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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2045

Last weekend Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2045 hit Netflix, and yes, that's an absolute mouthful, so from here on out I'll be abbreviating titles as SAC and 2045 respectively. If you don't know what Ghost in the Shell is, it's a Japanese Cyberpunk media franchise filled with many different offshoots. It started as a manga by Masamune Shiro, and it generally follows the activities of a counter-terrorist unit, Public Security Section 9. The most well-known piece of media is the 1995 film directed by Mamoru Oshii. The film is both an anime and a science fiction classic, and if you're a fan of either you should check it. I talked about it a bit before in my rundown of Cyberpunk media.

Stand Alone Complex (SAC) was a TV series that aired when I was in high school. It takes place in an alternate continuity from the film but has the same characters. But, since it had 52 episodes, there was a lot more time to unpack the world and flesh out the characters, and it's my favorite incarnation of the universe. The last time we saw this version of these characters was the made-for-TV movie SAC: Solid State Society in 2006. Since then there was a new OVA series, and a live action film starring Scarlet Johansson, both of which take place in their own continuity.

2045 picks up in… well… 2045, roughly a decade after SSS. The world economy has collapsed, fiat currency is utterly worthless (just like real life) and multiple national governments are sustaining small private wars to keep the economy going. A handful of former Section 9 members are working as mercenaries for hire in Southern California, that's where we start.

I keep thinking how to review this, and its honestly kind of difficult for me because I'm not sure if I can be totally objective. Personally, I liked this a LOT, but the only anime series I love more than SAC is Cowboy Bebop, so I'm admittedly biased. Furthermore, I like characters and I find the world interesting. I don't know how well someone who hasn't seen the original series will follow 2045. It's not that its super continuity heavy, or that the plot is difficult to follow, jumping ahead a decade gives the creative team a lot of leeway there. What I think might throw newcomers off is that 2045 assumes you already know who these characters are and don't need an introduction to every character, who they are and what they do. Why does the guy twice the size of everyone else always defer to the lady with purple hair? What's up with Saito's eye? Why is it a big deal that Togusa's divorced? Did you notice that Batou is back to the buzzcut? I know all these things, but a newcomer probably won't.

Furthermore, this series moves at a very brisk pace, much more so than the original series. I'm guessing that's because of the format. SAC had two 26-episode seasons, 2045 has 12, so it doesn't have the time to have stand-alone episodes that explore someone's backstory or to deal with an eccentric businessman who has stuffed his brain into a box with legs. 2045 has no filler, and the closest thing we get to a breather episode still contains a vital bit of worldbuilding and information that comes into play later. Without going into spoilers, we do eventually learn about the economic crash and the devastation its wreaked.

Like the original series, 2045 explores a host of political themes, and I think most fans will appreciate that like the original held a mirror to issues back in 2004, 2045 holds up a mirror to current anxieties. There's the crashed economy, which has spiraled out of control and is destroying all the but the ultra-rich (which makes a nice parallel to the current Covid-19 pandemic and its economic destruction), the dangers of social media, refugees and the loss of national identity and sovereignty. The last one plays a very large role especially. Immigration and refugees were an issue tackled in the first series, but it's even more charged now. Furthermore, and perhaps a little too on the nose, there's the fear that Japan is being ruled by a Prime Minister who is actually a puppet of the American Empire (the truth of which I won't spoil).

I loved this, and thoroughly enjoyed my return to the world of SAC. I won't lie, I'm not crazy about the change from cel-animation to complete 3D CGI, I'd have much preferred the original style of animation. But the world and characters are so compelling that I was able to overlook it. Honestly, what stuck out the most to me wasn't the animation, it's that the Major is a much warmer character than previously, presumably because of her friendship (more?) with Batou.

Netflix has already greenlit a second season, so on behalf of all the non-cyborgs out there, let me be the first to say welcome back Major.

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