Ghost in the Shell is a franchise that has been adapted in so many different ways, and with such varying quality that judging each adaption is an exercise deciding what it should be based on. From what I understand of the source manga it is a thoughtful, but mostly action driven fair while the movies and Stand Alone Complex series are deeply thoughtful works with action elements. Then there is the Arise series of movies that I was told are not good, but never saw them to know. There was also the live action dud.
This new series, a collaboration with Production IG and Sola Digital Arts is a full CG series in the Stand Alone Complex universe.
Set, assumably, after the Stand Alone Complex series, in 2045, the world has been wrecked by the Sustainability War that caused a world wide default and drastic economic change making America a dominator across the world. The former Section 9 team meanwhile work as private contractors in America until they are roped into a case hat will bring long time partner Togusa, and old boss Chief Aramagi back into their lives to deal with the next threat to humanity, Post-Humans. With the gang back together they must track down the Post-Humans and find their true purpose.
The series does not make a great first impression for a couple reasons. One is the art style and direction which will be tackled, but secondly the first half of the season is accomplishing setup to get Section 9 back together. The beginning with The Major and her team as mercenaries is most of the first half of the show while Togusa acts as the main character trying to find them and bring them back to Japan. The show accomplishes world building during that section well enough, but is too dragged out. It could have been a two parter that lead into the rest of the series.
I only say that because once Section 9 is reformed and the Post-Humans are introduced it feels more like Stand Alone Complex. It has a mix of one off episodes like Bato helping old people face the struggles of the new economy, or an enhance boxer out for revenge, and episodes building up what the Post-Humans are after, and one story in particular about a child who becomes Post-Human and wants to escape reality. They all feel suitably like the old show. Well, mostly. Not all of the writing works, and a new addition to the team when they return to Japan feels too cartoony in a way the animation cannot support.
The animation, style, and direction is clearly a distinct choice to try something different. It feels like they went with the ReBoot idea of having it set in the future so have the whole series look like the future. Even as this will surely become dated that is not a terrible idea. In fact the end product seems more like an American series than a Japanese one.
As a refresher, the biggest distinction between American and Japanese animation comes down to production. America focuses on the whole, while Japan focuses on the big moments and to make every shot between that look good. The change this series made moved it from the latter to the former. The CG designs and direction mean most shots are not the best looking, but that is made up for in more fluid movement, inventive shots, and a consistent look. The changed character models even grow to be enjoyable enough. The team still nailed The Major’s look again to be iconic. It’s impressive that every series manages to do that.
Something that is less impressive is the music. The opening is fine enough, if a bit on the nose, but an enjoyable rap track. The rest of the music just blends in. Same can be said for the voice acting. I assume this is a mixing issue considering how recent the American voices were added in, but they are totally drowned out by all the other sounds and music.
A look at Ghost in the Shell would not be complete if you don’t talk about action. The action for the series is fine. The consistent movement allows for much better hand-to-hand combat, and movement in fights but little is done with that, along with scale. The best action beats are at the start when they take down a tank, weapons drone, robot maids, and an Iron Monger suit. From there it has nothing else aside from a flood of security robots an episode or two later.
This is only season one however, and by the ending it feels like they were made all at once and just being released in chunks. That is not inherently bad, but it ends in kind of a let down that promises more to the story, but feels underwhelming.
SAC 2045 is not going to replace the art and skill of the original series it is a spin off from, but if it manages to focus on more individual stories about the world it might be able to be better regarded than Arise (also the fact they added Agent Smith, literally, to complete that loop is kind of both genius and annoying simultaneously).
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