There’s a new Koukaku Kidoutai series in town, the Netflix-funded Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, which continues the adventures of Major Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa, Section Chief Aramaki, and of course, those adorable Tachikoma “think tanks.” Being a huge fan of the groundbreaking 1995 film (which gave the world “bullet time”) as well as both outstanding Stand Alone Complex series, I was excited that we were getting a new Ghost in the Shell series…before I learned that it was one of the “CGI anime” series I so often dislike. My disappointment was immeasurable and my day was ruined.
Or was it? Is it possible for an anime franchise that has already existed in a “proper” 2D anime form to win over a cynical old-school fan like me? Keep reading and see!
Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 Story
The year is 2045, 15 years after the events of the original Stand Alone Complex series, and the world has experienced an economic disaster known as the Simultaneous Global Default, which destroyed the value of all money. In order to keep the economy going, the “Big 4” nations have been engaged in an endless “sustainable” war with each other, and the former members of Public Security Section 9 are now mercenaries, selling their services the various entities. Eventually Chief Aramaki returns to call the old team back for one last mission.
As I’ve written before, I’m generally not charitable to the trend of trying to replace classic hand-drawn animation with the “cel-look” CGI animation used in series like the newest Sakura Wars (to pick one example). It generally triggers my “uncanny valley” response, and as a fan I want to support artists who create works I find worthy of that support. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “We choose to draw manual 2D animation…we choose to draw manual 2D animation and create storyboards and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” All too often, CGI anime feels like “cheating,” and makes me respect the studios less.
There are exceptions — I positively loved BEASTARS, and have no problem with CGI anime that create their own unique style, such as Land of the Lustrous or High Score Girl both do. I understand there will always be areas of a production that’s better served by CGI animation. But when CGI tries to re-create traditional moe characters and animation, it becomes hard to accept.
Right off the bat, SAC_2045 starts doing what the Ghost in the Shell series does best, showing our characters doing battle inside their futuristic world in ways that open our minds about what kinds of things might one day be possible in our world. This includes a battle in a semi-devastated postwar Palm Springs, California, which was not something I ever expected to see.
While it took a while to warm up to the CGI animation, in the end the incredible action in the new #GhostintheShell #SAC_2045 finally succeeded in winning me over. Just check out this scene from episode 6!
(Spoiler warnings apply.) pic.twitter.com/sy0MZY91hD
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) May 27, 2020
In the end, it took a while, but the combination of high production values, incredible action, and the interesting cyberpunk concepts the series presented managed to win me over. They were careful not to mess up the GitS universe by retroactively adding in modern smartphones and iPads — since they did not exist in the original works, they’d look out of place here — and have told an entertaining story so far.
Six Seven Generations of Ghost in the Shell
So we now have six iterations of the popular cyberpunk series:
- The original manga by Shirow Masamune, which established the characters and the dystopian world.
- The outstanding Mamoru Oshii 1995 film which was extremely influential, inspiring the Wachowskis to create The Matrix and making the world take notice of anime in new ways.
- The Stand Alone Complex series from 2002 and 2005, which are my personal favorite entries in the series.
- Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which marks the return of Mamoru Oshii to the series. Like all his works, it’s long and cerebral and not for everyone, but I love his meticulous approach to world-building.
- Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie, something I missed entirely. I’ll have to go watch it now. I also managed to completely miss Arise, whoops!
- This new SAC_2045 work, which has been surprisingly good so far. Especially that incredible opening song!
The Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 OP is very ‘meta,’ containing an apology to fans about why they opted to go the CGI animation route.
In short, “Money makes the world go round.” pic.twitter.com/Nnss3vYy56
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) May 27, 2020
The Problem with Netflix and Amazon-Funded Anime
While I’m extremely happy to have new sources of funding for anime from Netflix and Amazon since any development that gives more money to the animators I love is a good thing, one observation J-List’s anime figure buyer made is that Netflix-funded anime rarely result in figures or other products for J-List or other anime shops to sell, and in general don’t have a “long tail” that allows anime fans to enjoy the work over many years, compared with more organically-created anime series.
Sometimes this “Netflix short tail” problem is caused by the business model of streaming, which prefers to dump a whole series online at once so fans can binge it and get more addicted to the platform. One such anime was Relife, about a company that lets people return to high school and re-live a year of their lives over again, which totally failed to make a splash because it came out all at once on Netflix, rather than one episode per week.
There’s another problem with the Netflix business model. While it’s good that ubiquitous streaming allows us to conveniently watch the content we want to watch, cutting down on piracy and allowing creators to receive money for their work, having a series in the “Netflix jail” means it’s very hard for fans to get screenshots or short video clips that might be used to pull in other fans with memes. I actively use these kinds of short videos and memes to pull new fans into a given show on social media, but when a series is locked down to a single platform, it’s much harder to do. And if fans aren’t making memes of your anime in 2020, you’ve got a popularity problem.
Well that’s my overview of the new Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 anime film now showing on Netflix. Are you watching it, or plan to? Give us your thoughts below!
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