Ghost in the Shell is often regarded as one of the greatest achievements in Japanese animation, and one of the most influential cyberpunk manga. Shirow Masamune's first volume inspired Mamoru Oshii's seminal 1995 anime film, which then led Production I.G. and director/writer Kenji Kamiyama to create Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a sprawling series that explores the world and its characters, which expanded to light novels, manga and video games. But that's really where Ghost in the Shell peaked.
From the re-animated CGI release of the original film to the divisive Ghost in the Shell: Arise to the even more divisive live-action film, fans haven't been given their due. Then, Production I.G., with Sola Digital Arts, announced a continuation of Stand Alone Complex, set 15 years later, called Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, with Kamiyama returning as a co-director. Things were looking up.
But then, late Tuesday, Netflix debuted a teaser trailer for the 2020 release, and Ghost in the Shell fandom was immediately divided.
What Am I Looking At?
The trailer depicts Motoko, riding a buggy -- with a Tachikoma in the trunk -- on a road that cuts through a desert. She gets out, glances at the camera, and saysm "Wonderful not to have any noise." All of it is CGI, as opposed to the hand-drawn animation to which fans are accustomed. Then, we're treated to 21 seconds of logos.
The graphics look relatively unimpressive in motion, with the models looking surprisingly stiff. The landscape is nothing like the cyberpunk dystopia fans are used to. Despite being more than a decade older, Motoko looks far younger than we're used to seeing (although this could be because she transferred her mind to a younger body, which has happened before). But all in all, this looks nothing like Ghost in the Shell.
Many fans aren't happy about it. The YouTube teaser has garnered a virtually equal number of likes and dislikes; Twitter uses are similarly divided.
God, why does a trailer for new Ghost In The Shell looks like it's a cutscene from a mobile game? 😬 pic.twitter.com/NITFiYRh1X— angrysnail but spoopy (@angry__snail) October 23, 2019
It's still a teaser but Netflix love to fuck up good anime to make it worse idk Ghost in the shell is a dark sci-fi with something deep and we got a children show alike lmao fml (btw not a big fan of her design...) https://t.co/xPIivwZXvG— 『l i l s l u g g e r』 (@HentaiSenpai00) October 23, 2019
Netflix announces they're doing a Ghost In The Shell SAC sequel: :-D— TentacleFan (@TentacleFanAFF) October 23, 2019
First PV comes out and it's garbage level CG instead of the amazing traditional animation of the original series: pic.twitter.com/ht6blmORuk
New pic from Sanic the Hodgebog. Oops I meant Casper in the Shell. WTF am I looking at Netflix? Ghost in the Shell is dark, foggy, gritty, etc. Not palm trees and blue skies. pic.twitter.com/z4TY4Gj0cD— EMGG | Guidez (@TheRealGuideZ) October 23, 2019
Not everyone was as negative, however. Some fans are simply happy to get more Stand Alone Complex after so many years of reboots and radio silence.
I didn't expect them to go full CG (granted the openings were in CG for the original SAC) but it looks great to me!— Jayanort (@Jay_Tsunamo) October 23, 2019
It's so nice that after all these years we're finally getting more Ghost in the Shell: SAC 😄 https://t.co/ZSe3Rs6nyV
This feels like a weird complaint, but Major looks TOO CUTE in Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045.— BoringKate (@BoringNerdyKate) October 23, 2019
Still, this sort of reaction is not the kind of thing a properly like Ghost in the Shell needs. For the sake of comparison, the live-action Ghost in the Shell trailer, viewed by more than 32 million people, had a far better like-to-dislike ratio. So why are people upset?
This Looks Wrong
We'll get to the CGI animation in a second. The first issue with this trailer is that everything looks ... wrong. Ghost in the Shell is a cyberpunk dystopia. While some moments have taken the action to new locations, the whole series is about how cybernetics have altered and affected our everyday lives. SAC_2045 might very well do the same thing; perhaps the increasing urbanization of society has led to towns like the one in the trailer becoming abandoned.
However, none of that sci-fi attitude is relayed in the teaser, especially not considering this takes place in 2045, 15 years after Stand Alone Complex began. It seems far too tame, without any cynicism or darkness. Consider this atmospheric, dark trailer for the Ghost in the Shell film for a point of comparison.
Ignoring the odd dub, the trailer showcases the disturbing, dark sci-fi world. None of that appears reflected in the new Netflix promo.
Furthermore, the original anime was made with adults in mind, which also holds true for Stand Alone Complex. Don't confuse this for saying that the nudity and blood were more adult. Rather, the anime is sophisticated; it depicts a harsh, unrelenting reality with real human pain and existential fear. What does it mean to be human? Stand Alone Complex contained moments of profound existential horror in which the audience is asked to consider at what point a person no longer is a person. If your memories, physical form and soul can be reprogrammed or fabricated, what's the point of being human?
It's possible the new creative influences might have forced Production I.G. and Kamiyama to take the property in another direction. Or perhaps Netflix wanted a softer, more mainstream version of Ghost in the Shell. However, the trailer relays none of this complexity of thought, and instead simply chooses to put Major Kusanagi at the helm, looking extra-cute, as if she is the primary draws.
But Also the CGI Looks Bad
CGI in anime is a hot-button topic. Tons of all-CGI anime have been released in the past few years, most notably, Berserk. Fans haven't really liked it because, often, it looks cheap. As the first major Ghost in the Shell production to be entirely rendered in CGI, SAC_2045 has a lot to prove, but with its frankly embarrassing animation, this isn't really looking good.
That is not to say fans will reject any and all CGI in anime, but compare the footage of SAC_2045 to the recently well-received CGI trialer for the new Lupin the Third movie.
Both are revivals of classic, widely beloved anime with multiple interpretations. Yet one offers high-budget, fluid animation that embodies the energy of the original. Honestly, let's compare the new Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex to the original.
Yes, the models are less polished than modern CGI, but consider the weight behind every action. The impacts matter; the bullets shake the frame. Everything moves. The CGI in SAC_2045 looks stiff by comparison to animation released in 2002. For a show about the future, SAC_2045 looks behind the times. There is no reason this anime shouldn't be 2D-animated like its predecessors.
Probability of Success
Taking all this into account, SAC_2045 might be a huge disappointment for fans hoping to return to the world of Motoko and Section 9. It looks like this series has lost track of what makes Ghost in the Shell so appealing.
It is important to note that, as of yet, there has never been a truly bad Ghost in the Shell production. Even the live-action film, maligned as it was, was not as bad as fans feared. It is highly possible that all of this hyperbole about SAC_2045 will amount to nothing when the series finally releases next year. Perhaps a full trailer will settle some nerves about the show diverging from its mature, cyberpunk roots.
After all, Kamiyama has lived in this world for years. He isn't going to drop the ball this time, right?
However, when you put naive optimism aside, it's hard to muster excitement for this project. It looks, in every respect, like a disappointing entry in one of anime's greatest sagas. It might end up being good, but for Ghost in the Shell, just good isn't good enough.