Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is Enjoyable, But Not in the Way You’d Think || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode 2020 anime “Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045,” produced by Netflix, animated by Production I.G and Sola Digital Arts, directed by Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama, and loosely based on the manga by Shirow Masamune.


A New Threat Emerges

The Synchronized Global Default changed everything about societies all over the globe. Now, in 2045, the economic disaster continues to impact the human race as the world enters a state of “Sustainable War” via AI technology just to keep money in the pockets of policy makers. But, as the Stand Alone Complex world continues to prove, people really do not possess any idea of the capabilities of these AI—as well as the potential threats to their own privacy and safety—while living in this rapidly accelerating cyberization age.

As a result of the economic fallout, Public Security Section 9 was kicked off government payroll and reduced to hired mercenary jobs out in the hot American southwest. Given the opportunities to engage their enhanced cyberbrains and combat skills, it’s not the worst outcome for full-body cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her partner-in-crime Batou. However, the emergence of extremely potent AIs with remarkable intelligence and physical might, dubbed “post humans,” just might be the global threat Section 9 Chief Aramaki needs to pull the old team back together again.

Off-the-grid sci-fi action and cyber crime dominate the scene as the classic Ghost in the Shell: SAC story returns with this latest installment. Don’t count your Tachikomas before they hatch, though, as this is far from the sequel longtime fans have been waiting for. Overrun with loud action stunts and a hardly tactical approach to most combat, 2045 may be the weakest entry thus far—and the switch to all 3D CG doesn’t give much to boast about. But, this is still a Ghost in the Shell story, mind you, and any GitS is worth watching if you love this universe like I do.

major in the tachikoma

The Old Gang Reunited

With a new Ghost in the Shell comes a new look for the Major. Although she doesn’t carry the same maternal air as the original SAC‘s Major, I do really like the pretty and iridescent quality that this Motoko bears. It’s as if the short bob and rebellious spirit of Arise‘s Major met the violet, cool-toned and commanding authority of SAC‘s. While Batou largely retains the same figure, including his signature prosthetic eyes, Togusa’s new look suits him quite well. I wasn’t particularly happy about hearing that his marriage fell apart in the time since SAC 2nd Gig (honestly the biggest crime here), but at least the shortened mullet makes him feel like a fresh man.

Perhaps my favorite single part of Netflix’s crack at GitS doesn’t even pertain to character designs, plot points, or the music—it’s the dub cast. Somehow, Bang Zoom was able to track down the all-star cast of the original SAC dub, including the incredible Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as BOTH the dub’s director and the Major herself. Add in Richard Epcar’s rough-around-the-edges Batou, Crispin Freeman’s rich yet naive Togusa, William Knight’s authoritative yet flighty old man Aramaki, and Melissa Fahn’s iconically squirrelish Tachikoma voice and, ahh, it’s a wonderful nostalgia trip. Mary Elizabeth’s Major really does embody the soul of this franchise. It was only after hearing the old Section 9 again that I was reminded just how much I’ve missed this world.

So, as you can tell, I wasn’t one to hate on the new character designs. The characters themselves aren’t necessarily here to be dynamic so much as to be badass cyber soldiers and carry out the plot (except maybe Togusa), and to each their own on that. But, if there’s one major gripe I have about the characters, it’s the facial expressions, which is a perfect segue to the show’s biggest controversy: the animation.

section 9

A Bold Switch of Style

As you may have heard fans gripe, directors Aramaki and Kamiyama decided to have all of 2045 animated in 3D CG. In addition to story focus and heightened emphasis on explosive action, this changed visual style makes 2045 feel even more removed from SAC‘s old roots. At what point do we stop calling it a sequel? I don’t even know where to begin on this one except for with the negatives.

For one, the lip flaps hardly match the voice acting—this is consistent across the English and Japanese dubs. Lots of dialogue may be spoken, but the mouth hardly moves. Now, 2045 can sometimes get away with this since A) half the characters are cyborgs, and B) much of the dialogue is communicated via connection to the Net, thus no need for spoken words. But even the most human characters suffer from a general lack of expressive facial emotions.

My second big gripe is that everything is CG. From vehicles and landscapes to special effects and the hair on a person’s head, it’s all been animated using digital technology. This means that, when something is textured, it’s generally done well and with consistency. On the other hand, when there’s no texture work, it’s entirely flat to the eyes. The production feels cheap as a result, sometimes gross, even if I know that it’s actually decent quality CG work being done here.

