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Ghost in the Shell Arise: Borders 1 & 2
One of the most successful of all anime franchises has been the Ghost in the Shell series. Originally a manga series from Masamune Shirow, published by Kodansha, it has been successfully adapted into a ongoing anime franchise through powerhouse anime studio Production I.G., who first adapted the work into the acclaimed anime film by extraordinaire filmmaker Mamoru Oshii.
Oshii's film was a breathtaking work of intellectual science fiction and won the acclaim of critics and general moviegoers both in Japan and throughout the world. The concept was later the basic conceptual design for creating a anime television program, which became Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (which was directed by Masamune Shirow). While Production I.G. advertised the four-part Ghost in the Shell: Arise as being a prequel series, it also seems specifically designed for both new and old audiences and it feels more like a reboot series. On this release, viewers will find the first two episodes of this iteration: Border 1 - Ghost Pain and Border 2 - Ghost Whispers, each a standalone OVA of around one hour in length. 4 'Borders' are planned in total for this series.
In the first episode of the show, the story picks up with a murder which is under investigation following a devastating bombing. The tangled web unfolds with a top secret, mysterious group known as '501 Organization' recruiting Motoko (voiced in this recast Japanese version by none other than the amazing artist Maaya Sakamoto, renowned for both her impeccable music and for collaborations with Yoko Kanno - coincidentally, the acclaimed composer of the previous Ghost in the Shell incarnation). Sakamoto is one of the great Japanese singers. Her voice is impeccable. And she is absolutely talented as voice actor as well. (I was previously quite impressed with her work performing as a voice actor for Arakawa Under the Bridge and Trigun: Badlands Rumble).
Motoko is just now coming to terms with having a cyborg body and she has to learn how to deal with organizational issues related to servicing of her cyborg body's maintenance, as she is told her living comes with quite the expense (so she is "requested" to work with them in return, as she is also known as a mastermind hacker who could benefit their group). As the story of the first Border unfolds, she must delve into the mystery of a group of ongoing murders and figure out how they connect to the one at beginning of the episode. Motoko must also find a way to support herself through her ties to this organization. She also meets and has to learn to deal with Batou (voiced by Matsuda Kenichirou), who in later incarnations plays a bigger role than the character does here, but this is ultimately just a introduction designed for Border One.
Border 2 follows a similar mystery-themed plot-line surrounding a event in which the logicomas become hacked. The episode takes on a more cerebral and strange design with Motoko in a state that is otherworldly and technological as she must deal with a deranged cyborg with a strangely fierce ability to use technology against others. The cyborg comes into conflict with her and the Public Security Section 9 must find a way to stop the chaos. Motoko is no longer restricted to the duties previously required of the 501 Organization. (Though I won't be spoiling how that happens.)
While there's no doubt that some of the action sequences and visual splendor of the show is the work of great animators and artists, Ghost in the Shell: Arise fails to feel as impeccably made when compared to past incarnations. While I never saw every episode of the Stand Alone Complex series, I was greatly impressed by what I did see. I am also a fan of the brilliant, enormously original, and brainy Mamoru Oshii feature films. Those are much more smart, entertaining, and complex works of art than Arise is.
One element of this series that I especially appreciated was the brand new music composed by Cornelius, a artist who is unquestionably one of Japan's most technically savvy and creative artists. His music deftly blends electronics with a more classical style of composition that is focused on specific melodies and rhythmic beats to absorb a listener in his colorful world of compositions. To be involved in Ghost in the Shell: Arise is somehow fitting (despite some of my issues with the series). Yoko Kanno is one of the most brilliant composers working in the film, television, and anime world to this day and her music to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is some of the best I've ever heard for any anime or film production (stateside or in Japan).
The producers of the previous series knew to hire someone who had a noteworthy pedigree as an acclaimed and noteworthy musician. Thus, Cornelius was brought in to work on this series. If there is any area where this collaboration may disappoint, it's found in the unreasonably high expectations viewer might have for what the music might sound like after the brilliant results Kanno delivered again and again for S.A.C.
Cornelius is also less prolific and thereby the series has less music per scene than the former series did. This means the show isn't constantly having an array of electric tunes. Yet this is certainly no criticism of Cornelius. As a huge fan of his creative musical energy, it's clear he poured forth his stylistic approach into the series whenever he could in a compelling way. It makes the scenes that do highlight his score even more intense, beautiful, and fun to watch (...and listen) to.
There are a few issues with Arise. First of all, prequels tend to have a lot more difficulties in keeping the storyline feeling fresh and original. Arise is no different in this regard. And the storytelling here was less intelligent than previous incarnations. I found the writing to feel somewhat jumbled and almost entirely convoluted. The writing was just not as succinct. Everything felt less inspired and the series felt like it was just going through the motions. Production merits are strong, though.
