REVIEW: ‘Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045,’ – A Season of Two Stories

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Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is a cyber punk anime series exclusivist from Netflix. It’s been six years since Section 9 was disbanded and with the former team now scattered Chief Aramaki must reform the team to face a new threat to humanity. But with many of the members currently in the American Empire, operating as a mercenary group known as Ghost, that may be easier said, than done.

Ever since it’s original manga release in 1989 Ghost in the Shell had been a cyberpunk mainstay of manga/anime culture. With several animated movies, tv series and even a live action adaptation already to its name, the property has seen many iterations. While Netflix’s newest return to this storied franchise isn’t on par with its greatest triumphs, it’s far from the worst thing the brand has been attached to.

The most noticeable thing viewers will be hit with when starting Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is the switch in visual styles. While this series bears the SAC (stand alone complex) moniker of past anime series, the visuals are pure CG, instead of the traditional 2D animated style of previous series. While most of the characters make the transmission to the new style of visual well enough, there is one character that suffers greatly and unfortunately she’s the most important element of the show. Major Kusanagi herself.

The Major, a long standing icon of badass female anime protagonists keeps her powerful personality here, but her new face comes across as a bit too baby-faced to deliver the presence she has always commanded in early stories. Her features have been smoothed out to the point where she could be any other generic anime female lead. Only her purple hair and clothing choices queue the the viewer visually that yes, this is The Major.

The other way the presentation fails to deliver on its predecessor’s standards are in its opening. Fans know anime intros for getting the blood going, just look up the original Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex intro and you’ll understand. Pulse pounding imagery, set to the upbeat tones of Rise, a track that is still in my music mix decades later, and you’ll quickly see why this intro doesn’t feel in place with the setting.

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045

Just like the visual design, the narrative of Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 delivers a mixed result. The first half of the season focuses on the members of the now defunct Section 9 who are working as the mercenary unit Ghost. While this portion of the tale does ultimately tie into the larger narrative it takes it’s sweet time in doing so. Couple this slow start with a genuine filler episode between the two halves of the season and its no wonder the narrative can’t come to a fulfilling conclusion. Instead of any sort of narrative stopping point being reached the season simply ends. While this feels like it was intended to be a cliffhanger it doesn’t land that way. Instead coming off feeling like production simply ran out of time to ship the complete story.

While the larger narrative struggles at being cohesive, the individual episodes tell a number of great cyber punk themed tales. With Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 diving into the time honored themes of the subjection of free will and violation of personal privacy the setting is known for, many of the episodes leave a lasting impression upon the viewer. Commentary about societies and their judgment of individuals and how willing people are, or are not, to stand up for others are explored here. With some conclusions ending brutally for those found wanting by their peers.

From new Section 9 members, to hostile foes and uneasy “allies” all these characters make for good additions to the universe, Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 also introduces fans to a number of new characters. Even though the new team members get wedge squarely into the “haha look at the noob” space, they still prove to be useful assets to the team as a whole. I look forward to seeing them grow in future seasons. Another highlight of Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is in it’s fight animations. The Major, along with fellow agents Togasa and Batou get ample opportunities to show off how skilled they are in unarmed combat. Some of these fights are sheer perfection. Especially where The Major is concerned. Her moments are a perfect blend of skill, power and speed. A true wonder to appreciate.

The last element of Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 presentation I must comment on is the continued brilliance of one of the best comic relief elements ever devised: the tachikoma think tanks. Utilized as armored support vehicles for the agents of Section 9 the tachikomas are programmed with an almost childlike giddiness that is implemented perfectly to keep the show from getting too dark. From the opening gun fight that showcased a tachikoma bouncing around the battle periodically declaring “GET SOME! GET SOME!” I knew theses wonderful creations would once again be a highlight for the series. Voice actor Melissa Fahn (Ed of Cowboy Bebop) never fails to hit her mark with each line she delivers through these lovable engines of destruction.

When all is said and done I think Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 manages to deliver a worthwhile entry into its franchise. While maybe not as strong as past stories, it serves as an entertaining series, with some social commentary thrown in for good measure. Though the new art style doesn’t completely land, it still gave me the opportunity to spend some time with Major Kusanagi and the rest of Section 9. And happily this series does nothing wrong enough to not make that worth watching the twelve episode season in and of itself.

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done I think Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 manages to deliver a worthwhile entry into its franchise. While maybe not as strong as past stories, it serves as an entertaining series, with some social commentary thrown in for good measure.