Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Innocence, the sequel to Ghost in the Shell, follows an investigation by Section 9 into a series of murders committed by seemingly benign sex droids. Batou, Togusa, Ishikawa, Aramaki, and others return to crack open this case, which could involve some high level industrial terrorism. The trail leads them to one man, a former hacker who is now living as a recluse, and much mayhem ensues as Batou has to deal with a whole army of rampaging murderous dolls.

Plot

Yes, my plot summary is pretty outlandish, but that’s how the story goes. Innocence does not follow the same “timeline” as Stand Alone Complex does, nor do I think it actually follows timeline of the manga sequel, Man-Machine Interface. After the end of Ghost in the Shell, the Major is missing and everyone in Section 9 gets all sentimental over how good she was at everything. This is about all we get to situate ourselves.

The choice to have Innocence not really fit with the other Ghost in the Shell series is kind of reflective of what the movie itself is like; disjointed, nonsensical, and without much logical progression. Absolutely everyone has read every piece of literature that ever existed, which results in someone reciting some half-philosophical quote about every other line. I guess in the future, when your brain is wired to the internet, Googling a fancy quote to fit the situation may not be too hard.

Believe me, this movie is heavy on the attempted philosophy. I say “attempted” because it never really goes anywhere. The problem is that none of it helps advance the appreciation or depth of the story; it’s all just there to make the movie seem intelligent. It’s like a Philosophy 101 student decided to play philosophical musical chairs, except the only philosophy (count how many times I use this word) he likes is some odd kind of postmodern nihilism. Seeing as how Innocence is directed by Mamoru Oshii of the first Ghost in the Shell, this is hardly surprising. Well the end effect isn’t intelligence – it’s pretentiousness. And it’ll have you thinking, “What was that? Should I have paid attention to that?” instead of actually enjoying the movie.

Thematically, Innocence is a mess. There’s little focus, and the story only progresses to show us what crazy CG environments can be generated next. What should have been presented was a coherent story with relevant questions posed about the nature of reality and humanity. What we get is a recital of college textbooks strung together with intriguing if unnecessary action scenes and characters that seem downright bored to be there.

I was so hopeful, too, that this entry in the Ghost in the Shell series would actually meet expectations. But just like the first movie and Stand Alone Complex, what began with so much potential just led to startling disappointment. It feels too contrived, reaching out to too many different places yet grasping nothing. It’s a shame, really, because the source material has so much potential, and the animators at Production I.G. are top-notch. What a waste.

Characters

You know an anime has a problem when the best-animated character shown is a dog. The characterizations are stiff, just like their movements, and nobody seems to have emotions anymore. Perhaps director Oshii was under the mistaken impression that lifeless, wooden characters can carry a movie – well he’s disastrously wrong.

Innocence, through its cast, tries to explore something the director doesn’t fully understand. The way everyone drones on about some obscure philosophical quote is unintentionally comedic. The script is actually a charicature of the intellectual work that its pretense suggests.

It’s simply impossible to identify with anyone in the film. To make things worse, all the familiar characters have been changed to reflect the more soulless setting. Aramaki is showing his age, looking almost like a cripple while sitting in his chair. Batou is visibly disillusioned with his work and aside from a few wisecracks, his character is dry and unemotive. Even Togusa, the supposed “human” center of the series, acts with a robotic monotone that is rarely disrupted. So what’s all this business about Ghosts? They seem to have left whatever bodies they were inhabiting.

There aren’t really any other noteworthy characters, as everyone seems to be dehumanized to the point of absurdity. I thought this was supposed to be a movie about, oh I don’t know, innocence? What more personal trait is there than innocence? Yet everyone seems so detached from this central issue that the supposedly revelatory conclusion is hindered by its own insignificance.

Technical

Some connections can be made between Innocence and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Both are high budget movies that are more about eye candy than content, and both were hyped to be genre-transcending. In general, the Ghost in the Shell series (the animated version) has been unimpressive, although visually pleasing. Innocence is the same way. It really pushes the technical boundaries of animation. The locales have a sort of exoticity to them that reflects the cyberpunk setting of the world, and some sequences are nothing short of breathtaking. Our protagonists generally feel somewhat stiff, just like the dolls they are chasing, but the action scenes are vibrant and engaging. Sound effects too are top notch, lending a sense of realism to scenes that are frequently surreal. The voice acting, though inoffensive, is dry and flat (perhaps to be in line with the script). What Innocence should have been is a proof-of-concept, not a stand alone movie.