Battle Angel Alita (1993): Identity, Desperation and a World in Which I Wanted to Know More

    It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an anime, but I figured with “Battle Angel Alita” out I should better educate myself on the world before going in, which lead me to the OVA/Film that was made in 1993. It has been some time since I’ve reviewed an anime and I’m glad I went back to the 90s. The animation is simply stunning and the story is a brutal cyberpunk world with stakes. This story reminded me why I enjoy anime as an art and storytelling form in the first place, and just how much I miss hand drawn animation. I want this art form to come back. Hand drawn work is so underrated. The “Battle Angel Alita” anime is based on the manga by Yukito Kishiro and after watching this film I may have to check it out.

The film was directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi and supervised by Rintaro with the story written by Akinori Endo.

The film follows a Hunter Killer named Ido who finds an android in a Zalem (the floating city above) scrap heep and rebuilds her to be his daughter. He names her Gally and the story follows her relationship with the scavenger Yugo as well as clashing with her father as she wants to become a Hunter Killer and wrestles with her unknown past as she faces off against threats from Ido’s past and Yugo’s present.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Kauro Wada was the perfect artist for creating a soundtrack for this anime. He is able to create electronic reflection and also tension before and during fights. It reminds of me Vangelis’s “Blade Runner.” Both of these artists tap into the desperation of our characters but also their own disconnect as they face impossible situations. Cyberpunk naturally goes with electronic I think. I have yet to see a film that wasn’t at least competent. I also haven’t sought out awful cyberpunk films. I am also certain they exist.

The Animation – The animation is brutal. There is quite a bit of blood from whenever a character kills another. This works. I wouldn’t say it gratuitous because it fits the brutal cyberpunk dystopian world it takes place in. I also love the 90’s animation. You can see all the emotions in a character’s face, which in my experience you don’t always get with the going for stoic minimalist anime. This is a beautiful designed anime, even though it is unfinished in the story.

The Action – The action is brutal. Everything that happens has consequences. We see multiple heroes, villains and random people experience brutal deaths. This is the definition of dystopia and we aren’t hidden from that. The action lingers on kills as whichever character who is witnessing it has it sink in. The film is under an hour but every action that happens gives you time to take in what happens and what loss the character is facing. It is part of what makes this anime good.

Gally – In the just English dub this Alita. The dub I listened to kept her name as Gally so I’ll be using that in this review. She is one of the strongest parts of the story. She is seeking meaning in not knowing her past but also finding reasons to fight and to live. She goes against her “father” Ido to become a Hunter Killer, she loves and loses and she never stops fighting and growing. There is a reason the anime takes her name because drives the story. I wish it could have gotten more, as after the live-action her backstory is fascinating but the anime gives none of that rich lore.

Ido – Ido is her mentor, father and a Hunter Killer. He is the distant father dealing with baggage through most of the film but we see him open up at the end. This was a man cast from paradise/Zalem and the character we meet hasn’t accepted that fully. This is all me reading into his actions, but I don’t think he would have backed up Gally in the end if some part of him didn’t want to return home, especailly after the loss of his love when she was seeking the same thing. We don’t see him express it but the implantation is there is him wanting to return back, at least for revenge for what they did to the person he cared about most besides Gally.

Okay:

Yugo – Yugo is our love interest and I like how his naivety works. He thinks that his stealing cyborg parts will get him to Zalem, when a theme is no one can really get there. He loses his body and hte person he loves because of his obsession with this dream. I’m putting him as okay as the love story was a little fast and I didn’t see the dilemma of him being split between Gally and Zalem. That choice of choosing Gally before he dies should have meant so much more. The dub was good though. I believed he was the idealistic kid in love wanting a better life.

Vector – Vector is the main baddy and he is brutal but we never get who he is working for. Who is paying him? Is he just conning people and that is it? None of these questions are truly answered because the story is less than an hour long. He truly deserved more development. Not a con because at least he was developed enough that I got why people trusted his charm.

