This Week in Anime
Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is Flipping Insane

by Steve Jones & Michelle Liu,

Sci-fi anime owes a lot to Masahiro Shirow's Ghost in the Shell. Since the original anime film's premiere in 1995, writers have revisited Major Kusanagi's world with varying levels of success from the iconic Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex television anime to Hollywood's less than stellar take starring Scarlett Johansson. The newest iteration is Netflix's Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 and, despite some highly questionable art direction, turns out to be more promising than it appears. It's also totally bonkers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the film ahead.
CONTENT WARNING: Violence, gore, plastic butts.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Micchy
Steve, now that we've been locked inside for almost two months, I imagine that you're also starting to run out of things to binge on Netflix. Luckily our favorite (heh) streaming giant has got our backs with sequels to our favorite shows. May I present to you: Hero Mask 2, featuring plastic Scarlett Johansson!
Steve
Please, I know you're joking, but even the mere thought of having to watch more Hero Mask is enough to make me crack open another Dudweiser. Or six.
So long as you get someone else to do the driving!
As you may have already gleaned from these images, Ghost in the Shell is back! It's been a few years since we've had one, and that's clearly unacceptable, so here we go again!
Damn, has it already been [checks watch] three years since the ScarJo film? Feels like just yesterday to me, whatever 'yesterday' means in this endless time loop we've been living in.
Honestly we may as well be living in the year 2045 right now. Time means nothing. But it does actually mean bit of something in this here GITS. Instead of starting a new continuity or going down the path of highly-ill-advised live-action casting choices, we're back in the Stand Alone Complex universe and cracking open some cold ones with old friends.

Some very big cold ones in the case of Batou here.
Full disclosure here, Ghost in the Shell is one of the big gaping holes in my anime viewing history; all I really knew going in to this plasticky new sequel was whatever I'd absorbed via meme osmosis over the past decade. And by that I mean my primary exposure to anything GITS-related was Pandora in the Crimson Shell.
Okay, I don't want to go off on a whole tangent here, but whenever anybody brings up Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn—another classic from the mind of Masamune Shirow—I have to both share this image and deeply implore everybody else to watch it.

It is simply scrumptious trash.
Truly cursed that that's the first thing that came to mind when I saw the Major's ass prominently featured in the opening sequence. But anyway, though I can't really say how well GITS:SAC_2045 holds up as a sequel, I can tell you I came away more pleased than I would've expected from that first impression.

Gotta say though, it's a bold move of the posterchild of cyberpunk anime to kick off with so many car chases that I had to double check I wasn't watching a Grand Theft Auto Let's Play.
So I did watch and adore both seasons of Stand Alone Complex, and considering it's probably the most widely-liked iteration of the many Ghost in the Shell adaptations over the decades, I'm not surprised we finally got a sequel. I was, however, surprised at how it starts out. Like, I'm pretty sure Section 9, the public security unit the main cast belonged to, did dissolve at the end of the second season, but SAC_2045 throws us in the middle of an ongoing Forever War with the Major and her buddies working for a PMC. It's a bit jarring! And that's definitely intentional. But probably the most jarring thing is that everything looks like a pre-rendered PS1-era cutscene.
In fact, Togusa, it's the world of the uncanny textures of Jimmy Neutron.
We have to talk about this first, because everything else aside, this is a huge deliberate stylistic choice that permeates the whole season, and it never really starts looking any better. It's not even the CGI itself so much as the weird rubbery matte finish on all the human characters. Smooth Aramaki being far and above the worst crime committed here.

My dude's hair looks like play-doh.
Yeah, I'm not sure what they were going for with the lineart outlines plus the weird ass texturing, but it's definitely not a good sign when my brain alternately wonders if it's watching gdgd Fairies or Abunai Sisters.
I don't think we should besmirch the good name of gdgd Fairies, if you ask me, but point taken.
And that's a shame, since the character acting in 2045 is actually pretty nice! It just, y'know, has the rubbery textures of a janky PS2 cutscene.
You're right though. The animation itself is largely fine and expressive even, but the aesthetic looks right out of one of those insane Dahir Insaat proof-of-concept videos. It's especially noticeable when the Tachikoma scenes pop up and everything suddenly looks a lot better because there's no plastic human skin to distract me anymore.

