Boys, Sex, and Love
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig is the second season of the weekly anime, covered here, and a direct thematic continuation. I might love it even more than Stand Alone Complex.
[Oshii said] “And with Motoko Kusanagi, I had trouble putting my finger on the true identity of this character. This was because she happened to be a superhuman!”
Oshii-san also said, “I don’t understand Motoko!” He used to say, “That’s why I made her a woman preoccupied with her own desires.” —From an interview with Kamiyama Kenji, Showrunner
This season was designed to investigate the Major further than ever—investigate the formation of her character. To “explain” her. Within flashbacks and the regular chronological story, we see her childhood near-death experience, her prosthetic rebirth, her young adulthood as an active combatant in war, her later adulthood as a professional law enforcer (this, at least, we’re used to), and, during the climax of the season, a second near-terminal moment where emergency survival depends on full digitization. We view the Major’s acceptance of the loss of her shell and the potential, probable loss of her ghost. She finally considers existence only as recorded data, and let’s not pretend it hasn’t been a long time coming. When it seems she will surely die, she chooses to continue to live, if fortune will smile on the possibility. Think Dixie Flatline (this is certainly a post-Neuromancer world).
But Batou arrives to save her. This narrative we’ve chosen to follow is dedicated to exploring the promise of its adopted title; there’s value in considering the ghost in the shell. Batou, as always, is the vessel through which the story ensures continued physicality for the Major’s stoic psyche.
“By nature, I like emulating others … I’m that kind of person.” —Kamiyama, same interview
I consider this season the peak of the franchise. It’s at least the peak of my enjoyment and engagement in it. This is where all my care pools, so reference to and comparative evaluation of various entries in the canon will come easiest here. This entry to my series is both specifically about 2nd Gig and about Ghost in the Shell as a collaborative creation. It’s really a strange thing, this franchise made of reboots and retellings. Retoolings. There’s probably a great software metaphor here that I could make if I knew more about real-world technology. All of the different versions queue up and jostle each other; some characters are always the same, some glancingly similar, some not. They draw from each others’ wells so much it’s almost impossible, as a viewer, to see value in cutting off one version from the rest. When I talk about Batou—and I will—I talk about all Batous, although SAC/2nd Gig’s is my favourite. It’s a Rashomon kind of thing. Some big truth, considered from opposing angles. Pick the one you believe. Kamiyama was the best man for the job, I expect, making 2nd Gig as a stand alone complex, improbably more whole than its predecessors; ghost in the shell after Ghosts in the Shells.
Motoko Kusanagi In Bed With a Boy
Before I get to the good stuff, I want to take a moment to close a circle. Back in the first part of this series, I lead with search term autofills: If you care to Google, Motoko Kusanagi it autocompletes to “a man” and “is hot,” then “in bed with a boy” and “in bed.” “Motoko Kusanagi in bed with a boy” is a scene that happens in episode seventeen of Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig just after the halfway point of Production I.G’s second season. It bothers me.
I would not show this episode to a friend or interested party, because I would not want to place myself in the position of needing to answer for it. It’s hard to escape that role when you’re the introductory element. I don’t like to mention this scene outside of deep-contextual discussion, because it exists in two realities: one where it’s tightly complex and one where it’s blunt and crass. They’re both real, and maybe it’s worth sacrificing the telling of the first to be rid of the second. What do you think?
The Major stumbles into watching the safety of a teenaged (early teens, maybe twelve, maybe a young fourteen) boy, a street kid, a wise guy about drugs and commerce who knows the role a capital-m Man plays in a commercial narcotic framework. He’s not too shy to acknowledge the script for a busty woman meeting a guy from that mould. She knows how it plays too.
The Major lets the boy, Chai, stay at her hotel overnight. They share a room, and I’m not entirely sure why, but the receptionist seems to find this suspicious until Chai overtly pretends the Major is his mother. Does Taiwan get a lot of rape tourism? That can’t be it, or she wouldn’t look so nonplussed. In the room, alone together, the Major walks around in her fashionably low-cut knickers with a towel around her neck; side boob, plenty of it, but no nips. Chai’s visibly nervous but he lets that established bravado support him. Men can deal with being around women. She gets into bed, a double bed she’s letting him share. It’s big and wide, they don’t need to touch. They both go to sleep.
