Ghost in the Shell the film is great. It’s a well constructed, easily approachable yet deeply intellectually rewarding, only somewhat pretentious anime film that’s gotten well-earned acclaim worldwide, both from otaku and a general audience. It’s sort of amazing in every way, and hell, it looks awesome too! The manga, on the other hand, shows just the type of creator Masamune Shirow is.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. His name’s Masamune Shirow. That’s not his birth name, that’s Masanori Ota. This is a manga artist who modeled his pen name to Japan’s most recognized historical swordsmith. Add in the enormous amount of hentai Masamune’s career started, and it appears will end, with, and you get a picture of a creator much closer to Go Nagai than to Hayao Miyazaki. The fact that he is the original creator behind one of the best anime films, help one of the best sic-fi films, ever is sorta hard to believe.
But let’s look a little more are what the Ghost in the Shell manga says about its creator. In a lot of ways, the Go Nagai comparison is a little unjust. Masamune isn’t pure creative id, just drawing whatever gets him off in a given moment (or, at least, he wasn’t). He is a true damn artist, but much unlike Miyazaki, he’s the kind of artist who creates more for himself and his own imagination’s satisfaction, than for the audience, society, or the medium in which he works. I haven’t read the bulk of his work, but Ghost in the Shell at least clearly means a lot more to him than it could to any reader.
The biggest thing is the amount of detail in his science fiction world. In GitS, Masamune elaborates in near atomic detail every aspect of how the technology of his story works. In the first book there’s a scene where characters go through every step of how cybernetic bodies are manufactured. This is mirrored in the opening of the film, but not with nearly the same level of detail. It includes to what extent the human element does, and potentially can, remain in the inorganic casing; the materials used; the drying process; and some kind of electromagnetic mumbo jumble that reminds me how paint is applied to cars. It even has a bunch of Masamune’s own notes in the margins about when and how this technology developed, and which parts have already been sort of explored in the real world.
And speaking of Masamune’s personal notes in his work, my god he makes a lot of notes. He needs every tiny detail to be filled out. Again in book 1, there’s a scene where Major Motoko Kusanagi and Batou are driving towards a mission. Batou is driving, and The Major (and, speaking of idiosyncratic mangaka, the term “The Major” has really been redefined since Hellsing) is polishing her guns in the back or something. Throughout the scene they talk about the mission, and more world building stuff, and probably some obscure but fascinating epistemology too, because that’s what Ghost in the Shell is.
The scene cuts, and in the next one we see The Major now driving. A small detail most people would overlook, and those that do catch it wouldn’t give it any significant thought. But apparently they should have, because Masamune sure did! In yet another note, he explains that, in the time between the scenes, The Major finished her gun maintenance and Batou had to wash his, so they switched places, all the while talking about how we’re all in a mass delusion regarding the existence to true sentience or something, probably. At the end of the note Masamune explains that the scene wasn’t important, and that’s why he didn’t bother illustrating it. And yet it was important enough to show The Major and Batou had switched places, and explain it. Yeah right, he didn’t illustrate it; I bet Masamune has the pages somewhere in his personal collection!
The point of this cut scene is, there’s a lot more going on in GitS than Masamune bothered to show us. The world, as it exists in his mind, is much larger than the world as it exists on paper. He wasn’t creating something for an audience. He created something for his own personal creative fulfilment, and adapted it (a little lazily) for an audience, and accompanied it to his distinctive art style.
Book 1 ran for a little over a year, 1989-1990, and, rather than continue it when Masamune picked the franchise back up a year later, he decide to make book 2 a distinct separate series. It was serialized from 1991-1997, otherwise known as the backend of Masamune’s career as a story manga author, and the start of his wonderful new career as that guy who now draws porn but once made some good shit.
I don’t really get what happened with Masamune here. See, many mangaka start by drawing hentai and doujinshi, and I guess Masamune felt like he missed out or something, and decided to devote the rest of his life to that. The man was on top of the manga world, with some of the best-selling works at the time, and a guarantee that anything he made would get a movie adaptation. Granted, there’s more to the man’s life than manga. He studied oil painting, which he now teaches, at the Osaka University of Art, where he now teaches. My take is that manga was a thing for him for a while, but ultimately not what he wanted to focus his career on long term. He kept up the erotic drawing as a hobby, and since he used to be a big deal it attracted undue scrutiny.
Also, since we are talking about Ghost in the Shell, I would be remiss not to mention that the lesbian sex scene controversy. There, I mentioned it.
Anyway, book 2 is set about four and a half years after the original. On the first page, before the story starts, Masamune explains that it’s very different from the original. He, for some time, considered changing the last kanji of the title to reflect this, but in the end didn’t. He apologizes to fans who expected more tales of the Section 9 police.
He’s right, Ghost in the Shell 2 is, in significant ways, different from the original. But some things never change. One and a half pages in, we have a big author’s note explaining the background behind a neuro-spiritual religious organization. A few pages later we have another one on a new political movement of “determinists”. He shows two recon drones flying near each other to scout an area, and notes that realistically they should spread out to be effective, but look cooler drawn together.
In the same page where he warns fans of the series changes, the translators remark that Masamune adamantly requested that certain pages not be flipped, or the kanji altered, in the English version. Masamune has the same type of artist’s ideals with 2 as he did with 1. He doesn’t care much about the audience, in this case the foreign English audience; he cares about the work.
I’ve noticed similar eccentricities in Masamune’s other manga, like Dominion, but not nearly to the same extent as in GitS. GitS is a project of extreme artistic love. That may not always be best for the audience, the medium, or even the work itself. But Masamune demonstrates a creative approach that’s fascinating, and feels almost idealistic. Ghost in the shell is a flawed manga, and difficult as hell to read. But it’s fascinating to read Masamune through it.
Don’t Lose Your Way