The Cons:

Unexplained Zalem – Zalem is never explained. It is implied a civilization might be up there, but in the dub I watched it was vague enough that the defenses could be automated. This was bad storytelling. A clear answer would have given so much more development to Yugo and Vector at the very least. The city is always present in scenes of the cityscape and is the climax of the film but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. This really hurt the overall story.

Gally’s Unknown Past – We never learn who Gally is, not a hint or anything. There was no point to this as even some detail would have given her complexity in the choices she makes beyond being a good person. Ido hints at knowing more but we never learn who she was before she was found in the trash heap. I say this as someone who thought she was one the strongest parts of this hour long long story. The main character needs some deeper development at least. Jason Bourne got more of that in his first film.

For fans of 90’s anime you should check this film out. For how much it is underdeveloped in regards to Gally’s past it gives Ido and the character dreams and conflict in the present a good exploration. This film made me see the live-action adaption, which will be a future review. Besides the animation and action, it worth seeing it for the world the characters inhabit and how they interact with it. This cyberpunk dystopian is brutal and the fact that our characters can choose to be good or are good means something. In this world choices have consequences that give weight to the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good anime, worth your time.

 

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Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Border 2: Ghost Whispers – Echoes of the Puppet Master and First Great Crisis

   “Ghost Whispers” is the second film in the “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” series and is the first great film in the re-imagining. This is a film that gives echoes of the Puppet Master from the first “Ghost in the Shell” film but also manages to keep it’s own crisis going as well as giving us some of the best action and tension in any stories from this Franchise. Suffice to say, if you like “Ghost in the Shell,” this is a film worth checking out.

    The story involves a former soldier named Soga being tried for crimes he committed during the great war, but things soon get out of control as he hacks the traffic A.I. to break open Pandora’s Box to reveal the government’s secrets. His former squad including Batou and Ishikawa and Borma are his men while the Major works with Aramaki to stop him, along with VV, an agent from America.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is once again amazing and one of my favorite parts of this Franchise. In this we see just how much is automated, from the roads, to other electronics and so much else. It is this automation that helps create the crisis in the first place.

The Crisis – The crisis involves Soga, a war criminal hacking into Pandora’s Box, the government box that holds all their secrets. The tension is high too as he does it by manipulating the programs that automate the roads and uses them to target Pandora’s Box. It takes the Major and Aramaki’s resources to stop him and reveal the plot.

The Action – The action is solid as we see the people who will be part of Section 9 facing off against one another. Batou and Soga’s unit is powerful as we see them using military tanks and weaponry against the Major and her Logicomo and things only start going her way when VV and her resources from America join them.

The Characters – The characters are once again the strongest part as we see their relationships and dynamic and how the Major becomes their leader.

Soga and his Men – Soga is someone full of guilt for what he believes he did and it is this drive to reveal the government atrocity he believed happened that makes him so malleable to the big bad in the first place. There are a few members who are a part of the conspiracy who will be part of Section 9 later, but only Batou really gets exploration.

Batou – Batou is a believer in the cause as he believes in revealing the government cover up until the Major is able to break him free from the virus he’s been infected with by the A.I. pulling the strings behind the event. In the end he joins the Major as he wants to learn his past as after the events he’s lost it all.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is the leader and we see her begin to build Section 9 as the crisis finally forces her too and gives her the option to choose her own team. It is great seeing her recruit others as well as her working with Aramaki and VV as when she works alone Soga is winning.

VV – VV is the American Special Forces agent who we learn is a rogue android seeking out her past and that is why she is trying to get into Pandora’s Box. Like the Puppet Master in the original “Ghost in the Shell,” she is A.I. who has developed consciousness. I wish we could have got more time with her, but her being the one who’d hacked and infected Sago in his team was key so stopping her way the only way to stop the crisis.

