a government works, or maybe it is, who the hell am I?
But the biggest concern with Section 9 is simply that they are essentially a military force inside a dense urban zone, operating practically autonomously with access to state of the art equipment for hacking, shooting, and spin-kicking. And the only opportunity ever offered for self-criticism here might’ve been the episode “Trial,” but that was a farce, one of the worst episodes of the series.
21st century Americans are pretty uncomfortable with this, and you can find truly haunting images of American police in heavy armor carrying rifles, marching alongside tanks. And their enemy is the community they’re supposed to be protecting. A cop walked a beat. But instead they become another antagonistic force, an often lethal one.
Of course, Section 9 is a counterterrorist organization, but there’s just never any introspection about that part of their existence. When anyone in a position of authority is wielding such power, there’s cause for at the very least introspection. Because in the real world, it’s imperfections in the psyches of these kinds of people which leads to tragedy, as well as a system unwilling to recognize that those imperfections could possibly exist.
So if we arm people with these weapons and comprehensive access to all civilians, we have to be able to trust them. And that’s kind of the moral of the episode “Trial.” We like Togusa, so there’s no trouble. Not that there was any trouble from the start, but we could’ve had some actual confrontation about the nature of Section 9 inside the show. And trust is a difficult proposition.
It’s not really a democratic process: we don’t elect the person who’s gonna pull us over one day. So when the day comes we eventually reform hiring practices and training and oversight, I think I can cite a good model for the ideal law enforcement agent, even if she doesn’t exist and also occasionally blows up people’s heads. As the heroes of the tale, she and Section 9 are set up to be perfect, which might signal storytelling weakness, but for our purposes, this aspect provides some potentially useful touchpoints.
To accurately conclude Episode 90: Top Ten Anime Boobs, I mean Fictional Characters, my number one top ten favorite fictional character is none other than Major Motoko Kusanagi. As much as I hate to go behind-the-scenes of a product as part of what is the ostensible, alleged product, one of the reasons why I didn’t talk about the Major on that episode is because I feel like I talk about her too much already. And I had already planned to for this episode, so… no need to double down. Buckle up, kids!
The Major’s always doing stuff, things that normal people don’t really do – she appreciates the world in a different way, and is licensed to by her enhanced cyborg body. For example, when Togusa approaches her near the end of Season 1 with his theory about the Laughing Man and print media, she’s on the rooftop of Section 9, and although the scene might be a kind of swan song for her skimpier outfits that plagued the first season, I really like this moment. Togusa’s giving all this exposition, and meanwhile, we’re watching the Major do these death-defying acrobatics on the edge of the roof, totally casual. Not quite exercise, but rather what the critic Claire Napier referred to as troll behavior. She’s just trolling Togusa, not only with her nudity maybe, but also this just messing around in a way no human being possibly could.
And then there’s that scene where she’s training the new recruits and she dives through that window to escape. For a moment, the director decided to just follow her in slow-motion. She’s upside-down, floating through the air. In an interview on the Stand Alone Complex DVDs, Kenji Kamiyama talks about consulting with Oshii on the character of the Major, something he admits not understanding throughout the first season, which is why the second season explores a little bit of her past and introduces the character Hideo Kuze. And Oshii said that one unique aspect of the character was verticality. So the Major’s always jumping up and down, diving off things, standing on rooftops so we can slowly pan up her body and take in the glory of her anti-pants. Hands down the worst costume she’s ever had, including the plug suit from The New Movie which I actually kinda like, and her absence of clothing in the 95 version. God, it’s like pornography to just see her in regular body armor in 2nd Gig.
But anyway, Kamiyama really took that aspect of the character, which is a pretty inside baseball thing when it comes to thinking about how a character might work, and he made it into a thing. Because this might be what the Major does for recreation. That close-up shot of her just going through the air is really subtle, doing similar work to the meditative dive she takes in the 1995 film, and it may just be the most substantial glimpse we get into her headspace. No matter what, she appreciates the world from new and impossible angles – that’s where she best expresses herself, that’s where she lives.
