By Drew D. / September 1st, 2022
|Title||Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence|
|Produced By||Production I.G
|Original Release Date||March 6, 2004 (JP)
September 17, 2004 (US)
Unlike Ghost in the Shell (1995), of which I had fond memories wholly colored by pure nostalgia, my recollection of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is starkly different. Having only watched the film after experiencing the brilliant revitalization of the franchise through Stand Alone Complex, I remember Ghost in the Shell 2 being a convoluted, poorly developed examination of the series’ common themes framed around a storyline that received the absolute minimal of effort by its writers. In fact, what I remember most vividly is my own feeling of disappointment when contrasting the success of Stand Alone Complex’s fantastic stories, character development, and world building with the clash of Ghost in the Shell 2’s struggle to engage and immerse me throughout the film. Nostalgia again may be playing a role regarding my feelings and memories here, as I have fond ones innumerable for S.A.C. With that in mind, I’ve decided to revisit Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in the hopes that I discover new charms, new depth, and a perhaps an appreciation for a film I have since felt unfavorably towards all those years ago.
Taking place after the first film, Ghost in the Shell 2 begins with Public Security Section 9’s Batou and Togusa investigating a string of killings by supposed malfunctioning gynoids. Due to the frequency and specificity of the particular types of robots involved, the investigative tone transitions from hardware failure to premeditated murder, yet with no clear motives in view. The investigation takes an umbral turn when the remnants of a ghost, a human consciousness, are found in one of the gynoids. Soon after, a Yakuza hit involving an employee of LOCUS SOLUS, the manufacturer of these specific gynoids, provides a step towards a far deeper conspiracy. And so what began as a probe of possible hardware malfunction turns into a vastly more sinister narrative of corporate malfeasance, organized crime, trafficking, and the exploitation of both body and soul.
After my rewatch, Ghost in the Shell 2 remains in my eyes a mishmash of philosophical themes, droning dialogue, and sequences that try, but fail, to set mood, all bearing over a poorly constructed story. Beginning with its story, it’s a spotty, fragmented drama, whose key points are nearly buried by the producers’ attempts to jam as much existentialism and implicitness into every scene. The story is so hollow, it comes off as if the writers made a list of points to cover from the manga chapters this film is based on without any desire whatsoever to flesh them out. The result is a wisp of a plotline, unable to hold one’s attention, let alone begin to immerse.
A glaring example of this lack of detail is the scene where the dead LOCUS SOLUS employee is discovered. This should be a major turning point, as this is when the story begins its transformation from murder investigation to the realization that something deeper is unfolding. The scene is portrayed in a nebulous manner, however, in which viewers may miss the connections that, later on, tie all of the pieces of the mystery together. Instead, the connections and final resolution feel anything but, too far stretched thin and buried under stylized allegory by the time they occur. Perhaps the writers realized they had taken their reliance on implication and metaphor too far, as towards the end of the film, one of the characters provides a short expositive monologue for Batou’s sake, yet more likely for ours. Needless to say, I would have preferred substance throughout rather then failed profundity and a summary at the end.
Alternatively to a deep story, Ghost in the Shell 2 focuses on introducing existential and philosophical themes framed around its trademark backdrops of technological and digital advancement. Ideas concerning constituents of life, and questions pertaining to consciousness, their origins and what may possess them, are some of the themes the film presents. Can a shell, in any of its robotic iterations, be considered living if having possession of a consciousness? Does the method of how that consciousness came about play into the answer? Similar to Ghost in the Shell (1995), these themes and resultant questions are proposed to make its audience think; to consider possibilities that may arise as the lines between life and technology blur.
Unfortunately, just like its predecessor, Ghost in the Shell 2 only vaguely attempts to prompt said discussions, as there is hardly any depth offered to keep the discussion going. Rather, these themes are brought up haphazardly throughout a wash of convoluted conversations, silent implications, and attempts at tone-instilling symbolism. These methods of narration are partly to blame, most notably the dialogue, as it’s uninspired and quote heavy, purely to serve as a means to pack in as many references to philosophy, religion, and symbolism as possible. A passing quote or mention of a philosophical topic before firing off the next only serves to exemplify the detached style of narrative. The results are interactions full of indifference rather than the implications and allusions the writers are trying for. And those attempts to encourage the audience to contemplate those existential themes fail in the end, as no room is left for further exploration through narration, nor time for viewers to consider the deeper meanings. I, personally, kept having to adjust my attention and train of thought as I tried to make sense of the detached strings of theoretical verbiage. In the end, the reliance on themes through brute force and implication simply doesn’t hold up. Pairing all of this with its shallow storyline and you have a film that’s just downright plodding.
