Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite anime series of all time. Having said that, I didn’t quite enjoy the original movie back in 1995. When Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex made its debut in 2002, its story revolving around The Laughing Man, was just absolutely perfect. The following season and movies that released shortly thereafter were fairly decent, but all future versions or adaptations would, in my eyes, be compared to Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man, due its near flawless execution.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise is an origin story of how Motoko Kusanagi, known as The Major, would bring about her team of Batou, Saito, Borma, Paz, Ishikawa and Togusa, to stop the cyber threats that threaten the lives of those who would need protection, and in some cases, against themselves. I really enjoyed the moments that center around the team being assembled. This recruitment occurs under fairly unconventional means, well, except for Togusa; who joins in rather conventional means. I will say the only flaw regarding the team and its beginnings, is the fact that the team never see’s any sense of growth throughout the entire series. I was hoping for one of the episodes to be a bit of a learning curve for them acting like a team, making mistakes until they found that groove, but the team is pretty much good to go right from the very start. I also found that due to the short length of the series, that characters like Saito, Borma, Paz and Ishikawa never really have strong moments to themselves and only tend to pop up whenever the show needed some minor situation resolved.
Ghost in the Shell has always dealt with mature political and technological themes like assassination, cyber hacking, and how no matter the technological strides we make as a society, someone will always weaponize any aspect they can of it. Throughout the four episode run, Arise manages to combine almost every type of Ghost in the Shell theme into one fairly easy-but-sometimes-hard-to-follow plot. There are times where I was sort of lost in the moment, but then something else would happen and it would just click. There is some pretty smart writing here and I have to commend them on that. The main plot thread that Arise mostly follows is the ability to implant false memories to alter the perceptions and backstory of what that person has gone through. It’s a fantastic concept that weaves in and out of the four episode run and concludes in the series’ own movie.
Ghost in the Shell can at sometimes be a very dry series, amidst the action. Arise shares a lot of the same tone and long exposition moments the franchise is known for. Some of the hour long episodes can have a 50/50 of action and talking, with sometimes more of the latter. I did find that the shorter series length didn’t pace out the series as well for this dynamic as well as the show-runners for Stand Alone Complex did in the past.
The animation is fairly decent and rivals Stand Alone Complex in many areas. I still prefer the original character designs from that series, but find that only Motoko has seen any type of true redesign here. When I had seen the new Motoko I wasn’t a huge fan at first. It sort of grew on me, and while I am still on the fence about it, I can’t say I hate it as sometimes I rather enjoyed the new look. I was glad that they at least didn’t make her look as plain as the original movie did back in 1995. The series interjects some CG elements into the show as well, mostly with the machinery like the tanks, vehicles and larger constructs. It’s also worth noting that the CG here is far far better than what it was in Stand Alone Complex, as the car chase in episode 2 would have looked less impressive using the old CG. The anime really suits the intense action scenes, as well as the conversation based moments, of which there is plenty.
I’ll state right now, I do not watch anime in Japanese. I am not a ‘purist’ in that regard, and will only watch a series in English dub. This is one reason I am not up to date on Sword Art Online. The English cast of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, both the seasons and the movie saw some switches in a few cast members, but overall, anything from that series is superb and one of my favorite voice casts of any show. The cast here is anywhere from ok to decent, with no one really elevating the series to any higher standard. Elizabeth Maxwell’s Motoko is alright, but fairly generic at times. I found it a bit of a tease to hear the Stand Alone Complex’s Motoko voice speaking out of another character here, but that was probably just a bit of fan service. Christopher R. Sabat as Batou is fairly the same, as are a few of the team members, they are just close enough to the original sound you wonder why they just didn’t get that team together again. Chief Aramaki is by far the most drastic change from the original voice and I found it fairly distracting. The voice cast here does do a solid job, it’s just hard not to compare them to the original cast.
The music composed by Cornelis is great, offering some enjoyable beats and tones that compliment the series well. While I prefer Yoko Kanno from Stand Alone Complex, I still enjoyed what was here and didn’t feel it was that much of a departure of what Ghost in the Shell fans can expect from its musical choices.
I was concerned when Stand Alone Complex’s Kenji Kamiyama didn’t return to helm this series, and that Tow Ubukata (Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor and Mardock Scramble) would come in as lead writer, as I felt there may be a huge gap in quality and substance, thankfully, I was wrong. Arise is enjoyable and for the better part of the four episodes, serves as a faithful adaptation and continuation of the franchise. While I won’t praise the entire series, as I felt the four episodes just wasn’t long enough to do this series justice, there are moments of sheer brilliance here that I feel can be better served with a season 2. It’s no Laughing man, but it sure is great to see Ghost in the Shell back and I can’t wait for more.