So, the Umibozu chase Section 9 out of the building, and the Major and Batou share an unusually intimate conversation while they’re making their escape. Batou recalls an earlier concern of his, the question of why the Major continues to use a female body, which almost makes him upset with confusion. And she replies with something that really stuck with me (audio clip: “I change my body as circumstances call for it”).
And we see this in Solid State Society. She has a little kid body for keeping her hacking dungeon clean, which I guess makes sense so she wouldn’t have to bend down to pick things up but I am by no means endorsing child labor. I also thought she may have had a guy version of herself but I guess that turns out to be the Puppeteer? I do not understand Solid State Society, but that would be a good way to infiltrate most of society without raising eyebrows. Be a guy. But the body she chooses for most jobs of course is the iconic character model, and that’s a hell of a thing, really.
It might just be due to the fact of having a character, where a shape-shifter could be difficult to latch onto, but I like to think that there’s an even deeper character resonance. The Major has chosen this body to do the work as Section 9 field commander because it’s best suited to that work, to that circumstance. This issue comes up, in the episode “Missing Hearts,” one of my personal favorites for being kind of light but not without its emotional touch. The final scene is what Batou was referring back to, and it’s a great scene, but it does leave me with questions more so on the creators’ part. It’s the only thing Ghost in the Shell: Arise does better than Stand Alone Complex, is the scene where the Major and Batou go toe-to-toe.
“Tell me, Major Macho…”
Claire Napier puts this scene into the words I never could, in her series of essays entitled “The Major’s Body,” a tremendous work of media criticism in which she takes apart the meaning of the Major’s body in each incarnation of the franchise, and can be found the website Women Write About Comics. The passage in question makes me happy and sad, and it makes me happy because I’ve never seen anyone talk about it or agree with my discomfort about the scene in question, but sad because it kind of confirms what I had to make myself believe was more ambiguous.
“Why stick with a body despite the opportunities it doesn’t give you? Batou asks her, early in the season, why she sticks with “that female-model body”. Switch to a male chassis, increase your strength and physical power, he says. She ducks out of the question, physically besting him with her hacking skills (under her cyberbrain-hacking instruction, he punches his own face). The Major says that while she can out-think Batou, she doesn’t need to outmatch his bodily strength. I don’t like this exchange; it sounds too much like women are weak but they’re cleverer — which isn’t true enough to serve.”
Thank you. I was also always bothered by that scene. The Major could totally kick Batou’s ass because she could totally kick anybody’s ass. And this scene has brethren, believe me you. In all my time researching Supergirl, before the show, I never found a clip or an assortment of pages where she really just digs down and kicks somebody’s ass, just beats the stuffing out of some guy, because she could!! It’s always some weird Jedi mind-meld disarming technique, it’s not physical, like it is with Superman.
In Arise, the Major again emasculates Batou with her hacking, by taking the clothes off his digital avatar, residual self-image, and then he says let’s step outside and fight. He takes a surprise swing and she goes low and puts him on his ass. Oh, it was beautiful. I may have cried. And so putting those two scenes into direct comparison really speaks to so much of my own anxiety.
Thank you, ma’am!
It’s the philosophy of the cyborg and also of Bruce Lee – from birth, the Major has had to train herself to master control over her body. That’s exactly what martial artists and fighters do to optimize themselves and overcome natural limitations like height or muscle mass. Those quantitative measures can be routed by both other physical assets and also by skill. You can essentially take away the scifi layer of the cyborg from Ghost in the Shell in this discussion because it’s arbitrary. You have to do that same work, no matter what body you’re given, or which one you choose, another line that blurs.