Ghost in the Shell 2’s characters don’t fare much better than the story, again being treated as an afterthought rather than receiving any kind of investment by its writers. Batou is the ever gruff tank and Togusa takes Batou’s place from the first film as the discussion partner. And similar to the first film, character development is also nearly nonexistent. All we learn of Togusa is that he was recruited when he was a police detective and is your stereotypical family man. As for Batou, he’s still the blank-faced tough guy, but now with the smallest of hints of sentimentality for the missing Kusanagi, and a soft spot for his pet basset hound. However, there is one stand out moment for Batou; a single, burst of emotion where he shows anger and sympathy for the dolls involved. Normally, I love these emotional moments and would have loved to have seen more emotion by the characters throughout the film. Regrettably, the emotions Batou displays in this instant only make me feel downright uncomfortable and leave me with a poor impression of him. How the scene plays, overall, comes off as ill-fitted to the rest of the film, simply because of the lack of emotion throughout. But what ultimately will stick with me, the one defining moment of this film, is Batou losing his cool to a child; a trapped, desperate victim. That, to me, is the stand out scene, for it turns Batou into a complete ass. And that’s it; Batou’s an ass, Togusa exists, and regarding the rest of the cast, there’s so little to them that I just won’t bother.
Whereas the story and its parts only leave subpar impressions and a feeling of exasperation, which you may now be feeling after having read that top half of this review, the aesthetics of Ghost in the Shell 2 leave a better impression. Starting with its animation, the quality is excellent, with its characters and their actions rendered fluidly and adding much needed mood and spirit to help draw in its viewers. The small actions like opening a can of beer or lighting a cigarette stand out, as they all feel authentic to the point of relatable. The equally subtle play on lighting throughout the film, such as the orange glow of holograms or the shifts in lighting when characters walk or drive under lights, also impresses and never fails to contribute to the moods of their featured scenes. Of course the complex animation sequences, such as the adrenaline-pumping action scenes where we see sprays of bullets, raucous melee, and brutal physical destruction, are all outstanding and captivating. They inject plenty of energy and instill that intensity we’ve come to expect from the franchise. My one issue in relation to those more complex animation sequences would be their noticeable scarcity, as heavy action and combat are secondary to the more moody, implicit scenes of mundane inaction and stoicism.
As for its art style, the film implements a mostly 2D endeavor with 3D CGI, similar to its predecessor film. The 2D style is, of course, saturated in digital and hardware advancement with also quite a bit of holographic portrayal. The quality is high, with detailed illustration across its characters, animation, and backdrops, making for a plausible depiction of a cyberized future. Regarding the implementation of 3D CGI, there’s certainly more than the first film, ranging from static adornments within a 2D backdrop, to fully 3D and animated environments, too. The results definitely stand out, as one would expect when having 2D characters moving about a 3D CGI world. And so, the two styles tend to clash, making for a few awkward sequences here and there, though I do give credit to the times when the two styles work well together.
Lastly, Ghost in the Shell 2’s audio is a mixed bag, in that it possesses some excellent sound effect usage and competent voice acting, however also features a limited and forgettable soundtrack. The sound effects played during wordless scenes and moments that call for ambience are notable, further helping to set moods along with its paired imagery. Solemn scenes of routine or wordless stretches of reason and reflection all contribute to the feel that something deeper awaits. But too much of a good thing can hurt, as these scenes of ambience and silent thought are used far too often, taking away from their impact and leaving me bored at times. The opposites of these scenes, the ones full of gunfire and brutality, are only enhanced by the exquisite accompanying sounds of chaos and destruction one would expect.
The voice acting, both the original Japanese and the English dub, is also fairly strong, as this is the only real source of life the characters receive throughout the film. Most of the voice actors that lent their talents to the first film and S.A.C. return here, a huge plus given their abilities.
Then there’s the soundtrack, whose music never adds to the moods or tones on screen, and never quite caught my attention. The tracks just fade into the background of the scenes they’re used for without making any lasting impression. Many of the tracks also sound curiously similar, and that could have been a contributing factor as to why I find the music so unmemorable. Thus with sound effects that have their successful moments of impact versus a sound score soon forgotten, the audio aesthetic is adequate at best.
So it seems my impression of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence has not changed much between my initial viewing of the film years ago and this rewatch. It remains an unimpressive attempt to delve into the franchise’s common themes without the needed depth and development to nurture any kind of lasting intrigue. Its story is a framework at best, a collection of plot points easily lost between stretches of inaction and convoluted scenes filled with philosophic verbal logorrhea. Although the film looks impressive and possesses an audio effort that deserves merit, aesthetics alone are not enough to cover up the film’s glaring flaws. Bottom line, the film just isn’t entertaining. And so, whether it be fans of the genre or the franchise, this is nonetheless a hard pass for most. If curiosity gets the better of anyone, I would only suggest that one prepares themself for a slow, uninteresting drudge through attempted profoundness.
animeCyberpunkGhost in the ShellGhost in the Shell 2InnocenceProduction I.GReviewTBT