Have Your Say: What's Your Best Major?

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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Have Your Say: What's Your Best Major?
When Scarlett Johansson was announced as the lead in Rupert Sanders' live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, people had issues with her suitability for the role. And now that the film has been released, opinions are divided. Whitewashing issues aside, some feel that her interpretation of Major Motoko Kusanagi is not true to the character.

That in itself opens a whole other can of worms though, as the Major has been portrayed in quite a few different ways already. In Masamune Shirow's original graphic novels, the Major is a mercenary on contract with Government forces, a confident (sometimes arrogant) leader of a team of specialists. She also has a penchant for jokes, booze, drugs and gleefully experiments with debauchery. Her past and gender are a secret for everyone, the reader included, and some characters hint she was born a guy, switching bodies at will and currently using a young female body for convenience.

That's an awfully big contrast with the Major as portrayed in Oshii Mamoru's 1995 anime film. With full support by Shirow to change whatever he wanted, Oshii re-created Kusanagi with an older look, a melancholy contemplative disposition, and stuck in a trap. She's unable to quit her job as that would mean having her memories of secret missions deleted, and she fears that would change her identity, the life lessons she's learned. She toys with death as a possible release, and when a cybercriminal offers her a way out, she takes it.

While the film was a darker, more thoughtful take on Shirow's source material, it still managed to include a lot of impressive technical designs and kick-ass action scenes. In the television series Stand-Alone Complex the focus shifted from philosophy to "cool action", and with it came a new Major Motoko Kusanagi, one with purple hair, red eyes and occasionally wearing bizarre fan-service outfits. She now also had a backstory: a dying child who could only be saved by having her brain put in a new mechanical body. This Kusanagi is very much a woman-on-a-mission, moody at times but mostly intent on cracking the case and getting her opponent down.

Recently we saw another reboot with the Arise series of OVAs. We get a younger Kusanagi (not even a major yet) who learns and shows she's ready to play with the bigger guns, more a talented teenager than a seasoned professional. You might think it a prequel to Stand-Alone Complex, if not for some distinct changes in the backstories, especially Motoko Kusanagi's own.

Each of these interpretations take place in mutually exclusive universes, and each has its own distinct Kusanagi. Therefore I can't fault the live-action version for doing a re-invention of the character once again, though I do think it's a shame they went with yet another Robocop story.

But after this big intro, let's go for the question of the week. Which version of Motoko Kusanagi do you like best? Chime in, in the comments below, and HAVE YOUR SAY!


(The picture above shows the animated ones in chronological order: Shirow's manga is on the left, then we get Oshii's film version, then Stand-Alone Complex and Arise is on the right)
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omnisemantic1April 4, 2017 11:08 AM

I massively disagree with the whole "In the television series Stand-Alone Complex the focus shifted from philosophy to "cool action"" statement.

Quite on contrary - I think that S.A.C. went much deeper in the philosophical realm as unlike the 1995 film it didn't just present certain issues to the viewer, gracefully as that film may have, but provided a very engaging way of weaving all its key narratives around philosophy and social science.

The exploration of concepts like S.A.C. in imploded, highly networked societies; the second-order simulacra in the face of TLM resulting from that cyberbrain sclerosis research, or the unwritten post-marxist essays behind the Individual Eleven in the 2nd gig; the Theseus paradox, inherent in the act of augmenting human beings; the emergent properties of consciousness that developed over time in the Tachikomas and Kuze's refugee "hive"...

There's tons of mind-boggling ideas there and the fact that the series manages to develop them fully (for those who pay attention at least) while leaving the impression of being an "action show" is nothing short of brilliant.

Anyway if it wasn't clear, for me Kamiyama's version of GITS is by far the best one and that includes his Motoko ^^

Ard VijnApril 4, 2017 12:03 PM

Oh, S.A.C sure had no shortage of ideas, and like the X-files it danced pretty between one-off episodes and the intelligent central storylines. But for the films I see the focus as "philosophy - great world design - brilliant action", while for S.A.C I see the focus as "brilliant action in a great world - opportunities for philosphy".

Both the films and the S.A.C series were exceptionally successful in achieving their goals.

ManateeAdvocateApril 4, 2017 12:07 PM

I prefer the original manga because that's where it all started for me. I have no issues with any of the anime versions though. Love them all.

I have no plans to see the live action flick.

omnisemantic1April 4, 2017 1:45 PM

Darqentires is on point here.
1995 GitS is a quiet and subdued experience and creates this tangible feeling of depth, but really all it boils down to is "What does it mean to be human? We will never truly know..."
S.A.C. not only has cool ideas - it makes a coherent case study for each and resolves them in the context of its setting. These are no mere opportunities - this is the very core of the series, but as it's execution is often loud and explosive, and shifts between all kinds of episodes, characters, and subplots, so I understand why you would see the focus differently, but this is simply not the case...

DarqentriesApril 4, 2017 1:51 PM

The original anime film was very good, and its philosophical elements added an air of sophistication that almost seemed to validate the anime genre for its many fans. However, I'll also say that this philosophical elements, upon further review, were heavy handed/too on the nose, and served to only be a mediation on the implications of A.I. in only the most obvious ways. I do not blame the creators, because its a massive topic with many nuances, I blame the time constraints of feature anime movies.

Ultimately, for me, the original movie's time constraints did not allow the movie to fully develop its ideas, and the time it did take to develop its ideas, seemed to come at the expense of its glue- Action, and character development.

This last point is key. While it is obvious that the Major is a cool bad-ass in the original anime movie, I would argue that without S.A.C, we never would have gotten to fully appreciate just what makes her such an amazing character, possibly the most well written female character in anime. S.A.C took the character, and crafted a world and character support group that allowed the Major realize her full potential.

To take it one step further, I'll say that S.A.C. did a much better job (or at least a more satisfying job) of incorporating philosophical elements into its story than the original movie. I got to believe that this probably can be attributed to the fact that S.A.C. had more time to tell its story arcs. Regardless, the the philosophy meshed better with the action and character development in S.A.C. because there were
definitive resolutions/consequences for the philosophical concepts that were introduced in S.A.C, whereas the original movie just put there them out there and left them hanging. Also, S.A.C had the advantage of bouncing the implications of its philosophies over a fully developed cast of characters. This is what I mean when I say that the the philosophical elements of S.A.C are more satisfying to me.

So, to answer the original question, without S.A.C, the Major would have only been a one-shot bad ass character in the vein of Saya in Blood: The Last Vampire. It is in S.A.C where the Major reached her full potential, and for this reason, I prefer the Major in S.A.C.

ZetobeltApril 4, 2017 2:02 PM

The original manga.

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Ard VijnApril 5, 2017 5:31 AM

Interesting: over on our Facebook page, the consensus is mostly on Oshii, with asides to S.A.C.
Here, it is between the manga and S.A.C.