Netflix’s original series Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 is indeed puzzling, but unlike its predecessors, the questions of the franchise’s latest entry break the fourth wall. I was constantly thinking “Why did the producers do that?”, “Am I stuck in demo mode?”, and “What CD-ROM am I playing?” Confusing choices in production, story, and style are distracting to the point of frustration. A series with such a rich and beloved history deserves better.
After two outstanding feature films, along with the revered Stand Alone Complex series, its sequel, and even the polarizing 2016 prequel Arise, the world of Motoko Kusanagi and her Section 9 team of specialists has developed into a perfect stage to address humanity’s ever-complicated relationship with technology, but the storyline of SAC_2045 is surface-level and presents its point of view overtly through one-sided stereotypes.
Right from the start, so many elements pile on top of one another to force an “international” vibe. Opening shots of America’s palm trees and desert skies might produce some initial shock value — sending Section 9 to a locale far from the series’ familiar neon cyberpunk streets — but it’s as superficial as a Fortnite skin: there’s no difference in tactics or result, no new challenge. Not-so-subtle lookalikes for Brad Pitt and Agent Smith of The Matrix are introduced, as well as a team of hyper-American-football-jock-terrorists and Togusa’s racing-stripe muscle car, just in case you forgot which side of the Pacific Kusanagi and her GHOST mercenaries were playing in.
A frivolous theme song pushing the lyrics “money makes the world go ’round” — with a strong dose of “cool” funky beats more fitting to Cowboy Bebop or even Lupin III — seems slapped on and manipulative, trying to convince the audience that they’re having more fun than they might realize. This potential future economic dystopia is not presented with any new depth, relying instead on trigger words like “1-percenter” and “global reset”. The series doesn’t seem interested in finding any original solutions afforded by GITS‘s science fiction universe.
The stiff and often flatly-rendered character animation (which caused so much uproar when it was first revealed) is even harder to take as the series progresses. I wish I could say you get used to it, but the lifeless eyes, jerky head movements, and lazy lip syncing just don’t match the otherwise intricate vocal performances, including Atsuko Tanaka reprising her role as Kusanagi. Rich CGI backgrounds add further contrast to the character models — if anything, they’re just a reminder of what could have been. The Tachikoma units seem to have a different animation and lighting team assigned to them, and they’re often the most interesting things on screen.
SAC_2045‘s first season arc — the investigation of robotics entrepreneur Patrick Huge and his connection to “post-human” engineering — is stretched thin, and a cliffhanger involving the disappearance of one of Section 9’s members is a bare-minimum attempt at creating some tension to bring viewers back for more.
As disappointing as SAC_2045 was, there’s still hope. In a world where cyberbrains teach you not to believe your eyes, it’s possible that season 2 will come around to reveal that we spent these first 12 episodes in an elaborate simulation… maybe we’ll open our eyes Inception-style to find ourselves in the Ghost in the Shell world we really belong in.
Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is now playing on Netflix.