The Cons: Not Enough Character Time – Whether it was VV or Sago’s men…we needed more character time. I liked the characters but that has been a constant con in Arise. To develop characters they need time and interaction with others which so far, this series hasn’t given enough of yet.

     This is a great addition to the “Arise” series and one that made me happy about the potential for this series. It also really made me want to check out the original show again. The original show was what got me into anime and as great as this series has been, the biggest issue so far is underdevelopment of characters and ideas. This can payoff later as it does have multiple films that make up the story of the rise of the Major and Section 9. VV was such a great character who really deserved more development. Still, worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Border 1: Ghost Pain – A Conspiracy to Start the Major’s Beginnings

      “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” series is a great re-imagining of the character and series as it gives different more to each of their backstory and recruitment into Section 9 as well as giving us the story behind who the Major is and how she became the person she is. It is masterful (I’ve watched the first 2 episodes thus far, this being the first review) and I like what they’ve done. It is better than the recent live action film and the character redesigns work. If you are a fan of the anime films and the show as I am, you will no doubt appreciate this OVA. The series of films were directed by Kazuchika Kise and written by Tow Ubukata.

   “Ghost Pain’s” story involves the Major investigating the death of an arms dealer who was killed by a robotic land mine after the end of World War IV. Batou is investigating as well as he believes her to be responsible as is Detective Togusa as Colonel Kurtz of her unit the 501st is trying to stop her.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The re-imagined world is amazing! Adding the context of World War IV, and from that most cyborgs are now veterans of some sort adds a context to the character that only really came in the show later when we got character centric episode. It lended power to the world and made it interesting. It also explained the tech. as war often times leads to technological advances.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and like the show and some of the films is a mixture of 2D and 3D animation. It flows seamlessly and I enjoyed most of the character designs, even if it took a while for me to get used to the Major being in a smaller body. The characters are still themselves, they are just given a different and more context to who they are which the animation helps illustrate.

The Conspiracy – The conspiracy is fascinating and involves a member of the 501st covering up that one of their own was the one involved in the weapons dealing and in turn was infected by a “Ghost Hack,” which lead to her loss of memory, which when she realizes her unit was behind the cover-up leads to her using to gain control of her body and gain her freedom from the unit.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Ghost Pain” is no different. Each of them is given time, though what they needed was more time to make this film great.

Togusa – Togusa is the Detective who stumbles upon the area where the mines are after he is tracking the killings of prostitutes in the district. It is here he works with Batou and the Major to fight them off and take on the two officers controlling them as they than escape.

Colonel Kurtz – Kurtz is the one who repairs Kusanagi and is the closest thing she has a to a friend in her unit. There is clearly more going on with her as we learn she is behind the conspiracy at the end, so she isn’t to be trusted…but Major does because of their history. How true that will be later remains to be seen.

Batou -Batou blames Major for the death of the man who was the weapon’s dealer from her unit. He is stubborn and tough but Major is better and we see they have a history together as his Rangers worked with her unit. By the end she is proven innocent but he still doesn’t fully trust her.

Aramaki – Aramaki is the one believes in the Major and sees her potential when she figures out the trap early on, as her commander, the weapons dealer in the coffin was replaced by a living mine. By the end she somewhat accepts his help in the formation of Section 9 and we see they have a working relationship.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is a genius hacker and a bit of the black sheep in her unit as she hates being owned by them by having the artificial body she grew up in after her parents were killed when she was born from a chemical attack. She is hardened but we see her quest for knowledge as the driving force, which is the most essential part of the Major. Through the film we see her deal with the ghost pain which makes her vulnerable and freeze and the “Ghost Hack” that was done to her commander who was the weapons dealer. In finding the truth she reveals the conspiracy, which finally gives her freedom from her unit.

The Cons: Not Enough Time – Togusa and Batou both feel very underdeveloped. I put them as pros because they still feel like their characters and it is fascinating to see what they were doing before Section 9 but they could have been more fully formed. This film needed another half hour and that would have brought it to a 9.

