Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ghost In The Shell (Manga)

 “It is the near future. The world has become highly information-intensive, with a vast corporate network covering the planet, electrons and light pulsing through it. But the nation-state and ethnic groups still survive.

And on the edge of Asia, in a strange corporate conglomerate-state called ‘Japan’…”

Ghost In The Shell is a story created by Japanese Manga artist Masamune Shirow (see for more info) first published in 1989 in 'Young Magazine', later reproduced in English by Black Horse Comics in 1995. The original Japanese title is 攻殻機動隊 'Kōkaku Kidōtai', which translates as 'Mobile Armoured Riot Police'.

 (Cover Art, Issues 1 - 8)

The world of Ghost In The Shell is a highly complex and thought provoking futuristic look at what may lie in store for the future of humanity. At times it often raises more questions than it is able to answer, but this only acts to deepen our appreciation for the world. The story does follow an ark that flows through the entirety of the book, but often seems splintered and fragmented as we are led further into Masamune Shirow's lucid and seemingly spontaneous imagination. Heavyweight thematic concepts are bounced around in a somewhat carefree way at times, touching on socio-political ideals and ideas of existentialism; the perception of the self, what it is to be human and dealing with the fact that human conciousness is no longer unique.

(Major Motoko Kusanagi, Batou, Chief Aramaki, Togusa, Ishikawa and Saito)

The overarching storyline follows government division, Public Security Section 9 (公安9 Kōan Kyūka), a fictional intelligence agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Section 9 is an elite counter-terrorism unit that specializes in cyber-warfare with the majority of its members having military special ops backgrounds. The central protagonist is Major Motoko Kusanagi who is on the hunt for a cyber-criminal known as 'The Puppeteer'; whose real identity is unknown. The Puppeteer has committed a large number of crimes by what is known as Ghost Hacking (see below), the mystery is slowly unravelled and it is revealed that The Puppeteer is not actually a human but in fact a unique autonomous artificial intelligence project, known as Top Secret Project 2501. This project, we learn, was created by another government agency, like Section 9, called The Treaty Bureau Of The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs; also known as Section 6. The Puppeteer manages to escape from Section 6 and is looking to evolve by merging with Kusanagi's 'Cyber-Brain' (see below). The Major allows it and thus they become one; sharing consciousness.

The World of Ghost In The Shell

The Manga is set in the year 2029, many changes have taken place on Earth; two World Wars have brought in changes to national boundaries. Not only have Third World countries disintergrated and collapsed, even First World countries like the United States have split. Civil wars and non-state revolutionary movements are a regular occurrence and numbers of refugees are now a huge problem. The situation in Japan however seems relatively stable as it seems to be suffering less from the aftereffects of the wars and it is also still a productive nation with a high standard of living; I particularly like the lines uttered by the Major in chapter 10 where she says;

“We’re such a globally conscious nation aren’t we? If those peace activists would just deal with reality a little more effectively we wouldn’t be placed in these situations.”
Aramaki then replies, “They’re just like us. They hate violence…”
To which the major replies “They’re so hypocritical. Emphasising a lifestyle based on consumption is the ultimate violence against poor countries.”


It’s hard not to be impressed by Masamune Shirow’s intricate and obsessive levels of detail that he puts into the design of the technology. One of the really nice touches are all the little notes written into the gutters between panels that make the storytelling all the more intimate; the English graphic novel also contains 10 pages of ‘Authors Notes’!

(example of some 'gutter talk')

Cyberbrains (電脳 dennō) are a physical casing that house the human brain and part of the spinal cord. Essentially this means that the human mind can be transported and placed into any specially made human body (chapter 5 shows how this is done). Cyberbrain implants in combination with 'Micromachines' allow the brain to connect to networks, data terminals and even other individuals that possess a Cyberbrain. The term 'Ghost' is used to represent what could be considered similar to the soul; the Major often senses 'whisper's' in her ghost, this could be compared to intuition or that of a 'gut feeling' I suppose.

(The creation of a Cyborg)

One of the down-sides to a Cyberbrain is that it is possible to be 'ghost hacked', this is usually carried out by what is known as a 'super-class-A hacker', this can involve the mind being completely taken over by another. For security purposes barriers are used, set at different levels of encryption; this is the equivalent of a internet firewall.

For those who mainly consist of prosthetic parts, in addition to Cybernetic-brains, it is possible to have limbs replaced if they become damaged or even upgraded for improvement. The character Batou has had cybernetic eyes installed, whereas Togusa is the only member of Section 9 who is 100% human.


The final important pieces of technology worth mentioning are the Fuchikoma (多脚戦車(たきゃくせんしゃ) Takyakusensha) translated as ‘multi-legged tanks’; Masamune Shirow is know for his collection of exotic spiders and the look of the Fuchikoma suggest that maybe they were the inspiration for the design. They walk upon four legs and also have two ‘front-mounted manipulators’. The pilot sits in the rear segmented body but the tanks can also operate independently by way of their own AI. Each unit operates independently, but at the end of a day all of their collective experiences are synchronised. Only Batou has a preference for which Fuchikoma he uses.

(Top right panel - Note the Sockets on the back of the neck; pre-dating 'The Matrix', 1999, by 10 years)

The majority of the story is told in black and white, but the impact and quality is no less. Masamune's skill as an artist is an amazing talent and one of my absolute favourites in all comics; not just Manga.

Next up: Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface


  1. Sadly I've only ever watched the films but I'd really like to get hold of the manga! The level of detail portrayed always makes me think that the world Shirow creates could become close to what the future will really be like, which is pretty concerning concidering the number of moral implications that are brought up due to the advancement of cybernetics and cyberisation!

  2. I can't recommend it enough, I first read it about 10 years ago and it really stays with you. It's amazing how much of the technology has actually started to appear in real life since it was written. Apparently Masamune Shirow goes around Universities and places of scientific research, anonymously, to see what new developments are under way for inspiration for his stories. It's one of the few occasions where the book and the film are both on a par with each other in terms of overall quality; in my opinion anyway.

  3. Waiting for your next post ^^