Seeing just how Major Motoko Kusanagi met and formed her oddball law enforcement team was a hope granted with the release of Ghost in the Shell: ARISE, but producing the dreaded prequel-to-a-classic in the shadow of Mamoru Oshii’s movie was no less a risk for the demand. Thankfully, the OVA achieves the state of visibly and atmospherically belonging to the franchise, while expanding on its daily routine with tailored subtlety, answering the lingering questions about this ethereal near-future Japan without coming across tedious or forced.
Taking a swift step back in the timeline, with the collective experience of twenty-five years since the manga’s publication, these two hour-long episodes known as borders 3 and 4 can be seen becoming familiar to our present day in a more believable way than the first two distracted parts of the series. The interweaving cases of cyber terrorism bring together two of the greatest emergent concerns in our own reality, at a mellow enough pace not to cause panic, but still providing potent touchstones to make us feel wary.
With an almost surreal tint of humour as a whetstone to this theme, border:3 Ghost Tears sees Motoko and Batou track a terrorist organisation linked to a murder being investigated by Togusa, the victim found holding a leg belonging to the Mermaid’s Leg prosthetic boutique. The fairytale allusions are then taken over in border:4 Ghost Stands Alone by the franchise’s curious, chunky and loveable brand of robotics. The action sequences accompanying the ongoing search for Firestarter, presumed the puppet master of a virus infecting cyber brains, assume precedence over the character development of border:3.
Even with the high speed conflict at points in the fourth border, as well as being almost painfully aware of reflections on our reality, at the same time we’re comforted. It feels less like an admonition from future decades, than a sharing of troubles interspersed with soothing images. Motoko herself becomes our avatar, as she’s never been more fragile. Searching for somewhere to belong between her fear, suspicion and longing for humanity, she finds solace in love with the Mermaid’s Leg physician who provides her tune-ups. Scenes of the two linked together in a cyber-real recreation of the pool Motoko was born from, or seeing her standing alone in the evening snow and harsh city lights, bring her closer to humanity in our understanding of her inner and outer worlds.
It’s these images which remain in the memory, bright and serene against the solemn investigations and explosive action sequences. With the three aspects all struggling for space within the time span of a feature film, it seems that if her police work had taken a few steps back and given Motoko more room to breathe, everything around her would have taken on the pressure of her self-doubt, and the expansive luminosity of her hope and warmth.