Monday, January 18, 2010

A Classics, One of the Best - G.I.T.S.

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell is a futuristic police thriller dealing with the exploits of the cyborg Motoko Kusanagi, a member of a covert operations division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission known as Section 9. The unit specializes in fighting technology-related crimes. Although supposedly equal to all other members, Kusanagi fills the leadership role in the team, and is usually referred to as "the Major" due to her past rank in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. She is capable of superhuman feats, and bionically specialized for her job — her body is almost completely mechanized; only her brain and a segment of her spinal cord remain organic.

The setting of Ghost in the Shell is cyberpunk or postcyberpunk, similar to that of William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy. Kusanagi and her colleagues face external threats and also suffer internal conflict over their own natures.

Ghost in the Shell made an impression on a number of filmmakers. Larry and Andy Wachowski, the creators of The Matrix and its sequels, showed it to producer Joel Silver, saying "we wanna do that for real." Director James Cameron has called it "the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence."


Ghost in the Shell takes place in the year 2029, when the world has become interconnected by a vast electronic network that permeates every aspect of life. People also tend to rely more and more on cybernetic implants and the first strong AIs make their appearance. The main entity presented in the various media is the Public Security Section 9 police force, which is charged to investigate cases like the Puppet Master and the Laughing Man.

Yet, as those criminals are revealed to have more depth than was at first apparent, the various protagonists are left with disturbing questions: What exactly is the definition of human in a society where a mind can be copied and the body replaced with a fully synthetic body? What, exactly, is the "ghost" — the essence — in the cybernetic "shell"? Where is the boundary between human and machine when the differences between the two become more philosophical than physical?

Philosophical elements


In Ghost in the Shell, the word ghost is colloquial slang for an individual's consciousness. In the manga's futuristic society, science has redefined the ghost as the thing that differentiates a human being from a biological robot. Regardless of how much biological material is replaced with electronic or mechanical substitutes, as long as individuals retain their ghost, they retain their humanity and individuality.

The concept of the ghost was borrowed by Masamune Shirow from an essay on structuralism, "The Ghost in the Machine" by Arthur Koestler. The title The Ghost in the Machine itself was originally used by an English philosopher, Gilbert Ryle to mock the paradox of conventional Cartesian dualism and Dualism in general. Koestler, like Ryle, denies Cartesian dualism and locates the origin of human mind in the physical condition of the brain. He argues that the human brain has grown and built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures, the "ghost in the machine", which at times overpower higher logical functions, and are responsible for hate, anger and other such destructive impulses. Shirow denies dualism similarly in his work, but defines the "ghost" more broadly, not only as a physical trait, but as a phase or phenomenon that appears in a system at a certain level of complexity. The brain itself is only part of the whole neural network; if, for example, an organ is removed from a body, the autonomic nerve of the organ and consequently its "ghost" will vanish unless the stimulus of the existence of the organ is perfectly re-produced by a mechanical substitution. This can be compared, by analogy, to a person born with innate deafness being unable to understand the concept of "hearing" unless taught.

Ghost-dubbing, or duplicating a ghost, is a near-impossible act in the Ghost in the Shell universe. When performed, as a cheap AI substitute in Innocence and earlier in the manga, the result is always inferior to the original-which always dies in the process. In Stand Alone Complex, criminals use a ghost-dubbing device to create numerous duplicates of South American drug lord Marcelo Jarti; after the original died, the device continued to duplicate him into a near-infinite number of bodies with identical memories and personalities, essentially immortalizing him.

In Ghost in the Shell, Kusanagi completely reproduces the stimulus of all of her organs in order to maintain her "ghost". If a technical error arises during the transfer of a "ghost" from one body to another, the transfer normally results in failure, since the "ghost" tends to deteriorate due to either the difference of system at the material level or the deficiency of the transferring protocol. The Puppet Master manages not to deteriorate its "ghost" when merging with Kusanagi because his system is the body of information itself, thereby avoiding a deterioration due to the deficiency at material level.

