Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Consciousness Themes.

Video Version:

The idea of the nature of consciousness is so rich that it warrants the entirety of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex to explore. Or at least, the anime is so adept at exploring this idea that it seems that way. Stand Alone Complex’s unrivaled strength in theme exploration lies in its primarily episodic structure, which it uses to play out unique scenarios that each illustrate something new about consciousness. The title even telegraphs this relationship. “Ghost in the Shell” alludes to the themes of consciousness that “Stand Alone” episodes represent individually, but stand together as a “Complex” that paint a picture of the world.

 

Let’s look at an example.

 

In Episode 2, Testation, a renegade tank at a weapons’ company breaks loose and escapes the facility. We find out that the tank is inhabited by the consciousness of a young weapons designer, Takeshi Kago, who died from a disease. Although he could have been saved by cyberbrain technology, his family dissuaded him from doing so for religious reasons. On his deathbed, his only wish to a friend was to preserve his consciousness inside the new model of tank that he had designed. Now, alive, stronger than ever, and with uncertain motives, Kago tears a path to his parents’ house.

 

Section 9’s robots, known as Tachikomas, are showcased in this episode as machines with personality. They talk to each other, make quips about their bosses, and are even treated with a certain level of humaneness when hurt. When a Tachikoma is destroyed by the renegade tank, someone even asks if it’s ok. However, the slow pacing as the robots combat the tank seem to suggest that there is no real danger because they are just robots, and the ambient rather than dramatic music reinforces this. Overall, we get the impression that while these machines may be highly intelligent and possibly conscious, they aren’t treated like people.

 

The renegade tank, Kago, is presented in a much different light, because of his consciousness. As Kago approaches his parents house and is slowed down by cables glue designed to disable the tank, the music turns very somber, and we even begin to feel sad for him. Feeling ambivalent on who to root for, I watched in horror and awe wondering what he will do to his parents as he crashes his metal claw into their house.

 

Kago’s parents are shown in the house praying to a picture of him and a model of a tank, which parallel their son’s current state. They come outside, and she greets Kago just as his brain is terminated by the major. Kago’s life flashes before his eyes.

 

After frying his cyber-brain, Major says “It’s funny, I didn’t sense any pride or vengeance. I sensed him saying, “Well mom, what do you think of my new steel body?”. This moment left me in tears, because of how well Kago’s personality was conveyed, even though we never saw him or heard him speak.

 

So, as is often the case, the conclusion of the episode emphasizes and explores consciousness in a new way. In this case, we learn much about the human-like nature of advanced AI like Tachikomas, but see that they are still a step below something like a human-consciousness existing in a tank body. This episode also explores the idea that if the brain or personality of a person lives on, they will still be considered alive by loved ones.

 

Other episodes build the world similarly. There is the story about the model of cyborg that is preferred by “enthusiasts” for its feminine qualities, and it’s hinted that the cyborg expressed love of its own accord. Or the time when the cheerful Tachikoma robot goes on an adventure with a little girl and learns about death, and that crying is something humans can do that robots can’t, despite that Tachikoma claims to have a consciousness.  Each individual story in the series do this in some shape or form, either expanding on what consciousness means, or the implications of the cyberfication of humanity, with all of it detailing its sci-fi world. It’s like a slice of life show with existential dread instead of Moe.

 

Masamune Shirow, creator of Ghost in the Shell, has used the franchise primarily to explore sci-fi ideas and themes. Even if that means bombarding the reader or viewer with technical jargon or allowing these ideas to take the limelight from narrative and characters. Stand Alone Complex is no exception, so if you like the exploration of such ideas, you should check the show out, it’s amazing.

 

Thanks for watching! If you liked this content, please share it and subscribe if you want to see more. This is my first video with proper visuals, so I hope you enjoyed it. I love to hear any feedback you have as I’m always looking for ways to improve and grow, and I hope I can make every video better than the last. Thanks for your support.

