Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 10 (Fin)

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ARISE – Alternative Architecture last episode wasn’t just a glorified prologue to the upcoming film that continues the re-imagining of Ghost in the Shell, but a petty satisfying conclusion to the ten-episode television adaptation of the four ARISE movies. It’s an ellipsis, to be sure, but I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good place to pause, and created anticipation for what’s to come.

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Pyrophoric Cult’s second part succeeded as both end and prologue to ARISE because it captured and distilled the cyberpunk fun of Ghost in the Shell. Things are pretty simple this week: transport Hozuki’s head to the Americans, where her secrets will be extracted and she’ll be sent into exile.

The show’s dry and somewhat dark (in this case) sense of humor comes out in the way Kusanagi says goodbye to the Hozuki head before closing her in a convenient carrying case, then tells her men that as Hozuki is still technically alive, they need to treat her as such, right before unceremoniously heaving the case into the back of a van like a sack of rice, making a satisfying clank in the process.

It’s a great expression of Kusanagi’s frustration with the piddling transport job, as well as a nice F-U to Hozuki for all the trouble she’s caused.

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Not long after the job starts, though, Pyromaniac escapes from custody with the help of Kurtz who just waltzes into the facility where he’s being held, a rare case of hands-on action on her part that would incriminate her if her quarry weren’t someone capable of wiping all security records of said facility.

Before he escapes, he hacks into the cyberbrains of all the scientists analyzing him, some of whom are American. Among those codes is the capability of launching a nasty-looking American drone helicopter to harass Kusanagi’s convoy.

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The drone doesn’t destroy them, but leads them to an American base, where a platoon of Fire-Starter-hacked special forces wearing optical camouflage are waiting. The purpose of the multi-pronged attack on Kusanagi is ostensibly to take out any possible agents who are a legitimate threat to the existence of Fire-Starter virus, which include her and Hozuki.

But Kusanagi won’t go out without a fight, and indeed never seems to panic, even though she and her whole team have been lured right where the enemy wants them. Ever the level-headed military woman, she splits her men up and delegates tasks to them, each according to their skills, while she dives into her personal net, wrangles up an impromptu strike force of mercenary hackers to disable the hacked special forces.

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Once that’s done, she manages to find Pyromaniac himself and enters his “world”, which resembles the Kuzan battlefield that presumably embittered him to his present crusade. Yet she’s almost disappointed to learn he’s not even a “true” ghost, only an amalgam of false memories created by Fire-Starter; a glorified A.I. Even the banter he delivers turns out to be wooden because it was simply uploaded to give him a little more personality.

Most impressively, while Kusanagi may appear to be on the ropes, in reality she’s in complete control of the situation, creating a decoy of herself to fool Pyro and then surrounding him with delete protocols. All that was missing from her coup-de-grace was shouting “BANG!” as she formed a gun with her hand, though that would admittedly been a bit cliche.

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Thus Kusanagi gets a victory in this final week, one that’s both convincing and satisfying, and the product of relatively easy-to-follow teamwork, both from her unit guys and Aramaki pulling the political strings. Sure, her direct interfacing with and deleting Pyro may have been Kurtz’s plan all along, as Kurtz’s parting shot is one of confidence and anticipation rather than anger at being foiled. But the next confrontation between Kusanagi and her former CO will be one of many matters for the film.

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For now, I’ll enjoy Kusanagi’s provisional win, and the somewhat cheeky ending of Kusanagi appearing in a military uniform to receive formal thanks from the Prime Minister. Even Aramaki doesn’t want to hear about some of the things Kusanagi learned while in her dive with Pyro; proportionally speaking, the Prime Minister is completely in the dark about what the good Major and her team did and how they did it.

All the Prime Minister needs or cares to see is the smiling, uniformed Shell standing at attention, telling him it’s all in a day’s work, while it’s the jumpsuit-wearing Ghost and her cohorts working in the deep cyber-shadows to keep his government—and his brain—in one piece.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 09

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In the final fifth of AAA, Kusanagi’s team grows tantalizingly closer to Fire-Starter, locating and capturing a man believed to be only one degree of separation from the unseen antagonist of the series. This man, called “Pyromania” by the Yanks, likes to spout quasi-religious drivel as he blows up airliners.

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About the Americans: Aramaki has little choice but to give them command of the operation to capture Pyromania, but Kusanagi sees the kick-down to observer status as a challenge: no matter what the bureaucracy decides, she’ll prove which team is more capable of getting the job done.

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Kusanagi believes she has the edge because she has access to Hozuki, or rather, the head of Hozuki, recovered from the attempt on her life. Kusanagi hopes the considerable state secrets contained within Hozuki’s brain will prove enticing enough to bait Pyromania.

