Reviewby Theron Martin,
Ghost in the Shell: Arise
Blu-Ray - Borders (BD+DVD 3-4)
Motoko now has the core of the kind of independent team she wants, but to finish the job and get official sanction she will need to recruit one more person and also prove her and her team's worth to Aramaki. Two semi-related cases come up which will give her the opportunity, both of them to some degree involving the sale of water rights, rebels from the war-torn country of Kushan, and a Wizard-class hacker named Firestarter who may have developed a way to implant false memories as part of a package ghost hack, something which had been thought to be beyond current technology. Along the way she and her compatriots continue to butt heads with Section 501 (and, occasionally, each other) and run afoul of schemes being run by other layers of the government, and there's also the small matter of Motoko's soon-to-be-live-in boyfriend, who may or may not be playing her dirty.
The second Arise release includes episodes 3 and 4, each of which is a little over 50 minutes long. While each episode focuses on a specific case, the two are somewhat related and a definitely continuity exists between the two. Both episodes certainly continue to capture the spirit of the TV series in most respects, but some flaws also show here a little more than with the first two episodes.
One thing that the first two Arise OVAs made clear is that this is a younger Major Kusanagi, one who is not so much less mature as she is not yet at the point in her life where she has become emotionally hardened and purely professional. The much greater range of expressiveness that she has shown so far continues here, but it comes with a new twist: now she also has a boyfriend – in fact, he is apparently the most recent and longest-lasting of a string of them – whom she acts lovey-dovey with. That does not sync at all with the image of The Major from either the movies or the TV series, which raises the speculation that this sequence of boyfriends is one of her last-gasp efforts to capture a normal human life before she gets irrevocably immersed in the world of covert ops. If that was the angle that writer Tow Ubukata was going for, though, then he falls quite short, as Motoko's atypical lack of analysis and contemplation of the relationship, along with the seeming lack of any lasting impact on her once the relationship ends, imply her relationship with her cybernetic technician to be more a storytelling convenience than an actual aspect of her character development.
That lack of thoroughness also shows in the main story. Both Stand Alone Complex series and the Solid State Society movie were extremely meticulous about setting up the details and particulars of their complex plots. While this was sometimes done to a fault, it was also a key factor in their success. Ubukata has certainly shown a sufficient talent for handling the technobabble aspect of content like this – those who like the franchise for that aspect will not be disappointed here – but his writing in other cases has sometimes skimped on thoroughness in favor of pacing and storytelling. That is not necessarily wrong in some kinds of stories, but here, where the minutiae matter, it is. While not a pervasive problem, both episodes do suffer from logical gaps in a variety of ways: how characters connect point A to point B, how certain scenes lead into others, and what exactly the motives are of certain secondary characters. That can make what's going on hard to follow at times.
Of course, both episodes can still be fully appreciated as hard-sci-fi action pieces sprinkled with liberal doses of philosophy and occasional minor doses of humor. (When will Batou learn that he should not make derogatory comments about a boss lady who can use his ghost infiltration key to make him punch himself?) Even more so than the first pair, these two episodes show why the franchise continues to have few equals when it comes to staging physical action scenes between humanoid cyborgs or cybernetic action scenes involving hacking wizardry. Like multi-legged tank action? You will get plenty of that, too, as well as multiple shout-outs to defining scenes from the original movie. All of it is rendered in great detail by the Production I.G team, with few corners cut on the animation and none in the action scenes; that these episodes had a much higher budget than normal is abundantly clear. Artistic merits in general are (almost) uniformly high, whether in background article, tech items, or character design and animation. Motoko in particular looks as sharp and sexy as she ever has.
The techno-dominated soundtrack is still provided by Cornelius (who also scored the Appleseed: Ex Machina (movie) and its effectiveness is still largely a matter of personal taste. The soundtrack's most interesting aspect is that its episode 3 closing theme “Heart Grenade” was co-created, written, and sung by Sean Lennon, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who is apparently a big franchise fan. A different and less remarkable closer is used for episode 4, while the opener continues from the first two episodes.
By episode 3 long-time fans have had a chance to settle in and get used to the voice work by the new cast, so the differences wrought by the casting updates are less jarring and the actors sound more comfortable and satisfying in the roles. Elizabeth Maxwell is still proving to be a particularly good fit in the lead role – she is going to define this role for a new generation of fans – but really the entire cast performs their roles well and with the right kinds of attitudes. Avoid getting hung up by the changes in vocal quality and this is a pretty strong English dub.
The deluxe treatment from Funimation continues. Each episode comes in its own case containing a Blu-Ray, a DVD, and a color-coded booklet, with both cases coming in a sturdy artbox. The booklets contain episode summaries, character and equipment profiles, background art, interviews with production staff, and even philosophical pieces related to topics raised in the episodes, although little of it will probably be of much interest to anyone who is not a diehard franchise fan. The disks are loaded up with Extras, too, including English staff and actors discussing issues raised in the series, a Japanese behind-the-scenes piece set to music, clean opener and closer, a plethora of promotional clips, Logicoma-focused omake, and what appears to be an Arise-themed extended commercial for a Japanese Web registry service. The oddest inclusion is the set of “ARISE Border:less” shorts, a hugely eclectic mix of short videos that include some animation, some live-action, and some distorted imagery set to music. In some cases the GITS link is clear, but others (“Color” and “Yuki Will Never Forget Kenji” in particular) have no apparent connection whatsoever.
Ultimately the second pair of episodes only “stands alone” from the rest of the franchise with regards to Mokoto's dating in the third episode. Otherwise it very much retains established themes, style, and spirit as it brings Togusa into the fold..
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : C+
+ Excellent action sequences, high-concept plotting and technology use, looks great.
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