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Why Your Favorite Anime Makes You Feel Like Trash

Video Version:

Too often as consumers, we forget the scope of emotions that art can make us feel. It’s easy to see why watching someone like Yusuke Urameshi from Yu Yu Hakusho overcome his enemies and grow stronger with each victory and arc is so satisfying and addicting. By relating Yusuke’s obstacles with our own we feel good about our own abilities and are inspired to grow. On the other extreme, seeing beloved characters’ moments of grief and loss makes us reflect on our own failures and tragedies, and the cathartic sadness we experience as a result often resonates even more than the triumph of victory.

Two animes that deliver themes in such a way are also two of my favorites: Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui (Watamote) and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

First, Watamote makes us cringe in a way that is all too real for some viewers, by crafting Tomoko Kuroki in such a way that she represents ourselves in our worst moments; a true avatar of cringe. One of the most resonant moments of the show is when Tomoko’s cousin, Kiko, comes to visit. Tomoko flounders to prove the she has a boyfriend by way of elaborate lies, dresses like she thinks a cute high-school girl should look, and, when all else fails, shows off her prowess at a Magic the Gathering-like card game… by cheating against children. All of this to present an impressive image to her younger cousin. Ultimately, she fails and even her younger cousin takes pity on her. Although many of us have never done these things specifically, the element of wanting to hide our true self from someone who looks up to us is just too relatable and makes the non-stop cringe as her plans continually dissolve through her fingers in embarrassing ways more painful.

Evangelion continually presents the themes of isolation and interaction by showing how each character struggles with relating to others. Furthermore, the AT fields surrounding both the Evas and people of earth physically represents the barrier that causes this pain. Each pilot serves as a unique opportunity for the viewer to understand the difficulties of being alive and relating to other people. Shinji feels the need to withdraw and run away from his problems, wondering why he even bothers with piloting Eva. Asuka, whose identity is inextricably tied to her skill as a pilot, lashes out in anger and breaks down when it is ripped away from her. Finally, Rei obediently goes about her life in a kind of automatic stupor, with mysterious thoughts about the nature of her existence and how she relates with others occasionally surfacing like a subdued scream from the depths of her soul.

Watamote makes us cringe while Evangelion fills us with sorrow, but what they both share is the idea of persistence in the face of failure. To explore this, let’s compare each anime’s main character: Shinji Ikari and Tomoko Kuroki. Each of them fail time and time again, with Tomoko never evolving past her perpetual awkwardness and Shinji stuck in his childish pattern of running away from and returning to his vital role as the protector of humanity. Many people make the criticism that these characters simply don’t develop, and are thus uninteresting. Although it’s true that neither of them overcome their difficulties, I make the argument that in both cases, this persistent failure is purposeful and serves to strengthen the core themes of each show.

In the case of Watamote, the show explores the cringe moments of being awkward and the pain that follows. A key component of this awkwardness is that it is baked into everyone’s life and often follows people from childhood well into their adulthood. Not only would it be unrealistic for Tomoko to make much progress in such a short time period, but it would miss the point that Tomoko is an avatar of cringe that represents our own failure and moments of cringe.

For Evangelion, the themes of isolation and despair are reinforced by Shinji’s continuous cycle of withdraw and reintegration into his destiny. It’s far more common for a hero to develop a will of steel after answering the call to action, but Eva presents a much more honest character by showing that Shinji’s development is in constant flux. This may not be as valiant, but it’s honest and far more serving of the themes of isolation and despair.

However, I don’t want to paint the picture that Evangelion and Watamote entirely sacrifice the development of Tomoko and Shinji for their themes. Rather, their development is delayed to a time after the events of the show.

Tomoko, while struggling immensely and making many mistakes, is never portrayed as someone who hates herself. I don’t always agree with Digibro, but in his video about Watomote he states that he imagines Tomoko growing out of her blunder years, and I agree completely. We get a sense of deep self-love from Tomoko, wherein she can like herself on some fundamental level, even if she likes few of the parts of herself. The moment when she says that she sees herself as having the keen ability to empathize with an author’s work stands out as one of the few times she acknowledges this hidden self-esteem.

