My first exposure to Ghost in the Shell was Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. It is definitely not the introduction I would recommend to anyone, but after working my way through the theatrical release twice, I was ready for more. I can hardly remember the story anymore, but I do remember the mind-blowing loop that Batou went through near the end of the film. The number one impression I walked away with was: What the heck was that about?
As soon as I could find it, I spun up the DVD for the original movie and was blown away: therm-optic camouflage, ghost-hacking, memory alteration, combining memories, virtual body-swapping, actual body-swapping (prosthetic bodies of course), a communication network accessed internally or externally, etc., etc. The story itself barely touched on the possibilities, and it touched on quite a few. Further, it went beyond the mere technological ramifications, it dug into the psychological and philosophical aspects of human-technological integration, fascinating.
But then, I happened upon a late night showing of a serialized story centered on the Laughing Man: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Now the world came to life. The relationships between the characters (some of them, at least) were fleshed out, additional aspects of the human-technological interface were explored, and what was a clever concept with endless potential began to reach that potential. Follow the original Stand Alone Complex with season two, and more focus on the human end of the H-T combination and additional background on our heroine Motoko Kusanagi and I think you have an alternate universe without parallel. Solid State Society and the new Arise prequels add stories that neither take away nor add significantly to the legend (they extend the number of stories in the universe without adding significantly to the depth or breadth of the universe).
The original Manga are quite interesting, if not as easily digested as the movies and television series. They’re a little harder to follow, and the characters and interactions aren’t as seamless, sometimes wandering into quite goofy situations which add to the charm but detract from the serious nature of the content. The SAC series’ contain some of the same goofy interactions, but integrate it more naturally, retaining the charm of the Manga without replicating the sudden and distracting cartoonish nature of the drawings.
The biggest influence Ghost in the Shell had on me was in the way it dealt with human-technological integration. It didn’t present it as oppressive or invasive. It didn’t present it as an antagonist. It treated it as just another object in human existence, an object that can be both benefit and bane, assistance and obstacle, risk and reward. Surprisingly, we don’t lose our humanity because of it, we don’t lose our souls. Quite the contrary, human integration with technology increases the importance of our souls, it sharpens the focus on what makes us human. But human integration with technology brings about a revolution in definitions such as privacy and crime, expanding into new areas and shifting where age-old lines are drawn. It expresses new boundaries and breaks old barriers.
The Assassin’s Cradle crosses some of the same barriers and thresholds, stepping into territory where we have redefined existing concepts. Like Ghost in the Shell, I present a humanity that has accepted and integrated these new definitions and the technology that has brought them. Unlike Ghost in the Shell, I don’t delve into the philosophical and existential questions this new integration suggests. I merely use the H-T proliferation as a foil to further explore social integration and self-identification questions that exist today.