By the way, I feel you, Tachikomas.
And then there's Purin, who looks and acts like she was born to be a bishoujo figure.
Purin's actually a odd case where her whole presence is so alien to everything else in the Stand Alone Complex world, that I think her standing out like a sore thumb works in the show's favor, weirdly. But that's the exception, not the rule.
Her cartoony-ass anime girl movements absolutely do not gel with the cold cyberpunk world of Ghost in the Shell, but I think she adds a nice bit of goofy charm because she's so incongruent with the rest of the series. I can absolutely see why fans of the previous series would not like her though.
For sure, but you can also count me as a big fan of Purin and her tragically terrible thirst for Batou.
Plus she has such good chemistry with the Tachikomas that I can't not love her.
Yeah, one thing that remains consistent across all SAC seasons is that the Tachikomas are the best characters. Even if they are gamers. Love these adorable little murder tanks.
Murder tanks who use Twitter, don't you forget that.
And SAC_2045 overall does feel like a continuation of the prior two seasons, even if it takes a bit to settle back into its more familiar procedural mood. The first half of this season is, by contrast, very strange, tho I do like that the first "villains" the Major has to deal with are disgruntled ex-college football players.
You know they're football players because they conduct all their terrorist activities in face paint and varsity jackets! Yeah, the first arc is a little dumb. I kind of love it though.

I mean, it also features a half-naked breakdancing Steve Jobs cyborg, so.
Hoo boy, yeah. We'll, uh, get to that soon. But I do like that, despite the first arc's dumbness, it still manages to squeeze in some SAC-esque philosophizing, and it does incorporate modern anxieties like student loans, income inequality, and Forever War into its considerations. Plus, it asks the question I too often have to ask myself while watching Netflix-original anime.
Modern indeed! I don't suppose the first series had plot points about intrusive bitcoin ads?
Not that I recall! And if you were at all concerned that Ghost in the Shell might not get its American setting correct, never fear. It understands the United States perfectly.
What can I say, it understands the true evil.
On a serious note, relationship tensions between the US and Japan end up being a key component of the eventual overarching plot. On a not-so-serious note, the American proxy character is literally Agent Smith.

Like, his name is no-joke John Smith, but also, he looks toe-to-tip like one of the CG extras from the big fight scene in The Matrix: Reloaded.
Looking at this character design like "oh honey, wrong anime, you belong in The Animatrix." Though I am curious where 2045 is going with the Japanese nationalist/anti-US undercurrents running through this part of the series. It has introduced some complications to its US/Japan dynamic that suggest more nuance than "Japan good/America bad", but on the other hand, the most important American character is that guy.
Yeah it's a super thorny situation both here and IRL, and the first season doesn't come close to reaching a conclusion. Because lucky for us, we don't have to think about that too hard, because there are now superhuman enemies to take care of! Like, um, oh that name can't possibly be right.
Hey, be nice to the Steve Jobs of the military-industrial(-technological?) complex.
So the crux of SAC_2045 eventually winds up being the presence of new post-humans, who are ordinary people who one day became able to use their cyberbrains so good that they can do and/or hack pretty much anything. I know that sounds silly in abstract, but don't worry; in execution, it's MUCH sillier.
Now, I'm sure there's a universe out there where this scene was executed in an unsettling and creepy way that really communicated the uncanny inhumanity of their adversary. Unfortunately, we got the one that looks like it was animated by David Lewandowski.
Now Steve, let's not make too much fun of naked backflip Steve Jobs. Don't want to forget the kung-fu cyborg maids!
There's so much good shit in this scene. I'm also partial to Batou just getting fed up with everything.
Okay but like, the show tells us Steve Jobs Patrick Huge is responsible for a global financial collapse, but then it goes and pulls the funniest shit I've seen all month and now I can't stop laughing. Like I'm not sure that's the way to establish a conflict?
It's sublimely bizarre and does indeed end up undercutting the supposed severity of the post-human threat. And that's not to say GITS can't be intentionally silly when it wants to, because it most certainly does throughout the season.
Behold, the hacker fish king.
But wow, the whole Patrick Huge thing is both one huge misfire and the most memorable part of the first season, albeit probably not in the way it was intended to be.
The show spends half a season building up to the post-human threat and getting the gang back together only to cap it off with the goofiest friggin thing. Luckily the back half of the season settles into something much more subdued, along the lines of what I was expecting from GITS. Well, as 'subdued' as an episode about Batou teaching a bunch of seniors how to scam the crypto market can be.
That is my FAVORITE episode from the new series, cyberhands down. I was legit blown away by just how quickly it felt like old SAC again once we got back to Japan and Batou had to babysit some wannabe geriatric bank robbers.
There's just something so wholesome about a grizzled cop like Batou teaching a little old grandma how to sell bitcoin, bless his heart.
It's such a fun little story full of clever details, like bank robbery being such an outdated form of crime that ONLY a bunch of old fogies would even think of trying to attempt it. But there's also nothing that feels more real and raw than a lonely old woman grappling with the fact that it is simultaneously too expensive to live AND too expensive to die.