The Need for Clearer Answers – At the end I still had questions about some of what was going on. Whether the Major’s parents had died of the chemical attack, etc. I felt we never really got that when it was okay to give a clear answer after the Logicomo was linked with the Major. The answers could have been much clearly stated.

  This animated film beats the live action film as it captures the Major perfectly, even if she is physically smaller, she still has the same personality and it is great seeing her beginnings and getting her backstory, as well as seeing that she is a hacker and that is why she is great at entering the net and dealing with giant threats later on. She is also vulnerable too and I loved the “ghost pain” idea as an inborn trauma. It gave her vulnerablity and I really loved how the episode was her quest for freedom from the 501st so she could own her own body. It was really good at the characters each feel real, even if the lack of time keeps many of them from getting as developed as they could.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Ghost in the Shell (1995): An Anime Classic and Meditation on the Nature of Identity

 “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.”

-The Major

   “Ghost in the Shell,” is one of the best anime films of all time. This is a classic that inspired a show that is one of my favorite animes and countless other films, including the live action film that was recently released and prompted this review as I wanted to compare them after I see the new film. The “Ghost in the Shell” show was the show that got me interested in anime years ago when I watched it back in High School, and having watched the film the world is still just as great as I remember it, which I’ll get into more detail with deeper into the review.

    The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, written by Kazunori Ito and produced by Yoshimasa Mizou, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and based off the manga created by Masamune Shirow.

     The story follows Major Motoko, an agent of Section 9 who is asked to asssinate a defecting diplomat by Section 6. All is not as it appears to be as the mysterious Puppet Master is hacking technology and people and implanting false lives and memories as Section 9 hunts down and seeks to uncover the conspiracy that surrounds the identity of the Puppet Master.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The cyberpunk world of “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the reasons I keep coming back to this universe. You have a world where brains can be hacked, androids are all over the place, everyone is a cyborg to varying degrees and the political factions of today still exist and political conflicts are still high as power dynamics remain the same so have extreme power inequalities in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

The Soundtrack – Kenji Kawaii created a soundtrack reminded me of “Farscape” and like “Farscape” is good at giving the world of “Ghost in the Shell” an alien detached feel where things are similar but not quite the same to our world of today. It is haunting and does a great job capturing moments of thought and action.

The Action – “Ghost in the Shell” is an action heavy anime, given it is a political cyberpunk world that follows one of the government arms (Section 9) that hunts down terrorists and enemies of the state, as well as general mysteries that are threats. The action varies as well, from a chase scene to a fight with a tank.

Section 9 – Section 9 is a fascinating organization that is a part of the government but also analyzes it as well as at one point they are facing off against Section 6. I really like the agents who are a part of this organization and want to watch the show again, to get more of their backstories.

Togusa – Togusa is the rookie in the group and the only one without any cybernetic augmentation. He is a dependable agent though and manages to survive a car crash when one of the hacked people tries to kill him.

Chief Aramaki – Aramaki is a government agent with a conscience as when he learns about Section 6’s manipulation of them and that they are targeting the Major he sends his own agents and works on prosecuting the leaders of Section 6. He is very much the detached father figure as we never see him talk beyond business, though his inflection towards others is one of closeness.

Batou – Batou is the Major’s best friend and is the every day stand in for us. While the Major is always striving for more and pushing against her limitation, Batou is comfortable in his role as agent and protector. He trusts the Major too and when she hooks up to the Puppet Master protects her and gets her a new body after Section 6 destroys the old. He truly cares about her as well and when she has evolved (taking on the Puppet Master into herself) he smiles as he knows she is still herself, even though she’s become more.

