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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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 07

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Kusanagi has had six boyfriends in six months, if her comrades are to be believed. But what some of them might call a sickness, I call enjoying her independence and the personal freedom of owning her own body again, something that weighed on her a long time. And she deserves to be picky, as she’s a singular catch herself. After watching her fling herself around and throw herself into harm’s way time and again, it’s gratifying to finally see her enjoying herself with something that has nothing to do with work (more on that in a bit).

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Turns out the record for amount of “vacation” time she’s able to have with her new BF is just five hours, as she’s constantly interrupted by those comrades of hers, who ae charged with shutting down a terror plot ostensibly about the sale of water in Kuzan; water being one of the resources about which wars will be fought with increasing frequency and magnitude in the future; something Californians are already starting to feel.

In any case, the terrorist bombing is almost too neatly synched with the explosion of a dam, and a detective is found with a suitcase containing prosthetic legs. Kusanagi’s men prove their eliteness yet again by pacifying the situation and helping to save her from the terrorist leader, who is not only able to break her ghost lock, but inject a virus that creates pain and muscle spasms in her right leg. Her right prosthetic leg. Hmmm…

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All six perps have falsified memories and bear the same tattoo indicating their connection to a Qhardi rebel named Scylla, who might also be the notorious Fire Starter whose virus has been the bane of Kusanagi and her team throughout this show’s run. Only Kusanagi is certain he’s dead, so it must be someone else.

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While conferring with her comrades in person, we see Kusanagi has not only not changed her pants, but cleaned up the tears to make them half-hot pants, a look I dearly want her to continue to sport in the next ep, because its a good look and she’s got the gams for it.

Speaking of gams, Kusanagi pays another visit to her BF for a “tune-up”. Again, it’s nice to see this cute, playful, tender side of Kusanagi. She’s downright disarmed by this guy…as he checks out her legs. We later learn that he runs a high-end prostheses business, and Detective Togusa comes to him with questions about the legs found by the dead detective, who was himself at least partially cyborgized.

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And that’s when the episode throws down the gauntlet in the form of everyone’s least favorite metal Easter Island headed military official, Hozuki, in cahoots with Kusanagi’s BF. I tell you, Motoko-chan can’t catch a break. Is this arc setting her up for betrayal and heartbreak, or is all her lovey-doveyness an act, and she already knows who she’s sleeping with, and is sticking close to gather intel? We shall see.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 06

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This latest episode of ARISE further reinforces the quality that make it by turns engrossing an frustrating: its complexity. The show is to be commended for not compromising its narrative principles or pandering to a lower common denominator. But that rigidness makes it more practical as a binge than stepping in every week, especially when there are a lot of other shows, anime or otherwise, on one’s weekly watchlist. This makes sense, considering this show was originally a series of movies.

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I’d argue the “alternative architecture” was a blessing and a curse to ARISE: while I feel it might be more cohesive and easier to follow in its previous format, without airing as television broadcast, I would have never been exposed to it to begin with. That being said, its translated structure lends a certain uniqueness that can’t be ignored.

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I also have to commend ARISE for not holding back in the action department, though I do wish quieter scenes could have been animated with as great care as said action scenes were composed. The amazing stunts Kusanagi & Co. pull off as if it’s just another day at the office really pull me in and make me feel comfortable, despite the fact there’s a bit too much AI in the world being portrayed to be too comfortable.

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But yeah, this week things get very complex indeed, with the operation to retrieve colonel’s module being hamstrung by an illusory world before Kusanagi can break free, and is then saved by her new ally VV, whom I described as the CIA equivalent of Kusanagi. They work well together; as well as I imagine Kusanagi and Batou would work together if they weren’t on opposite sides for most of this episode.

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This complex scene of Kusanagi, Batou, Paz and VV all trying to get the upper hand on each other best illustrates the attention to detail and creativity of the direction. Not to mention, this is a show where many characters don’t have flesh-and-blood bodies, and thus can take quite a bit more punishment, not to mention lose a limb or two and keep on tickin’.

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The plot is even more complex than the action, but boils down the Colonel, Ishikawa, Batou, and everyone else in their unit being infected with fales memories of a humanitarian mission, when they were actually confronted with guerillas.

The Colonel takes his life so he can’t be used by whomever infected him to cause any more harm. Batou wouldn’t mind keeping memories that portrayed him as something other than a “dog trained to kill”, even if they’re fake. Kusanagi’s response is both cold and accurate: he’s a whiny bitch.

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As for the final twist: VV, who had helped Kusanagi up until now, was in actuality an AI infected with false memories that allowed her to masquerade as a human, who won’t rest until she’s found out why; ironically one of the more human compulsions for self-discovery and validation for one’s existence.

Unfortunately, achieving her goal would mean throwing the world into more political turmoil than it’s already in, so she’s gunned down. It’s certainly an unexpected twist—almost too unexpected—but I appreciated the guts of the show to take things one step deeper.

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Even if the mastermind behind the insidious false memory-producing virus remains at large, thanks to Kusanagi and her variably loyal (looking at you, Saito) fledgling unit, Pandora wasn’t fully unleashed to the world and Japan is safe for another week.

In a common problem in anime, Kusanagi needs to recruit more members for her club or its registration will be revoked, so she reaches out to another one of the bes tin the business, Batou, with an enticing offer: to let him feel like more than a trained killing dog…without the aid of false memories.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 05

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In our next arc, Kusanagi has yet to form her “best defense is a good offense” unit, but has to react to a new threat in which another disgraced colonel is using city-wide Domination to control nearly all of the city’s 20 million vehicles, thus holding their occupants hostage, while he works to air all of the Japanese military’s dirty laundry to the world. Clearly, the public story of what happened in Qhardistan differes from what really happened.

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It’s an episode in which a lot of the mundance automation technology both the people of Japan and Kusanagi herself take for granted is suddenly all messed up. Luckily for Motoko, an older-model motorcycle passes her by when he late model slows down and refuses to respond to her inputs, and one of her many badass moments of this week, she manages to maneuver the bike into and through a delivery van trying to take out Logicoma (whose memory apparently contains incriminating data). Oh, and Batou’s driving the van. I guess these two still aren’t quite friends yet, huh?

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It’s on to the next badass moment, as Motoko and her comparatively pint-sized Logicoma have to take on not one but two heavy-duty military mechas that would like nothing else than to take her out. She seems to be in a bad way when all of a sudden an ally leaps out of the shadows and disables the enemy mechs.

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This ally, code named “VV”, looks like the American equivalent of Kusanagi, and wants to assist her in locating and deactivating or destroying Colonel Soga’s means of hacking the city’s systems and prevent Pandora from being opened, as such an action would likely cause problems for America’s government as well. VV’s arrival inspires Kusanagi to finally assemble her team; one member by gunpoint (Saito), another who volunteers (Pazu).

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But in the middle of their op, once they successfully infiltrate the suspected enemy base, Kusanagi herself is trapped in a mental construct of Soga’s making. He knows she’s after him, and warns her she won’t succeed in stopping him from carrying out his mission. Soga is certainly a tech whiz, and may even have a good reason for doing what he’s doing; a reason Kusanagi can relate to. But her first loyalty is to the state, and despite this initial setback I expect her to give Soga a run for his money.

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