The news of a Ghost in the Shell television series was met with a mix of joy and trepidation; highly regarded in the West and being helmed by a then unknown director, the assumption would be that the themes and delicately balanced characters of the Mamoru Oshii movie as well as the racy futurism of the original Masamune Shirow manga would be lost on a televised broadcast. Defying expectations however the series is supremely accomplished, blending the setting of a near-future, highly networked society with cyberpunk brassiness and an acute focus on the implications of such a world and what it means for communities, individuals, organisations and power structures. Production I.G. proves that their animation production was up to the challenge by rendering a fully realised, distinctly designed world where everything from skyscrapers to handguns have a plausible tangibility to them.
Each scene demonstrates a craftsman's dedication to constructing an immersive and entirely believable future society
Spanning two full length series and an original televised movie, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex follows the secretive paramilitary organisation known as Section Nine across three large scale investigations, distinct in chronology from its predecessors. An eclectic team composed of faces familiar from the 1995 film including Motoko, Batou, Aramkai and Togusa as well as bit parts and new members such as Ishikawa, Saito, Pazu, Borma and the artificial-intelligence tanks, Tachikomas. The case of the Laughing Man starts with the death of a friend before plunging into corporate terrorism, technological misuse and conspiracy as well as demonstrating the first large-scale instance of the titular Stand Alone Complex syndrome. The Individual Eleven investigation had more immediate ramifications when a fleet of military helicopters is inadvertently hijacked and flown brazenly over a refugee slum; igniting existing tensions, a concentrated campaign of provocation accelerates the new government's plans for dealing with the refugee problem but transpire to be part of a sophisticated powerplay by a megalomaniacal official and a dwindling Western superpower. The third and final investigation begins with a series of suicides by foreign operatives and portents of an individual known as the Puppetmaster, the trail exposes a systemic kidnapping of children for a project known as the Solid State Society which, unbeknownst to her, has a very personal involvement with the now freelance Motoko.
Like the creatures themselves, Mushishi came more or less out of nowhere. A critically acclaimed manga by Yuki Urushibara mostly unheard of outside of Japan, and Studio Artland for which this would be one of their first fully produced series outside of some relatively obscure OVAs. For it to be so unspeakably brilliant is at odds with common wisdom; story and sound fuse together to create an astonishingly beautiful vision of Japan. Blossoming with wonder, it is a world that is delightful to be lost within: enraptured by the craftsmanship applied to the smallest detail and ensconced within the gentle auditory landscapes.
the loss of a child, the desire for the wellbeing of a community, the sacrifice of one for many - these are the heart and soul of the series
Comprising twenty six mostly episodic stories, the series follows Ginko: a silver haired nomad and a self-proclaimed Mushishi. Picking up where physicians may fail, he concerns himself with mushi, a primal and fugacious life force that suffuses the world but is often only known through their effects on its inhabitants. Sometimes these can be as innocuous as a living painting within a kimono, other times causing afflictions such as memory or hearing loss, but sporadically, they can affect entire communities whether inadvertently or through the misguided auspices of humans themselves. Regardless, Ginko travels listlessly from case to case, sometimes stumbling across one and other times cajoled by letters which travel through the mysterious mushi roads.
In a decade rife with stellar release from Studio Bones, RahXephon stands out. An ambitious and sleek production which draws upon a diverse mix of sources from obscure Mayan lore to classical music to create a symphony of unparalleled beauty. Continuously stunning, it deftly handles a wide cast of characters as well as a plot laden with symbolism which bountifully rewards shrewd analysis and constant attention. At a time when the mecha genre was overburdened, RahXephon excelled by weaving a story unshackled by genre tropes and creating a genuine classic of immense longevity and awesome breadth.
rich in emotion and poignancy, the deaths cut deeper, the passion clings tighter
Ayato Kamina lives in the last bastion of humankind: Tokyo; a cataclysm having supposedly wiped out the rest of humanity. When an attack strikes the city he is aided by woman who claims to be able to explain the chaotic world he lives in. After awakening the humanoid machine RahXephon he and the woman, Haruka Shitow, are transported outside of Tokyo and he discovers the lies perpetrated by those in power: that Tokyo was forcibly cut off from the rest of the world and a race known as the Mu are responsible. Despite his reticence, he is the only one who can operate the RahXephon and with it the capability to defeat the Mu's warmachines, the Dolems. Throughout all of this is the mysterious Reika Mishima who appears seemingly without reason and the quiet but whimsical Quon who seems to have a connection to both Ayato and the RahXephon. Ayato's position as an Instrumentalist may have bigger consequences than simply the defeat of the Mu.
On first watching Five Centimetres Per Second, the overbearing sadness of Takaki's journey from lovestruck adolescent to downtrodden adult is depressing; the piano music that follows him through the three stories of the film is a heartbeat of yearning for times gone by. Subsequent viewings but build upon this and more than before, the wistful smile in closing moments means more than the emotionally infused montage that preceded it. Makoto Shinkai manages to evoke emotions that are difficult to grasp but more than being a straightforward story, the feeling one leaves the film with is a reflection of themselves more than what the movie has shown.
not a yearning for a particular person but an ache for a clear, unspoken understanding with someone
Split over three sequential stories, they follow Takaki Tohno from his time in elementary school through to adulthood and his relationship with the reticent Akari Shinohara which forms the core narrative of the film. The first story, The Chosen Cherry Blossoms, describes their lives: both constantly moving schools due to their parents, weak bodied but strong minded and inexorably smitten with each other. When Akari moves away, Takaki plans a journey to see her after a series of letters; unfortunately, due in part to the inclement weather, the trip is beset with problems. The second story, Cosmonaut, takes place when Takaki is a teenager and he has once again moved school. The focus is on an otherwise unrelated girl, Kanae Sumida who is infatuated with Takaki but is unable to express her own feelings, not helped by his introverted and sullen nature. The third story, Five Centimetres Per Second, follows Takaki as a young man, now working but unhappy with his situation, not helped by his standoffish relationship with a young woman from his workplace; that is until a fleeting encounter during cherry blossom season with a woman who bears a stark resemblance to Akari.
Kara no Kyoukai is, without hyperbole, one of the most ambitious and intelligent series, movie or otherwise, to come out in the past ten years. As the progenitor of the Type-Moon dynasty it is afforded the means to avoid the overbearing franchise overload that can scare away fresh viewers. It presents a world precariously balanced between a chaotic realm of magic and spirits, and the more mundane world of humanity. Instead of falling prey to the common fantasy trap of treating the setting as the story, a stunning selection of characters is carved out who are not attempting to simply survive but trying to thrive in the ordinary world of emotions and ego. Bolstering this cast are some elegantly malevolent antagonists: from the physically tortured to the mentally deranged, rarely has there been as solid a set of evildoers in one series.
they are painted in shades of grey: whether twisted by magicks or a natural predisposition
Following the story of Mikiya Kokuto as he leaves high school, he is immersed in the unseen world through his affection for the stoic Shiki Ryougi who suffers a near fatal accident which causes a dormant power within her to awaken. Araya Souren, a mage of immense skill, meanwhile wishes to reach the Spiral of Origin, Akasha, the source of all knowledge and a kind of holy grail for those seeking knowledge; to do this however and to avoid the universe's natural defences against this sort of intrusion, he constructs an elaborate plan to use Shiki's now awakened power: the mystic eyes of death perception. Summoning aggressors to temper and hone Shiki, his quest has severe ramifications and the aftermath spills out long after he is assumed defeated.