The Ancient Greeks had a similar paradox, called the Ship of Theseus. Hegel's concept of Geist may also be related.


Another interpretation of the fusion of Kusanagi and the Puppet Master is analogous to the concept of birth; whereby two separate entities create a third entity which is not the same as either of the originating ghosts or DNA sets but shares common traits. The Puppet Master carefully explains that diversity is the only way that he can continue; no matter how many times he copies himself, a trick, virus, or weakness discovered that destroys any of his copies could destroy them all. He quite specifically asks her to fuse her "ghost" or "soul" with his own, a form of marriage/birth in which the resultant being is neither the Puppet Master nor Kusanagi but a new being entirely. Notice the symbolism in the movie when Kusanagi/Puppet Master gets a new body - that of a child. This touches upon concepts of birth, immortality through progeny, and the union of two ghosts/people in the creation of progeny. Interestingly enough, her new body in the original manga is instead a male body. She also states that this new life-form will create children, as well.


When Motoko merges with project 2501 (puppet master) she changes. The definition of this change, and what it will actually bring for her and for the world is, unfortunately, hidden very well in various pieces of dialogue and even scarcer visual analogies throughout the films, series, and manga. Focusing first on the film, where Mamoru Oshi took a very different stance in what themes he would emphasize and how he would emphasize them, the best place to look is in the conversation between the Puppet Master and the Major before they join.
"I am connected to a vast network, of which l myself am a part. To one like you, who cannot access it, you may perceive it only as light. As we are confined to our one section, so we are all connected. Limited to a small part of our functions. But now we must slip our bonds, and shift to the higher structure."

He then ends with "It is time to become a part of everything."

He is essentially saying, as he is a creature of information, he has fewer limits. He is in theory, not bound by any one form, however in reality, he is incapable of changing. The logic behind this is that, he is so fluid, in a world (the net) which is so fluid, motion is in itself stunted. By merging with Motoko, half of his 'vision' and his 'ability to see clearly the whole' will go to her, and her limited functions will help give the new being a shape, and a definition, which will allow it to seriously 'elevate' to expansion.

All her life, Motoko has wanted to be free of her anxieties about her origins and her frail human definition, but she has been so afraid of losing what little humanity she has, she is in quite a pathetic position, a sour one in any case, and one where she is incapable of undergoing any kind of change. So she will always possess those anxieties. Project 2501 doesn't give her a choice exactly, but she probably would have made it anyway, because it means she is freed of 'worldly' bonds and illusions, and is finally able to connect with her past and future, which define the present, rather than be locked in the current confined and retracted world she lives in.

'It is time to become a part of everything' is clearly referring to a sense of community and connectivity among everything in the world, and can be related to the ideas expressed in Zen Buddhism, and the Japanese culture, where there is a strong mentality of being part of whole, rather than alone as an individual. We are, and this is obvious when you look around, becoming increasingly isolated to our own worlds, our own desires and plans for life, and we can be so obsessed with what we're doing, we don't notice the intricate and beautiful patterns around us. We preach to the inverted, and we achieve less as individuals, and less as a group. Motoko, though deeply philosophical, is still a victim of this.

Project 2501 puts it into his own technical situation, saying that each entity is confined to its own section (task, purpose, desire) and that because of this each entity can call itself its own, even 2501. He is not suggesting that this is a bad thing, or that we can or should be everything, because such a concept would contradict everything else he talks about. He is merely expressing the traditional value that we can, as beings, as humans, live a much fuller life by recognizing we are a part of everything. All it takes is recognition, and we can attain a kind of enlightenment. This is what connectivity means. We can feel more relaxed, which Motoko clearly does, more at ease with herself, and somewhat excited about the world of possibilities for her.

