Hallelujah, anime fans rejoice! “Ghost in the Shell,” the first in a long line of live-action anime adaptations, premiered last Friday in theaters.
“Ghost in the Shell” is the story of Major, a military agent for sector 9 who helps defend the city from terrorists. On her latest mission, she encounters a terrorist who is killing those who helped create her. His reason for doing so is unclear to the audience and to Major until halfway through the story. As the plot develops, the audience gets drawn into a story about the ethics behind putting human brains in synthetic bodies and about using unethical practices in experiments on live subjects. The visuals and other unique features enhance the movie and make it a more compelling story and an adequate anime adaptation.
The original anime is considered a cult classic among fans, but the movie is more than just a remake of a classic. The success of the film could mean more widespread interest in anime as a whole.
If “Ghost in the Shell” succeeds, it will also begin a transition from the stigma that surrounds anime in the Western part of the world to what current anime fans see when they watch the shows.
In the Western half of the world, especially the U.S., anime is seen as a medium that targets only children. Cartoons are considered childish because they are usually targeted towards kids; Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney, among other companies, make cartoons for younger audiences, though millennials and some adults still enjoy them. There are exceptions to the rule, however. Companies such as FX, Comedy Central and Adult Swim, among others, have made cartoons with mature humor to target an older audience, creating South Park, Archer and Rick and Morty. Once you understand what affects the perception Western audiences have for cartoons, you will see how the success of this film will lead to changing the stigma associated with anime.
Did the film successfully change the stigma?
I must make it clear that it has been a long while since I’ve seen the original, so I am reviewing based on the perspective of an anime fan but not as someone who can compare the two.
Audiences who either like anime or have interest in the film will not be disappointed. The film has many enjoyable aspects as a whole; from the use of colors, unique storyline, action, and cool uses of CGI and camera techniques, it culminates in a mostly enjoyable escapist feature.
The stories translation of the previous film into a colorful CGI-filled wonderland reminds me of the Total Recall remake. The society is similar with an excessive focus on technologyas we are taken to a New York or Tokyo-like place filled with large holograms and large numbers of people walking around with modifications to themselves to improve their lives.
The story also depicts a large corporation and the government funding the development and use of new technology. The heavy use of CGI and the color scheme used in the film felt appropriate and added to the fantastical nature of the show. But “Ghost in the Shell” was not overshadowed by the cool special effects and CGI; their use only enhanced the film and didn’t overshadowed the feature.
The storyline was also well developed, though it didn’t completely satisfy me by the end. In the movie, there is a fight sequence in the water that offers some cool choreographed moments, but it felt drawn out in a way that the editor could’ve cut down the sequence and provided more backstory into the creation of the synthetic shells or some other aspect of the future that might draw the audience in more.
More character development could’ve helped the film as well, since the focus was on Major, but it didn’t feel like everything about her was explained by the end. We learn about her past and current situation, but she quickly finds her mom and they appear to accept each other without enough development prior. How did others know about her past? How did the medication really affect her memories? All of these answers were barely acknowledged in the film. In a movie that delves into the ethics of a somewhat dystopian future, I would’ve loved to hear more about how this world works and everything in it. Instead, the audience is forced to accept everything as black and white and that, in and of itself, falls flat.
Another aspect of the film that might seem off is the acting. Specifically, Scarlett Johansson is very monotone throughout most of the film and shows little emotion. When characters say she is human in some aspect, was it a creative decision to have her show little emotion since she only has a human brain? I thought that was the case, as towards the end it feels more like the character starts to develop more emotion. Regardless, having her as one of the few characters to truly express emotion was somewhat disappointing and I would have preferred that the acting was better on her part.
The last thing about this movie is the fact that prior to filming, every anime fan was up in arms about the so-called whitewashing of the main heroine. While an actress like Rinko Kikuchi from Pacific Rim could have filled the role, the decision to pick Scarlett Johansson was not wrong. I was against it at first and thought that there was a perfect actress since I loved Rinko’s role in Pacific Rim. But, after seeing the film, I felt the color identity did very little to affect the film’s story.
It’s a big issue to change the character from an Asian woman to a white woman, but a large reason for Hollywood to do this is for relatability. The target audience is a mostly white demographic and most of the highest paid actors are also white. They found a good action star to fulfill the role, and someone like Scarlett who has had success as Black Widow in the Marvel universe was the perfect fit for the director. Though I can understand the outcries against whitewashing in this film and Hollywood as a whole, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference for the financial outcome of this film.
Did the movie succeed in potentially bringing a new audience to see anime?
I think the film was a good start and we should be seeing more live action adaptations of anime, along with the Netflix “Death Note” movie. The movie had flaws here and there, but I was fully entertained throughout and only lost interest when a fight scene appeared to take too long and got excessive. The film as a whole should attract more people to websites like Crunchyroll, Funimation and VRV to see what else there is in the world of anime that might interest them if they enjoyed “Ghost in the Shell.”
If the film ends up successful, then it is possible that we could see more anime adaptations in the future. Franchises like Marvel, “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” have seen success in their adaptations, but the U.S. has done very little to tap into the manga and anime reserves which are full of interesting characters and stories that can attract a U.S. audience. Personally, some of the franchises I’d like to see adapted are “Fairy Tail,” “Attack on Titan” and “Akame Ga Kill.” Each of those stories offers a unique fantasy storyline that audiences in the U.S. would enjoy. I know Benedict Cumberbatch had done a photo shoot as Spike Spiegel from Cowboy BeBop, so there is also a chance for anime fans to get a live action adaptation of that franchise. And with a big name like Benedict Cumberbatch, there would be a large number of fans seeing the film because of their love for the actor.
As a whole, Ghost in the Shell is not the anime adaptation that dedicated fans of the original may want, but it is the one that general audiences deserve. It’s a new venture for the West to delve into after the failure of the “Dragonball Z” movie, and I’m looking forward to “Death Note” and other ventures that might prove to the West that anime isn’t just for children.
Collegian Nerdy News blogger Kevin Avis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.