Ghost in the Shell review
It's Worth Diving Into This Shell

The good:

Excellent visuals
Great voicework
Plenty of extras

The bad:

Some sections too slow paced
Mostly unremarkable music


Cutesy saucer-sized eyes. Ditzy schoolgirls with IQ seemingly in the single figures. Dimwit male protagonists that are clueless until the end. Anime is filled with a lot of common elements like these, and how they are handled can determine success or failure.

Then we have the other side of anime, such as Ghost in the Shell, that have no interest in such overused elements. Welcome to the dark side, an animated look into a dark future where the line between man and machine is becoming ever increasingly blurred, and the definition of what it means to live continues to change.

In the year 2029 technology has come a long way. The net has expanded beyond the original confines of normal computer terminals, as people are able to possess cyberbrains that can access computers and networks. They can store and access information easily. But with these conveniences comes great risks, as such cyberbrains are susceptible to the same things any computer is - hacking, viruses and any other risks born from technology.

Major Motoko Kusanagi is an operative working for Section 9, a government law enforcement agency that take on some of the more extreme cases their country has to offer. She is also a prime example of what life has progressed to, as she lives within a cyborg shell, with only part of her brain still organic within that titanium body.

The Major is one hard-headed individual.

Section 9 are investigating a case involving The Puppet Master, an elite hacker who is able to penetrate even the most advanced barriers known to man. Something isn't right though, when people from Section 6 make some unusual movements regarding the case. Yet, The Puppet Master is making some unusual movements of his own.

While there is a general police-styled progression to the story as the team delve into the case of this master criminal, much of the story's substance instead comes from the concepts of what it means to be human and what defines alive. Humanity's integration with technology - specifically the vast sea of the net - leads the film to ask some rather deep questions about human existence, and shows that such a future doesn't offer all the answers.

This trait is reinforced in no small part by Motoko's role in the film. As the case progresses she begins to question her own sense of self, and ponders the possibility of her existence being nothing more than a digital fantasy. The idea that technology could falsify important aspects of life is a fascinating subject, and one that carries over well in the film. It really is one that gets the viewer to not only experience the messages being sent but to think on them too.

It's not as if the whole thing is just talking and thought-invoking though, so it's nice to see that GitS brings in some solid action sequences. What is so good about these is that they aren't overdone. There is a sense of realism in these exchanges, like when someone's hit they actually reel from the blow, and their abilities don't go too far beyond human. More than that, these scenes work well to help the flow of the film, so as to avoid feeling like action for the sake of having action.

There is plenty of gun firing too here, which make for heated exchanges and the effects are known on the surroundings as well. Again there is a sense of realism to all this. You don't get seemingly never-ending clips of ammo or a handgun blowing up a tank.

That's some firepower.

The one aspect to these action sequences that does irk me occurs in the last battle of the film. Without giving too much away let's just say that the resolution to the fight pretty much comes out of nowhere, which diluted the buildup to that battle's finale.

There is some solid character development in here too. Naturally most of this is focused on Motoko and Batou, especially with their relationship and the way they view life and its concepts. Motoko is the dark, cynical operative who tends to do things on her own. She's easily distracted by her own thoughts on her existence and is perhaps driven by these thoughts at times. Batou comes across as the team's brute who tends to overkill things but is surprisingly caring, especially when it comes to Motoko.

Unfortunately, there isn't much to say about anyone else. The closest characters to the main pair would be Chief Aramaki and Togusa, but their personalities aren't explored to such a degree. Aramaki is just the section chief issuing orders and Togusa is just the police detective who assists in the cases.

It's not all greatness though. Sometimes GitS has a problem maintaining consistent pacing. While such a thing isn't a common aspect for most films it becomes bothersome in some parts of the film when flow can drop drastically to that of a snail's pace. Do we really need an extended scene of Motoko waking up, grabbing her jacket and walking out of her apartment? It doesn't provide storyline details, character development or any meaningful questions about the state of society. The general lack of anything interesting during these sequences just left me wondering when the next sequence was going to start.

Of one thing there can be no doubt, which is just how spectacularly stunning the film's visual style truly is. Forget obvious shortcuts and half-assed sketching. The various different elements in the film are of a very high quality, with very distinct features, shading and positioning. The way the characters are animated has also been done very well, as has the way there are interactions with objects and the scenery. The sequence during the opening credits roll is perhaps one of the finest examples of this, as Motoko's cyborg body is pieced together and finishing touches applied.

An example of how beautiful the film's visual style is.

The impressive thing is that this is not restricted to whatever is happening in the focal of any given scene. Take the sequence when Batou is tracking a criminal through a marketplace. Batou is beautifully drawn and animated (well, as beautifully as he can look). However, a glance at his surroundings shows that this level of attention didn't diminish when working on the background elements. The different traders and consumers swarming around him also look great and are busy moving around. It definitely feels like a marketplace because of this.

The effects in use also help to build this vision of a futuristic world. One example would be the optic camouflage that some people use in the movie. The way that the scenery appears distorted behind the barely-visible shapes of those hidden is done very well. I'm still having difficulty trying to figure out how a person can cast a solid shadow when light shouldn't be blocked like that, but whatever.

The one problem I have with the visuals doesn't take place during the actual movie but rather the menu designs. Unfortunately the designs here are rather basic, especially when it comes to the literal tabs that make up the disc options. There's an obvious attempt to make it seem like a computer-styled theme, but it just looks subpar, almost as if it was cobbled together in five minutes.

If only the film's visual flair carried over to the menu design.

The movie's music soundtrack is harder to gauge, namely because not much is used in the way of music accompaniment. Much of what music is used is decidedly low-key, often lost to whatever is happening onscreen. It's not the kind that jumps out and grabs you, and it often struggles to help boost the effectiveness of what the viewer sees. It's not that the music is bad but rather that it's not really that noticeable. Oddly, there was only one music track that truly grabbed me during the film, which plays out as Motoko is travelling through the city, although I'm not sure how good a thing it is considering said sequence was one of those unnecessarily long sequences where not a lot really happened.

The voice-work in the film is offered both in an English and a Japanese dub, and both should appeal as the quality of the two tracks is close and very good. In essence I feel that the choice of which language you would listen to would come down simply to personal preference rather than an actual difference in quality.

The VAs are quite effective at putting the necessary emotion across, done with enough finesse to avoid sounding like it is being read from a script. The way the script has been constructed to synch up with the movement of the lips is also great. For a film that could so easily have used cybercoms to shortcut out of things it is refreshing to see that cybercoms aren't overused to that degree.

There are a number of subtitle tracks on offer too in varying languages. They are certainly visible, that much is clear, but I can't help but feel that they look a little ugly. Bright blue lettering slapped onto the screen seems a bit disruptive to the general visual feel.

The disc contains a rather healthy amount of extras for your money. The biggest one would be the 'Making Of' video that offers some nice insight as to what went into the creation of the movie. At about 28 minutes long it is quite informative, although be prepared for subtitle reading as parts of this extra consists of discussions with various staff members, as well as the original creator of GitS, whom do not speak English.

There is also a database section, which offers information on characters, terms and the director and original creator. The information isn't particularly extensive, save for the director and creator ones, but it is nice all the same. There is also a four minute long music video that uses scenes from the movie. The music is along the same theme as what you encounter during the film. There are also the usual trailers that Manga tend to put onto their discs.

It's not hard to see why Ghost in the Shell has a strong following. The way the film flows probably won't appeal to those expecting plenty of action, but for a film that provokes meaningful thought and interjects some solid action in there it does a fantastic job, topped off with a marvellous visual style. It's not without its faults, but it is still an experience to be enjoyed.

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