During the night, he asks her “[onii-chan] … when you’re full prosthetic, can you still have sex?” He doesn’t ask eagerly. “Care to find out?” she replies, with a tone I’d call seductive mirth. She rolls over and lowers the cover so that more of her breast is showing. I can’t tell if her nipple was removed from the animation for propriety, as often happens, or if her nipples are low, or if she just doesn’t have any in this continuity. The cover is lowered enough that one would expect to see a nipple, on this familiarly pert body. Either way, her invitation is delivered by both spoken and motioned language.
Chai puts off the offer. He doesn’t even turn over to look at her (so who’s the flesh-flash for? It’s for you, audience).
Here’s my complex reading: the Major has judged this boy to possess the emotional intelligence and stamina to locate healthful desires if challenged. She sees his machismo and the integrity of his childhood both holding fast, and offers one the chance to win big at the expense of the other. Confronted with this daunting prospect, Chai finds his “true self.” He’s not ready to be an adult, and he’s not locked into a pre-made large-guy destiny. In crisis, we find clarity. This trashing of boundaries allows Chai to reorient himself, assert himself, find some new rules which suit him better, and leads directly towards the hopeful ending of the episode in which the Major removes him from smuggled narcotics trading and points him towards “his own future.” Her body is the vessel for his crisis-aversion.
This is supported by a later scene of oblique personal challenge to the Major from Chai (she saves him from death, and from his raggedy life), but it requires us to believe that, had he said “sure thing, let’s get it on,” the Major would have put him off and given him a further lesson in age-appropriate activity and personal responsibility. Her (affectionate?) smile at the end of the scene, my personal feeling about the character—these allow me to believe in her discretion. That said, I’m not at all grateful that this leap of faith is asked of me. I don’t believe would she rape him if it was easy is a responsible question to spring upon your untested audience. And requiring a child to say “no” is not a healthy way to define the wrongness of an adult imposing intercourse. This reading of the scene leans towards a suggestion that saying no is a moral imperative.
Boy, if a scene like this happened to you, it’s not your fault. Women should not sleep with boys.
The crass reading is that the Major does not discriminate by age when it comes to sexual partners. An acceptance of the possibility that she was willing to experience intercourse with this boy. To me, and I hope to you, this describes a willingness to rape. Modern-day Japanese ordinances would consider sexual congress between an adult and a young teenager indecent and punishable (We do not know the details of Ghost in the Shell’s future—Japan’s sexual laws and ordinances—and so we cannot assume that this aspect of them must have changed by the time the scene is projected to take place. We, as foreigners, should assume that current mores would remain). I do not like this reading.
The Major has stated her desire to live “without boundaries.” The text does not require that this scene be separated from that quotation. The text does not require its audience to not be heinous pervs, joyful about victim blaming and South Park-style niiiice commentary.
The episode is titled “DI: Mother and Child – RED DATA.” If we trust Production I.G. enough to believe they didn’t mean the Major to be a predator, she nevertheless made an assault on Chai’s ability to consent, and they’ve still left a MILF on our doorstep. Bad boys! Note: I don’t mean “it’s bad when a woman coexists as a mother and as erotically attractive.” I mean they made her a MILF: a woman as an orgasm fetish tool via a meme-phrase from a made-up drunk guy in a movie about the raunchy hilarity of teenage sex.
There’s a second isolated episode that gives … I’d say gives me the willies, but that’s a problem, really. I guess it’s not why the phrase found its way into common parlance, but for me, “gives me the willies” communicates pretty well the creeping feeling that comes with an astral, or actual, experience of masculine over-friendliness. CASH EYE is not the only episode in this season that focuses on investigating the “human” condition through a dehumanising lens—the polar opposite of, or an answer to, Kusanagi’s franchise-spanning line, “I only feel human because of how I’m treated.” Watching the Major gain intel from a decrepit old creep by allowing him to initiate unwanted intimate touching with her, frankly, makes my skin crawl. In CASH EYE, Tadokoro, a rich and connected patriarch, wants to have sex with the Major’s vacated cyberbody but (to gain access to his cyberbrain, to solve some crime) she counters with an offer for him to plug in crotch and neck both; command her conscious body like a “living puppet.” His complete control, her … not so much submission, as absence of agency, is the focus of his titillation.
