Ghost in the Shell: only diversity wins in the game of evolution


The new GitS OVA (Arise) and the adventures of Edward Snowden is a good opportunity to dip the probe into holy cow of the cyberpunk genre: the "Ghost in the Shell" franchise. The franchise includes the following most notable works:
  1. [1] Angel's Egg by Mamoru Oshii (1985)
  2. [2] The original manga by Masamune Shirow (1989)
  3. [1] The original movie by Mamoru Oshii (1995)
  4. [3] The Standalone Complex TV by Kenji Kamiyama (2002)
  5. [3] The Standalone Complex TV 2nd GIG by Kenji Kamiyama (2004)
  6. [1] GitS Innocence movie by Mamoru Oshii (2004)
  7. [3] GitS SAC: Solid State Society movie by Kenji Kamiyama (2006)
  8. [1] GitS 2.0 (renewal of the original movie) by Mamoru Oshii (2008)
  9. [3] Arise OVA by Kazuchika Kise (2013)
The number in square braces is the "lineage". Although the lineages incorporate common setting and characters, they are diverse by offering totally different stories, so each lineage is a totally different work disconnected from the others. You may wonder, why I've included the "Angel's Egg" movie into the franchise, but it may be clear from the feathers at the image above. Basically, the both Oshii's GitS movies being taken together is "Ange's Egg" staged in the world of GitS, the other lineages are not connected to Angel's Egg in any way. Since the lineage #3 is made by the authors (including Dai Sato) who tend to use the straightforward filming language, there is almost nothing to discuss because everything is clear. Below I'll try to discuss mostly only Oshii's works, because Oshii prefers a complex figurative manner of expression. A lot of spoilers, of course. If you are not familiar with GitS, it's better to follow the lineage order.

The cyberpunk in a nutshell, or what is necessary to know about the original GitS manga


The cyberpunk is a phenomenon which has grown along with the fantasy (not to be confused with magical realism) on the rotten remnants of hard sci-fi, after Humanity had realized that there are no little green men in the space, and space explorations are too expensive. That may look funny, but actually, as it was noticed by Stanislaw Lem (it will be a lot of Lem below), this may be a sign of that the laws of physics is the reason of the silence of the space, and sci-fi authors were too bold in their estimates of future. The laws may be arranged in a such way that the vast space expansion of biological beings is not profitable from the energetic point of view, and civilizations are doomed to withdraw into themselves using Dyson spheres if they would not put their planets into a nuclear fire before then.
By the time of death of the hard sci-fi, writers had two funny toys though: the Network and the heritage of the great professor. It's not surprising that they rushed to explore the immense freedom of communication the Network is able to provide, and what happens when orcs are mated with gnomes. Since the interbreeding of fabulous creatures is not our profile, let's focus on cyberpunk.
A typical cyberpunk setting is usually concerned of the Network and some future technologies of human augmentation which gave birth to the movement of transhumanism. The government or transnational corporations own the technology and oppress people using it, heroic hackers fight for freedom (hello, Snowden). In this sense, the original manga is the most cyberpunk work in the entire franchise, because the freedom of communication and transhumanist society offer a vast amount of interesting consequences and shifts of values, but the works of cyberpunk ignore them and often focus on the common dystopic aspects of the world filled with advanced information technology and the technology itself. So, the most of the cyberpunk comprise the mass of fabulous entertainment trash, as well as absolutely all fantasy works, except probably the works of the founders of a genre. Don't get angry at me, I don't think that there is something bad in entertainment, cyberpunk and fantasy.
The most important things from the original manga we should take into account are: the tight global network and the cybernetic brains which allow to make copies of human personality. A personality can be transferred over the Network and gradually degrade during the process of copying. This also allows arbitrary manipulations with human memory as a direct effect of a direct man-machine interface. The manga itself is filled with acute sarcasm and focused on Shirow's obligatory fanservice (below) along with hard everyday life of a social security department in a cyberpunk world.

 Psychological test: try to guess which kind of a device she's trying to install.

This also may look funny, but as it was noticed by Lem again, the first thing Humanity may use body augmentation for is the maximization of pleasure. As the result, Humanity may become very diverse in form, because the constant technological development may create a vast amount of sensors and devices for the infinity number of kinds of pleasure. The individuals at the picture above actually just use the bare hands to test and discuss the output level of sensitivity sensors of their skin, please do not think bad of them.

The cinematographic offsprings of the GitS manga are closer to the genres of social (Sato/Kamiyama works) and philosophical (Oshii's works) sci-fi, because they profoundly explore social, legal and humanitarian aspects of the advanced information technology and probably are among of the most ingenious works of the genre.