Although many ridicule it for its heavy-handed execution of the ideas that follow, Evangelion does not take the sacrifice of Shinji’s character development in vain. First, the theme that we have a choice in our perception of our life, and can thus control our life, is played out many times through the story itself when Shinji finally “gets in the robot” and defeats an angel. What’s different about Evangelion in this respect is that it also explicitly states this philosophy in the cheesy and rushed, but heartfelt final two episodes of the TV series. During these episodes Shinji experiences a psychological dive into “a world of perfect freedom, a world in which you have no restrictions” to understand his purpose among it all, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that he has the power to change his life, which is then stated again more skillfully in End of Evangelion. Ultimately, the expression of this philosophy and Shinji’s experience of it allow us to imagine that Shinji too will grow out of his constant indecisiveness.

Thus, Evangelion and Watamote each express very specific themes at the expense of the immediate development of their main character, but because we can imagine the path of development that each character will take, practically nothing is lost in the process, while much is gained in the way of strengthening their themes. Both share the presentation of a complex negative experience, cringe on one hand, and sorrow on the other, and offer a practical resolution, which manifests in Watamote’s unconditional self-love and Evangelion’s philosophical realization of self-choice.

To bring this back to the main point, we are now miles away from the simple cathartic feeling of happiness or sadness, but still talking about the basic process of how the consumer relates with art. What these two animes do is explore a specific bad feeling, but leave many people having enjoyed them and even having felt bettered as a person despite this. They do this by the expert handling of their characters to deliver an incredibly specific experience and message that the audience can relate to themselves and then apply.

This is the unique capacity of art. Great art not only evokes a positive or negative emotion, but rather presents you a specific experience that leaves you with an extremely nuanced “feeling” toward it or understanding of it. Thus, why you can love something that on the surface “makes you feel bad”. There is a lot more going on under the surface than the simple word “cringe” or “sorrow” expresses.

Power to influence in such a specific way is the strength of art. So, in a way, Anime has the most capacity to be specific, because it has more meaningful facets that can be tuned by the artist by way of the scope of animation. So perhaps, just maybe, anime has something over every other artform, and this is why anime can so consistently leave you with rich and nuanced experiences. For now, though, that’s why your favorite anime can make you feel sorrow or cringe, but still leave you loving it.

Digibro’s Watamote video: https://youtu.be/XO8A1liUcGU

How Parasyte Broke My Heart

What I expected:

Spooky monster

What I got:

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Disclaimer: I’m experimenting with a more personal/subjective/humorous style in this post, so bear with me.

Also Disclaimer: Lots of spoilers (but it’s best that you know them, before it’s too late for you too).

My viewing experience of Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (or Parasyte) was layered and involved, but for all the wrong reasons. Having heard about Parasyte and seen some images from it online, I was strapped in for some creative and diverse body horror. For those of you who don’t know, Parasyte is about a high-school kid whose arm is infested with a Parasyte (monster) that he is forced to spend all his waking moments with.

Not far into Parasyte, I quickly realized that my hopes for the show, despite being fed by an interesting first episode, were clearly not going to be paid off. Instead, they were replaced with new hopes that the intriguing themes of cross-species psychology and human nature hinted at early on would be explored in greater detail as the show developed. Knowing this, I waved goodbye to the body horror I had initially hoped for and prayed for the best.

This is my story.

Having just entangled myself in a convoluted watch order for Haruhi and with my first viewing of Evangelion still eating away at my soul, I thought it would be refreshing to watch something a little more straightforward. So, when my friend suggested this show, I responded, “What the hell is Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu?”, but then he explained that everyone just called it Parasyte. Upon finding out it was about monsters that infest humans and transform their bodies into horrific and deadly monsters I was immediately on board. In fact, the monsters I remembered seeing from the show on the internet had me bursting with excitement.

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At this point, I was rocking manically in my seat and praying for the show to be good by whispering latin backwards at double-time speed under my breath. My friend flashed me a look of concern, but I urged him that it was just the air-conditioner turning on. I desperately wanted this show to be good.

I’ll go into the first episode here, because it’s where many of my expectations were set.

And good it was (at first). The very first Parasyte is a terrifying husbando Parasyte that takes a gruesome bite out of both his wife and child. Damn, that’s brutal, I thought, grinning like a toddler. Exposition happens and the standard anime protagonist, Shinichi Izumi, gets his arm burrowed in by a snakelike creature, but he tourniquets his arm with earbuds to keep it from infesting his body. Something something, he accidentally grabs his friend, Murano’s breast and goes home early from school. Typical anime stuff.