On previous viewings, I believed the scene played out like so: the man is taken out of the game by being uploaded with a simulation of full sex with the Major’s body; essentially a holodeck shag pad mind trip. In fact, he’s incapacitated and left unconscious, with the Major saying, “Let’s leave him to dream the rest of that.” It’s unclear, but after a rewatch to write this, I believe that she means he is filling in the blanks himself, through fantasy, drifting in his subconscious. Not being gifted an experience with a simulated Major. Later when she alludes to their encounter it’s unclear if he believes that their intercourse did, or did not, take place.
Maybe the old guy banged her.
The Major appears—is written and animated by male-dominated teams to appear—to have no investment in his belief either way. She is the only woman here; does her opinion on sexual reputation count for all of us? Is it okay to lie about who slept with who, so long as your target is strong enough to take it? There are women who don’t mind being imagined sexually. But these women are the only ones acknowledged here.
The Major explains to Aramaki that when she must be touched by things she doesn’t want to feel, such as old perverts, she turns off her sense receptors. She is touched on the arm, the back, the bottom, by various men in this episode. The episode takes place at a swank party for politicians: old men with power, and their Shirow-shape girlish robots, turning up in their best Sexy Halloween outfits for a “lets look at fake women in what we believe to be humiliating clothes and poses” sex party and a little work-talk. Section 9 uses the function as a cover for an infiltration mission; it’s all very Ocean’s Eleven. The Major wears an elegant, low-cut white dress with a necklace, a small handbag, and refined shoes. It’s actually the best outfit (maybe second-best outfit) of the show; it looks like something a person might wear. It wouldn’t have to be taped on. It wouldn’t chafe. It’s undemanding, and a relief. The men who run the country share the positivity of my opinion if not the nuance, so they surround her, look at and comment upon her, and touch her. The Major’s cover is that she is there as Aramaki’s sex-doll plus-one: as ever, the totty in man’s world. Her team is indignant about, variously: somebody having touched her bum, how much attention men pay her, and how much effort she’s made to look good on this outing. She’s just wearing a dress, lads! It’s undoubtedly easier to secure than her usual leotard. But it is girlier.
Ghost in the Shell does a lot of looking at sex and fetish, but there’s not too much critical engagement with those characters who enjoy it. The men at the party are background noise and set dressing; none of them impact the main storyline, none of them provide insight into why ethnically monotonous, rich, male governments so unsurprisingly turn up sexual scandal and disdain for actualised human women. The Major’s body, the blurring of her boundaries resulting in her team’s victory, and information gained in the process is important later still. But it didn’t have to be her body. She could have piloted a surrogate. Anybody could have piloted a surrogate! Any number of things could have happened. Brad Pitt does not have to let an old man touch his body priapically, in Ocean’s Eleven.
Tadokoro mentions the Major’s “white blood” as fuel for his arousal, a line taken from Shirow’s manga in a scene I previously identified as having “the feeling of trying to illustrate how female bodies are used by a patriarchy (check out the “made in Japan” stamp on the gynoid’s buttock to the left) … but [doing] nothing to defuse what they are observing.” What does it MEAN that we’re treated to an episode full of women in sexy tubes? Hey, did you know? Old powerful men objectify young unblemished women.
Yes! I did.
This is the second episode that places the Major undercover as a sex worker. Of course, sex work is entirely relevant to somebody whose outer body mould is a factory-line sex doll—a generally accepted fact of the GitS canon and vaguely alluded to here and there in the Stand Alone Complex continuity. For example, the Major does express some mild solidarity with the GA07-JL android Real Girl, Geri, in episode three of Stand Alone Complex (season one). On the other hand, this is so regular! It is a convention, in cop stories, that the Girl On The Team will appear onscreen in clothes designed to make her look sexually and economically humiliated amongst the ol’ boys, because the accepted perspective of law enforcement is that sex work is sexually and economically humiliating. And the Major, still, does not have sex. To our knowledge.