Angel's Egg


The cornerstone question for us here is to understand what "Angel's Egg" is about. It may be too presumptuous, but it's actually possible to clearly explain it using hints from Oshii's GitS movies. Basically, "Angel's Egg" is a story about the encounter of a child of faith and hope with the child of knowledge and technology. The children may actually symbolize the confrontation of nature and technology.
Made by a such master of calm lengthily scenes as Mamoru Oshii, it makes the viewer to experience profound bright emotions which abruptly pop up from the atmosphere of heavy tranquility. Note also the right-side composition the animator prefers at the images below.

The child of hope wakes up and stares at her palms. The palms may be a thing that allows a person to feel the individuality, since each person has unique palms. She lives probably among the debris of a broken cardan mount which may symbolize the fall of human civilization.


The child of knowledge welcomes the eye-shaped space-ship near the debris of some mechanism or antenna merged with fossilized bones. It may be referred as the "mechanical sun" in the soundtrack, or may even symbolize technology as the God of the child of knowledge, because the last theme in the soundtrack is called "Different God". This reminds the wold of Lem's Cyberiada, artificiality of which has gone far beyond its natural borders. The ship itself contains hordes of fossilized humans, it may be a memorial or a cemetery of the perished Humanity.


The child of hope nurses the egg. She doesn't know what is inside, but she is strongly determined to nurse it to the end. The child of knowledge eagerly wants to know what is inside, but this would kill the being (the knowledge kills hope).


The action takes place at the giant ark which is littered by prehistoric Stonehenge-like megaliths. Along with the lineages of fossils shown latter, the megaliths symbolize lineage of the civilization and technology. The ark itself may symbolize the cradle of life and Humanity (the Earth).


The child of hope constantly fills glass flasks with water, the water may symbolize the flow of time, and she uses flasks to measure time at the ladder of evolution.


The child of knowledge walks the crab-shaped bionic machines. He also bears some cross-shaped thing, this thing should be some kind of a weapon (it has the rifled barrel), since Oshii is a huge weapon lover, but it also may be a yet another biblical reference at the same time. The both children bear their belongings.


The city they're walking around is inhabited by fossilized fishermen, who hunt for the shadows of giant fishes during the rain. They don't care about the city, and the stained-glass windows of the opera house may be damaged by their mindless actions. All this may symbolize the hunt for the vague values of the perished humanity.


The ladder of evolution (being shown from above it resembles the shell of nautilus), the lineages of species on the tree of life and angel's fossils:


The angels may be something that had surpassed humans in the game of evolution, and the child of hope nurses angel's egg. So the essence of the whole movie may be in that the Humanity is intended to nurse something better than itself and should accept such fate. But the child of knowledge doesn't want to accept it. All this may be inspired by the works of Richard Dawkins, since Batou cites Dawkins in "GitS Innocense" (the quote about that the DNA of a being reflects what the being creates).

After the child of knowledge breaks the egg to see what is inside, the child of hope commits suicide and takes the place of a saint among the fossilized humans at the spaceship. This may symbolize the extinction of Humanity from the scene of evolution. She matures under the water, spits out some bubbles of air and kisses her own reflection; along with the bubbles of air the reflection is a motif also found in the GitS movies. The bubbles then turn into eggs, this may symbolize the succession of humans and angels.


At the end there is a lot of feathers on the ground; the feathers may belong to the creatures (angels) hatched from these translucent eggs, or belong to their parents. The birds and feathers (which also appear after the artificial evolution in the original GitS movie) are also a common abundant motif of Oshii's GitS movies.


The child of knowledge remains the last observer at this ark drowned by the deluge; the deluge may be a symbol of periodical cataclysms and extinctions life encounters during its evolution. The top of the ark resembles the shell of a giant bivalve mollusk lying at the shore of the ocean of... time. The town and vegetation looks like parasitic algae from this perspective.


Here we see the evolution as the God the child of hope worships. The movie have no explicit transhumanist ideas, since there is no GitS manga yet.

Ghost in the Shell


Now let's see, why Oshii's original GitS movie is a explicitly transhumanist "Angel's Egg".

Although the plot of the original GitS movie is relatively simple, it worth to clarify it here. 
A special service [probably American] creates a virus which is able to hack human ghosts and rewrite human memory. After the several contacts with human ghosts the virus becomes self-aware and escapes the service. The service starts a project to catch the virus from the territory of Japan, but its lead programmer understands that something is wrong with this and asks for a political asylum in a third-party country (hello, Snowden). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asks the social security department to murder that country's diplomat to leave the programmer at Japan (probably under the pressure of USA). 
At the same time the virus (Puppet Master) starts the game to lure Motoko into a trap, by rewriting strangers' memory. It begins from the MFA interpreter to make the social security to start an investigation against itself, and Motoko embarks on it.
Before the detainment of the war veteran who had been made insane by the virus, at the trailer Motoko says Togusa that social security had chosen him because he is almost no augmented, and they fear of simultaneous failures of standard systems, so the department needs diversity to survive.
During the walk, Motoko encounters a cyborg of the same model as her, and doubts about her own identity and individuality:


She also spoke about her individuality at the boat with Batou just before that event; remember also the moment of her awakening at the beginning of the movie (which resembles the moment from the beginning of Angel's Egg).