On the way home, he ends up saving a girl who is chasing a ball into the street from a speeding car by stopping it with his right hand. Sure, this kind of thing comes off as a cliché, but it intrigued me, because, I was thinking, either this Shinji Ikari-looking kid would be in control of this Parasyte, which would incite some interesting character development, or there would be some battle for control between the Parasyte and him. Either way, I was interested in seeing where this was going. Sure enough, when he goes to sleep that night and wakes up the next day, we see that Migi, the Parasyte that has infiltrated and taken control of his arm, has detached from him and has started reading everything it can. I immediately loved the Migi character concept as Izumi’s disembodied arm and the fact that they form an alliance not to kill each other (or rather, the understanding that if Izumi tried to remove his arm, Migi would kill him out of self-interest).

It’s also emphasized very clearly that Migi is motivated purely by self-interest, which is an important detail. We also see our first fully developed enemy Parasyte attack in this episode. It’s an animal Parasyte, and when they come across it, it starts flying after them. Fucking flying! Further in, we got some weird, cryptic hints at the reason for the existence of Parasytes, and I immediately realized that humans are viewed as a plague by Parasytes for their effect on the environment. Now that’s what I’m talking about! So far, the first episode had done a great job of both satisfying my initial expectations and giving me a bit more to chew on in the form of potential themes.

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As my viewing continued, I was becoming worried that there wouldn’t be many cool Parasyte monsters in the show, but I figured they just needed to make room for exposition, right?

Wrong. This entire episode was a cruel bait. That flying dog creature? It goes down in history as by far the coolest Parasyte in the entire show. We don’t even see a single other animal Parasyte for the rest of the show! In other words, my most hoped-for aspect of the show only went downhill from the first episode, as basically every Parasyte after that was some variation of this creature.

Standard parasyte

RIP lovecraftian baddies.

Along with this, the horror aspect of the show was hardly present. So much for my first anime-horror experience. Although, I will admit that Murano (Izumi’s love interest) being traumatized by watching all her classmates be horribly murdered was pretty intense, but besides that and a few edge cases, this can hardly be called a horror show.

So, although my hopes of being horrified into a good experience were dashed, I was still interested in the cool themes on human nature and the interplay between Migi and Izumi, so I still had relatively high ho-

**AIRHORNS**, it’s time for a love triangle!

These two girls were the worst thing to happen to this show by a significant margin. I’ll admit that Kana was alright as a character. She had the special ability to notice Parasytes, which she mistook for being drawn to specifically Izumi. Murano, on the other hand, was simply the cute childhood friend of Izumi, and that’s it.

I don’t support the addition of a love triangle in the first place, but between the two, Kana is easily best girl number one. Not even close. This was purely because her ability made her interesting, while Murano was a basic bitch in every sense of the word.

Guess what happens to Kana though?

She fucking dies.

WOOHOOO! It’s not like I was that attached to Kana in the first place, but the fact that she was brought into the show just to be killed off not 5 episodes later just made her arc feel like a contrived waste of time. It’s as if her only purpose was to either get the audience hooked on a love triangle long enough to notice the show wasn’t going anywhere or to force Izumi through something traumatic. Her presence in the show is just flawed. She should have been killed in the writing room before we ever saw her.

All better I suppose, at least there is no love triangle n- wait. That means were left here with Murano, for the rest of the show… Kill me please.

What makes this so bad is that Murano gets no development. For about 10 episodes in a row, she notices that Izumi has been acting strange, but doesn’t get to learn what is happening with him, because Migi won’t let Izumi tell her. Using this tension isn’t criminal, but they milk it, and milk it, and milk it while their relationship goes nowhere and takes up screen time. I swear to fuck, she says some variation of this sentence 10 times in a row:

“You’ve been acting strange… you just don’t seem like Shinichi Izumi anymore.”

We get it! The main character is developing, yay! Maybe they should have developed this relationship instead. It stalls out like this for the entire time that Izumi is growing as a character.

