Brain Diving The Faux and the Hound
by Brian Ruh, Jun 14th 2011
I'm a sucker for postapocalypse. Riding in the backseats through the Indiana winter, I would sometimes imagine that the flat, denuded fields had been wiped clean by some horrific war that left those of us in the car some of the last humans alive. Now, I'm not usually a morbid person. I don't think these daydreams stem from a desire for death and destruction as much as they are a fantasy of freedom in which we would be able to start society from scratch.
It should come as little surprise, then, that one of my favorite pieces of animation from the last year depicted scenes of Tokyo completely free of human life. Titled Je t'aime, the short film was actually a music video for the song “Satellite of Love” by the Japanese rock group GLAY. (I'm not going to link to it here, but you can find it pretty easily on YouTube. There is a short and a long version – I prefer the longer one.) It depicted a basset hound walking around through a Tokyo populated only by other animals; a tank stopped in the middle of an intersection is the only clue as to what may have happened to the city's populace. One day, the dog encounters a flying humanoid robot. Remembering how people used to play fetch with it, he brings the robot a ball, which the robot then ignores. Undaunted, the dog spends day after day bringing balls to the robot, who always seems to show up at the same time and place. Finally, the dog brings the robot a special metal ball, and the robot beckons for the dog to bring it to him. However, the robot tries to destroy the ball, which ends up causing irreparable damage to itself. Alone again, the dog continues to wander the city.
It should come as little surprise to you when I mention that this short anime film was directed by Mamoru Oshii. It carries many of his thematic and visual motifs from his previous films – abandoned ruins, military occupation, humanoid robots, and the intertwined relationships between dogs (specifically, basset hounds), robots, and people have all featured in his previous works and are present here as well. I find the title particularly interesting, since Oshii was originally invited to contribute to the omnibus film that became Paris Je t'aime (2006). It makes me wonder if this was Oshii's original idea for the short, transposed from Paris to Tokyo.
The same themes present in Je t'aime also play a prominent role in the book I'd like to focus on a bit more here. After the Long Goodbye by Masaki Yamada is a story set in the Ghost in the Shell universe that takes place right before the events of the second film. (Published in English by Viz, its full title is Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence: After the Long Goodbye. In Japanese they drop the “Ghost in the Shell 2” part, since the film was simply called Innocence over there.) Serialized in the anime magazine Animage, After the Long Goodbye was part of a large publicity campaign to build up interest prior to the theatrical release of Oshii's 2004 sequel to his groundbreaking 1995 film. Unlike some media tie-ins, they decided to go for quality with this one, hiring Masaki Yamada (not to be confused with the animator / character designer Masaki Yamada; the author writes “Masaki” as 正紀 while the designer's name is 正樹) to keep the narrative close to the look and feel of the Innocence film. Yamada is a science fiction author of renown, having earned the Nihon SF Taisho award (usually said to be the equivalent of the Nebula) and three Seiun awards (often said to be similar to the Hugo, although the word literally means “nebula”). One of Yamada's Seiun winning novels, the alternate World War II story Kishin Heidan, would later be turned into an anime OVA in the ‘90s called Kishin Corps: Alien Defender Geo-Armor. Although he has many novels and stories to his name, the only other one to be published in English is the philosophical utopian SF novel Aphrodite.
The first Ghost in the Shell film ends with Major Motoko Kusanagi merging with the Puppet Master to become some kind of new net-based life form. When After the Long Goodbye begins, we can begin to see how the Major's disappearance has affected Batou, her compatriot in Public Security Section 9 who loved her even though he is probably far too manly and stoic to ever confess such a thing. In the end, his self-questioning nature would probably lead him to wonder if two cyborgs with electronic brains could even truly love one another.
After the Long Goodbye begins with Batou on his day off, venturing out to get some food for his basset hound Gabriel. Never the most social person, following the disappearance of the Major and the Puppet Master incident, Batou seems to have two main interests – his job and his dog. He seems to have gone further into himself, fulfilling some kind of stereotype of a reticent, hardboiled bachelor out of an old detective novel. When he goes back to his car after an unsuccessful visit to the convenience store, Batou encounters a pair of odd men loitering in the parking lot, one of whom he learns is named Ando. He thinks nothing of their encounter, but when Batou gets into his car he feels his e-brain being hacked through the vehicle's navigation system. His car starts up and begins driving wildly, accelerating and crashing into the cars around him, yet Batou is, for a time, powerless to stop it. With Ando's help he does manage to regain a semblance of control over the careening car, but not before his e-brain is reinitialized. Later, when he goes back home to see his dog, he gets a package delivery for which he needs to sign. While he has the door open, Batou is distracted by a call from his coworker Togusa, warning him that they may soon be assigned to a case involving gynoids killing their owners (presaging the case they'd later take in Innocence). When the call is over, Batou realizes that his dog Gabriel has walked right out the door, out the building, and has seemingly vanished.
