Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Ghost in the Shell

(2004) Shirow Masamune, Titan Books, 19.99, trdpbk, 368pp, ISBN 1-59307-228-7

This is a recent edition, "uncensored", of Masamune's 1991/1995 epic. He is the creator of, among others, Appleseed and Dominion and deals with some familiar themes in Ghost in the Shell, particularly the nature of consciousness. In the mid-21st century humans are mechanically enhanced with prostheses and implants, while robots are frequently 'upgraded' with human tissue. The line between man and machine has become increasingly blurred. A cyborg agent, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is the principle line of defense for the government against terrorists and cyber criminals. These include "ghost hackers" who can reprogramme the human mind through the man-machine interface, implanting commands and memes resulting in criminal behaviour and madness. One such manipulator is The Puppeteer, who may or may not be a rogue AI, and Kusanagi is lured into a number of confrontations that bring her consciousness closer to the villain...

Also out is Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (2005 (2002/2003) Shirow Masamune, Titan Books, 19.99, tpb, 312pp, ISBN 1-59307-204-X), which continues the story in a tangential way. Motoko Aramaki, like her namesake in the previous volume, is a hyper-advanced cyborg, but this time working for the Poseidon Industrial mega-corporation whose headquarters is on an artificial island. She is their head of security and does much the same for Poseidon as Kusanagi did for the government. Aramaki deploys several cyborg surrogates around the world, as well as directly exploring cyberspace, in an attempt to unravel a series of seemingly unrelated incidents directed against her employers. Meanwhile Tamaki Tamai from the Channeling Agency (government psychics) is investigating on-going changes in the temporal universe that could be as a result of actions by Kusanagi and the Puppeteer. Also being investigated by Kusanagi's old boss are the philosophy and memes of one Professor Rahampol and his template for a silicon-based lifeform...

All of which probably sounds confusing, and that's without considering the many themes and ideas about artificial intelligence, the meaning of life, the nature of consciousness and the philosophy of existence! But remember, we are talking about over 650 pages of story here! There are enough manga tropes (ie. sex and extreme violence) to keep the fans happy, but there is also a serious attempt to write convincing SF here. The combination of colour and black and white art may be slightly off-putting for some, ranging from full colour with digital effects to cartoony b&w, but aficionados of the genre won't be phased. Slightly more intrusive are the author's notes scattered between panels of art, but I quite liked the disjointing effect creating a kind of metafiction (much as you might hate the word). That is to say that Masamune's editorial 'voice' serves as a constant reminder that while he is writing fiction, the things he is writing about are very real and, perhaps, closer than we think. I happily recommend both volumes to readers who do not mind having to use their brains to enjoy their fiction, but warn the dim-witted to stay away; as the increasingly complex tale unfolds it is easy to get completely lost and your 'satisfaction quotient' will go down accordingly.

Tony Chester

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