Snapshot of 2017: Year of the Great Gender Purge
So when the Major fights a larger cyborg, like Jarti, it’s true that her punch won’t land as hard as her spin-kick, so she’s gotta set herself up to make that spin kick which is more logistically difficult than a punch. And so, she’s just got to be smart about each engagement and she is smart, so despite her relative size, she’s an unstoppable force. Size doe matter in hand-to-hand combat, but counter-balancing that is control and skill also mattering. And of course, that relative size becomes an asset because she has less mass to manage; she can move faster and she can jump higher. From what I can tell, she’s considered to be the biggest badass in the world of Ghost in the Shell, and that’s backed up by her action scenes.
Kenji Kamiyama’s use of the action scene is inspirational, work that continued into Moribito, which is to say it’s used, it’s storytelling opportunity. In Moribito, primarily it’s thematic and plot-relevant, where we can abstract violence out from a fated battle where we don’t want anybody to die, and in Stand Alone Complex it’s almost entirely characterization. And specific characterization, elucidating upon the Major’s most prominent qualities, like professionalism, hyper-confidence, and heroism. She fires a gun, drives a car, dives off roofs, lassoes a helicopter, and spin-kicks people cold. I really appreciate the diversity of her engagement in these action scenes.
Mr. Anderson who?
The Major loves her Seburo M5, the Section 9 standard handgun, but she seems to use bullets and hand-to-hand in almost equal measure, always opting for the gun first and then closing the distance for an intimate finale. As many people as the Major has killed, I feel like her sense of weapons as tools in a toolkit is a specific pillar toward better policing. Being bulletproof, it’s not always life or death, so she’s able to use non-lethal methods, which may turn out to be bullets like Batou’s interrogation of the yakuza boss in Innocence, or which might be her fists.
The Major’s body is ideal for combative physical engagement, on the highest level of military crisis and person-to-person policing, which is a fucking joke where I’m from. It is definitely weird to talk about police brutality, which strikes just a little too close to home, and I’m also bothered by this talk of a woman’s body at all, even a fictional one, so I will point you back to Claire Napier’s series of essays entitled “The Major’s Body,” for a complex and really powerful look at the character from this viewpoint. She raises a number of provocative thoughts that I’m kind of generalizing over for the sake of my philosophy of the cyborg argument, which is just a weird shorthand for myself, I’m not trying to coin a term because it isn’t really self-explanatory. Please stop reading and just peep that, especially since this shit’s about to get weird, as it does here. You’re gonna miss that.
So her physical supremacy, along with her human sensitivity, are two huge pillars. She embodies an ideal police officer in terms of capability and true commitment to justice, which is an intellectual pursuit: justice is this ever-changing thing that requires an active mind to reconcile at any given moment. So the last important element to me is the sale of this ideal to the audience through the integrity of the Major’s characterization.
I read an article in Forbes a while ago about the DC Superhero Girls line, a multimedia work that’s essentially separate but equal women’s empowerment. You can’t get this shit in the cinemas, but here, have this thing and I guess it’s not as bad as its premise would suggest. But the author, who I mostly agreed with, talked about how even more important than empowerment narratives were stories where we literally deconstruct the patriarchy. It’s not enough to show girls being tough if it’s still seen as an outlier, like this DC Superhero Girls inherently does. It’s special, it’s odd.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say one is more important than the other, though I may be biased as someone who, for example, likes Moribito more than True Detective Season 1. One is characterizing in beautiful rendering this empowered woman, and the other is vivisecting masculinity. We need both, and actually both Moribito and Stand Alone Complex do both in one, while something like True Detective has to be mired in sexist imagery.
Not to say sexist imagery can’t be ‘elegant,’ but we can just enjoy the 2004 film and shut up
The Major is a novel idea as the best of the best of the best, sir, you know, with honor, in a military-police setting as a woman. But she’s completely believable, even as we push pretty deep on her godliness. The Major wasn’t the character who convinced me women could do anything, pushing back on the culture I came up in which told me in a million different ways and decibel levels that women could do only this handful of things, but… she easily could’ve been.
