February 19, 2015

The Shirow franchises (2)

In Appleseed (1985), the future is still run by giant mainframes. That was soon to change.

The "difference engine" was first proposed in the late 18th century, but this now well-worn trope truly came into its own as mainstream entertainment in the 1950s with the Tracy/Hepburn comedy Desk Set (1957) and NASA's adoption of the IBM 7090 at the dawn of the space race.

Only four years after Appleseed, Masamune Shirow saw the future and the future was networked. The last line in Ghost in the Shell (1989) says it all: "The net is vast and infinite."

This marked a true sea change in the genre. The "computer" would no longer be a single "character" (an electromechanical dictator) but part of the landscape. This is especially true in the Stand Alone Complex series, in which cyber is simply there, like the water and air.

As Google chairman Eric Schmidt put it recently, "The Internet will disappear." Meaning that it will become as ubiquitous as electric power and radio waves, treated as a given, as if it has always existed and has always been available, and so is only noticed when it is not.

Alas, too many Hollywood science fiction writers are stuck on the mainframe as the "Big Bad" and "hacking" as a magic wand. A quarter century ago, Shirow got it right.

• Ghost in the Shell (manga) 1989-1990
Ghost in the Shell (theatrical release) 1995
Innocence (theatrical release) 2004
Stand Alone Complex (TV anime series) 2002-2006
Solid State Society (OVA movie) 2006
Arise (OVA series) 2013
Ghost in the Shell (theatrical release) 2017
• Plus 1997 and 2015 video games.

Right from the start, Ghost in the Shell throws a wrench into the sequel machinery. Kusanagi merges with the AI at the end of the first movie. In Innocence she appears only virtually. So the only place to go without completing trashing the premise is backwards.

Thus Stand Alone Complex is a prequel. The two SAC series are not only superior to the original but rank among the very best in the genre. The latest installment in the franchise, Ghost in the Shell: Arise, is a prequel to the prequel, including an "origins" story.

The real stars of SAC: the Tachikoma robots (Wikipedia Commons).

And talking about allegiance to established canon (or the lack thereof), Dreamworks has signed Scarlett Johansson for a 2017 live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell. The casting has already raised questions among fans about how a "Johansson" can play a "Kusanagi."

The obvious solution can be gleaned from A Fistful of Dollars (Yojimbo). Or Edge of Tomorrow (All You Need is Kill). Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise are models for "occidentalization." Just keep the plot moving and don't bury the story beneath piles of ponderousness. A good story will always shine through.

Related posts

The Shirow franchises (1)
Appleseed: Alpha
Appleseed: Ex Machina
Reframing the mainframe plot

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