This is by no means a apologist letter to how Ghost in the Shell is being treated by critics. But given the kind of material, you can somewhat understand the logic as to why the movie turned out this way. It was tight-roping between the hard core fans who are expecting something deep as the anime got vs. an at-large audience who need to be introduced into the world of GiTS quickly within the limit of 2 hours or so.
SPOILERS AHEAD. DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.
First, let’s put this Asian casting issue to rest. The movie is out, so there’s nothing much we can complain about it. What I can share at this point are some opinions coming from a fan of the franchise for more than a decade. What I loved about Ghost in the Shell is that juxtaposition of solid action sequences with the philosophical questions about human-machine interaction and existentialism. For those new to the movie, this anime was the precursor to alot of more quickly know franchises such as the Matrix. Urban legend has it, the Wachowskis was showing off this movie as they were pitching for their trilogy.
The difficult yet core part about the original anime is wrestling with the philosophical questions against the action sequences. Ghost in the Shell was a slow burn, and took awhile before it gained traction among anime fans through word of mouth. To introduce this to a new audience at the same time satisfy the needs of the core fans presents as the challenge. What happened was dial down the mind games, and up the visual treat in the hopes that it would appeal on both sides. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a walk in the park.
At this point, I didn’t hate the movie, but at the same time, I didn’t blow my mind away as much as the anime did. During long breaks, I never failed to re-watch any of the movies or series to get my fix. Even though I can narrate the plot lines from memory, it was still a treat getting reacquainted with them every now and then.
I guess the few misgivings I have about this movie were..
- The skimming through of the plots from various parts of the anime franchise just for the sake of visual fan service. It was fun at first getting to catch the references from the original movie, Innocence, Individual Eleven, and Puppet Master all mashed into single flick. There lies the double-edged sword… each individual plot served to push a greater story within their respective arcs. I enjoyed them visually, but from a story-telling standpoint, I found it quite lacking.
- How Kuze’s character was severed from the background manipulation of Gouda. Though after watching the live action movie, I went about re-orienting myself with the Individual Eleven part of Stand Alone Complex 2nd GiG. I doubt if the casual audience would have the patience to really digest the philosophical exchange between Batou, the Major and Gouda on certain parts unless they have watched all the movies and series as part of their homework.
- The ret-conning of Batou’s background. He already had the cybernetic eyes.. not to mention.. he was also a full prosthetic like the Major from the start. So that doesn’t make the Major the first or unique.
- Other team members of Section 9 weren’t properly introduced, but that’s forgivable given the time. I did like Saito’s “cameo” with the Hawkeye in the end. A nod to his classic sniping prowess.
- The Major’s mom or parents for that matter were no where to be found in the anime. This I found weird.
- The Major and Kuze already knew each other as kids in a hospital ward from an airplane accident. Not as runaway teens in the past. I wonder why they had to change the origin story. I guess to make it within time frame again?
- The opening de-shelling sequence should’ve been laced with music from the original, and not used it as an ending credit music.
- The boat scene should’ve had the San Miguel Beer product placement if Rupert wanted to put that much detail in his homage! But that’s just me.
But yeah, with that said… I would still be adding this to my video collection of Ghost in the Shell. At least good to know Hollywood is starting to mine some outlying franchises. Now, about that live-action Macross…
Edit (04.07.17): It’s rare in Hollywood to see an anime adaptation make it well (e.g. Edge of Tomorrow). Probably the biggest divide Western producers have between any anime source material is looking at them only from their lens and not from the perspective of the original creator or intentions. Anime adaptations are such an alluring prospective property for them seeing all the attention and the potentials. But as long as they are not letting go of their habits in understanding “foreign” material to them, Hollywood would never make a decent anime live-action film. Like moths to a flame, their attempts get them burned at the end.