She’s both contextualized in the world and the world is contextualized around her, and I point to the character Saito to make this point about doing both the empowering and deconstructing masculinity, and why doing both in one powers the other. Because if we’re talking about interfacing with the above-mentioned culture, it’s important that you don’t give the opposition an inch, because they take that inch and turn into white male genocide. So when the Major ascends, it’s not the end of the world. Nobody else is emasculated, but we do revise our idea of masculinity.
The Saito example isn’t revolutionary, because he stays an archetype of masculinity, as the silent, stoic professional killer with the eye-patch. So it’s not like Rock from Black Lagoon, who defines his badassness in decidedly non-physical terms. It’s important that Saito remans this physical archetype, so that we see that it still has a place in a new world, the one increasingly penned by women like the Major.
Pazu has Boma, Batou has Togusa, and Saito doesn’t really pair off easily, as established earlier, he’s the loner. So I always like when the Major pairs off with him, because it makes sense, as they’re both the most soldier specialists, though Batou was a Ranger. But he said himself he’s already fought his war.
“Back then, I was a much different man.”
In the episode “Poker Face,” we see how a Saito with both eyes in the sockets faced down an enemy in Monterrey who frightened him from the top down. He was a mercenary with a knack for shooting soldiers in the butt, and the Major eventually caught up with him for a showdown. Not really as payback for the dead UN peacekeepers, but more because he’s a threat that has to be neutralized. She manages to get him to pop his head out and squeeze a shot off, giving her the opportunity to shoot through his scope and strike out his eye. Mystery… solved?
And then she chopped him in the wrist and stabbed him in the hand, which is a pretty raw deal. But the exciting part of it is that I don’t see this as somebody being put in their place, even if that’s literally what happens, she recruits him onto her team, but that carries connotations and is usually about domestic abuse practiced by men upon women. Agency is stolen from one character to power up the other, and that has in the course of my life taken the last of whatever I had left in my soul.
In this case, we have this woman character ascend, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the man character’s image. Because what happens after he tells his story about being dominated by the Major? You get that ending sequence dedicated to reaffirming his badassness in a way that is almost contrived. The whole episode he’s playing poker with Azuma and police officers from other units, while Section 9 is on guard detail for Kayabuki’s meeting with the US President to work out a security treaty which plays a role later on.
“You’re no card shark.”
Saito’s been winning every hand, and one of his opponents believes he’ll slip up soon, rookie Azuma credits Saito’s poker face. And so Saito tells the story of how he got it, by seeing it in the Major, and realizing he was out of his league. In the end, he says, “eh, I made up the whole story,” and leaves, putting his cards down and indicating that he’s just been getting lucky the whole time and he doesn’t have anything good. Azuma and the gang are all like, psh some role model, and then the Tachikoma turn over his cards and see that he won the final hand with that poker face, indicating that perhaps his story was true after all. And when the Tachikoma expresses that, so awestruck, the last shot of the episode is Saito walking away lighting a cigarette, against the night air.
His story might even be recontextualized by the show’s treatment of Saito after he tells it, where looking back, and also throughout, it is absolutely framed as this mental game between two soldiers. A moment is created where it doesn’t matter what gender you are, it’s about the skills you have, and your abilities. Granted, the crux of the issue was that the Major is clearly a full cyborg, and Saito only gets a new arm in Solid State Society. But she doesn’t defeat him necessarily because of her cyborg body, it just becomes another element in the chess game she has to mentally negotiate. Being smart, kicking ass.
It’s actually kind of funny, the way the episode works, because the Major spends the whole episode playing out a version of her eventual dominance over Saito, the slowly taking of command over this military operation. It’s funny because in a way it could almost stand alone as a separate story, where we’re building the Major up as a hero even though she’s been the hero for the last 30 plus episodes. So even when she doesn’t need to, she earns it back. She commandeers protagonism.