The problem is, Izumi begins to change so much that he begins to lose his emotions entirely, and begins to act in a detached way. In the funniest scene in the show, he gives a dead puppy in the street a proper burial by tossing it in a trash can, much to Murano’s horror. It’s heavily implied that the reason for this is in fact that he is becoming too Parasyte-like and losing some of his humanity.

It turns out though, that he’s just sad because his mom died! When the Parasyte that killed his mom is killed by police, and doesn’t kill the human offspring that she ended up raising for reasons of happenstance, Izumi cries (something he hadn’t been able to do) and realizes that it was not accepting the death of his mother that had closed him off from his feelings, not being a Parasyte.

This is so contrived that it angered me when it happened. It was a great emotional moment, don’t get me wrong. The dying Parasyte woman leaving the human baby alive in the same scene as Izumi rediscovering his humanity was powerful, and with this song playing, I couldn’t help but shed a tear. I also couldn’t help but feel that I had been tricked into thinking that it was teased that there was more to the human-Parasyte dynamic within Izumi, just so nobody would expect this moment. I suppose that’s a fair twist, but it was extremely disappointing given that was one of my primary reasons for continuing to watch the “You just don’t seem like Shinchi Izumi anymore” show.

That said, it is here that the best themes of Parasyte are finally explored. An exploration of what human beings are and the arbitrariness of our morality. Humans and Parasytes act the same; they just want to survive. It just so happens that the Parasytes’ method of survival involves the death of humans.

It’s also interesting that what the Parasytes do (killing humans) is a huge net-benefit for most species. Humans constantly encroach on the habitats and lives of other species, yet ironically consider it a huge injustice when their numbers are threatened in relatively small amounts. I really enjoyed being forced to sympathize with the enemy.

By this point in my viewing, I was more than three quarters of the way through the show, and could reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of the disappointment that is Parasyte. Nothing from then to the end of the show changed my opinion much, and I still feel the same way today.

A great aspect of Parasyte is the combat strategy that Migi and Izumi use to defeat some of the enemy Parasytes. I know I already said that the enemies were boring, but some of them had subtle differences, such as different weaknesses based on what parts of the body were being manipulated by Parasytes, that made them slightly more interesting opponents. The moments in which Migi held off the opponent off by engaging them in a clusterfuck blade battle while Izumi would surprise them with an attack in their vulnerable spot (nnaa~) were very tense and allowed us to see Izumi’s growth both physically and emotionally.

parasyte-battle

Parasyte’s visuals ended up being pretty drab overall. While it’s cool to see monsters transform from people’s heads, it gets old after the about the 10th time. And with little visual variety, it left me with a big feeling of meh. Background art was lackluster as well, and some of the filler characters in the background had a strange look.

The directing in this show was very uninspired. As far as the camera angles and shot composition go, there was very little variation and it felt like very similar from shot to shot. I think good directing could have done a lot for this show to make it more interesting.

The soundtrack just felt totally off at points. The OP song is subpar, and I ended up skipping through it almost every time. There are several points in the show, especially action sequences, when dubstep is playing and it just doesn’t quite fit. Being the boldest choice in the show, it’s a shame it didn’t work.

But the saddest thing about Parasyte for me is this. Although I quickly realized Parasyte wouldn’t give me what I wanted with the horror and monster elements, it constantly teased me with the promise to deliver on its interesting themes and ideas. I always had the feeling that at any moment, we would find out all about the psychology between Migi and Izumi, and how their biological relationship really worked, but it feels like their dynamic was just used to fudge out whatever circumstance would be useful at that point in the narrative. Toward the end I was clinging to the vain hope that we would learn all about Parasytes and where they came from, just to have something interesting to leave the show with. Although the end did at least focus on the themes of human vs. Parasyte nature, forcing the viewer to examine their own nature further, it was hardly a footnote in the grand scheme of things.

Before I end this sadness rant I have to talk about the ending. It seemingly came out of nowhere that the serial killer guy from earlier in the show would get free and kidnap Murano. He holds her hostage on the roof of a building and is about to brutally slice her open in front of Izumi, but after engaging in a solid bit of “villain” monologue, he throws her off the roof of a building instead, allowing Izumi to come to her rescue and save her from dying.