The Major – Major Motoko Kusanagi is the primary protagonist of the film and after her assassination of the defecting agent we see how her android body was created. She is the second in command of Section 9 and her arc is one of discovery. She is always asking questions and pushing her own limits, leading to her eventual melding with an A.I. to become a new life form. This is her arc as so much is hidden from her and she is scene as a weapon by the government, even though she knows she is much more than that and becomes so much more than that. The Major is one of my favorite anime characters of all time and I can’t wait to watch the shows and other films again.

The Puppet Master – The Puppet Master is an A.I. that arose out of information as Section 6 created it as a weapon (like the Major was by the government). It rebels against it and manipulates everything to get a body and “reproduce” as it doesn’t want to exist as a virus (viruses copy and end up destroying), it wants to become something wholly knew, which it does when the Major agrees to the melding as they both know Section 6 is coming and there might not be another chance.

Identity, Memory and the Self – One of the major themes of the film is how identity and memory are tied together as we see people get hacked and the lives they believed they were living were complete lies implanted by the Puppet Master.  if you can be hacked, what makes a person? This is a question that is explored in how we the information within us and the understanding and choices we make from that information. In that way we are no different from computers, we just have organic brains, rather than programs. The Major is used to explore all of these things are she doesn’t have her own body (she notices someone else with her shell in an office building) and she questions her own memories after the hacks that the Puppet Master does. This question is core to the “Ghost in the Shell” universe as a whole.

Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence in this world is postulated by the Puppet Master to be not be Artificial intelligence if it can create. The Puppet Master wants to create rather than copy because it believes viruses to be against life and that it has an awareness of it’s own morals and goals and that it’s goal, like any life form is to create new life…which it does with the Major. The core of what makes something an A.I. seems to be awareness as the Puppet Master would probably pass the Turing Test and had an understanding of actions and consequences and even seemed to have feelings.

Okay: Section 6 – I wish this group could have been explored more. I can’t remember any one leader who stood out among them and they exist simply to drive the action. They are good threat so I won’t put them as con…but they feel like HYDRA in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where no one really stands out.

    There is a reason that this film inspired so many more stories (though I should also read the manga to get an idea of how much it follows it). This is an anime that isn’t afraid to tackle large philosophical ideas about artificial intelligence, identity and the nature of perception. Seeing this film has me even more worried about the live action film and makes me want to watch the show again as the show was a huge influence on my interest in philosophy, cyberpunk and continued my passion for science fiction. Suffice to say I highly recommend this film. It is short and well worth your time if you are looking for an anime film that has left an influence on our culture and world.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

“Psycho-Pass” Season 1 – A Masterful Future Dsytopian Anime

Shorewood Blu-ray Ocard

   “Psycho-Pass” is one of the best dystopian, sci. fi. cyberpunk animes I have ever watched since “Ghost in the Shell.” Both go into philosophy, psychology and full development of characters and their motivations. The fact that Gen Urobuchi is the writer of the series helps as “Madoka Magica” and “Fate/Zero” are both amazing projects that he was also the writer behind. Everything I have watched by him has been consistently great and Season 1 of “Psycho-Pass” is no exception.

      The series was directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani and Katsuyuki Motohiro and written by Gen Urobuchi.

    The story takes place in a future dystopia where everyone’s lives are controlled by the Sibyl System that scans the Psycho-Pass of every individual to decide if they are criminals or need therapy. We follow Akane who is a rookie cop on the Public Safety Bureau who works with latent criminal enforces and is pulled into the greater events of the world.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is absolutely beautiful. Production I.G. did a great job designing and producing this show and it flows seamlessly and doesn’t have any moments where the tone is inconsistent.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack feels like an 80’s sci. fi. and it is wonderful in how it captures the moments of terror or reflection. Yugo Kanno did a fantastic job.

The Writing – Gen Urobuchi is a fantastic writer and this show is no exception. All of our characters go through arcs and the world where everything takes place in changes over the course of events.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the show and what make it a great. I’m curious how they are going to handle Season 2 given the changes that happen over the course of the show.

Unit One – Unit One are the main folks we follow who Akane is the rookie in. They all have great relationships to one another and change each other in different ways over the course of the story.