So this is a good starting point of de-gendering power, because it is not negative. In this process of taking something away, we find we’re not really taking anything at all. Take it to heart, dicks. Because that’s what these guys are worried about. So even with the overblown psychological phenomenon that creates white male genocide anxiety, there’s always a workaround, you just have to be creative, and luckily, we’re talking about the business of creativity. Storytelling, where anything is possible!
But I might be biased where it regards the strength of Saito as this safety net for the masculine ego. I can’t say if it would be effective because I’ve never wanted to be an alpha at anything. Except, of course, for podcasts about science-fiction. I don’t know if I did too well, but it’s a good thing there’s plenty road ahead for The Battle Beyond Planet… wait a minute! Ho, ho, ho.
No, no, and my personal proclivities have already been spoken to on this same excellent podcast about science-fiction. I would love to, at this juncture, practice some self-restraint. But what the fuck is the point? If you’ve been listening for a while you probably know where this was headed. That instead of self-restraint I dream of literal restraint practiced upon me by someone like the Major, and so if I praise Saito it might just be because the idea of physical domination by a badass woman is the only interesting thing in the world.
Had software status: all along
See, another reason I didn’t want to talk about the Major on Ep. 90 and why I never want to talk about the Major is because it becomes so easy to cast aspersions on my innocent fan appreciation of the character. I go on, talking about Commander Shepard and Guts, happy as a lark, although I suppose I did let on about my fucked up masochistic tendencies where it regards yet another Japanese woman from science-fiction.
The Major is the ultimate character and ideal of an ideal thing – she is all these things because to my mind she’s a paragon of humankind. This fictional character exhibits and makes easy to observe and think about all the best traits I’ve ever imagined in thinking of humankind, as someone very much separate from that. So naturally, symptomatic of that would be a kind of attraction.
If you’re curious, I know where it comes from now, and this was a pretty recent revelation, one of those things you have every once in a while, that recontextualizes your entire past. “How did I get here?” is the refrain in my life that may have finally born fruit. So, here goes.
I first read about Ghost in the Shell in The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies, and the author John Scalzi really sold it to me in the explanation of how it relates to The Matrix, a movie I loved back then and think now is the greatest scifi movie ever made. Aside from the obligatory anecdote, where the Wachowskis went into Joel Silver’s office and said, “let’s make this for real,” what really struck me was his observation that The Matrix was about rogue humans in a machine world being hunted by machines, and Ghost in the Shell was about robots breaking through to the human world and being chased by humans. And already, of the two, Ghost in the Shell sounds more appealing. For two reasons.
One, a human world with a robotic incursion is more relatable and better for escapism, in direct contrast to The Matrix. I love The Matrix as a film, even a film series, but was never let down by The Matrix as a media franchise, because I didn’t care about the world. Never something I wanted to mentally inhabit, because it’s one of the darkest dystopias ever imagined for film. Disregarding the fact that the franchise was largely garbage anyway.
Two, as I consciously realized very recently, like, in July of this year, I identify more with robots in science-fiction. It sounds pat, convenient, maybe like a cry for pity, but I’ve always identified with something Other. If you’re my buddies circa 2005, you’re wondering about my hang-up over seeing King Kong, because after all, it’s got dinosaurs, and the first thing anybody comes to learn about Harrison Chute is that he loves dinosaurs. But think about the content of King Kong, okay? How it’s not particularly pro-dinosaur. Yeah, yeah. Motherfucker, I don’t want to see that. Because holy shit, I’m the dinosaur. And I’m the robot. And I’m the… well, that’s… where it stops, but really robots and dinosaurs were all I watched as a child. And now. I always say I don’t understand what people mean when they claim to identify with characters on-screen, but now I’m reminded of how I used to, with “characters,” and even with that intonation in mind, how impactful it can be.
