It’s time to reboot the system and the timeline. Major Motoko Kusanagi has not been forged in the fires of the Laughing Man and the Individual Eleven, but is instead a budding hacker with a debt to the government: she owes them her body, literally. Recruited to investigate a bombing, she must deal with the world of cyborgs, prostitutes, and the meddling hands of a government that wants to get their money’s worth. Public Security Section 9 arises in the reboot of Ghost In The Shell, but does Ghost in the Shell: Arise give the series a fresh start? Or will you have a bad install on your hands?
For fans of the previous dubs of Ghost In The Shell (all highly commendable for treating the series with utmost sincerity, even when the show had rare light moments), there’s a bit of a problem. In this new series, none of the original cast voice the characters they’ve voiced previously. Notably, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (until this point, the only person to have voiced Motoko Kusanagi in English) does not play the lead in this series. She does voice Kurutsu, Motoko’s boss, but it’s odd not having her in the lead role, especially when you hear that iconic voice coming out of someone else. Elizabeth Maxwell takes over for the younger Motoko, and while she does an amazing job (and in a vacuum, wouldn’t raise any comments), it’s definitely a different voice. Another voice that throws a question in the ears of listeners is Batou, now voiced by Christopher Sabat in his Piccolo voice from the Dragon Ball franchise. Once again, nothing is wrong with it, but FUNimation’s pool of voice actors do seem to be less diverse than ideal. The music and themes are all nicely melodic and energizing, tending to go for slow piano beats more than guitar riffs. Much like Motoko, Yoko Kanno does not return for this series, but Cornelius’ composure is air-tight.
Visually, the show is up there with all previous productions, combining great backgrounds, actions only capable with cyborgs, and unique visuals for the virtual world. Characters have been redesigned and tweaked, and Motoko goes from her iconic “one piece and pants” outfit to a red leather jacket and pants, along with a different haircut. Much of the remaining cast feature immediately-recognizable designs (even if they’re a little less graying), and the red Logicoma, while technically an earlier model of the blue Tachikoma, is still the series’ flagship mech that can be both cute and tactically-destructive…and notably CG. A few times in the series, computer graphics are used instead of standard animation, but while it’s acceptable, it’s also clearly not the same technique used for the rest of the animation. When it’s used on Motoko while she’s riding a bike, it’s all the more apparent that CG may work for mechanical items, but not for people (ignoring that Motoko is technically mechanical herself).
All the voice and visual comments and criticisms would be a waste if the story wasn’t good. Thankfully, Arise keeps the strengths from previous Ghost in the Shell stories. While there are not as many “what makes humanity?” questions as the original, there is definitely a lot of fresh blood transfused into the franchise by having a Motoko that’s skilled but not perfect, working with a team that hasn’t completely gelled. Nobody would complain about more of Motoko diving off a rooftop and nailing the landing, but this Motoko has to be a bit more creative when dealing with things like the Logicoma failing to tell tell her that she doesn’t have any weapons.
All the characters are the same as they are in later versions, just maybe a bit less refined. The villains of these pieces are, if anything, not as memorable as The Laughing Man (though, that may be from the iconography), and don’t truly form an over-arching storyline for the heroes. Instead, they provide enough catalyst to let the Shell Squad form and be the basis of their own story. Still, it’s an effective prequel, but it comes with the faults of any prequel: unless episodes 3 and 4 really change things up, you’re not going into these episodes wondering if Motoko will be destroyed (although, given the reality, that wouldn’t necessarily be the end for her) or if the team will fall apart. You have a predetermined goal, and by virtue of being in most (if not all) iterations of this franchise, you expect Motoko’s team to make it out alive.
There’s no doubt that FUNimation approached this release with an eye for collectors. While their releases for legendary anime Cowboy Bebop and modern blast Space Dandy have gone to great lengths for two sets of physical extras (alongside a standard release), Arise comes as a four-disc DVD/Blu-ray combo pack packaged up in a deluxe box, complete with a shiny finish on the outside and two booklets featuring episode notes, character designs, interviews, and more. These are definitely some of the best booklets you’ll see in a Blu-ray set, beating out many major Hollywood productions in quality and extensiveness. If you wanted to know the real-world origins of hacking, how their composer crafted the music, or even why Motoko wears a red suit throughout these films (instead of her traditional outfit), you’ve got your answers here.
While there may be only two episodes in this set (roughly the length of a movie), FUNimation definitely did well in packing it full of on-disc extras. One featurette centers on the show’s airing at Anime Expo 2013, with fan reactions and comments coupled with interviews with directors of the production. There is also a commentary on the second episode with the US dub crew. Two short comedic segments about the Logicomas go undubbed, and don’t do anything to seriously expand the world. In contrast, the Decode 501 File gives a bit of narrative history of Motoko’s original group. There are two public cast and crew interviews done for promotion of the show, featuring the directors in one and the original Japanese cast in another. Speaking of promotional features, there’s a short special that involves Motoko fighting with the aid of a Microsoft Surface device, which was produced with some of Microsoft’s money, no doubt. It’s fun and a quick idea of the action that can happen in the series, but it is undoubtedly made to sell Microsoft’s iPad alternative. Not offering as much creative opportunity is another promotional video for the Pacific Racing Team, which lacks any original footage and is completion for completion’s sake. Beyond these, there’s a multitude of promos, commercials, trailers, teasers, textless openings, closings, and everything else you’d expect from a quality set.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise refreshes the franchise, and it’s a good enough starting point, but with self-imposed limitations (the fact that it’s a theoretical prequel and it’s only four episodes), it definitely comes off as more of the same. New Ghost in the Shell is better than most cyberpunk (arguably, one of the biggest influences of the field) or sci-fi, but Arise‘s first two episodes play it a bit safe. You’ll have a nice set to put on your shelf, and it definitely requires a viewing, but don’t toss out your box sets of the previous series. Arise just can’t seem to arise out of it’s predecessor’s cyber-shadow.