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Once the operation is underway, Pyromania manages to hack many of the joint teams supporting cast; even the American Jeril is hacked and starts shooting her 9mm at Hozuki’s titanium brain case. But once the hacked parties are neutralized, Kusanagi, Ishikawa, and three Logicomas begin the cyberbattle with Pyro, visualized with 3D graphic representations. I have to admit, the battle gets a little chaotic and hard to follow on the screen, but I kept up with what was supposedly happening.

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In the end, Kusanagi is able to pinpoint Pyro’s location and take him into custody, but they aren’t able to recover any more information about Fire-Starter from his cyberbrain, as it’s all been wiped. But that clearly isn’t going to stop Kusanagi from getting her man.

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Meanwhile, her former commander Kurtz seems to be intricately involved in the Fire-Starter affair, pulling strings from her rather ungainly Ferrari stretch limo, hoping to gain control of the “third world”.

It always seems to come down to someone close to Kusanagi’s past. And on that subject, not much ground was covered (i.e. none) on Kusanagi’s struggles with her identity; suffice it to say she seems content to define herself as a leader of those who will stand before extremists who would use all the technology available to them to wreak havoc. And right now, Fire-Starter is her nemesis.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 08

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Who is Kusanagi Motoko? It’s a question ARISE has been constantly asking, and which she herself asks, now that this latest arc has become her most personal yet. By the end of last week’s installment, it was pretty darned evident that her love Akira was mixed up in some unsavory conspiracy with Dr. Theid and Col. Hozuki.

A question asked parallel to this is “Who is Scylla?”, a question everyone seems to want to know the answer to except Motoko and her former comrade Kurtz, who gives her a gun with a familiar mark carved into the grip, and the task of “burying” Scylla for good.

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In an interesting choice by the animators, Motoko spends most of this episode wearing hot pants instead of her usual pants, perhaps to accentuate the fact her right leg is still not quite behaving properly thanks to Fire-Starter. She even shows up in a smoking ball gown, indicating whoever she is, she wants to embrace her femininity and have fun with Akira even as suspicion about him continues to mount. Akira says he was drawn to her by her desire, through customization, to make her prosthetic body her own.

Akira’s work, the fruits of which are shown when he and Motoko attend a wedding between two elderly people in brand new young skins, are following a similar path as Motoko: blurring the lines between the technological and the organic. He also considers Motoko’s body to be herself, not merely a tool that allows her ghost to walk about, or choke people. Despite his seedy dealings, I found myself approving of him as Motoko’s mate.

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When Akira’s deal with Hozuki goes sour and he and Motoko are attacked while in bed together, Motoko is quick to blame herself for the targeting, but it’s really Akira the gunmen were after. Detective Togusa’s investigation overlaps with her unit’s, and he warns her that Akira can’t be trusted the way she’s trusting him, and the Qhardi leader confirms that Akira is the “new” Scylla.

After we see how Hozuki and Thied make that happen, and Aramaki and much of the rest of the unit are ambushed at the Vice Minister’s office, the body of evidence is too great and Motoko can no longer deny who Akira is and what she, and she alone, must do.

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Not that she’s looking forward to taking out her lover; someone who seems like a genuinely nice guy who got mixed up with the wrong people and took one too many wrong turns. But it turns out to be more than that: the Scylla in Akira’s brain was once Motoko, and Motoko was once Scylla, aiding the Qhardi separatists back when she was with the 501, before she faked her death.

By shooting him and destroying his cyberbrain, she’s saving her comrades and ending the latest crisis, but she’s also killing a part of her past. She was Scylla, but now who is she? It’s a question she still doesn’t know the answer to. But while she was in Akira’s arms, for a fleeting moment, she knew she was wanted, and that she was happy.

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So ends another tragic chapter in the chronicle of the enigmatic Kusanagi Motoko. But while my heart sank at her having to kill her lover, she’s always proven able to restore and reinvent herself and continue use her unique talents and unique unit to be a force for good in the world. She casts away the explosive “Ariel” parts Akira had furnished her, and rebuilds herself with more customization; if she forgot who the flesh-and-blood Kusanagi originally was, she’ll simply create a new one through prosthesis and cyberization.

The show doesn’t question the rightness or wrongness of such a path, but it does indicate this is all she knows how to do and it’s at least something. It also contrasts her with the all-natural, married Togusa, who impressed her in the last case to the extent that she offers him a job in her unit. With her lover gone that unit is now pretty much all Motoko has, but her offer to Togusa is interrupted by the news that his wife’s water broke and that he’s going to be a father.

Motoko’s look of bemusement as he races off seems to indicate she almost forgot there were still low-tech people like Togusa extant in this world. But in addition to his sleuthing skills, I’ll bet Motoko wants his perspective on her team—a perspective she’s lacked for untold years—as she continues to face threats like fire-starter and rebuild her own identity in the process.

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