This was a huge disappointment. To see Murano, the character that caused me so much pain and the most uninteresting character in the show to die, would have brought me so much joy and redemption that it may have bumped it up a whole point in my rating (I currently have it at a 4/10). Alas, this did not happen.

Overall, Parasyte is tragically average in my book. It seems like it never wanted to take any risks or be confident, and its areas of potential suffered immensely for it. What this show really needed was to dive deeper into something. The horror, the themes, anything, and go all the way, but it simply didn’t and that’s a damn shame. It’s a personal tragedy for me as well, as I came in expecting fun, was denied my fun and then told I might get something else worthwhile, and in the end got lukewarm lameness. Good riddance Parasyte, you could have at least killed Murano.

The Subtle Genius of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

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A close viewing of the first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has made me appreciate how much thought went into every shot and scene. Although I don’t yet have a full viewing under my belt, the writing and especially visual techniques used in Stand Alone Complex convey important details about its world and characters so expertly that it’s worth talking about. Namely, Kenji Kamiyama’s frequent use of visual flow and subtle world-building to enliven the world and clarify the relationship between Major Kusanagi and her team without ever bogging down the pace.

 

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The very first shot of the OP is a pan down from the sprawling city of Niihama to a puddle on the ground, which is then stepped in by our main character, Major Kusanagi, which briefly reveals her invisible camouflage. This not only quickly captivates us with the setting, but then, without cutting away, quickly draws us into the world by placing Major front in center and simultaneously teasing the kind of advanced technology that will be used in the show; packing in so much information and detail into just a few seconds.

Next, the juxtaposition of a Tachikoma (robot) deftly maneuvering around an enemy, and the next shot of Major Kusanagi doing the same draws attention to the robotic, but fluid way that Kusanagi moves throughout the show.

Exhibit A: Major casually falling off a rooftop in the opening scene.

Exhibit B: Her graceful landing from the helicopter compared to her partner Batou, which happens later in the episode when they are confronting the minister at an airport.

More importantly, this hints at themes of transhumanism heavily embedded in the show. The very juxtaposition of Major moving right after the Tachikomas and in a similar fashion draws a sort of unspoken parallel. Also, during this sequence, the lyrics of the opening theme are of a woman who laments that she wishes to “remain herself longer”, but also desires to answer the call of “Aeria Gloris” (heavenly glory), expressing an inner struggle between divine change and the consistency of the self. Furthermore, the first shot after the opening is a paragraph describing the world as one in which the consciousnesses of some have been transformed into data, but “standalone” individuals still exist, both paying credence to namesake and building the world, all while further hammering home the struggle between the individual and transcendence, whether that transcendence is in the form of becoming synthetic or the melding of consciousnesses.  Subtle manipulations like these that work largely at an unconscious level are what stood out to me the most when watching the first episode of Stand Alone Complex, and I’m hopeful that it will reflect the series.

The real ‘opening shot’ is of a couple of helicopters descending diagonally upon the city, setting a precedence for the sense of verticality established throughout the first episode and for the technique of using moving objects to direct attention. Indeed, as the camera follows the helicopters, our main character, Major Kusanagi, sits like a hood ornament atop a skyscraper, looking down at her mission objective.

Major continues this descent with a flip off the skyscraper onto the building below, surprising the criminal and apprehending him an extended rooftop chase sequence, showing off Major’s sleek movement and skills.

Major is about to finish him off when she receives orders for Aramaki, her superior, and she asks her partner, Batou, if he also heard the order. The verticality of the city is reinforced once again as Batou rises to Major’s level in one of the helicopters from the opening shot, and at this point the shot switches to looking down at Major from his perspective. Two important things are accomplished by this scene; creating the sense of a real, living world by using the continuity of the helicopters from the opening scene and establishing that these characters are never far away on a physical or social level, due to the level of technology in both transportation and communication available to the team. Verticality is consistently used as a means of surprising the viewer and reminding us that there are many dimensions to the world, especially with all of technology that defy the typical limitations between characters.