That said, I do, in fact, like the way this series looks (shocker, I know). Sure, I would’ve liked a more traditional approach with 3D CG modeling being used for a minority of the production rather than the only technique, but this isn’t all bad. Japan’s towering skyscrapers and clean, futuristic architecture have never looked better in SAC than they do here. The Tachikomas shine brilliantly, and the action sequences are also entertaining and very well choreographed (even if they’re ultimately no more than added popcorn material). Chances are most people will dislike the CG, though, especially if they came in with expectations of the franchise.

major and tachikoma 2045

At Least it Sounds Great

Between writers and actors, it would seem that everyone came back to work on this universe again—everyone except for SAC series music composer Yoko Kanno. Thankfully, Nobuko Toda and Kazuma Jinnouchi carry the mantle of SAC with strong compositions in 2045. Between the jazzy interludes, lo-fi downtime, and high-octane cyber beats, I almost could’ve sworn it was still Kanno behind the keyboard. Toda and Jinnouchi also worked together on composing the score for Netflix’s recent Ultraman series, which may explain why 2045 also feels a little retro-punk at times.

As with the dynamic visual special effects work, the audio effects also fill in the sounds of this technologically advanced world. Whether the soft hum of a self-driving car on the highway, the relentless fire of Gatling guns, the blinking and honking of city sounds, or the digitization of bodies floating around in the Net, the sound design maintains a high standard across the series.

togusa 2045

Waiting for the End

From the occasionally nauseous CG animation alone, it’s easy to think that this is a poorly directed series. 2045 is also not as philosophically explorative as its predecessors; rather, it seems to look smart by skimming the surface without postulating the further impacts and implications of people living by and through the Net. As opposed to genuine curiosities or worries about our future with technology, 2045 favors absurd thriller tones to engage its audience. I wish it were deeper and more full of wisdom like the previous seasons were, but 2045 is not that story. Maybe it’s not that great . . .

BUT, I don’t want to lose hope because I did enjoy my watch. Heck, binging 2045 on Netflix in a SINGLE SITTING was loads of fun—questionable CG and all—and I only wish I could’ve listened to more of the Major and her team exchanging witty banter back and forth. For me, clearly, the dub alone made 2045 worth watching.

As it stands, this is only half the story, so I can’t completely say whether or not 2045 is worth passing on. With the second cour green-lit but yet to be announced, I await the end of this new story with cautious optimism. When that day comes, I definitely plan on joining the Major once again. If Ghost in the Shell is your thing, you may want to consider putting 2045 on hold until the entire series is out. Otherwise, strap in—this ride is already proving to be a bumpy one.

major batou and togusa 2045


You think I like this? There are too many unknown variables. It doesn’t smell right. But, then again, we always enjoy coming along with you for the ride—it’s the only reason we’re all here. — Batou


Afterword

If that last quote from Batou doesn’t encapsulate my feelings on Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, I’m not sure what does. Until the second half can solidify my opinions on this series, I’ll pass 2045 as a “Coffee” rating for now. It’s mediocre at most points, but when it’s good, you may just remember why you fell in love with this series to begin with. Have you watched Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell yet? If so, what are your thoughts? Given how optimistically I tend to view this franchise, I’m eager to hear about them. Otherwise, ’till next time!

– Takuto

ID:INVADED & Searching for the Answers || OWLS “Adapt”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic of 2020, “Adapt,” I wanted to showcase one of the cool psychological sci-fi series that aired this past winter season, ID:INVADED. Although this would’ve been THE perfect month for Shirobako (which I talked about in last month’s OWLS post), I find the premise of a detective constantly dealing with memory erasure to be equally fitting for this topic.

Right now, we all have lost something or gained something in return during this dark time. Our lives have been completely altered due to coronavirus. For this month, we will be talking about anime series and other pop culture media where we have characters having to adjust to changes in their environment. Whether it’s adjusting to a new school or heading towards an isekai fantasy world, we will be discussing characters that had to make changes within themselves in order to adapt to the circumstances they are in. This will also give us an opportunity to express our own personal lives as we try to adjust to a “new normal.”

This all sounds very relevant to our current lives, doesn’t it? Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

sakaido


A brief discussion of the 13-episode Winter 2020 anime “ID:INVADED,” animated by NAZ, directed by Ei Aoki, and based on the original story written by Ōtarō Maijō.

A New World Every Time

Specialized police squad Kura solves crime a little differently than your average public safety agency would. Just sitting in the Mizuhanome, a highly advanced system that allows users to enter the minds of others, can help find the culprit at an astonishing pace. It’s an efficient system, and by detecting “cognition particles” left behind at the crime scene by the perpetrator, Kura’s detectives can manifest a criminal’s unconscious mind and dive into this virtual world—the “id well”—and thus reveal the identity of the culprit.