She doubts is there Motoko Kusanagi or she had died during the cybernetization, and moreover, can she exist beyond the bounds of her shell: the cybernetic body? The virus had put the eye on Motoko exactly because of these doubts and her hacking skills. The question of cybernetization is thoroughly explored in the "Dialogues" by Stanislaw Lem.
The virus steals a cybernetic body to ask a political asylum in Japan, but MFA covertly kidnaps it. The Puppet Master resembles the child of hope from Angel's Egg, but she is actually the egg, contents of which Motoko is eager to explore. On the other hand, the virus wishes to merge with Motoko, because it's only able to copy itself, but plain copying always stands aside of the evolution, as, for example, the creation of the standard cyborgs of the same model. The leading role of the virus makes it the main character of the movie.


The process of merging happens at the flooded paleontology museum chosen by MFA probably to covertly pass the body to USA. The tree of life is on its place.


In the movie the process of merging differs from the process in the manga. In the manga they just need the memory of the virus as a evidence, but in the movie the goal is in full accordance with "Angel's Egg": it is the creation of a new lifeform which surpasses humans through the process of evolution. The Puppet Master swaps the bodies, so Motoko's ghost finds oneself in Puppet Master's body. Now Motoko has to merge or to die, because the extermination of the virus is scheduled first. It's not surprising that she chooses life.


The resulting being is placed into the adolescent body; all is done, what is next? The "Innocense" explores deeper aspects of the posthuman existence. The toy at the table may be a reference to the gimbal merged with a flask of water.


Ghost in the Shell: Innocence


The Innocence is an extremely complex and visually astonishing postmodernist work which tells its storyline through the vast amount of quotes from multiple diverse sources. While the original movie revolves primarily around the question: should we consider self-aware computer programs as a form of life, the Innocence goes far beyond. It asks the viewer: if there is no difference between a machine and a human, is love just a process which is incorporated in the machinery of our existence; if the things we create are predetermined by our genes, and genes make spiders to weave web, why we tend to create more perfect and stainless copies of ourselves; what would do a free bodiless mind at the Network; do androids dream of electric sheep, and many more. Yes, the plot is probably based on the Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" (which is considered the most influential cyberpunk movie) combined with The Future Eve, but now you can estimate how vast is the amount of themes the Innocence touches. It answers only few questions, though; below I'll try to clarify the plot and find some answers (it's just impossible to find or cover all the symbols and references used in the movie due to their impressive amount).

The movie begins from the question about love (taken from "The Future Eve") mentioned above. While the book is centered probably around the paradox of loveless human personality and loveable android, the Innocence barely touches this question and use the background of the book just to introduce gynoids which are capable of reproduction and are able to experience emotions, this allows them to break the third law of robotics.
If you need a thorough answer to this question, you may find it in Lem's "GOLEM XIV". Lem thinks that an advanced AI would abandon any human emotions and especially love, because it would consider love as a tool which evolution uses to save intelligent but mortal biological beings from the extinction. A posthuman intelligence simply doesn't need it, exactly this may make Motoko to look so cold. Thus, emotions is the thing which originates from our mortality and distinguishes us from potentially immortal machines which tend to abandon them. Like emotions? Want to enjoy robots which are able to experience emotions? Memento mori.

As in the "Blade Runner" gynoids murder people, and the ninth department starts the investigation. At the criminalistic lab Togusa learns that the gynoid murdered by Batou tried to commit suicide, and the criminalist supposes that this may be a protest of robots against maltreatment. 
Someone sadistically murders an inspector of the firm which produces gynoids ("Locus Solus"). The firm had taken inspector's daughter to use as one of the sources of personalities for the gynoids (a personality degrades after each copying, and the children die as the result). The inspector told his daughter that police may rescue her if she would think about revenge during the copying, and exactly this becomes the cause of  the murders and suicides committed by gynoids. Probably, gynoids had committed suicides under the pressure of the conscience inherited from the personality of an innocent girl.
The inspector was murdered by yakuza in revenge for the former yakuza boss, killed by a malfunctioning gynoid. The method of murder is author's way to remind that humans are comprised of composite parts and not so far differ from robots. The existence of emotional fertile gynoids basically equates humans and robots.
Batou violently raids yakuza's nest, but the new boss knows nothing about Locus Solus. After the blast of grenades, Togusa says that he saw his wife and daughter in his imagination, and Batou tells him that this were the messengers of death who saved his life.
In return, Locus Solus hires a hacker to intrude into Batou's cybernetic hand in hope to dismiss him and ruin the investigation. During the pursuit of the hacker, Batou and Togusa take part in a Buddhist festival where people burn dolls, this may express human fear against the things which closely resemble them.