This is SAC at its best—extrapolating our current cyberpunk hellscape to its logical and cruel conclusion.
It's a really good episode! It's funny and sweet, but also a grim picture of what the future could look like if left in the wrong hands. These old-timers get their happy ending, but in a world where individual bills can be traced and surveillance is the norm there's only so many ways that can happen.

In 2020 we're talking about contact tracing by accessing geolocation history; what does that look like 2045?
Yeah, SAC_2045 has definitely done its part to feel relevant after a 15-year absence.
See also: the arc about the kids who develop apps to cancel people on the internet... in real life.
And in case you remain nostalgic for some of the highlights of the Patrick Huge arc, never fear, because the entirety of SAC_2045 is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to exploding heads.
SO many.
But to be perfectly fair, I found myself warming up to the new series despite my many initial reservations, and I think it ends in an intriguing place that certainly has me anticipating the second part.
Definitely. By the time it starts delving into the fragile psychologies of its 14-year-old edgelords, I was pretty much on board with whatever ideas it chooses to tackle. The internet and our relationship to tech has changed a fair bit in the last 15 years, and it's pretty exciting to see how GITS responds to more recent developments in internet history.
It still never quiiiiite hits the level of philosophical sophistication that defined the prior seasons (and boy do I wish they went with cel-shading or really any other aesthetic), but once it gets going, it's good. However! If I had to pick the most unforgivable thing they did with this update, it would be toning down Togusa's mullet.

Just absolutely no excuse for that.
Hold up a sec, you're telling me Togusa used to have a mullet?? I was getting all hyped to finally sit down and watch OG GITS:SAC after digging the hell out of what I saw here, but the hair might very well be a dealbreaker.
Look at how good this is!!!

You'll agree with me once you watch it.
I refuse to acknowledge that mess. You can't make me look at it any longer Steve.
Then I'm afraid the Major has some bad news for you.
Like I'm going to take orders from a talking PVC figure. I've seen AMAZING STRANGER Steve, that shit has no power over me.
Tread lightly, Micchy.
I will say though, it's pretty damn rude of the season to end on a cliffhanger. Here I am all intrigued to see where it's going with the app dev dweeb who takes Orwell all too literally and it just ends with a promise of maybe following up on that stuff several months from now. The fault 100% lies with Netflix's release model, but it still stinks.
True, I think this'll be best digested as a full season of (I presume) 24 episodes, but I can understand the logic of releasing half at a time. After all, if it takes this long to render just one complete anime ass, imagine how long a full season must take.
Never would've expected Ghost in the Shell to challenge Nier Automata's 2B for the Most Ass Polygons award, but here we are.
You actually bring up a good point: considering that 2B's canonical weight is 148.8 kilograms, and the Major is also a full-body cyborg, I wonder...
Nope that's it I'm stopping this line of questioning right here.
I suppose some ghosts are better left in their shells.
Crimson or otherwise, yes.

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