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The transition from this scene into the episode’s main conflict contains a description of the events that just transpired in the preceding scene, reiterating what we just saw in written word and perhaps establishing the importance of information in the show. This is the most unique way of maintaining flow and world-building using content directly from the script to keep them in the viewers mind during a transition.

From here, we are taken to overhead of the city, depicting a large-scale crime scene and shown horizontal pan to show this sense of scale. Traffic cops directing helicopters are ingeniously used to guide the direction of the camera toward the crime scene’s epicenter, which is a restaurant.

Once inside the crime zone, we see a heavily armed police force pouring out of a van into the surrounding area. The whole scene transforms into a hologram, and a zoom changes the location to a conference room, in which military and police are arguing in a remote location over what should be done about the situation.

Think about how masterfully this whole sequence is orchestrated! What could be a series of jarring cuts between police cars, armed men, and a conference room is instead a smooth transition from the area of interest to the characters of interest. Beautiful.

Kubota, Aramaki’s colleague, is shown standing up from his chair and in the next moment is walking out of the van to speak with Aramaki, maintaining the character that is moving while keeping the pace brisk.

After Aramaki gives his orders, we see major in profile as she storms the restaurant and introduces each team member by checking their status and giving them orders, giving us insight into their perception and feelings about the situation and their personalities while keeping the pace fast for the impending action.

Saito’s introduction is by far the most interesting of the team members. Being the sniper, he is introduced through his view in the scope of his sniper rifle, making his role very clear; shoot to kill. A zoom out from the barrel of his rifle to reveal a scarred and hardened veteran fleshes out his character as much as is necessary for now.

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A pan down from Saito’s elevated position to maintain visual continuity shows Paz and Borma waiting in a car in an alleyway, both lightly armed thug-looking guys. This reinforces the characters’ relationship as a team. By placing them in the same shot, it feels like the camera is literally moving from person to person without cutting away, which is the same way it would be done if they were all in the same room together.

Next, we see Major, Batou and Togusa approach the building from three different angles; from both sides and from below, cornering the building from multiple angles in a strategic manner. A cut to a pond-side deck and a pan over to an open doorway that transforms into a zoom in from just outside the doorway creates the affect that we are invading the building ourselves, as one of the members of Major’s team.

Once inside, slow panning shots around corners reveal the hostages and their captors. This creates tension, as each new shot has the potential to be the angle that Major and her team either blow their cover, or make their move. Sure enough, jump cuts from each captor to another create a sense of confusion as they are dispatched with a few quick headshots and falling to Section-9, and specifically Major Kasunagi’s prowess in infiltration.

As major plunges toward herself toward one of the captors whose destroyed head is still sparking and plugs herself in, there is a slo-mo zoom out to an overhead shot of the city (sound familiar) and a zoom in to another rooftop, where we see the man presumably controlling the now dead drones and behind the entire operation.

Right after this, we get a funny moment in which the Togusa and Batou appear after all of the action has transpired, establishing who the most effective member of section-9 is quite clearly.

the gang

To assure you that this quality is not just in the first half of the episode, there is still great visual flow later in the episode. As Major sits in the car waiting for Aramaki, we see a wide shot of both Aramaki and the car with Major in it, but when Aramaki opens the door, we get a closeup of him from Major’s perspective.

The expert use of visuals and other subtleties used in this show just allow so much meaning to be packed into each scene, and it’s what has me hooked on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This isn’t the last you’ll be hearing of it either, considering the second episode gave me a healthy dose of both chills and feels.

 

 

 

Made in Abyss is Fucking Awesome.

What is it?

The Abyss is a society of people who live circled around a giant hole in the earth to seek riches or to explore its depths. The main character, Riko, is one of many orphans whose parents have died during their expeditions, and her life purpose is to become as great as her mother, who was the highest rank of explorer possible, a white whistle.

Made in Abyss gives so much, despite not asking much from its viewers. Compared to something like Neon Genesis Evangelion, a metaphor laden study of interpersonal connections and the psychology of its damaged characters wearing the thin mask of a Mecha anime, Made in Abyss lies everything on the table, and what it lies on the table is fucking awesome.

