GiTS, the story of an anti-terrorist group of men and cyborgs, as they prevent cyber crimes and try to apprehend a criminal who manipulates the memories of his victims. And this is not even the tip of the iceberg.
1995 was a major turning point in anime and stands as the point where the gold era of Japanese animation began. The industry started taking risks and making a lot of interesting titles thereafter for over a decade. A reason is the great effect Neon Genesis had on its mainland audience, which inspired the companies to fund affiliated works, things that before that anime would pass as risky and not profitable. Another reason is the coming of a new form or data recording. I am referring to the DVD which offered much higher analysis and resolution than the CD and thus allowing for anime to look better.
Also, the third generation of anime fans came to be around this point for me.
- The first is the one in the mid 60’s who grew up with Tetsuwan Atom and Tetsoujin 28. That generation was given works of producers who grew up in WW2 and thus all famous works of that time have to do with technology and sadness around a vastly changed world which seems to have lost its innocence, yet strives on with hope.
- The second is the one in the early 80’s who grew up with Urusei Yatsura and Macross. That generations was given less depressing works and a world now recovered from war and enjoying unparallel technological achievements.
- The third generation is the one I am referring to this point. Their country was going through economic depression and the end of the world speculation fuss had created this feeling of unrest and doubt to the problems technology can solve. So once again the feeling returned to a more depressing one around technology and the change of the world, just like before.
All that contributed to the creation and even to the success of Ghost in the Shell, a movie phenomenon for its time and era in general. If it was made a few years back, chances are it would flop badly because the audience was not mentally ready to accept such a concept yet. Even Akira, which was also an instant hit, was far simpler in its ideas and based half its appeal on action and mass destruction, something this movie does not have. Although it itself probably inspired by even older sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner or Neuromancer, it still succeeded in further progressing the main theme of man-machine interface to far deeper regions.
The story is basically the loose adaptation of the homonymous manga, which was a phenomenon on its own. And since I love lists, here are the reasons of why this film, and by extension the manga, is so great.
1) Great production values. Even better than Akira, which also counts as great. Cinematography is masterful as everything is drawn and animated in a way it feels alive, There is an amazing detail given to machinery and various parts explain brand new technologies and applications. It gives you the feeling that it is all possible and probable, making you believe them as viable and not as mumbo jumbo magic technology like in other sci-fi works. The smart camera angles, the right use of BGM, and several scenes which are used only as mute depiction of a feeling or a mood. All that make viewing a pleasure unlike anything else ever made up until then.
2) Great story and concepts. The blur between reality and virtual reality may feel commonplace today but this movie is from the oldest examples and still holds today as amongst the most mature and well-thought-of takes on the subject. In fact, more than half of all following movies were heavily influenced by this work and any similarities may as well be considered as tribute to this one. Also, unlike most other variants on augmented or virtual reality which focus on a small concept or part of the world, here the idea covers all aspects of life, from society, to religion, to philosophy, to one’s personal search for identity and happiness.
3) Great characters. Motoko, Batou and Togusa are three very easy to understand yet complicating personalities, all a product of their era, affected by the ever-present technology yet still making their own personal choices. The movie is more about them having existentialism dialogues than fighting criminals and more about separating reality from illusion to completing their mission and go home for beers. There were many shows about people turning to robots or robots trying to be people before, but most were quite simple and all ended up by having to beat a bad guy or something. Here, the main bad guy of sorts is the Puppet Master who, as corny as his name sounds, is actually a very interesting character by himself; not really evil or with hatred towards the world. In fact, nobody is really evil as is selfish and profit-centered. Mercenaries and company presidents and politicians, all of them just try to make the best of what they can in a world run by information and the power of stealth ends up being more effective than the power of guns.
I have heard lots of things from people who didn’t like the movie and almost all of them are about how the film doesn’t have great action or how they keep talking and acting all emo instead of, I don’t know, shot at stuff and laugh like they enjoy what they are doing. To those people I can only say that this is not a brain-dead action story like the Transformers or Black Lagoon. It is dialogue-heavy and full of talking around philosophy and politics and the meaning of life. It may feel like it’s preachy or overblown with emoness at times but, hey, that was what it aimed for in the first place. I too would prefer longer action scenes and longer duration to get to see more about the world that is why Story and Enjoyment don’t stand as perfect for me; but I’m not going to disregard all the rest just because of that minor issue.
A thing to take notice is that the manga version has a far different feeling, as the characters there are more comical and act more like humans. If you prefer less depressing stuff, you can just read the manga version. Also, a decade later they made two tv seasons based on the same story, and again the feeling is different as here the characters think and act more like amoral professionals rather than people who seek a reason for being. You can also check that one. And if you still find the concept simplistic after all these years and how today all that are mainstream stuff, you can also “try” to read the second GiTS manga or the watch the second GiTS movie, where things are even harder to understand. Good luck to you; I lost track at some point and my organic hard drive crashed so I left it for another time.
Bottom line, GiTS stands as most likely the best in overall and most influential cyberpunk work to hit the screens and tv screens and it is still a concept that was never surpassed in detail and attention by any other producer or filmmaker. Seriously, the Matrix trilogy looks like elementary school before it.