Let me save you some Googling: This is Ghost in the Shell: The TV Show: The Movie. I’ve done a little searching around because despite being a big fan of the original Ghost in the Shell (or, “GITS” from here on in) movie, that’s basically where my knowledge of the franchise ended – and I wanted at least a basic scaffolding of context before diving in. So let’s break it down:
GITS was released in 1995, based on a manga series. Then nothing happened for a long time. And then in 2004 we got sequel film GITS 2: Innocence (not to be confused with 2008’s GITS 2.0, which was basically the original movie re-released with some improved animation). The same year saw TV show GITS: Stand Alone Complex, which also had its own feature length companion GITS: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society released in 2005.
Now this bit is relevant to us, so pay attention. In 2013, TV series GITS: Arise happened. You might have also heard of GITS: Arise – Alternative Architecture, which is the same as Arise, except the five 50-minute episodes are split into 10 shorter ones for easier TV scheduling.
GITS: The New Movie (the subject of this review, in case you’ve lost track), is a continuation of Arise which is kind of a prequel to the original GITS. Phew. Having said all that, it’s my opinion that no matter what a film is based on, rebooting, sequelling or prequelling, it should be able to function as a stand-alone title. I’m really testing that theory here, approaching this one while being two movies and two TV shows behind.
However, the story seems contain a thick syrup of assumed prior knowledge. The New Movie serves as a feature length final episode to Arise, and I felt a bit out of the loop during the frequent dialogue-heavy scenes. But then, movies like this always make me feel like an idiot. When characters are named things like The Major or Chief Whatever or other military titles, and there is a mix of fictional tech-jargon and political issues flying around, I get lost. It takes me back to that first time I watched Mission: Impossible as a kid, spending the whole movie waiting for something to make sense. If you can’t relate to my numbskullery, maybe you’ve got the intellect required to enjoy The New Movie on its own.
A lot of the concepts and themes mirror the original – not in a lazy storytelling way, but in a consistent universe way. Thanks to strong memories of 1995’s GITS, in a broad strokes way I had an idea of what to expect, which really helped out with my deficiencies as described above. The solid foundation of aesthetics and ideologies served as a reminder to why GITS cemented itself as a classic, an anime gateway drug to many Westerners who wouldn’t have previously considered delving into the genre as a whole.
The animation is very slick, especially in the expertly choreographed action sequences. The style does fall flat a little in the less energetic scenes, but facial features are detailed and expressive enough to hold interest. Voice acting is compelling and varied. The soundtrack is a bit 90s or early 00s EDM, but it fits the GITS universe like a glove. The audio is also mixed really well – whether on standard TV speakers or with decent headphones, I didn’t have to adjust the volume between dialogue and action scenes – something I’ve found myself having to do with other titles a lot. All the basics are there – all the technical aspects are of a high quality.
For all its good points, GITS: The New Movie is still strictly a fans-only affair, because its story is so heavily informed by previous instalments. It also contains a lot of fanservice. I don’t mean in the usual cleavage and upskirts that “fanservice” is usually shorthand for in this genre. I mean, this film is very heavy on referencing the original GITS, often pretty blatantly. Self-referencing can be done well, and sometimes franchises strike it perfectly. This time, it’s a bit like that buddy who noticed he could get a laugh with a well-timed Simpsons quote, and now he’s shoe-horning “eat my shorts” into every conversation. The New Movie could have really benefited from pulling its foot of the gas a little in this respect, allowing just a few nostalgic moments to really shine. With each original-echoing moment, this film also reminds us of just how unique that first film was, and just how much this one, while being a sincere love-letter to it, can’t touch the timeless classic it so badly wants to reflect.
All-in-all, GITS: TNM is an enjoyable ride, even if I was lost a lot of the time. For anyone who has kept up with the GITS offerings more than me, particularly with the Arise series, I would call this an absolute necessity. For anime enthusiasts who aren’t caught up, the Blu-ray package includes a pretty nifty 25 minute catcher-upper, something I probably should have watched before the film instead of after. The Blu-ray also features two other short docos “Inside the World of Ghost in the Shell Part 2” and “25 Years Reviewed in 25 Minutes”. All three are in Japanese with English subs, and make a good and informative watch. My interest in GITS has been rekindled, and luckily there’s still time to consume all the bits I’ve missed before the live action feature releases next year.