Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2045


Episode 1, No Noise, No Life. review


Ghost in the shell has long been one of the most visible Transhuman series.  With several series, films, and manga it has become a popular and well-developed universe.  The original Stand Alone Complex series aired from 2002 – 2005 with a much more conventional hand-drawn art style.  It followed a team of para-military law enforcement specialists as they tried to solve an ongoing cyberterrorist threat.  

The new series is set some years later but as of the first episode, we see much of the same team with just one new face.  Most of the same voices have returned as well for the English dub providing additional continuity to the characters.  Part of what makes these characters stable over time is their transhuman elements.  Most of them are mostly or entirely cybernetic especially their leader typically referred to simply as ‘Major’.  Major had her entire body replaced when she was quite young as the only way to save her from a terminal disease and has lived as a cybernetic being ever since.  It is this sense of a soul embedded into a machine from which the series derives its name: Ghost in the Shell.  A variation on the ‘ghost in the machine’ description of philosopher Gilbert Ryle.

The first episode sees the team out in the deserts of the Southwestern United States.  Due to political instability and war the region has collapsed into war-torn factions with various goals.  One, in particular, is bent on a concept referred to as ‘sustainable war’.  While it isn’t entirely clear yet what is meant by that it seems to be philosophy developed around the idea that if done correctly continuous low-level fighting and pillaging can be done perpetually.  

Section 9, the covert team from previous incarnations and our protagonists in this series, are acting as mercenaries to try and bring some order and safety to the area.  They come under attack by a group of raiders in a style reminiscent of Indiana Jones.  This is where the episodes transhumanist elements truly shine.  Not only do we have several cybernetically enhanced professional combatants but their most effective gear in a variety of Artificially Intelligent mini-tank vehicles called ‘Tachikomas’.  

The Tachikomas exhibit a very high level of cognitive capability and are given, and execute commands, much as any other team member would be.  They also act mostly independently with great versatility toward whatever tasks they are given.  In typical Anime fashion, they have a somewhat ‘cute’ personality with an almost childlike expression and worldview.  Many of their reactions suggest they see combat as a game of sorts though one for which they are programmed for deadly excellence.  They also are deeply concerned for the sake of their comrades.  These elements may suggest programming capabilities that have not quite coalesced to produce mature adult human cognitive capabilities.  Especially if training from the ground up it may be that it takes some time to build a fully functioning healthy mind and that computers must go through stages much like those of humans.  Since they have not significantly matured in the intervening years since the previous show, however, it is likely that the technology itself has not yet matured sufficiently to allow for more ‘mature’ minds to be produced.  

During the attack, the team makes of their advanced capabilities as well as more typical combat skills to defeat their adversaries.  One such ability is effectively telepathy.  Despite driving along poor roads in noisy vehicles their communications are crisp and clear because they communicate via direct mind to mind signals.  These are sent much as any computer communicates via a wireless system and can have a significant range.  Not surprisingly it is the preferred form of communication between team members.  It allows for much better coordination during the firefight than would otherwise have been possible.  Additionally, their android bodies and/or limbs are much steadier when firing from a moving vehicle.  This provides a strong edge over their mostly non-tech opponents.  Other elements included enhanced senses and damage resistance also play important roles.  

With such a significant advantage in technology coupled with superior training and experience the team easily defeat their opponents.  So much so that one of the team name ‘Batou’ comments repeatedly about how much enjoyment comes from the job.  Such an attitude is certainly not unknown among elite soldiers but one could easily see how it might be compounded in a person who has been effectively ‘upgraded’ and is in far less danger from combat than would otherwise be the case.  Coupled with greatly extended life and healthspans unhealthy predilections to war and other vices might grow.

All this points strongly to two major elements of near-future military action.  One is that the unmodified soldier will become ever less capable and relevant on the field.  There may still be boots on the ground but they will be the boots of soldiers who have a variety of integrated technologies.  This is effectively the only way that humans will remain competitive given the second major element.  That being the simple fact that machines will probably be much better at combat than a human.  The Tachikomas are built for combat and have a variety of weapons, mobility tools, and built-in combat skills that are unmatched even by the cyborgs in the group.  

Once the team has reached their destination they do a bit of shopping and there is an aside where we see another former team member who is busy raiding an apartment receiving a cryptic call from ‘Aramaki’.  An older man who has always been the teams link and official civilian chief.  There is little to go on as to where this is headed but it is clear setup for future episodes. 

One notable element here is the Dystopian feel of the world.  While some places have managed to flourish and grow much of the world is in shambles.  So it is with this part of the United States.  We can see not just the decrepitude of the windmills along the roadside but the city the team arrives in is also falling apart as people are eking out a living much less comfortable than one might expect for the region in modern times.  This is unfortunate as there is much positive in the show and its focus on the costs and benefits of advanced technologies.  An emphasis more on the positive would be a breath of fresh air in a media environment saturated with bleak futures.

Finally, those back in the desert town that night locate their target.  A staging area for some of the attacks including the one that the team suffered on its way to the town.  They go in and seek to extract an informant.  The active camouflage the team uses is fairly standard for them and seems to be a variety of light scattering given the way it creates a semi-transparent silhouette of the user.  More on that another day.  The episode ends with the team facing down another variety of combat robot systems.  A single one perceived as a significant threat to the mission leaving plenty of interesting Transhumanist themes and more to go over in the future.


* hero image used from