There’s room for the suggestion of a sexual lifestyle—and there are the barest of hints, inaccessible to those without a thorough background in GitS trivia, more on that later—in a seinen anime. But a touch, a gesture, an embrace—it’s not given. Whereas the false, performed-for-justice image of a woman who has probably fairly undesirous sex for business reasons…is. An asexual reading of the Major is certainly available. Should I believe that was intentional? I don’t, but it must be. More on this later too.
Her personal desires aside, the story gives us a woman who, while not shown appreciably caring about sex, is repeatedly required to suggest the possibility and concept of it to others. In-universe, this is a professional, careerist requirement and choice, though the job is not characterised as sex work, and the male members of her team are not subject to the same demands, or even written to make the same choices. Paz does not ever seduce or command the erotic gaze of a person in order to receive clues, for example. And he is the team’s sex guy.
Women in 2nd Gig are defined a certain way, thus far. You can look but you can’t touch. Your attempt to touch is not my reality; your looking isn’t either.
It’s A Man’s World
Throughout 2nd Gig, there is a female Prime Minister, Kayabuki Yoko. Her gendered presence in the story provides a Lazy Susan on which to rotate political intrigue: a powerful member of her government believes a woman to be an inferior thing, and this causes and allows his manipulations of international and corporate choices and policies. She is the only woman in her cabinet. She is one of two women seen in specifically Japanese political power of any sort (the other is neither young nor sexy nor striking nor impressive nor apparently effectual—she scuttles out of the room as she is caught attempting to eavesdrop on Kayabuki being disrespected and curtailed), and several times (animation teams vary episode to episode, and presumably some favour shine and bulge more than others) her breasts are emphasised in ways that, in the real world, a suit does not allow for. She has minor lining under her eyes and her age is indeterminate, mature but not “old.” The Major, despite being directly addressed by the Prime Minister more than once, does not speak a word to her or even look directly at her until the series is halfway over—then, in direct acquiescence to Aramaki. Why does she keep herself so wholly removed from female authority?
The Prime Minister is explicitly described as Japan’s first female Prime Minister, and the series is planted firmly in 2032. Twice, the Major mentions to Aramaki how she has observed that he fancies Kayabuki. He’s like, “yeah.”
There are two, perhaps three, female faces in the background during occasional flashbacks to world-council events and a minority of the refugee suicide bombers seen momentarily are women or girls. As for speaking roles, a woman judge is seen in one episode, labouring under the ur-judgement calls of some coloured lights. Togusa’s wife is seen mothering her children and worrying for her husband, and in one episode a dead man’s girlfriend asks members of the public about his movements before being attacked by men (and later “disappeared”). Another episode sees a young nurse scream for help and beg for her life, before being shot. The Major’s long-haired friend has a few lines (studied knowledge of the franchise suggests that her dialogue equates to “come on, let’s have sex today”; she’s rebuffed) and an older, kindly shop owner is given a long and integral segment of narration about lives not her own. Including the Major’s, in fact, in an emotionally significant episode.
Paz’ ex-girlfriend, who has suffered a personality break and become a repeat murderer upon having been shagged, loved, and fetishistically left by him, speaks in two of her episode’s scenes (we see her naked, as well as her naked desires and neediness). A girl child yearns after her absent father in another, and Togusa’s daughter asks after her father twice too. We see the Major at Section 9 HQ, the Prime Minister amongst politicians, and flashbacks to military forces with and without the Major’s presence. There is no other woman to be found in the variety of military forces seen during 2nd Gig. There is no woman in the Individual Eleven. No woman in Gohda’s team. No woman police officer. No woman in the refugee force which ambushes Section 9. No woman pilot. No scientist. No woman lawyer.
There may be a girl-member of Section Four, Batou’s old group, the Rangers. She’s seen for a second or so, amongst many men, and has no lines. Every time I watch that episode and see her I think, “Yes!!! A woman! Like me!”
Love her as I do, I want to know that there’s more out there for us than just the Major. What’s choice, when it’s this or nothing?
Speaking sexually or not, our Major is an outlier. She’s a pedestal-balancer, made literal with her cyborg acrobatics. She’s glorified difference. She’s not like other girls. You (the girl-viewer) are not supposed to actually be just like her, or achieve just like she does, because—well, first, because the audience member is supposed (as in, assumed) to be a boy. But allowing for awareness of nuanced viewership, you’re not supposed to be like her because if we were all so successful, we would be intimidating. To patriarchy! To the status quo of men’s lives. And everybody else’s lives. And our own. (Question: how different would a Major-based society be? How would we live if she became the boss? Would she found an anti-patriarchy, or just some sort of … baberiarchy? In a mid-season episode where we meet the Tachikomas’ criminal/genius father, the Major is sad about nice men having to labour in bondage and obscurity to ensure the freedom and prosperity of the many. Nevertheless: those feelings are placed aside. She takes him in. She keeps the law.)
Love is a Major Consideration
The Ghost in the Shell TV series inherited many aspects from Director Oshii. I didn’t try to distinguish myself from Director Oshii, Instead, I totally tried to copy him.
By nature, I like emulating others. I try to be like some that’s well admired. If I was a fan of some band, I’d be copying everything they do, even their clothes and hairstyles. I’m that kind of person.
I wasn’t actually conscious of it, but I asked the voice actors to portray the eager members of Section 9 as 15 years younger than the characters in the Ghost in the Shell movie. I also tried to turn Motoko and Aramaki into more down-to-earth characters.
…So in the second season, even though I wasn’t really supposed to do this, I created an episode that was not written in the original manga, and recounted her past. And in order to emphasize her past, I put a love affair in there.
For me, 2nd Gig‘s most resonant image is of Batou. Batou’s emotional labour.
Ghost in the Shell is very rarely about the Major’s deepest existence as an emotional being; her core is seen in intellectual expressions of considered value that resonate through the decisions she makes rather than easy expressions of vulnerability or availability. The impression that one gets, when she does share a feeling, is that she is already dealing with it. She never, ever, needs emotional help. Batou, on the other hand, runs the gamut. He shouts, rebels, bashfully giggles, complains, goads, grins, loses control, adores, in some versions owns a dog, and becomes attached to his Tachikoma. Within Stand Alone Complex, Batou’s love and care give the Tachikoma life, a recognisably sapient experience of Being that registers as individualism, tears, autonomy and the ability to choose self-sacrifice. Batou loves the Major. Batou, let’s be real, is in love with the Major. Batou’s love allows the Major to retain her physical continuity when he returns her watch at the end of SAC, and his love allows her to escape her past when his arrival interrupts the hug and symbolic exchange of apple that she shares with Kuze, the man and boy from her past, whose influence on her present is catastrophic. Batou’s love stops the Major from dying in two, three, different ways. This happens in every continuity. To borrow a comparison from another seinen anime that women saw their truth in and co-opted, he’s Homura to her Madoka. She’s his forever-girl, and no-one’s left to care for him.
They’re never actively romantic, but (no matter which part of the franchise you look at) the Major consistently leaves Batou. She never suggests she will love him conventionally. In fact, she barely acknowledges his passion (I think that that’s kind). He carries her cross, literally, metaphorically, because his love commands him to, and he does not abandon her but learns compassion before the journey is over. His unselfish love allows her to continue to live without owing him for it, allowing her to stay Major.
Batou turns for her, and suffers for her. She does not find a different way to live to accommodate him.
It’s not irrelevant that the Major’s steadfastness in crisis and psychological adaptation to prosthesis—the growth which allowed her to become the Major—was the turning point in Kuze’s life. If it wasn’t for her—her unique, individual self—he wouldn’t have lived the same short, miserable, stressful life that he did. He was coping with paralysis, he was finding his own way to live. He didn’t have to become the Kuze who messed with the government, and lost. Men slump in her wake, this one, don’t they? You can read it this way or that.
“And with Motoko Kusanagi, I had trouble putting my finger on the true identity of this character. This was because she happened to be a superhuman!” [said Oshii]
Oshii-san also said, “I don’t understand Motoko!” He used to say, “That’s why I made her a woman preoccupied with her own desires.”
But I somehow felt that this might not be the case. She may be cynical, but she’s also a woman who would use her powers to help others. I basically couldn’t understand her motives in the first season; the only reason I could think of for her actions was that she was the heroine of the show. But I wasn’t happy with that. She could never be the centre of the S.A.C. story. So in the second season, even though I wasn’t really supposed to do this, I created an episode that was not written in the original manga, and recounted her past.
I learned that what most fascinated me was the “human” aspect after all.