I wasn’t the white people in Jurassic Park, because they were more like everyone else in school, and I certainly wasn’t like that everyone else. God forbid. So if I had to be something, obviously I’d be a velociraptor. Isn’t that the most interesting thing on-screen? And so, growing up, all of the heroes I would invent were robots, aliens, or robot alien dinosaurs. Usually faceless, but aesthetically interesting in a scifi sense. Just… like me? In fact, I’ve only really come around on the human face recently. I remember reading about like Spider-Man 2 and the movie V for Vendetta, almost desperately, with regards to how masks can be just as emotional or expressive as the human face. It’s gotta work. I gotta make this work.
But the change happened with the introduction of a novel element. For as time went on, these inhuman heroes I identified with would be flanked by tough women characters. Women soldiers in that same science-fiction world, who went on to increasingly become the focus. They would always hold physical supremacy, and sometimes even exercise that over my objects of self-identification. From this point, I’ve never grown up, and I’ll tell you why.
To go back to Scalzi’s description of Ghost in the Shell, for me, there was something exciting about the concept of being chased by futuristic cyber cops, the leader of which is this ultra badass lady. And then watching specifically Stand Alone Complex, there was definitely something added to a traditional appreciation of a great show. An enticement, where there’s this truly beautiful characterization of a powerful woman in a position of authority. Something I had never seen before, and haven’t seen since. It’s important to me. It continues to represent the other world, the one I wasn’t born into.
At her feet
I’ve actually told someone before, and I can’t believe I ever did, but my ultimate ambition in life is to be beaten, tied up, kidnapped, raped and killed by a woman I was attracted to. So that’s really why a premise like this appeals to me, thinking about Section 9 from the perspective of law enforcement.
Stand Alone Complex gives me just enough to imagine being totally rocked by the Major and locked up. I mean, Section 9 is pretty dystopic, but that’s… all a part of it. I wouldn’t mind dystopia so long as certain conditions were met. If the right kind of federal agent was stripping my civil liberties. Because I don’t really have a lot going on right now, and don’t really like my life anyway, which is an incredibly arrogant thing to say I understand and may end up addressing that in the next episode, I’d be all for a world held in bondage so long as we were squirming under the Major’s boot heel.
This post might constitute sexual assault. Good thing sexual assault isn’t illegal in this country!
But seriously — if you’re offended… this podcast is over.
You know, I really didn’t want to talk about all that. I guess it just feels dishonest to talk about the Major like a normal person and leave it there, especially in light of other critics who come at it with a realized sense of my ambitions for this podcast – healing work. It’s that central dilemma I’m still on the hook for, and which this podcast has only worked to bring to light, which is that all of my pretensions at social justice are driven by chemicals in my brain over which I have no control, which then manifest in social attitudes and behaviors I could control but don’t.
It’s getting a little played out, don’t you think? It just seems like… this fucking perverted stuff, that’s where the podcast, where these thoughts and discussions, always lead me. I mean, is that where these ideas come from to begin with? I’m so tired.
First, you escape. And then you grow up in that magical world and want to see it through adult eyes. You stand up and wipe the sleep away with academia, sociopolitics. But that’s when the world you left behind becomes vibrant for the first time in your life, because that dream wasn’t about the world, so much as simply being the person who might leave a legacy with it. And so, that abandoned world beams with colorful light, but stays in the distance. Past a gulf that can’t be crossed twice, so make sure, five-year-old, that when you cross it, you know what you’re doing.
If there’s been one recurrent theme in my life, it’s giving up. It comes with the territory, of being a dreamer. You have to step-by-step resign yourself to a reality you initially rejected. The reality of challenge. That the world is something tall and lumbering, and you don’t even know what questions to ask, never mind if you should ask them. And so, it’s always been easy for me to take shortcuts through socialization. I never learned how to become a person.
Media might be the least sexy drug on offer, but for some it can be an addiction. I like the scifi genre in particular because it inspires the imaginative powers of your mind. It invites you in. For example, you’re taught to be an explorer, and see all possible paths ahead in your life. Soon, you’re a prophet, and can see the future coming. Up ahead, and too fast. Finally, you’re a time traveler. What could I have done differently?