|The first cover for the manga|
Ghost in the shell is a franchise started by Shirow Masamune, published in 1989. It has spawned three movies, several novels and video games, an anime series spanning two seasons (Stand Alone Complex), and a prequel series of films (ARISE).
Ghost in the Shell is set in the future after the Fourth World War. The use of robotics and cyborg implants has sky rocketed infiltrating every aspect of society. This ranges from illegal brain hacking to gynobots geared for sex. Section nine is a clandestine military/police operation used to curb illegal cybernetic activities. The field leader of the team is Major Kusangi who happens to be almost entirely cyborg and a very capable officer.
The grandaddy of the franchise, the original manga was released by Masamune Shirow in 1989.
2029. Niihama. A high-profile hacker known as The Puppeteer is wanted for the dangerous crime of hacking cyberbrains, included in his crimes are serious charges of ghost hacking, which involve the complete takeover and erasure of a victim's memories and thus, personhood. Tasked with investigating this dangerous, enigmatic criminal is Public Security Section 9, an elite team of highly specialized agents whose mission is to offensively investigate the most dangerous types of cybercrimes and terrorism.
The lead field agent of Section 9 is Major (ambiguous rank, no one quite knows how she got it) Motoko Kusanagi (a code name). She does not act quite how one would expect her to, as she is rather silly and often appears to not be taking her job seriously. She has a boyfriend that she's been dating for six months (a record). These appearances are deceptive however, because she is very deadly, and a Super Class A hacker.
Yet, The Puppeteer is a dangerous foe for even Kusanagi, and as the investigation continues, she will make astonishing discoveries involving corruption in the government and which will ultimately lead to her life changing forever.
The original Ghost in the Shell manga is also infamous for a lesbian sex scene involving Kusanagi. Heterosexual Cyberbrain sex is apparently painful, but not homosexual sex. Go figure.
The next installment in the series, Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, was released in 1991. Set years later in 2035, the new Kusanagi - if you can still call her that, (now known as Motoko Aramaki) working in the private sector as at Poseidon Industrial as a cybersecurity expert and investigator. As the new Motoko's identity continues to shift, other forces are at work, set in motion by a professor of artificial intelligence, beg confrontation. What is the future of man and machine?
Another installment, Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor, also released in 1991, followed the missions of the other members of Section 9 - Batou, Togusa, Paz, Saito, Borma, Ishikawa, Azuma, and their commander, Daisuke Aramaki, after Kusanagi left. Occasionally she, in the private sector, helps her former teammates out.
Ghost in the Shell was released in theaters in 1995, to wide critical acclaim. The animation was particularly praised. The 1995 movie more or less follows the basic plot of the first manga, but there are a few differences. Motoko Kusanagi is a far more serious agent in the movie than in the manga. Following the trail of The Puppeteer, Section 9 runs afoul of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its enforcers, Public Security Section 6, who will stop at nothing to prevent revelations of Project 2501, which contrary to their claims, was not the work of The Pupeteer.
After a climactic confrontation with Section 6, including a battle with a tank that wrecked her body, Kusanagi makes a decision that will change her life, and her very identity, forever.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence was released in 2004. While not as highly acclaimed as its predecessor, the animation was nevertheless stunning as well. The film primarily focuses on Batou and Togusa, showcasing Batou's vulnerability as the contrast between him: a brooding loner with no family, and Togusa, a bright soul with a family. This relationship is explored in the context of a new investigation Section 9 is undertaking - to solve the mystery of malfunctioning sexbots (yes, this is as it sounds) which subsequently killed their owners, acts which appeared to be premeditated.
As the investigation continues (which includes Batou shooting up a few people), he meets up with the Major, now in essence a being of the Net, while infiltrating the headquarters of the sexboy manufacturer, LOCUS SOLUS. Duplicitous organized crime and human trafficking connections follow, along with another firefight.
Touchingly, at the end of the ordeal, Kusanagi declares that she'll always have Batou's back via the net.
A new feature film is scheduled for release in 2015, which will tie into the plot of ARISE.
Stand Alone Complex:
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was a highly-acclaimed anime series that in some ways tied together the worlds of the manga and movies into a new world. Although it is another adaptation of the original manga (and thus not the most strictly canon medium by OBD standards), it is typically the iteration of the meta-series that is used most in battledome debates.
The best example of the fusion-type world of Stand Alone Complex is Motoko Kusanagi herself. The character in this medium balances her silly traits from the manga (including implied - but never shown lesbian sexual proclivities) with her serious and commanding tone from the movies, creating a complex and balanced character. The supporting characters in Section 9 retained most of their personalities from the earlier mediums.
