What happens when you milk a franchise dry? This.
Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is yet another attempt to cash in on the ever so popular Ghost in the Shell franchise. Based on the 2002 Stand Alone Complex series, this installment is meant to be a continuation to 2nd gig, once again following the hardened, no-nonsense folks over at Section 9 as they attempt to uncover and resolve yet another crime. This time concerning the rise of posthumans, cybernetically engineered humans that are capable of possessing super strength and limbs that can explode heads with one single swing. When it was announced, the fanfare was tremendous. It would be produced by the same studio, Production IG, with CGI provided by Sola DigitalArts, the same guys behind the Ultraman anime. Kenji Kamiyama, the director for all the Stand Alone Complex installments, was also announced to return to the director’s chair, albeit being paired up with Ultraman director, Shinji Aramaki. It also brought back the original voice cast for the dub and was advertised as a true sequel to the SAC universe rather than just a reimagining. Needless to say, it had a lot to live up to as a sequel.
Now, let’s get down to the elephant in the room: the CGI. Holey Moley, it’s really subpar. Not Berserk 2016 levels of horrible, but it’s done poorly enough that you sort of feel your eyes starting to bleed, but not to the point where they’re constantly shedding that scarlet liquid of yours. Every single character looks rubbery like they’re more akin to toys than actual people. It feels almost as if Sola DigitalArts rendered the entire series through a ps2 rather than using their “cutting edge” CGI technology to make the aesthetic easy on the eyes at least. There’s a reason why CGI is so prominent in the anime industry: it’s cheap, efficient, able to animate large crowds or more complex models in a smoother and fluid momentum. And in a way, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Studio Orange, for instance, did a wonderful job animating Beastars, using a mixture of 2D and CG animation to enhance the movements and facial expressions of various anthropomorphic animals. It was a series that needed 3DCG because of how difficult and costly it was to animate such characters, and in a way, the Ghost in the Shell franchise has used CGI a lot in the past due to how prominent technology is in the series, so it isn’t exactly breaking new ground with it. But, in Ghost in the Shell 2045, they just feel awkward to look at. The fluidity is on point, but the models are so subpar it’s almost like you’re watching a video game cutscene from the early 2000s. I don’t understand why the series couldn’t use a mixture of 2D and 3D animation like they had done for the original 2002 anime. The CG in that still holds up relatively well to this day, so why not build on it? There’s been worse CGI anime out there, but that doesn’t mean that the one used in this show is exempt from any sort of criticism.
The actual story itself doesn’t fare any better either. At times, 2045 does feel like it has got a bit of the flair from the original with some of the later, more standalone episodes, though it appears scattered and somewhat confused as to what it wants to be. The first half of the series amounts to just some random series of action sequences like something straight out of a Michael Bay production, with government agents from America even making an appearance here and there. Then later on it just decides to be a politically focused, sci-fi series that explores certain themes and concepts in a cyberpunk world, kind of building on what the original Stand Alone Complex series initially started. In layman’s terms: it starts off wanting to be Metal Gear Solid, then decides it wants to continue the legacy of Ghost in the Shell. Even if it did, it just doesn’t feel the same. Ghost in the Shell has always been a series focused on the perils of technology, how it can be taken advantage of and how living in a world full of androids and cybernetic organisms actually kind of sucks. It’s a show where the worldbuilding is the center of attention, and aside from one episode (which is just so overly comedic and asinine that it doesn’t even feel connected to the world), none of this anime really feels at home with the universe it had set up. The idea of posthumans being created through some sort of tear gas is already ridiculous in it of itself, especially given the more realistic approach to a cyberpunk world that Ghost in the Shell has a huge reputation for, rather than the idealized and magical one that existed in something like Deus Ex. It’s also too political and not in any way philosophical, while the original series uses both to tell a well-realized story.
But I haven’t gotten to the worst bit yet. The characters, good god the characters. Every semblance of dignity and badassery of Section 9 has almost been stripped bare. Major Kusanagi now has hax magical abilities similar to Adam Jenson from the Deus Ex games and her role in the series feels a lot more underutilized. There was so much that the creators did with her in the original Stand Alone Complex series, showcasing all her various hacking capabilities and the ways she approaches certain missions. Here, she just shows up to bust some cyborg’s heads open in hand to hand combat, I mean cmon, there’s so much else you could have used this character for. Togusa is now a professional martial artist and apparently very addicted to Bruce Lee movies with the way he makes goofy Kung-Fu noises every time he fights. Also, he’s divorced here and is no longer a family man. Yup, you heard it right, the guy who based much of his work around protecting his wife and daughter is no longer with them. Gone is the most human character in the entire Ghost in the Shell cast. Pazu and Bulma pretty much take a backseat to the other characters, making me wonder why the heck they were even brought back in the first place. Pazu doesn’t even have any lines for Pete’s sake.
The show also brings in two new characters onboard. First on the list is Standard, a cocky, way-in-over-his-head soldier that tags along with the recently disbanded Section 9 during the earlier episodes. Ever so constantly, he’s proven to be useless, always getting himself tangled in a knot during firefights and always relying on Major and the team to get him out of dodge. To make matters even worse, halfway through the series, he just disappears. He says his goodbyes and never appears again. I’m baffled by the decision to even include this character if he’s just going to be out of the casting list for the latter half of the series. What a complete waste of a character. And his absence brings in another member of the team, a pink-haired, upbeat, waifu-bait by the name of Purin. And she gets on my nerves a lot. She’s basically what happens when you add a generic anime girl from one of those pesky light novel adaptations into the Ghost in the Shell universe, and it looks so out of place. Her poor attempts at comedy just come across as awkward and too over the top. Granted, she provides more usage to the plot than Standard, but her constant boy scout personality just undermines the serious and mature tone that the franchise has established. The show already has the tachikomas, we don’t need a human version of them in the mix. Oh, and as for the supporting cast, we even have a government agent named John Smith who even looks like a typical agent character with a black suit, shades, and a voice that just screams to you that he’s a villain. Man, for a show that was already ripped off by The Matrix, it certainly decided it wanted to copy Agent Smith from that franchise as well. What a turnaround.
Also, what’s with all the corniness? Seriously, 2045 feels like an outright parody of the entire Stand Alone Complex franchise with some of the decisions made. There’s a self-insert posthuman character that resembles the character artist, Ilya Kuvshinov, that spends a majority of his screentime stark naked and performing back handstands like he’s some sort of circus performer. It was so unintentionally hilarious that twitter melded it into a meme. There’re also other elements that just have no place in an anime that’s supposed to be a serious reflection of a dark, gritty, and politically charged cyberpunk society. In one episode, Purin comes face to face with an avatar that resembles a Nintendo mascot, with a CGI goldfish for a face, big lips, and an outfit that looks like it was stolen from King Dedede’s wardrobe. And that was after she got nearly assaulted by a partially naked fat guy. Not to mention, one of the masterminds behind the attacks is a child who spends half his time buried in video games. Given how surprisingly dark the show gets after the halfway mark, it’s astounding that such designs and choices even exist.
What on earth was Kenji Kamiyama thinking? He’s pretty much tarnished the reputation of Ghost in the Shell for good now. Aside from keeping Batou’s dignity intact, including more scenes with the adorable Tachikomas, and showcasing Ilya Kuvshinov’s talent as an artist (seriously, his design for the Major is simply perfect), nothing about 2045 works whatsoever. This was basically the final nail in the coffin. I don’t know who to put the blame on, him or Shinji Aramaki, but nevertheless, this is a terrible sequel that ruins everything that made Ghost in the Shell a masterpiece.
Personal rating: 2/10