The series attempts to make up for its weak writing throughout the 'Borders' by utilizing cutting-edge animation that is beautifully stylish and perfectly fitting for the style of the show. For some audience members, the quality animation throughout each OVA might be enough to keep them entertained as the hyper action-packed sequences unfold. If you can't let go of the illogical and uninspired writing, though, the entirety of Arise feels like a cash-in rehash that fails as a reboot or prequel. The series even features some atypical product placements. I don't know about all viewers would feel on that subject matter, but experiencing Ghost in the Shell: The Product Placement Edition is a concept that certainly doesn't pique my interests as much as former incarnations of the Ghost in the Shell universe did with their originality, intelligence, and abundant creativity.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise finally arrives on Blu-ray in North America from anime distributor Funimation Entertainment with a pleasant 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation that spreads the two OVA episodes across two discs (with each disc containing one OVA). It's generally quite stellar as a presentation with crisp colors, good line definition, and clarity. The show's CG animation and stylistic approach seems to match the quality found on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The release also contains rather strong bit-rates for each Border episode. If there is any downside to the encodes, it's that there is an occasionally overly bright aspect of the animation which seems to help bring out noticeable banding issues on occasion. This seems to be inherent in the source animation, though. Most viewers should find this a impressive technical presentation which delivers a solid HD image.
Please Note: This is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release.
Funimation presents the show with a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio sound presentation for both the original Japanese language version (which is only available via the main menu with subtitled selected) and the newly produced English dub. I myself preferred watching the series with the Japanese audio, but both tracks sounded similar as far as surround design and dynamics go. The main difference seems to have been the localization of English speaking for the dub and both felt as though they were from the same sound design. It's also worth noting that the original Japanese editions (which were released as stateside imports at higher prices) also had a Dolby TrueHD audio presentation so the audio offering should be fairly similar if not identical. Subtitles are presented in English and are nonremovable when viewing in Japanese.
Much to my surprise, Funimation has included more supplements on this release than an average anime set. However, the quality of the supplements still leaves something to be desired as these extras are still somewhat standard.
Border 1 - Ghost Pain (Disc One):
The best inclusion is Ghost in the Shell: Arise at Anime Expo 2013 (21 min.) which features two primary elements. The first is with Funimation staff asking questions to attending convention-goers about Ghost in the Shell: Arise and their thoughts on the franchise. Some of the answers included on this release are surprising as it sounded like they did not have enough people who had answered (some talk about how they haven't seen the Stand Alone Complex series but are supposed to be comparing it to past incarnations), but most of the volunteer interviewees who answer questions do so with good spirit and energy.
The better part of the supplement is when the head producer and creative director overseeing Ghost in the Shell: Arise sat down to be interviewed during the convention. This segment is in Japanese with English subtitles. I found this to be far more interesting than a typical interview. For starters, viewers will learn that the creative director overseeing the production of Arise was previously the animation director for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and that he was surprised to even be offered to direct (he even describes it as a 'request'). The producer also goes on to say he hopes viewers 'like' the first part but that they start to love it during part two. This is so uncommon and atypical to most interviews that it made the interview refreshing. Some good information is discussed regarding the creation and production of the new series.
Logicoma Beat (2 min.) is a short anime skit featuring the fan-favorite robots in a cutesy-comedy piece.
A group of promotional trailers (including a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, and TV promotional clips) are included. The textless opening (featuring music by Cornelius) is also included.
Border 2 - Ghost Whispers (Disc Two):
The main inclusion on this OVA episode is a commentary track featuring members of the English dub cast.
Logicoma Court (2 min.) is another short animated skit done in a comedic style with those adorable robots.
Border 1 - Ghost Pain Cyberbrain - I.G. Night Talk Show (11 min.) is from a question and answer session which features some of the directors, animations, and producers creating the show through Production I.G. They discuss the process of making the first episode of the four part OVA and what it was like to reboot the series with a prequel outing.
Border 1 - Ghost Pain Cyberbrain - Cast Night Talk Show (11 min.) is a question and answer session from the same panel format used for the Production I.G. discussion, highlighting the discussion of the series through some of the Japanese VA's.
The disc also contains a number of brief promotional videos, including: Promotional Video, News Flash, Decode 501 File, Surface X Ghost in the Shell - Another Mission, Commercial, Blu-ray/DVD Spots, Pacific Racing Team X Ghost in the Shell Arise Promotional Video (an advertisement about the advertisement of Ghost in the Shell: Arise on Japanese race cars), and standard inclusions of textless opening/ending credits and the Funimation trailer for Ghost in the Shell: Arise.
Lastly, it's worth noting that the set comes in two standard Blu-ray cases with inside artwork on each case and a special collectible booklet with information on each 'Border' OVA, such as art spotlights and interviews with Japanese cast and crew (including a enjoyable interview on the music by Cornelius).
Final Thoughts:Ghost in the Shell: Arise is not as strong of an effort in rebooting the beloved anime franchise as some might be hoping to encounter. While the animation and overall production merits are just as beautiful as in the Stand Alone Complex series, the storylines and character-development in these OVA episodes feels miniscule and doesn't add much to the experience. The storylines don't even make that much sense. Unlike previous Ghost in the Shell installments, which felt intelligent, Arise feels watered down. Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly still want to give this series a spin to see it for themselves. Funimation has done a solid job with the presentation and this release is certainly at least worth a rental for Ghost in the Shell fans.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.