Cyberbrain warfare and ghost hacking

Cyberbrain warfare is the practice of employing ghost hacking as a means of gaining access to an opponent's cyberbrain, and ultimately, their ghost. A successful cyberhacker can intercept, censor, or augment the sensory information being received by a victim, or even go so far as to destroy or rewrite complete memories. Furthermore, a person's cyberbrain can be directly injured, by making the cyberbrain undergo unaffordable computation and thus overheat. (See Cordwainer Smith's "The Burning of the Brain")

Cyberbrain warfare is portrayed as a natural consequence of the integration of cybernetic and wireless communication technology directly into the human brain. Despite the apparent risks, even the most paranoid characters in the story find the benefits of directly networking their brains to be indispensable.
Apparently, any conduit by which information is absorbed by the brain can be exploited for ghost hacking. Shirow envisions the use of firewalls for protecting the ghost against attack, and multiple layers of encryption.

Mnemonic devices

Much like information stored in the hard-drive of a modern computer, the memories of a ghost can become fragmented and unreliable. This is the result of ghost-hacking, psychological treatment, trauma experienced while ghost-diving, corrupted transference from one cyber-brain to another, and the degradation of memories as they are collected and cross-referenced over the course of a lifetime.

The response that humans have developed to cope with the confusion of memories is to reinforce them with external reminders. Artwork, books, clothing, personal electronics, places of employment, and even companions are carefully chosen to familiarize the landscape of one's existence. In a sense we are partly motivated in our actions by the desire to look back on them with fondness and clarity.

The need for these mnemonic devices is also a philosophical hurdle for the members of Section 9. They are, after all, a watchdog group mandated with rooting out cases of cyber-brain crime. Kusanagi shuns the accumulation of trinkets (beyond the watch she wears in Stand Alone Complex). Being an expert in ghost-hacking and the workings of the cyber-brain, she considers these to be a sign of weakness that can be easily read by enemies. In an age when a detective can reconstruct a person's psyche based on study of their external memory Kusanagi has a sound position. Even she, however, still keeps that one single watch, and still keeps the same model of cybernetic body.

Batou, on the other hand, is sentimental. He keeps a pet dog, has safe houses full of books and art, lifts weights despite it being pointless (due to the fact he is a full cyborg thus lacking organic muscle tissue), and even has a favorite Tachikoma to work with. Though they may be a fatal indication of one's living habits in his line of work he still clings to such comforts.

External memory

External memory is exactly that: memories and experiences that are stored "offline" onto a hard disk or such. If you possess a cyber brain (as the most of affluent in the 'Ghost in the Shell' universe do), there is a definite separation of mind and body since your brain case can be removed and put into a new body. Since there is an electronic separation, the signals received from the senses (touch, taste, etc.) can be recorded and replayed at any given time. Thus, you could record important events such as your wedding day and replay it as if you were actually there anytime you wish. Your external senses turn off, and you’re fed recorded sensory information. Better than any video camera recording, you're feeling the heat of the sun, the breeze, your brides’ hand trembling as you slip the ring on her finger, etc. Storing these memories also allows others to play them back and experience them as well.

Tachikomas and fuchikomas

Tachikomas and fuchikomas (タチコマ / フチコマ) are artificially intelligent mini-tanks (walkers) employed by Section 9. Because of the demands of field duty, these robots are constructed with extremely flexible, adaptable AIs that lack many of the safeguards present in other artificially intelligent robots. While this enables them to behave unpredictably and flexibly, it also presents difficulties for the members of Section 9, who must monitor the Tachikoma closely for signs of undesirable emotional development.

The underlying statement here is that predictable behavior results in inherent weakness. Section 9, as an organization, needs heterogeneity and even organic weakness if it is to survive. "A machine where all the parts respond the same way is a brittle tool."

Tachikoma ask questions that otherwise would not have been brought to mind, much like children that are trying to understand the world, yet with superior thinking capabilities. There are Tachikoma short clips that involve them discussing complex philosophical issues and how they relate to existence. They provide more of an innocent look on the world that surrounds them.
The Tachikomas are also used to approach the question of whether or not one's individuality can withstand a parallelization of information from a different perspective. Here, the parallelization is perfect since they are machines. In the series, they are able to retain their respective individualities through the use of external references (Batou's favorite, the one which has books, etc.), similarly to the Major.

Stand Alone Complex

While originally intended to "underscore the dilemmas and concerns that people would face if they relied too heavily on the new communications infrastructure, Stand Alone Complex eventually came to represent a phenomenon where unrelated, yet very similar actions of individuals create a seemingly concerted effort.

A Stand Alone Complex can be compared to the emergent copycat behavior that often occurs after incidents such as serial murders or terrorist attacks. An incident catches the public's attention and certain types of people "get on the bandwagon", so to speak. It is particularly apparent when the incident appears to be the result of well-known political or religious beliefs, but it can also occur in response to intense media attention. For example, a mere fire, no matter the number of deaths, is just a garden variety tragedy. However, if the right kind of people begin to believe it was arson, caused by deliberate action, the threat that more arsons will be committed increases drastically.

What separates the Stand Alone Complex from normal copycat behavior is that there is no real originator of the copied action, but merely a rumor or an illusion that supposedly performed the copied action. There may be real people who are labeled as the originator, but in reality, no one started the original behavior. And in Stand Alone Complex, the facade just has to exist in the minds of the public. In other words, a potential copycat just has to believe the copied behavior happened from an originator-when it really didn't. The result is an epidemic of copied behavior having a net effect of purpose. One could say that the Stand Alone Complex is mass hysteria over nothing-yet causing an overall change in social structure.

This is not unlike the concepts of memes (refer to the conversation between the major and the Puppet Master in the manga) and second-order simulacra. It also has ties to social theory, as illustrated in the work of Frederic Jameson and Masachi Osawa.

It has been posited that the choice, by the writers of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, to use J.D. Salinger's short story, "The Laughing Man" as a key element in the story, was itself an example of second-order simulacra; the use of a story that could already be considered an example of second-order simulacra, by its popularity overshadowing the popularity of its original, The Man Who Laughs. This creates yet another example of the concept, by banking on the popularity of the show, the character, and the emblem used to represent The Laughing Man, supplanting the story as the Laughing Man by popularity alone.
In the series itself, it usually refers to events surrounding the Laughing Man case, and to some extents, the teamwork observed in Public Security Section 9. It is presented as an emergent phenomenon catalyzed by parallelization of the human psyche through the cyberbrain networks. A key point is that due to the electronic communications network that is increasingly permeating society, more and more people are being exposed to the same information and stimuli, making the overall psyche and responses of large groups of people increasingly similar, the result being that the potential increases exponentially for copycat behavior that forms a Standalone Complex. There is no original Laughing Man, no leader. Everyone is acting on his own, yet a coherent whole emerges. There are people who employed the copycat behavior before others, but what started the coherent whole is indefinitive.

Relation to social theory

The relation of the Stand Alone Complex to social theory is explored in more depth in the second season. A character, Kazundo Gouda, postulates that, by exploiting the mechanism of information transmission in society, one could achieve a very efficient and subtle thought control. Indeed, since people tend to modify slightly the information (and forget where it came from) in the processes of consumption (or appropriation), it becomes difficult to sort genuine ideas from modified, implanted ones. He proves to be very successful in the end.

Speaking of Media

There is plenty of Ghost in the Shell media to be had, from the manga series to the anime series and the remake of the original movie. There are also tons of fan-made content. Such as anime music videos.

 Ghost in the Shell: Anime Legends 2nd GigGhost in the Shell 2.0 [Blu-ray]Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [Blu-ray] 

Created By Nostromo - Scenes from the series

Creator Unknown - Scenes from Innocence

Creator Unknown - Scenes from the original Ghost in the Shell Movie

Ghost In The Shell - Solid State SocietyGhost in the Shell SAC Complete 1st Season Collection Box SetGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 2


Awesomely eerie instrumental.