At this point in the story, I had a realization. If you think of music associated with Ghost in the Shell, you'd probably come up with examples like Kenji Kawai's score that incorporates a female chorus, Yoko Kanno's techno-pop score from the TV series, or the somber jazz of Kimiko Itoh's rendition of “Follow Me.” The jazz connection is reinforced in After the Long Goodbye through repeated references to “I'm a Fool to Want You” by trumpeter Lee Morgan. Midway through re-reading the book, though, I was struck by the fact that the most appropriate music this time around might be a country song. Really, although Batou hasn't lost his job, he's lost his woman (the Major), his car, and his dog – a classic setup if I've ever heard one.
All of this action occurs in the first chapter, and sets the stage for what is to come. Although there are brief bursts of action (like the scene with Batou's out of control car), the majority of the novel seems to want to ask some rather weighty questions, not the least of which is the nature of the soul and how a person can know what is real in a hyper-mediated world. From the beginning, when Batou first meets Ando, we are led to question whether Batou's first-person narration throughout the book is reliable. He prefaces the description of his encounter with Ando by saying, “This was only a mistaken memory. That couldn't be. A hallucination again. But again, that certainty of detail.” After the car incident, we find Batou in a taxi on his way to get dog food again. Is this the same evening? How much time has passed? As readers we're not sure, but it seems that Batou is equally fuzzy on what is going on. He narrates, “Hadn't I done this before? Of course I had—my dog likes to eat, after all. I put my unease at this repetition aside. I ignored it.” Those who like to know exactly what's going on in a novel could find themselves quickly frustrated by a work like After the Long Goodbye, since even if the narrator is telling us everything he knows (which is doubtful), it's a toss-up as to whether or not what he thinks is the truth is in fact what is going on.
The disappearance of Batou's dog is what really drives the remainder of the novel. When he tries to go out looking for her, he has no luck, although he does have a couple of odd encounters, one of which is with a small tank driving down a city street in the middle of the night. After talking with Yasutaka, an animal trainer with the police, they come to the realization that Gabriel probably noticed something was amiss after Batou's e-brain was reinitialized. They wonder if she left because she was going to look for Batou's misplaced soul that had momentarily vanished. However, Batou cannot keep looking for Gabriel on his own forever – he still needs to do his job with Section 9. This first takes him to a large dog track in which greyhounds chase a virtual rabbit in their brains and then on to a gig protecting a man whose sensitive, cyborgized tongue is the basis for menus and quality control for the global multinational fast food restaurant Mao Mantou. However, all of these events later prove to be interrelated and tie back to Batou's odd encounter with the mysterious Ando and the disappearance of his dog.
Like Innocence, After the Long Goodbye is a rather philosophical work. It's probably a bit more accessible than the film, though, in that it doesn't keep beating you over the head with references and quotes. There are still allusions to other sources (like the media theories of Marshall McLuhan, to choose one brief example) but in Yamada's prose these become brief asides rather than long-winded explications as they might have been had Oshii written the novel himself. (I know I'm probably in the minority on this, but I quite enjoy Oshii's digressions.)
The story's emphasis on its philosophical aspects takes a toll on its believability, though. This may sound like an odd critique for a tale that features a futuristic police cyborg, but it is precisely Batou's job that undermines the narrative. I mean, take the events of the first chapter – a valued anti-cyberterrorism agent is hacked, his car is totaled, and he can't seem to be able to distinguish reality from false memory. If I were running Section 9, there's no way I would have Batou conducting any further missions for weeks, if not months, until everything about him and the case was fully checked out. Unfortunately, it seems like such commonsensical investigative practices have gone out the window in the police of the future.
The original cover illustration nicely captures the feel of the novel – a simple monochrome image of Batou holding Gabriel on a white background. There are a few additional interior illustrations at the chapter breaks, although this is in no way a light novel. The illustration used for the US hardcover edition is the same as that used in the Japanese version, although rotated ninety degrees. However, the US paperback version tries to change things up a bit too much – it shows what looks like a blue chest x-ray with a bunch of numbers and letters superimposed on it. The design is too busy and doesn't immediately identify the novel as a Ghost in the Shell product (other than, you know, the title on the cover). I don't know if there were rights issues with the paperback version, but I'm not a fan of the cover image. Luckily, I've heard that's not how you're supposed to judge a book. It's a good thing too, since otherwise it's an engrossing read. Since it's a tie-in, it doesn't really stand very well on its own as a piece of fiction. But as a complementary text to Ghost in the Shell, it brings depths to Batou's character that you may not necessarily have glimpsed from watching the films or the series.
Brian Ruh is the author of Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii. You can find him on Twitter at @animeresearch.
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