Public Security Section 9 is back! The first new Ghost in the Shell since the Scarlett Johansson live action movie is available for streaming on Netflix. It’s not easy to update a franchise with such a strong legacy for a new time and a new audience and still keep longtime fans happy. I’ve been through the 12 episodes of Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 twice now. It’s highly recommend watching it even though the internet – most of which has not scene the entire season – has taken to ridiculing it. What else is new?
The entire Section 9 crew returns for SAC_2045 in brand new 3D character models. Batou, Ishikawa and most of the team look fine in their new avatars (let’s be real here, Batou always looks good no matter how they draw him). Their movements are all as natural-looking as their 2D versions – maybe even more fluid. The Major’s look cuts both ways because on the one hand it’s a much softer look and some complain it’s too generic, too similar to a thousand other anime heroines. Which, yeah it kind of is. At the same time it’s also the most Japanese version of Major Kusanagi we’ve gotten which I appreciate. After casting ScarJo as the Major in the 2017 live action, and then placing SAC_2045 largely in the United States I think a more Asian look for the Major was a good plan.
The bigger problem is Togusa. Gone are his suit and tie and he’s got feathered hair like a K-pop idol. Of course, so far as the story goes Togusa more than any other member of Section 9 is a different person now. Still, I’m not a fan of the look. They did him dirty. There are also 2 new characters who are, let’s say, works in progress. Well, the team’s tactical addition Standard kind of sucks actually. Luckily he’s only around for a few episodes. Purin is the new investigator/tachikoma babysitter/Batou fangirl. At first she’s mostly there to give exposition with a bit of comedic cringe. But she shows she has some value to the team and potential as a character as well.
The animation style is pretty fascinating and reactions to it are very subjective. It’s not really just one style, but a collection of styles merged together in a unique way. It’s a blend of PlayStation style 3D computer graphics, rotoscoping like in “A Scanner Darkly”, some bits of traditional 2D animation here and there, and even a few parts that look like claymation even though they aren’t. The result is a show with a look and feel that’s unlike any other anime out there. What’s strange about it is that it’s also unlike itself from episode to episode which just shows that the production team is still experimenting with the style. It’s really a watershed moment in Ghost in the Shell history. Even though the first season of Stand Alone Complex was done in traditional 2D style, everyone loved the glossy, computer animated opening set to the iconic break beat of “Inner Universe”. But you could always see the limitations of the technology in that open. There are no such limitations with SAC_2045. Even with the inconsistencies it’s still a moment worth celebrating. This is the visual style Ghost in the Shell has been longing to produce for almost 20 years and they’ve finally done it!
Going back to the characters, there’s not enough screen time for Pazu and Boorma which is one thing that will likely nag at longtime fans. Other nitpicks include things like some weird ass fake product placements such as when the Major cracks open a “Dudweiser” beer in episode 1. What I’m trying to say here is that from the look of the show to the plot and even the action this show is quirky af. Some of that works though. There’s a character that’s lifted straight from “The Matrix” which is an entertaining bit of payback for how much inspiration “The Matrix” took from Ghost in the Shell. The action scenes are almost all as thrilling as the ones from the earlier Stand Alone Complex, and the voice-acting is on point (at least for the Japanese version, no English dub has been released yet). If you love the tachikoma, no worries there. They are as deadly but adorable as ever. Some of the criminals they’re pursuing turn out to the standard issue Super Wizard Class hackers that Section 9 always seems to end up chasing. But some of them are very very not. Like I said, quirky af.
The one big problem with the show is that this is the most philosophically barren version of Ghost in the Shell to date. Rather than reflections on the double-edged nature of humanity’s relationship with technology we get some gabber about “sustainable war” and some social commentary which might feel entirely out of place in the show. Not only is the social commentary placed in a very shoujo setting which is bizarre for the grownup mercenary world of Ghost in the Shell, but tackling issues like school shootings and social media bullying seems to throw the whole setting backward in time from 2045 to today’s world. In fact there are a lot of ways in which this show just can’t seem to decide what year it is. No one has aged, not even uncyberized characters like Aramaki. Only Togusa seems to have had a major life change in the time between the end of Solid State Society and the beginning of SAC_2045. It really feels more like SAC_2024 or so which is a shame because Ghost in the Shell is at its best when it is projecting what may happen in our future world. This one is too wrapped up in the here and now to function that way.
But SAC_2045 is still a legit thrill ride and one of the easiest Netflix binges I’ve ever gone on. Episode 2 and episodes 6 through 9 are my favorites and generally the best I think. The others have their highs and lows. I want to highlight episode 10 though. Episode 10 is the rubber match the one that could make or break the direction of the series depending on how longtime fans and newcomers respond to it. The final episode of Season 1 does end in a place that the writers could take in a philosophically deeper direction and I hope that’s what they do in Season 2. I don’t think this show works nearly as well the first SAC series, let alone the 1995 Oshii film, if it’s not challenging the audience to think about abstract concepts and the potential of humanity’s future at least a little bit. If you’re going to be weird, may as well be weird with a higher purpose.
This article was written by guest contributor