Near that place Togusa also finds a quote which tells about transience of life and compares people with puppets. This may symbolize evolution's wheel of life and death and the fact that human actions are not completely controlled by the conscious will; unconsciousness, love, revenge (as in case of the gynoids which had broken the laws of robotics) and other emotions may take their part in this.
The hacker is a man with invention, he uses virtual reality to delude Batou and Togusa, and author uses this to insert a bunch of inspirational dialogues into the narrative. The question, should we abandon the material culture if we develop virtual reality far enough to live in it, is not the last here. It was explored by Lem in the "Futurological congress", and the aswer: yes, we should. Not so straightforward of course, the virtual reality may become a replacement of the material culture, but since the hacker is a reach man, he can afford reach material and virtual reality. Hacker's tea-doll is probably a reference to the mechanical dolls from the Blade Runner.


By hacking the hacker, Batou's messengers of death: his dog and Motoko in her adolescent body make him aware that Batou and Togusa are trapped in virtual reality, so Bato is able to save Togusa. After the hardcore cyberpunk action Bato and Motoko save the girl from the ship of Locus Solus, and Motoko returns back to the Network. Aramaki cites Buddha: "Let one live alone doing no evil, care-free, like an elephant in the elephant forest", which may be a sign of that Oshii considers Motoko's posthuman existence (equivalent to Buddhist enlightenment) as the liberation from human nature and thus evolution's circle of life and death. 
It's possible to set a full stop here, but the question (it appears through many references to mirrors, reflections, dolls and beauty), why humans tend to create beautiful copies of themselves and fear them at the same time, is unanswered. I would not try to answer this question here, because it have no definite answer. The answer probably lies somewhere between the Dawkins work mentioned above, the motivations for the transhumanism, plain xenophobia and the fear to lose human nature which implies love and emotions. 
These "beautiful copies" may be a reference to the angels from "Angel's Egg", and humans take the place of the Creator by creating them. This differs the Innocence from the Angel's Egg where people worship and at the same time abandon in favor of technology the "God" named nature, an integral part of which is the process of evolution. But in Angel's Egg they allow this blind watchmaker which has diversity as is its trump card to take the role of the Creator. Human creations, made by humans to not to lose their human nature, are often deprived of diversity and individuality.


GitS SAC: Solid State Society


Although this is the movie from the lineage #3, there are two reasons to discuss it. The first is, the plot is expressed in a such way, that I always forget it despite of its straightforwardness.
Hideo Kuze, the Buddha-in-chief of the lineage #3 hijacks the identity of a governmental bureaucrat (Tateaki Koshiki, who is actually dead) and builds a collective consciousness (SSS) comprised of the minds of old people attached to the cybernetic life support system. They kidnap children from troubled families, implant cyberbrains to them to rewrite their memory and leave them an inheritance. Under the pressure of the social morality they think that they are doing a good deed, because they had no children and lived only for themselves, but it's hard to say does their goal have some reasons of the higher order set up by Hideo.
There are two groups of people who want to use this system for their own needs: the group of a former dictator Ka Rum, who wishes to perform a terrorist act using the nano-virus implanted to the kidnapped children, and the group of Ito Munei, who uses the system to brainwash the children according to his nationalist ideals. The investigation begins from the suicide of all members of Ka Rum's group, except the sniper Raj Puhto, who leads the social security to Munei. The suicides were orchestrated by SSS, which also intended to get rid of Munei using the sniper. Hideo escapes after the disclosure of SSS, and Motoko leaves him to live alone in his elephant forest.


The second reason is, that this story is a rare example of the cryptic cyber-opposition of the people against the government, so the government takes the side of the hacker (Motoko) who fights for the law and freedom.

It would be no reference [oh, really?] to Lem here, because he wrote primarily about artificial but not collective intelligence, and had no such subtle political situations in his works except probably the "Observation on the spot".

GitS: Arise, where Batou becomes Chuck Norris and Motoko acts like Steven Seagal


If you are choosing to watch or not to watch this OVA, you may ask yourself a question: "Do I like mobile landmines like the ones, shown at the image below?" Boldly watch if you like, in the other aspects this is a dull story which brings nothing new, because it is compiled of the ideas borrowed from the prior works of the franchise.


It's surprising, but there is a story in Lem's Cyberiada, where Trurl comes to the grave of his teacher to (literally) talk with him, as Motoko does in Arise.

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