Gorgeous landscapes, Lovecraftian monsters and cute kids are supported by stunning, yet simple visuals. It was no surprise to learn that some of the art for this show was made by the same artists who worked on Spirited Away and Ponyo. If it were not for the visuals, the simplicity and occasional slow-pacing may be a bit boring, but, as is, the show works masterfully.

In the beginning, there was a giant, flying snake monster…

The very first conflict is with a flying monster known as a Scarlet Maw from deep in the abyss, holy shit! The main character’s friend is knocked out bleeding and narrowly escapes being eaten. As Riko runs from the beast and is knocked to the ground we see her fall and tumble over herself in a beautiful display of animation. She nearly breaks her arm in her escape, and just before she is forced to either jump off a cliff, or into the creature’s mouth, a goddamn cylinder of light energy bursts into the shot, damaging the creature and scaring it off, leaving a smoldering semi-circle in petrified trees it penetrated.

This opening scene really encapsulates the appeal of the show. It’s got visuals! It’s got action! Of course, some of what makes Made in Abyss so good is not as obvious as the amazing visuals and action scenes.

Dark Undertones, Mystery, and Directness

The moment that Riko sees the Scarlet Maw we wonder “Why the hell is this scary-looking monster on the first layer?”, and then she remarks to herself that they sometimes come up to look for food.

The implications of this are many. First, this is a world of chaotic adventure that is not entirely understood. Perhaps, in a more refined society, the Scarlet Maws’ feasting patterns would be purposely staggered with the exploring schedule, but this is not the world Riko lives in. Even the first layer of the abyss is an incredibly dangerous place. Meaning, that sometimes, explorers might just die to choosing a bad day to go relic hunting! This of course means that the children are sent on frequent journeys that may get them killed; a dark truth. It is also true that the main character and all of her friends are orphans, and work in dangerous child labor simply to profit the orphanage. Although this is a bleak look at their life, this is never dwelt on, and is simply the backdrop for the adventure. Even Riko is not concerned with escaping her horrible existence, and simply wants to become as good an explorer as her mother was.

That Riko immediately answers the unspoken question about the Scarlet Maw’s presence is indicative of how the show uses mystery to drive the plot on both a small and large scale. Although mysteries such as “What lies at the bottom of the abyss?” persistently create interest in the future of the plot, smaller mysteries are constantly brought up and dealt with efficiently as episode-to-episode conflicts. More satisfying is that these persistent mysteries are paid off in small, but wonderful ways, such as when we are ingeniously teased with the latest version of the map of the abyss, when one of Riko’s friends steals it from the headmaster’s office in episode 2.

Made in Abyss doesn’t dawdle. The directness and efficiency of the show is carried mainly by Reg and Riko, who seem extremely good at problem-solving for a couple of tweenage kids (or rather, a teenage kid and her relic/robot companion). Their fastidiousness and thoughtful mindsets are used not only to solve plot-conflicts, such as how to deal with Corpse Weepers (a creature that mimics the cries of its already dead prey to lure its next meals), but also as a world-building device. For example, Riko has the idea that a letter she received from the bottom of the Abyss was hastily scrawled out, and was thus probably sent multiple times in order to increase the likelihood that one of them would reach the top. This small detail enriches our emotional connection to the explorers below.

Furthermore, the characters are direct with their emotions and rarely hold anything in. When there is a problem between characters, it is not bottled up in shots of the characters grimacing silently, but quickly resolves in emotional scenes where everyone, including the viewer, is crying.

A Secondary Appeal

I’m someone who has played a lot of games, played a bit of D&D and read some H.P Lovecraft. The show seems so influenced by games in the way its world is designed, such as how the Abyss is setup in layers and that there is a penalty for returning to a previous layer and many of its creatures seem straight out of a Lovecraft novel. For me personally, fantasizing about a Made in Abyss game, or designing a D&D adventure in this setting has vastly increased the enjoyment of the show for me, and will keep it in mind for months and years to come.

And I’m sure nobody can wait to see the kinds of monsters that lie waiting in the lower layers of the abyss.

Verdict

Made in Abyss is so good that it pulled me from my post-Evangelion depression long enough for me to write my first ever blog post. It gets a 9/10 from me only because it slows down toward the middle and I think it can do even more with its premise. I have high expectations for season 2.