The overarching plot of the first season of Stand Alone Complex has Section 9 investigating the notorious Laughing Man case. The Laughing Man, a Super Class A hacker better than the Major, took the CEO of a major cybernetics company hostage six years prior to the setting of the series. Several cybernetics companies were then blackmailed in the subsequent months, but some wonder whether the Laughing Man was involved in that at all, weather the crimes were done by copycats, or whether the companies themselves did it to manipulate their stock prices.
After the Laughing Man disappeared from the scene, the incident remained unsolved and he became a living legend. Fast forward to 2030. Following a controversy over the illegal use of surveillance devices known as Interceptors, the Laughing Man seems to bubble out of the cauldron once again, prompting Section 9 to try to solve the case.
What follows is a long winding road that ultimately reveals rampant corruption at the very highest levels of the Japanese government. For Section 9, the price of continuing the case through to the end proves to be very steep.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig takes places two years after the first season. A new government has been elected, and the new Prime Minister, Yoko Kayabuki, reinstates Section 9 following a successful hostage rescue. Just as the team begins to get back on track, a new rabbit hole opens. Kazundo Goda, the leader of a shadowy organization reporting to the Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan known as the Cabinet Intelligence Service gets involved with Section 9 as it attempts to defuse a dangerous situation involving military helicopters going haywire.
As the relationship between Goda, his CIS, and Section 9 continues, a series of incidents known as the Individual Eleven, an ongoing crisis with Japan's refugee population, and increasingly apparent data manipulation bring tensions to a boiling point - and threaten to erupt in an earthquake that will rock Japan to its core.
At that time, the fate of Section 9, the new Kayabuki Administration, and Japan itself will be decided.
The two seasons of the Stand Alone Complex anime were followed by Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, which takes place several years after the end of 2nd Gig's refugee crisis. Kayabuki is still the Japanese PM. Echoing the manga and first movies, Motoko Kusanagi has by this point left Section 9 and works as a shadowy independent operative. Togusa appears to have taken her place as the leader of an expanded Section 9's field operations. He and Batou are working together (sound familiar?) to investigate a series of kidnappings related to someone...or something, known as "The Puppeteer" (sound familiar?).
As the kidnapping investigation heats up and includes an incident involving Togusa's own daughter, the Major reappears (not from the Net this time). She returns to work with Section 9, revealing her findings involving the "Solid State." It's revealed that corruption involving a government program for old people (really) is at play in this, and perhaps the mystery the "The Puppeteer" will never be solved.
There are also three canonical novels to the world of Stand Alone Complex:
The Lost Memory - This takes place during the events of the first season. After a string of seemingly isolated terror incidents involving teenage boys over a number of years, Section 9 is called to investigate the incidents, called "Good Morning Terrorism" cases, after defusing a hostage situation. How it could be that teenage boys suddenly wake up as terrorists has perplexed the public. Laughing Man relations are quickly ruled out, but the the deep, dark world of memory manipulation quickly rises to the surface. How does this scary cybercrime connect with a downed airliner and the visit of a foreign dignitary?
Revenge of the Cold Machines - A series of three shorter stories that take place between the events of the first and second seasons. Three seemingly unrelated stories, one of which includes a plot on Daisuke Aramaki's life involving some unfortunate souls, quickly come together clustering around a very large cybernetics manufacturer and some shady dealings involving new, scary prosthetic bodies. Also included: some Tachikoma lovin'!
White Maze - Taking place once again between the events of the first and second seasons, White Maze opens with a weird murder that seems to involve vampires, of all things. Section 9 is called in to investigate the crimes, especially when a high-level politician gets caught up in the mess. What follows is an investigation that connects back to an ill-fated ship, a top secret government cyber project, and the disturbing possibility of mind control via cybernetic emotional manipulation. The Major goes undercover to an austere place to get to the bottom of the rabbit hole, and might just be in for the fight of her life.
There are also two video games in this continuity for the PSP and PS2, but I unfortunately have not played them.
Standing in the Battledome
The series is decently powerful, with a good array of body modifications, bullet timing, armored Tachikomas, and the ability to hack into nearly any computer system. The hacking in the series is very powerful, as it allows the user to mimic various powers such as possession, mental manipulation, and the ability to read the minds of others. Active camouflage allows the user to become essentially invisible. Perhaps most significantly, there is the Japanese Miracle, which consists of micromachines capable of cleaning up radioactive fallout, thus allowing the series' armies to use nuclear weapons with essential impunity. Full cyborgs are also immune from poison or disease.
Aku Shinigami's Major Kusanagi respect thread
Supporters of the Series
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