Major Kusanagi is cool, collected, and cyber in this pair of episodes from the prequel OVA.

This pair of episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Arise avoid the prequel pitfall, giving us earlier iterations of our favorite cyborgs while staying true to what made us interested in them in the first place.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise – “Border 1: Ghost Pain,” “Border 2: Ghost Whispers”

Release date: May 29, 2014 (Select theaters)
Director: Kazuchika Kise
Stars: Maaya Sakamoto
Running time: 116 minutes
MPAA rating: NR

Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Borders 1 & 2 will be released on June 29th as part of a series of nationwide TUGG screenings by FUNimation. You can find a list of theaters along with ticketing links at the bottom of this review.

It’s been a while since I last watched the original Ghost in the Shell (1995), and with time and distance I think I’d forgotten what made cyborg investigator Major Motoko Kusanagi so electric, so interesting to follow in the first place. With time and a little distance, all I could recall was the action and its Gibsonian threads about memory, identity, and what was then a very futuristic idea of our connected lives. I guess I’d reached the point where the idea of Ghost in the Shell was more interesting than actually watching Ghost in the Shell.

The first two episodes of the four-part OVA, Arise serves as an antidote to that feeling, giving us a younger but no less competent Major Kusanagi in the midst of a world changing around her. And that’s key to what kept me hooked: Arise didn’t diminish its lead or somehow make her a damsel in this story set some years before Ghost in the Shell proper: it’s the world that’s shifted and Motoko, we’ll see, is simply evolving along with it, becoming a leader where before she was a loner. And in shifting genres – the first episode is a mystery, the second, a straight-up action story – we get to see what life was like in Japan immediately in the aftermath of WWIV (without too much obnoxious technobabble).

The first episode, “Ghost Pain” does all of the heavy lifting of setting the world up, one where a cyborg like Kusanagi – a contractor for the 501st Secret Unit – is essentially government property. And if the evidence mounted against her is to be believed, she’s about to end up either behind bars (or worse) when all of the data – and even Kusanagi’s own memories – point to her being the shooter responsible for the death of her mentor.

Consider this the origin story of Section 9, the investigative service Kusanagi and Batou belong to in Ghost in the Shell proper. Like the film (and the manga that inspired it), digital memories are seen as slippery, dangerous things and even if Kusanagi wasn’t consciously the shooter, who knows what she’s been responsible for in the past?

“Ghost Pain” also serves as the first (violent) meeting between Kusanagi and Batou, who suspects the former of being a killer and would just as soon take her out as work alongside her. Based on this and the second episode, the clashes between the two will form the backbone of the series and hopefully show how the taciturn tough guy comes to respect the Major.

Which brings us to episode 2, “Ghost Whisper,” which sees an imprisoned cybernetic soldier hijacking all of the transportation networks in the city in the hopes of securing revenge for an op gone wrong for himself and his colleagues. Again, memory plays a key part in this installment – how it informs our motivations and how it can be shared like an illness if used (im)properly. The action in the latter half of this episode takes place on the mega highways of Tokyo, like a cyberpunk spin on Speed, as the Major attempts to stop the hack and save Tokyo from a citywide shutdown.

It’s all clever, fast-paced stuff and thanks to Production I.G., it’s a gorgeous series as well. The Major has been given a slight redesign (her features a slighter, slimmer here than in her future counterpart), with complex and visually-interesting mechanical designs all around (although if I see one more deadly sex doll in this kind of thing, it’ll be too soon).

The pair of episodes here make a worthy precursor to Ghost in the Shell, throwing its lead into the action that made her famous, without diminishing or depriving her of the things that make her so compelling to watch.

New York, NY – AMC Loews Village 7 – Get Tickets
Atlanta, GA – AMC Parkway Pointe 15 – Get Tickets
Cambridge, MA – Landmark Kendall Square Cinema – Get Tickets
Baltimore, MD – AMC Security Square 8 – Get Tickets
Alexandria, VA – AMC Hoffman Center 22 & IMAX – Get Tickets
Columbus, OH – AMC Lennox Town Center 24 & IMAX – Get Tickets
Southfield, MI – AMC Star Southfield 20 – Get Tickets
Dallas, TX – Studio Movie Grill Spring Valley – Get Tickets
Chicago, IL – Kerasotes ShowPLace ICON at Roosevelt Collection – Get Tickets
San Antonio, TX – Cinemark Movies 16 – Get Tickets
Denver, CO – AMC Cherry Creek 8 – Get Tickets
San Francisco, CA – AMC Van Ness 14 – Get Tickets
Seattle, WA – AMC Loews Oak Tree 6 – Get Tickets
San Diego, CA – AMC Mission Valley 20 – Get Tickets
Santa Monica, CA – AMC Loews Broadway 4 – Get Tickets

'Ghost in the Shell: Arise,' Borders 1 & 2
8.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)