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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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 04

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There were times during last week’s ep when I was a bit lost, dazed and confused, but now I take solace in the fact that Kusanagi was too! I love an episode of anime that tosses all the pieces on the table and makes you simmer with the chaos and the depth of the mystery to solve before solving it this week. It did so bit by bit, both with some of the Spring’s best snippets of noirish dialogue and some of the best combat.

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After Batou attacks her, suspecting her of dirty deeds, and Aramaki’s men dig up the same dirt, it becomes clear to Kusanagi that like us, she doesn’t have the whole picture. Much of the truth of her mentor’s murder is hidden behind blocked pathways in both her memory and sensory perception.

The fact that we don’t see the real body or hear the real voice of her heroine, only those filtered through prosthetic body and cyberbrain, is one of Ghost’s best conceptual assets. The Kusanagi we follow is only a projection, layered within another projection: the anime in which she dwells. But she still knows herself, and knows when something is amiss, as it is here.

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When the official report is that Mamuro’s grave was never disturbed, she decides to test that report. Turns out the perpetators literally buried the truth below a lie, as the mobile mine trap was buried above the LTC’s real remains, including his cyberbrain.

Once she connects to it, Kusanagi learns a lot more, and is able to remember a plot she had probably already uncovered before her cyber-virus tore up her memory. Mamuro had uncovered a plot by a military and a civilian official to cover up an arms smuggling racket, and those parties then moved to eliminate and then discredit Mamuro.

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After some slick modifications of a mobile mine to get the confirmation from the vice-minister (before not-killing him with a point-blank flash-bang), Batou covers her as she heads to a seedy site where enemy spies were being lured with Mamuro’s cash by the very 501 organization he once headed.

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After a not altogether necessary but still awesome fight with Raizo, Kusanagi gets the rest of the truth from Kurtz. Had Mamuro tried to take down the minister, 501 would have been purged, so she prevented that by letting Mamuro die. Neither she nor the enemy included Kusanagi in their equations, picking up the football dropped by her mentor’s death.

But because she linked with him in the alley where she found him, she was infected with same memory virus he had – the same “fire-starter” virus that played big in the first two eps. Kurtz knew about the virus, and used Kusanagi as bait.

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Considering all that, it’s not surprising Kusanagi wouldn’t want anything else to do with Kurtz or the 501. And with Mamuro exonerated, his recommendation for her goes through. She’s promoted to major and provided an inheritance, part of which was earmarked for her prosthetic body, which is no longer government property.

She may have had to run away from spider girls, dodge blows and bullets from past and future friends, and get her arm torn off, but she’s now freer now than she’s ever been.

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Kusanagi then wipes the rest of the slate clean by undergoing an eradication of all the false memories, planted by the virus, of a mother-like figure who cared for her in her youth. But…were they really false memories? Did Kusanagi really get down to the bottom of things, or simply down to a place she can be satisfied with?

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In the final scene, after a montage of all the future members of Section 9 going about their pre-section 9 lives, Aramaki meets with Kusanagi on the street to report his results: the Captain was replaced and the minister will be quietly tried, and one day Mamuro’s findings will be made public.

In the meantime, he invites the new major to form a team with the independence she always yearned for and her new circumstances allow – a team that won’t simply defend against its enemies, but attack them head-on. With all the pieces thus locked into place, we can gaze on the final product: a pretty sweet re-imagined origin story..

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