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In the year 2027, a year following the end of the non-nuclear World War IV, a bomb has gone off in Newport City, killing a major arms dealer who may have ties with the mysterious 501 Organization. Public Security official Daisuke Aramaki hires full-body cyber prosthesis user and hacker extraordinaire, Motoko Kusanagi, to investigate. On the case with her are “Sleepless Eye” Batou, who believes Kusanagi is a criminal, Niihama Prefecture Detective Togusa who is investigating a series of prostitute murders he believes are related to the incident, and Lieutenant Colonel Kurtz of the 501 Organization who also wishes to keep an eye on Kusanagi.
A return to one of the properties that made their reputation for high-quality anime, Production IG's reboot of Ghost in the Shell draws once again on Masamune Shirow's trademark fusion of philosophical and technological speculation, police procedural drama and action. Steering away from the stories established in either Shirow's manga, Mamoru Oshii's acclaimed films or the two Stand Alone Complex TV series, the four-part Arise OVA promises a hitherto unexplored origin story of sorts for Public Security Section 9, as the characters' younger incarnations butt heads and form uneasy alliances on a disparate series of cases.
With the familiar cast introduced for the most part in the first episode, chief director Kazuchika Kise and writer Tow Ubukata – both newcomers to the series – put Kusanagi and company through their paces in the kind of elaborate, frenetic and high-stakes scenarios for which GitS is justly famous. Military and political corruption, bureaucratic politics, murky cutting-edge technological research, the untrustworthy nature of electronic memory and interventions from a shady emergent artificial intelligence all mix into a heady blend, with extra attentiveness required to follow the plot as characters rapidly switch allegiances; the reliably loyal relationships of SAC's Section 9 are nowhere in evidence in these first two episodes.
Arise initially seems intent on setting itself apart from the series' earlier iterations, as expressed in the bold redesign of Motoko Kusanagi, one of Japanese animation's most iconic figures; her Amazonian cyborg physique reconfigured as a waifish adolescent, befitting a younger and less polished character. The familiar positioning of Kusanagi for the audience as frequently nude or underclothed renders this more youthful presentation faintly uncomfortable, however.
Despite the veneer of newness and the array of novel talent on display – both English and Japanese voice roles have been fully recast – Arise seems oddly reluctant to do anything radically different with the GitS concept, staying fairly close to the procedural formula established in SAC. Writer Ubukata, having displayed his own considerable debt to cyberpunk manga in general and GitS in particular with Mardock Scramble, turns in a serviceable script but ends up recycling too many of Shirow's concepts in quick succession, creating an over-familiar air.
On the strength of these first two episodes, Arise is a welcome return to the Ghost in the Shell universe – with some eerie imagery and enjoyably kinetic action sequences to tempt the long-term fan back – but has little new to offer. Here's hoping the remaining two episodes manage to do something more novel with the premise.
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