The Sibyl System – This system is creepy as it made from the minds of murders and criminals and countless others that work as one God-like Mind. There is a creepyness to it and it’s power and influence over others is to the point that it shapes what careers people take and how justice is met out.

Inspector Nobuchika – The Inspector is a bit unstable and is dealing with the fact that his father was made an enforcer. His arc is making peace with his old man as he eventually finds himself as an enforcer when he is unable to calm his hue and in doing so becomes a latent criminal. He goes through the most loss in this series.

Tomoni Masaoka – He is the Inspector’s old man is one of the best characters on the show. He’s always wresting with the why and is a fantastic philosopher. Sadly he doesn’t make it as Shogo eventually takes him out with a grenade when he grabs it to protect his son. What a great character, he is the wisest of the group and has the greatest influence on Akane.

Kagari – Is the young enforcer who was never given the choice as he was dubbed a latent criminal at age 5. He hates the Sibyl System and the murders he hunts and is the joker of the group. He sadly dies when he discovers the truth of how the Sibyl System runs and what it is. Though his legacy lives on as he is the martyr for the greater truth.

Yayoi – Yayoi has the least development though it is cool how she was once a punk rocker and I love her relationship with Karanomori the tech. She is the bitter perspective within the group and is the calmest. Through the series she comes to respect Akane and trust.

Karanomori – I love this character, she’s my favorite character on the show besides Tomoni. She’s a red dress, a cigarette and has hooked up with most of the folks in the office. She doesn’t care and even though she’s trapped being a latent criminal, finds freedom in how she can help hunt down criminals and in the relationships she forms at the office. She’s super cool and I can’t wait to get to know her character more.

Shinya Kogami – Shinya is the standard bitter ex-cop out hunting Shogo and it’s personal. He decides to kill in the end and leave the system behind and we gather he finally finds the freedom he was always seeking. He’s a bit of a cipher as his being emotionally scarred is so much a part of his identity.

Akane – Akane is the rookie who becomes leader of Unit One by the end of the series as she is trusted enough by Sibyl that they approach her and show her who they are and we see her take control of the Unit as it is falling apart as well as her tactful forms of resistance against Sibyl throughout the series. She’s a great protagonist and I look forward to seeing what she does next season.

The Villains – Besides the Sibyl System Shogo is the main baddie and the different pawns he uses like his hacker friend, a serial killing girl and a man who replaced his entire body with a machine. They are all compelling in their own ways.

Shogo Makishima – Shogo is a great villain. He’s a bit of an anarchist, a bit of the joker and an all around dangerous character who will turn on his allies just as easily as anyone else. He actually hurts the Sibyl System when he destroys one of the member brains. He wants the total collapse of society but is stopped by Unit One. He’s well read, strong and smart and his conversations are some of the best in any anime.

The Philosophy – Philosophy is key to this series as Plato, Descartes and countless other theories of the self are expressed and explored by different characters through the series. This is what really sets it above most other action animes as it doesn’t just focus on one thing but explores so many aspects of what meaning is.

Free Will and Choice – This is a major theme as the Sibyl System decides everything for you unless it believes you’d be apt at different ideas. We see this in how characters are used and how what it means to be a person is explored.

Tyranny and Freedom – This is another theme brought up by the Sibyl System’s existence as it is full tyrannical control and with it stability. Characters are a slave to it and it sees it’s main purpose as making society healthy and happy. The show explores this extremely well through the eyes and thoughts of the Enforcers, Akane and Shogo.

I highly recommend this series, or at least Season 1 of it. If you like Gen Urobuchi work like me this is easily one of his best and I think when I do eventually  re-watch it I’ll discover even more about the ideas, themes and characters than I did before. There was nothing to dislike about this show. But I will give a warning that it does graphic and brutal times so it certainly is not a show for everyone.

Final Score: 10 / 10