Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Major Problems with the new Ghost in the Shell

As a quick preamble, I became aware of the new Ghost in the Shell series via Women Write About Comics, where they are doing a great multi-part series on The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, the female lead of all the GITS incarnations. You should go check it out.

And in a likely vain and futile attempt to fend off whatever comments might come about not appreciating the origins of the characters, I am well aware of Shirow's original GITS work, and many of his other works, in which there is ample display of, to put it mildly, sex. That, however, is a whole other set of issues, and I'm not up for tackling tentacles and the issue of consent in anime/manga today.

Now, on with the main post...

Normally I'd save this kind of post for a Saturday, as it is partially a review. But there were so, so many issues with what I saw in the first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Arise, that it really warranted it's own discussion. Heck, it warrants a lot more than I can discuss in a single post, which is why I intend to also live tweet my rewatch of it. Which would be a terrible sacrifice of my time and sanity, were it not also a tremendous opportunity for snark.

I have to believe Arise was meant to be snarked at. The only other explanation is that the animators were all a bunch of teenage fanboys who can't get dates of their own and wouldn't know a real interaction with a woman if she came and yanked them out of their dark, underground cubicles. Lest you think I'm exaggerating or being cynical, I could have titled this post "The Major's Boobs" and it would have conveyed one of the primary motifs of the first episode. ... And calling it a motif is being generous. 

There are good points to Arise, which is clearly meant as a prequel to any of the original GITS material and, more specifically, to the last GITS on television (as far as I know), GITS: Stand Alone Complex. It's even being produced by the same studio, though I can only surmise there have been some changes in executive decision making in the intervening years.

There are callbacks to GITS: SAC right from the opening credits, and it's a promising sign that they even go so far as to replicate the skyline. As in a standard prequel, there's the introduction of characters, the bringing together of the team, and there are hints of some of the complex plots that made SAC such an enjoyable series to watch.

Even the clear decision to represent the Major in a younger body is in keeping with her backstory from both the original manga and SAC, and present opportunities for some interesting character development and psychological discussions. After all, in a truly cybernetic body, what governs the decision to "age?" What are the decisions the Major makes to upgrade from where we see her here to where we know she's going.

Only I get the distinct impression that with Arise, it will mostly be the opportunity for TNA. In fact, there was so much gratuitous nudity, partially nudity, and blouse-popping cleavage, I feel the acronym for Arise ought to be GITS: TNA.

Maybe the whole point of the title is meant to be innuendo?  Though that would imply a certain meta-level of cleverness that I don't think we're going to see from the rest of the series.

Which is a shame, because there are moments of some smart storytelling, and some glimpses of what could be some great explorations of the issues raised by the very premise of the show. There's a potential here for some real imagination in the storytelling.

But I think mostly what, or rather who, we're going to get glimpses of are the women, in outfits - or the lack thereof - that will leave little to the imagination.

Some exhibits for the prosecution:

The shower scene. Ignoring the thinly-veiled attempt to portray this new Major as vulnerable by resorting to the cliche tactic of having her naked, there is absolutely no reason for the behind-the-frosted-glass-door strip that occurs before it.

Commander Busty, or alternatively, the Breasts With No Name. The Major's commanding officer is not, so near as I can tell, even given a name. Instead, she's given cleavage, and a shirt that apparently cannot be buttoned above her navel. Or maybe the army just doesn't have shirts that fit her.  Granted, my own experiences with the military are limited to four years of JROTC and a year on scholarship, but I seem to recall more staid uniforms being regulation. Again, she is not named. She is just the BWNN who commands the Major's unit.

Motoko's bra. This should almost be it's own character, it's on screen so often. When she's not naked in cyberspace - which she is in every single such scene, knees clasped to chest, probably again meant to invoke "vulnerability" - she apparently has no clothes to wear aside from her uniform. (Wait, maybe this also explains the BWNN's own outfit issues. Future Japan's military doesn't know how to provide clothes to it's female soldiers.) So when she's not in uniform, she's in her underwear. This leads to a number of fan-service scenes. 

I might object less if it was at least a sport bra, but it's clearly some strappy black thing. Okay, again, the animators are teenage boys who know nothing about breasts or bras, but still, a quick Google search... actually, come to think of it, that's probably what caused this problem in the first place.

Also, and it may just be me, but I swear the Major's breasts are bigger when she's just in a bra. Maybe her uniform is really binding? Hard to say.

The Lolita landmines, or rather the mobile, robotic landmines, that from a military purpose seem absolutely useless for the battlefield unless you're fighting a war at a lollicon convention.

And those are just the things that stand out on the first viewing...

Admittedly, Stand Alone Complex had it's own issues with the Major and sexuality, to say nothing of the original manga, and in the first season of GITS: SAC she was dressed in that same ludicrous outfit you'll see if you bother to Google-search her. And there were the highly sexual overtones of that episode with the nurse, just to name a particular incident. But by the second season, they'd dressed her in a more practical outfit, and by and large it did not seem a series devoted to fanwank.

Arise, on the other hand...

It's sloppy storytelling, needless hyper-sexualizing, and unfortunately symptomatic of larger cultural problems within a number of communities, from comics to games to movies and television. (Star Trek: Into Darkness, I'm looking at you.) Maybe I'm just more aware of the gratuitous placement of women in skimpy outfits now that my daughter is nearly at her teen years, or maybe it's just that it's become such an overwhelming tide that it's impossible not to notice it anymore.

Anime and manga are probably the wrong places to look to start stemming that tide, but as this version came out of the same studio that, in the last incarnation, had the audacity to (in the second season, anyway) clothe the Major in not the thigh-high boots and garters but an actual functional outfit and an overcoat, of all things, there was at least a precedent to hope for here.

While it may not be fair to hold Arise to higher expectations than the culture, as a whole, and anime in particular seems incapable of lately, it has to start somewhere. And maybe starting in an arena that has a bad reputation for how it handles (or more accurately manhandles) women, might send the message that this is something that has to change.

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