There’s a catch to entering the mind of a killer, though: only killers themselves can comprehend the bizarre stream of thoughts belonging to one of their own. Enter former investigator Akihito Narihisago, once a respected member of the police, and now the “brilliant detective Sakaido” on the other side of the law. Although his gifted detective skills assist him and Kura immensely in the id well, the latest set of crimes bear an uncanny relationship to one another that the agency just can’t seem to shake.

A psychological sci-fi mystery series with a hard law-and-order edge to it, ID:INVADED intricately crafts its entire world from the ground up—in some cases, this is literally meant. We are immediately drawn to the quasi-virtual world of the id well, and how the strange physics of each killer’s mind create a unique set of obstacles for the great Sakaido to overcome. Whether soaring through broken architecture in a zero gravity space or attempting to uncover the logic behind a puzzling stream of numbers, the laws of physics that we know are hardly applicable to the unconventional landscapes of the id well.

id well

The Brilliant Detective

Each time he enters the id well, Narihisago immediately forgets everything he once knew about himself. It is only when he stumbles upon the body of Kaeru, a mysterious girl who is the only constant between id well dives, that Narihisago remembers: he is the “brilliant detective” Sakaido, and it is his mission to solve the workings of this world to find the culprit. Who is Kaeru, and why is she always deceased upon discovery? Sakaido and the Kura team have yet to figure that out. But what they do know is that she’s on their side, as the state of her corpse always possesses a clue to the how and whodunit.

As much as ID:INVADED banks on the whole crime thriller shtick, it really is a story about redemption. For Narihisago, it’s about accepting the loss of his wife and daughter and his own transgressions as their murderer’s killer. The budding young detective Hondoumachi also uses her field experiences to find where she truly belongs in this wild agency. For Tamotsu Fukuda, it’s the chance to help the good guys solve a crime, even if he’s a criminal himself. The mind of a murderer is dangerous, absolutely, but it sure is insightful for tracking down fellow killers.

Kura’s detectives have to be sharp thinkers, but even more so the brilliant detectives risking their own psyche for sitting in the Mizuhonome. Between logging into unfamiliar worlds and dealing with wacky circumstances, it quickly becomes apparent that adaptation plays a critical role in this is a sci-fi mystery series.

kaeru

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

More than any other component, the visual element of ID:INVADED has to be solid in order for this kind of story to work—and thankfully, studio NAZ knew exactly what they were doing. While there are more than a handful of character design inconsistencies (particularly misalignment in the face and eyes), the whole of this project truly does handle director Ei Aoki’s vision astonishingly well.

Especially as an original project, viewers have little to go off of other than the posters and episodes themselves, but the series really works as a wholly unique and compelling visual piece. Sakaido’s mission to unravel the inner mechanisms of each id well relies on confident and daring animation, to which NAZ delivers. The animation supports this theme of reconstructing a deconstructed world.

Abstract puzzles and challenges await the brilliant detective, and as he is quick to think on his feet, Sakaido has to possess an unmatched flexibility to be able to adapt to anything the id well—or his fellow detectives—throw at him. The story largely retains its ability to entertain by following Sakaido has he adapts, reconstructs, and discovers the truth hidden amidst the chaos.

id invaded first id well

Flexibility Paves the Way

We try to show only the best sides of ourselves, but in the process we relinquish the parts that really make us humans, well, human. Some individuals like Tamotsu carry a deep sadness with them, despite the foolish smiles on their face. Others can seem rough around the edges yet are actually quite pleasant to get to know, much like Hondoumachi’s senior and mentor Matsuoka. We truly do not know the extent to someone’s character unless we actively try to understand them—all while keeping an open mind. 

As Narihisago realizes before any of his co-workers, a detective cannot be successful without thinking outside the box and being aware of the seemingly unimaginable. Not every crime is as it seems; similarly, not every person shares with you everything there is to them. Facades and farce run abound in ID:INVADED. Some people can be forgiven, and some people simply can’t. But one thing’s for certain, and you can trust Narihisago on this one: No person is without their flaws. 

mizuhanome


Who would’ve thought that one needs to lose something in order to feel complete. — Tamotsu Fukuda


Afterword

While I only followed a few shows this past winter season, I thought that ID:INVADED was definitely among one of the better watches. For filling the urge for psychological mystery in my heart and giving my mind a bit to chew on, I happy welcome ID:INVADED as a “Cake” title here at the cafe. Should you, too, be looking for something a bit more experimental while adhering to the staples of the crime genre, I strongly recommend this one. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series or this post down in the comments.

This concludes my May 23rd entry in the OWLS “Adapt” blog tour. My good friend Aria (The Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a post covering the societal struggles faced by the characters of Wandering Son that you shouldn’t miss! Now, look out for my buddy Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) as he shoots for the moon and beyond in his post on Banner of the Stars this Sunday, May 22nd! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto