Ghost in the Shell: The Major’s Body (1)

Ghost in the Shell: The Major’s Body (1)

The Major, or Motoko Kusanagi, is the protagonist of each incarnation of the Ghost in the Shell manga-anime-merchadise franchise. If you care to google, Motoko Kusanagi is autocompletes to "a man" and "is hot," then "in bed with a boy" and "in bed." For a science-fiction philosophy character named for her military position, we (the audience --

The Major, or Motoko Kusanagi, is the protagonist of each incarnation of the Ghost in the Shell manga-anime-merchadise franchise. If you care to google, Motoko Kusanagi is autocompletes to “a man” and “is hot,” then “in bed with a boy” and “in bed.” For a science-fiction philosophy character named for her military position, we (the audience — although I don’t limit this to those who have experienced the fiction, as the Major is iconic) sure are caught up in thinking about her gender and sexual status. Why could that be?

As a long-term fan of the property, and the Major (ask my hairdresser [me]), I wanted to read about the Major’s body. The Major is a cyborg, her visible body is 100% manufactured. Does that relate to the interest in her physicality? I couldn’t find much, so I wrote something myself — one chapter per piece of the franchise. This is the first on Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated feature Ghost in the Shell. I’m starting where I started. VHS off eBay. Can I anime?

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

In Ghost in the Shell, the Major is often nude or seemingly nude. In her opening scenes, for example, her nipple shapes are visible and she has no apparent genitalia. A line at neck level, visible in some short shots, and some possible cloth bunching during a crotch-level close-up suggest a flesh-colour bodysuit to the eagle-eyed viewer. Her breasts are individualised in a way that would have to be designed into a piece of clothing purposefully: how does the fabric adhere to the sternum? Why design a bodysuit that hugs tight as a thong? Apparent nudity, such as later during the water fight scene, is emphasised by the addition of thigh-high boots and low-slung belts at her hips, emphasising the hourglass of her torso and suggesting a sensual pelvic tilt. Her posture is natural, unstudied, and not innately sexualised.

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

During the credits sequence which follows the creation of a body identical to the Major’s, perhaps a body that is the Major’s, the nipples are focused on and coloured, while the barest hint of genital shape is effected through momentary shapes of light.

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

Her full-cyborg status is emphasised again in her morning routine immediately post-credits; upon waking, all it takes to be ready to leave is a short moment in another room — an unbroken cel featuring her bedroom and window — followed by the addition of a coat. No washing, no bodily functions, no breakfast.

Ghost in the Shell Japanese theatrical poster, 1995, Production I.G

Advertising for the film features the Major fully nude, penetrated by wires of varying thicknesses, gun in hand and back arched so that her left breast is clear in profile and her buttocks are rounded and elevated, head tilted back.

After the Major’s iconic invisible fight in shallow water, Batou puts his large coat around her shoulder, mirroring the traditional image of the chivalrous man who covers the accidentally uncovered woman, saving her from shame (apparently irrelevant), the elements (the Major cannot be at risk of catching a chill, as she is a cyborg), or both. Later, together on a boat trip, Batou is stirred to see the Major unzip and remove the top half of her wetsuit. He grunts, and looks away, in apparent respect for a modesty she does not appear to require. In the subsequent boat scene, they talk in detail about the (non-sexual) functional differences between an organic and a cyborg body.

It was not translated for American dub audiences, but early in the film the Major makes reference to her menstrual cycle (as a cyborg, she doesn’t menstruate — I’m ignorant on whether her organic brain may retain hormonal alerts related to the expected menstrual cycle). This reproductive/cyborg theme is returned to in the climactic scenes as the Puppetmaster effectively tells the Major she will bear his compu-babies if she agrees to merge with him.

gs454 gs062 gits-post-3 gs314

still from Ghost in the Shell, 1995, Production I.GIn this film, men appear fully clothed and in many roles, at many levels of society. The puppet master is referred to as male — although this is not confirmed as being for a reason other than default, based on their reputation as a terrorist and/or awakening as an aware being — and appears in a naked, female-designated stock body. At a late stage the Puppetmaster talks with a low voice, spoken by a male voice actor. The Puppetmaster’s nipples, centred in full breasts, are clearly double-tiered and delicately drawn; carefully shaped. Their nose is not detailed in this way, and the mouth is not animated to move with the character’s dialogue until late in the scene (this is subconsciously explained by “it’s a cyborg,” but remains a professional choice made by the filmmakers). This is not an outlandish appropriation of normative women’s breasts, it may be intended similarly to the huge sugar labia of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby; “But what you see from behind is what happens when a nude woman bends over, raising a question of whether it’s a gesture of sexual passivity or not.” They may not be intentionally “idealised” — breasts may be too culturally charged to be able to appear non-sexual without being actively off-putting; perhaps these breasts are designed to be as unremarkable (through their uncomplicated “perfection”) as possible. Why were breasts necessary? Why must the Major be a woman? Why must the Puppetmaster wear this breasted body? Why the nudity? Are these aspects necessary to deliver the story (or more importantly, the thought experiment)?

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

Imagine the intent of the filmmakers was to neutralise female nudity; avoid sexualisation and use it to float some philosophical musing above a character study on existential crisis. Is it responsible to call the Major, naked, sexualised?

ghostscreen2

still from Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii, 1995, Production I.G

Perhaps unbalanced detail is put into the realistic, subtly emphasised nipples of these woman-designated bodies. (later in the same interview, referenced above, Walker concedes that her Sugar Baby sculpture is “sexually overt,” and resultantly “discomfiting.”) While groundbreaking and challenging in many ways, the film does not escape objectification of what the collective unconscious considers “the female body.” This may be purposeful, it may be useful, but it remains inescapably sexist. It exists within a sexist system before a sexist audience, many of which will not interrogate the sexual and gendered questions that the film succeeds in asking for many viewers. As a
teenaged viewer, I was extremely uncomfortable with the semi-conscious awareness that
this was how #notallmen considered my body: naked, as a default, whilst they all gits-kusanagiremained clothed. No matter how much I could achieve, mentally or physically, philosophically or emotionally, my body and face are observably female-normative, so I’m rendered nude. Even when clothed, before mentor, colleague, subordinate and victim. I’m the audience, watching the Major, knowing she’s me, knowing I’m a speck in a dust cloud.

You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman, right?

I was interested, though. This was food for thought. And she does get things done.

The Major doesn’t let people best her, she sets her own course. She had great hair.

I got something from the Major, which was why I kept paying attention.

Next: Innocence

Series NavigationGhost in the Shell: The Major’s Body (2) >>
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  • It's all about the ghost
    September 11, 2014, 4:30 pm

    “Imagine the intent of the filmmakers was to neutralise female nudity; avoid sexualisation and use it to float some philosophical musing above a character study on existential crisis. Is it responsible to call the Major, naked, sexualised?”

    It doesn’t avoid sexualisation, the movie isn’t trying to take a stance on the body of Kusanagi or the Puppet Master. It is sexualized through and through. Talking about avoidance would mean that the movie is trying to hide the fact when it tackles it. This is why the whole Mamoru Oshii saga is far different from the work of Masamune Shirow who drew a lesbian scene because…he wanted to. The movie by itself made Ghost in the Shell what it is today, then it was only a good post-cyberpunk but overtly dragged down by Shirow’s stupid antics.

    The whole point comes from the whole deconstruction of the human body in a post-cyberpunk genre. The birth and death of her body does represent something about the whole meaning of the body through sexualisation and objectification. The same thing applies to the Puppet Master who is just trying to emphasize on the whole new meaning and idea of the body that applies through cybernetics.

    I do think that this work is not sexist. Ghost in the Shell is a game that is outside the system, Oshii’s influence and all his works have proven that he is the kind of person to have the creative freedom and strength to go where people never dared to. I just fail to see why the movie would be trapped in a cycle that he wouldn’t be able to escape from and how the clothed men would become a threat to the movie’s integrity. For example, you do see numerous instance of Motoko clothed with casual attire and a special force suit that tries to be as close to reality than actual fanservice design. A lot of care has been put through the whole design process.

    In the end, I think you summed up the whole movie with this string of questions :

    “Why were breasts necessary? Why must the Major be a woman? Why must the Puppetmaster wear this breasted body?”

    Why must they ? They don’t have to, because breasts doesn’t matter anymore, sex doesn’t matter, it leads to a future where even gender loses its meaning, they just exist in their own brain. They reached a new stage of evolution, in which they become completely unique and free to choose who they want to be.

    It’s all about the ghost, not the shell.

    REPLY
    • Claire Napier@It's all about the ghost
      September 11, 2014, 4:35 pm

      Was the only way to suggest this no-meaning world to create a story that rebounds sexist in our present of many meanings?

      REPLY
  • isaac
    August 29, 2014, 3:34 am

    it might be interesting to note that the puppet masters voice was changed to a more feminine one in 2.0 (the remake).
    this might be because they decided that it was strange that a female stock body came fitted with a male voice box, or if shirow masamune’s obsession with lesbianism informed their decision.

    REPLY
    • Claire Napier@isaac
      August 29, 2014, 7:17 am

      Cripes, there was a remake??

      Thanks for the tip! I wonder why they made that change. Maybe just as a comparison piece?

      REPLY
  • Tina Kolesnik
    July 23, 2014, 11:02 am

    Ed does bring up a good point about who enjoys non-intercourse nudity, and why.

    I support Ed’s assertion that depictions of nudity are what turns ‘humans’ on – I won’t even go into the psychology of why some women often prefer male nudity so long as the genitals are missing (Japanese aesthetic) or unaroused (Euro practice)–I won’t go into it because some women like seeing fully aroused men naked, while others want a loincloth at all times….but what I can say is, you’ll NEVER see casual effect male nudity in an anime/manga marketed at straight men, unless it’s pornographic. Casual effect male nudity is never put on display in narratives that are outside the erotic, because… well, it’s not a human thing, it’s a male thing.

    When others state that copious female nudity outside sexual-intercourse in media isn’t sexual, that’s sorta naïve. One need only look at Men’s Health Magazine, notorious for coupling well written men’s health articles with half-naked cheesecake images of women. Think about how many more millions Cast Away would’ve made at the box office, if Angelina Jolie was the man character, and not Tom Hanks. I think we all the point.

    That’s why I feel that full on female nudity, outside the scope intercourse, is every bit as sexual as depicting it during intercourse (sorry, but the whole electro-shock revival scene of the droid inhabited by the Puppeteer made me cringe. Wow, her orgasm without all the work—-now there’s something hot!)Ew. =_=;

    The old adage that men are visual when it comes to arousal, is the sole purpose of why we have this select nudity in seinen comics (men’s action, men’s scifi, men’s horror, men’s drama); so let’s not kid ourselves that it’s spawned from a “human” desire for pan-nudity in its pristine form. We have countless depictions throughout GiTS where only the things men desire, are emphasized in the nudity depicted (mainly tits and ass).

    The only time we’re reminded of Kusanagi’s ‘otherness’, is when she’s doing things like pulling off that tank lid. Her power is to be respected and admired, and in order to do this, she’s depicted with fully hard musculature, because this is a the part in the story where you’re not supposed to be turned on, or even reminded that…she’s just a female.

    REPLY
    • Claire Napier@Tina Kolesnik
      July 23, 2014, 11:26 am

      Thanks for this comment, Tina — I’m probably going to add a referral to it on a later piece of this series (Arise, specifically). V helpful!

      REPLY
  • Edward "Aslan"
    July 22, 2014, 3:08 pm

    We look at Philosophy of the Bedroom and see Eugénie as a defenseless flower, corrupted by deviants and written by a sexist.

    In the light of aesthetics from the point of anti- natural objectification we cannot see her for the strong, desire ridden, sexual conqueror she actually is, and is becoming.

    Her personality is usually androgynous. The body she has chosen, is inline with her line of work. She has other bodies as well. Young, old, male, female, not human at all ( well the last one was not specifically hers, there was a retro microwave looking guy in a couple episodes)

    The point is, this is the body she chooses.

    As for Batou, they are best friends, there is a love and a respect their that is not being taken into consideration. Batou is an old school boyscout in a lot of ways, but he would have covered up and attempted to Togusa as well. His character is designed to defend people, regardless of gender, this was not an act of sexism or chivalry this was an act of humanness and love for a friend.

    As for conversations between the two, lol I prefer the one hopefully you will be discussing in Innocence, but friends it least good ones, have conversations like that all the time.

    Her is the kicker, anyone can be aroused by anything at any time. As for his modesty that she does not require, they get into that a few more times, it is not a gender issue, it is a personality issue. Why does Batou constantly work out when their is no need? In fact the major in later things, goes out of her way to tease him about it. Its their thing, they are a part of each other, but apart.

    As for the puppet master thing, I agree, they diverged from the original writing in that one. It was suppose to be about transcendence, beyound humanity, beyond genders, to break free of limitations. In fact originally when they merged they become a united figure, a half of each of them, and the major was no longer a woman, nor really a man.

    but a full being of consciousness and knowledge.

    That is not how it worked out in the animated version sadly.

    Nudity in GITS is often two fold, it has a profane identity, sexuality, arousal, visually pleasing aesthetics… but it also has a sacred aspect as well, vulnerability, a baring of the soul, the fragility of the human form.

    Treat me like a def mute ya know?

    Asking why any character, ever, male or female should be sexualized is like asking why do we breathe air? The two most powerful forces in the universe, the two driving forces behind almost everything, are sex and death. The Major is a woman, the Major is a man, the major is a sexual vulnerable strong violent caring angry individual, most of all (the sapiosexual in me) she/he is intelligent. Okeefe paints a vagina and its fine, an artist who happens to be male puts a little too much detail into a nip and its sexism… that’s not how it should work,

    People say the major is hot… they also say she is a smart fiesty can kick your ass bad ass cyborg who understands Cartesian principles of existence.

    As for naked by a default, I hate to break it to everyone… but that it is everyone, male, female, other… someone somewhere sees you as you naturally are, naked as the day you were born, and they adore it, and is aroused by it, and wants it and wants to adorn it with love and animalism.

    We so often forget that we are animals able to conceptualize beauty, and truth be told, no matter how much clothing we have on, as long as our eyes show, we will always be naked.

    REPLY
    • Claire Napier@Edward "Aslan"
      July 22, 2014, 3:27 pm

      You’re conflating the various incarnations of these characters! This is about the 1995 animated film, specifically. Later posts will cover the rest of the franchise. Hopefully you’ll read those too.

      Dude, I appreciate you’re not trying to be freaky, but I do not want to be told that people “see” me naked. Don’t tell people that, it makes the skin crawl. That’s pretty much my whole point here.

      REPLY
      • Tina Kolesnik@Claire Napier
        July 23, 2014, 10:34 am

        Sadly, being seen as ‘bodies’ first, is so ingrained in the patriarchal-psyche, I don’t think its even mentioned to instill creep-factor, I think it’s just put out there as the natural way of things. 🙁

        –PS Not trying to put you on the spot Ed, by most women don’t go around with ‘naked is the natural state of being’, and without going into an entire treatise of gender-specific aesthetics, I can tell you that I find menfolk sexier, when they’re wearing clothes.

        REPLY
    • A.B.@Edward "Aslan"
      July 29, 2014, 3:29 pm

      Nudity in GITS is often two fold, it has a profane identity, sexuality, arousal, visually pleasing aesthetics… but it also has a sacred aspect as well, vulnerability, a baring of the soul, the fragility of the human form.

      And what frequently gets lost is the fact that the Major is the chosen example of this approach. We don’t see the male characters in nude examples because, rather frankly, they aren’t Masamune’s chosen vehicle to address or express this particular philosophy.

      From the lesbian sex scenes in the comics to the tank scene in the first film to the scene in the TV series’ first season where she shares a bed with a young boy . . . they’re all vulgar, to some degree, but all showcase something else very important: the Major doesn’t care about her body, at all. The body is a tool. It’s a shell, as the franchise title tells us, within which a universe of (purportedly) human personality is said to exist.

      REPLY
  • Tina Kolesnik
    July 22, 2014, 2:55 pm

    Great write up! Here’s my 80 cents. XD

    I’ve always struggled with the whole dichotomy of ‘hot crime fighting warrior chick’ as fashioned in the scope of male gaze; she must be sexy, and if strong, she has to be bisexual -—because she likes the same things as you do, dude, so you can relate to her, even though she has boobs and you know…that vagina thing. I loved Stand Alone Complex (the show) more than the movies–because Kusanagi changed to reflect the changing demographic of its audience.

    I came to the film after reading the Ghost in the Shell manga series. I was hesitant to watch it, because Ghost in the Shell ran in Young Magazine, which is a seinen mag (aimed at men, for men, by men) and I knew it would reek of male gaze. I forced myself to watch it, because I wanted to like Kusangi. I wanted to like her because…I grew up with Wonder Woman.

    My initial admiration of Kusanagi, despite her debut porno-type design, is the same one that keeps me loving Wonder Woman, a proclaimed feminist hero that still wears a thong, a bustier, and high heels when she fights for peace and justice. I’m still waiting for Wonder Woman to ditch the bathing suit— unfortunately, there’s too many 40something-fans that grew up with the TV show prone to vocalizing their displeasure whenever someone tries to make Diana, less like a stripper, and more like a soldier. (I was happy to get the Dodson version of Diana fighting in Boots—with a bust and a waist that were proportionate in size–this from Dodson, known for his cheesecake, so color me thankful).

    I was let down when Stand Alone first aired, emulating all the sexist nonsense in Kusangai’s design. The material written for the show was too intelligent for the male-gaze version of the Major (she spent the first season in a trench coat and a playboy bunny outfit-sans ears). Season Two was markedly different—Kusanagi had a proper uniform, and there was ZERO mention of her sex life (which in the manga, she makes porn on the side–something I was glad to see didn’t make it to the film or the show!).

    I take stock in that Kusanagi from the film, differs greatly from how she ended on the TV show. 🙂

    REPLY
    • Claire Napier@Tina Kolesnik
      July 22, 2014, 3:22 pm

      I have no idea where the porn on the side thing comes from! Have you seen it? I’ve only read an english translation of the first manga run, as well as one or two issues of translated Man-Machine Interface, so maybe it was removed in translation or was retconned in later, but..???

      I have a LOT to say about Stand Alone Complex, so… stay tuned!

      REPLY
      • Tina Kolesnik@Claire Napier
        July 22, 2014, 3:41 pm

        It was in the manga series– Motoko only got ‘serious’ during the puppeteer case–which is where I think the movie picks up. Let me rephrase–having read the series, she partakes in the net sex as a means of ‘therapy’. There’s s disconnect having lost her own body, and online sex (with men or women) is how she channels her recreational intimacy.

        REPLY
        • Claire Napier@Tina Kolesnik
          July 22, 2014, 3:46 pm

          I recall the sex with the two women, which is unexplained beyond “this is a thing she does”, and Batou interrupting it. I haven’t seen the part that everyone talks about where Batou gets genital pain due to interrupting, and I haven’t seen sex beyond that one time where the boat scene is simulated. It doesn’t seem like that would be removed, and the full-frontal fucking on the boat left in. This is definitely before the Puppetmaster arc?

          REPLY
    • Martina@Tina Kolesnik
      April 25, 2016, 5:52 pm

      I actually had no problem with the nudity in the 1995 film, because not only is it fairly limited to, like you said, the camouflage bodysuit and the intro. The rest of the film draws her very un-ladylike, she’s always wearing clothes, her face isn’t drawn with plump, glistening lips and huge eyes, and there really isn’t any mention of her being a woman.

      Stand Alone Complex I didn’t watch more than half of the first episode. I just refuse to watch anything where a female character wears a bunny-suit without ears for no other reason that to be jerk-off material for a male audience. Even the “camera angles” are always making sure to have her ginormous boobs or her naked ass in the frame, it’s distracting and completely infuriating. After reading your comment though, I might give season 2 a chance.

      REPLY

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