How Well Did Ghost in the Shell Age From SAC to Arise?

Ghost in the Shell is a franchise that has shaped sci-fi anime and media at large to this day. It’s spawned numerous anime, OVAs and films since the original film’s release in 1995. A full decade has passed between the completion of the first anime series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and the OVA that re-imagined the Ghost in the Shell universe, Ghost in the Shell: Arise, and this merits looking back to see how each one fits within the franchise as a whole and how they have managed to stand out.

Stand Alone Complex premiered in 2002 and was the first anime series in the franchise. The series consisted of two seasons and a total of 52 episodes, with the second season going by S.A.C. 2nd GIG. Overall, the series delves heavily into espionage, politics and their ramifications on society at large. Season 1 primarily focuses on Section 9’s investigation of the Laughing Man incident, whereas Season 2 follows Section 9’s investigation of the Individual Eleven case.

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A unique feature of Stand Alone Complex is the way in which the episodes are broken up. In the first season, there are 14 Stand Alone episodes and 12 Complex episodes. The Stand Alone stories take place outside the main plot that features in the Complex episodes to instead focus on isolated investigations or character development and world-building.

The episodes in S.A.C. 2nd Gig are similarly broken up. The episodes are split into three designations: individual (IN), dividual (DI), and dual (DU). IN episodes develop the Individual Eleven case, DI episodes involve stories outside the case, and DU episodes mainly pertain to developing the subplot of the mounting suspicions against the head of the Cabinet Intelligence Service.

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The division of plots lets the series shift focus to further develop the setting the franchise is known for while also exploring individual characters’ backgrounds, especially the Major’s. The stories that take place outside the main investigation often dive deeper into the themes established in the first film, like the extent of the definitions of humanity, human consciousness and the fragility of memory. Altogether, they present a multi-faceted approach to the defining themes of the franchise, creating a more fleshed-out world and cast of characters. Still, the varied pacing between the Stand Alone and Complex episodes can make for stilted viewing and even confusion when it comes to unraveling the main, information-heavy espionage plot.

Arise is an altogether shorter series consisting of five OVA episodes that premiered in 2013 through 2015. It’s the second series in the franchise and is a re-imagining of the Ghost in the Shell story established thus far. The episodes were recompiled with new content for television broadcast in 2015 to create the 10-episode Arise – Alternative Architecture. The series also includes one film — Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie — that wraps up the arc of the final episode and finishes the series.

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This series takes place before the formation of Section 9 and follows a younger Major Kusanagi as she works under the federal 501 Organization that holds legal ownership over her prosthetic body. She soon finds herself employed by Public Security official Daisuke Aramaki to investigate a bomb explosion, leading to the eventual formation of Section 9. Each investigation and episode introduces the rest of the team established in the previous continuity, while simultaneously building the intrigue around a new cyberterrorist known as Fire Starter.

The most notable difference between Arise and Stand Alone Complex, or even the franchise overall, is the departure in visual design. Regardless of the fact that the cast is technically younger, the Major’s design stands out the most for the changes in her face, as well as her overall less sexualized appearance. Ultimately, the new design ceases being jarring because her characterization and the essence of the story make clear that Arise fits firmly in the Ghost in the Shell universe. Given that her design and personality vary to different degrees across the original manga, film and subsequent series, it’s rather in line with the franchise that Arise would see the Major take on a new look.

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Despite being almost seven years since the completion of Arise and nearly 17 since Stand Alone Complex, the animation for both series holds up well. The subject matter, primarily the focus on government corruption, terrorism and counterterrorism, and international powers on the brink of warfare remains believable and continues to be thought-provoking. While Arise manages to condense these qualities into a package that’s friendlier to newcomers, both anime have been positively-received and are equally engaging installments in the franchise.

While the two series differ in a variety of ways, each manages to successfully continue the legacy established with the original film of an engrossing cyberpunk story where politics and technology have indelible effects on humanity. The final verdict is that Arise remains a more accessible entry given its length and more straightforward story execution when compared to that of Stand Alone Complex. Should fans want to delve deeper into political intrigue and closer examinations of the franchise’s ruminative themes, however, they’ll also certainly enjoy the latter.

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