Ghost in the Shell: the Major’s Body (3)

ghost in the shell,
 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. This is part 3 of a pan-franchise series (find part one here and part two here).

Batou and The Major on the Kago tank, Ghost in the Shell: Stand ALone Complex, ep. 2, Production IG, 2002

2002’s Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was an animated series which served as a reboot or alternate canon for Ghost in the Shell; using themes, motifs, and the odd scene redux from Oshii’s work, as well as Shirow’s original manga, to make a new whole: a long-form detective procedural set in the world of cyber crime, complete with the existential musing that GitS fans expect. This version of the Major’s body is surely a sexualised object, with shine on bulges, lips emphasised through colour and sometimes glossy shine, the return of individual-breast bodysuits, and voyeuristic “camera angles” (in some scenes the cels are low-detail illustrations of the Major’s elevated buttocks and lower vulva, coloured grey to communicate that the character is wearing a skintight bodysuit).

The Major's confined and bursting bosom, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 2, Production IG, 2002gits-major-05The Major's undercarriage, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand ALone Complex, Production IG, 2002

“Nay! It is more than possible to fap to the Major, there’s nothing wrong about it, and I’ll provide the coverage to prove it!”, says a fan whose delightful spank-bank overview I took the above screen caps from. Charming! Below: glossy lips.

The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002 The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002

Stand Alone Complex was the point at which I finally connected with the franchise as a fan — beyond prizing the Major, alone, as a hair & competence icon. “There’s a stronger element of story” is a true-sounding way to explain why. Less a character piece about the Major’s path to becoming a fused life form, than an ensemble procedural with heavy emphasis on political intrigue, frequent betrayal and double agency; truly criminal mystery, with cases that impact the core cast rather than hinge upon them. This is similar to Shirow’s source manga (some scenes are lifted directly), but longer, better balanced, and expanded.

I first became aware of the questions GitS:SAC held for me when I feminist-checked myself on a scene in the twentieth episode, eight years ago. Togusa, the most recent pre-series recruit to the team, has taken his theories and conjecture to the Major to ask for approval to move on the current investigation. They’re on the roof: the Major on the very edge, performing leg-swings and turns which draw attention to gravity and the idea of “almost–!”The Major on the roof, Ghost in the Shell: Stand ALone Complex, ep. 20, Production IG, 2002 Ghost in the Shell: Stand ALone Complex, Production IG, 2002

The Major on the roof, Ghost in the Shell: Stand ALone Complex, ep. 20, Production IG, 2002She wears tight, low-slung trousers over an ultra-high leg leotard-basque hybrid. Strapless, with cup shapes cut to mimic the shapes of breasts seen from another angle. She has fingerless gloves in a dark colour similar to the trousers, framing the pale colours of her skin and her basque, as the thigh-highs and belts did for Oshii’s Major in 1995. The wind blows her air around the input ports in her bare neck.

The Major on the roof Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 20, Production IG, 2002The Major on the roof Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 20, Production IG, 2002

Dive with me: it’s 2006, I’m just discovering internet feminism and how to check myself — to observe, maybe fix, how I’m starting to understand that I’ve wrecked myself. “What does Togusa think about interacting with her when she wears that stuff? Is he aroused? Doesn’t she remember that he has a wife he barely gets to see? Why is she dressed so sexually at work?” That’s what arrives in my head, and I stop. I have to ask: do I agree with that?

At this time I’m also starting to understand the separation of in-world events from author decisions. Why have the creative powers dressed her this way? Because they want to inspire boners, is my guess then. And it’s my guess now; maybe it’s for other reasons too, but I still fully believe in that first-occuring one.

The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002The Major on the roof Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 20, Production IG, 2002 The Major on the roof Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 20, Production IG, 2002In a case like this (when you’re asking yourself why you’re blaming a woman character for something), in-world reasoning is useful to consider. Pretend the character is a real person. Nobody can exist comfortably by thinking first, or only, of the comfort levels of others. Togusa’s responsibility is to disengage with sexual presentation, or not. Does he respect the Major as his professional superior? Does he respect the relationship he has with his wife? Does he respect women as people, existing outside of his orbit? Does he respect himself as a human ruled by more than programmed-in voyeurism? Does he respect his own relationship to sexuality? That’s his bag. These are the responsibilities of reaction which come first.

Dicking about on the edge of a roof is trollish behaviour, even when you aren’t wearing a breast-motif basque (the “nipples” always make me think that sometimes the cups must sag down a bit — they don’t look particularly reinforced — and she has to haul them back up again by those tabs; a last-minute sort of practicality), but a sense for the absurd isn’t a sin. She does her job, she’s professionally supportive, she’s not dangerous or malicious. She’s just hot dressed as hot. What does that mean?

The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand ALone Complex, promotional art, Production IG, 2002

You see what I mean about the nipple-shaped cups?

The Major’s body is fully prosthetic. This is mentioned again and again and directly referenced in the opening sequence of every episode. She’s well-paid and has extensive connections; she could look any way that she likes. She remains “a woman”, referred to as “she” (translated), in “a female body”, which Batou specifically describes as gendered (he’s not corrected by character or narrative), and both sexually and aesthetically idealised (are these identical? How wide is the overlap?). Why? I would love to read commentary on this series from a writer who does not assume the series regards gender as primarily binary.

Within the Stand Alone Complex continuity, the Major found herself within a prosthetic body when she was a little girl. She was six: not old enough to give legal consent. She was not old enough to consent with full understanding to full prosthesis — it is something she’s had to deal with since. No choice. She’s a survivor of prosthesis.

The Major has been given new bodies as she ages, at age-appropriate intervals. What’s your image of yourself? Can you disengage from what you’ve been given? The medical profession is currently male-dominated, in Britain, America, Japan… Ghost in the Shell does not, at any point, suggest a post-sexist society.

Biology is not destiny; we’re all free to change our bodies to fit our self-image. A cyborg has almost no biology and is all destiny (how long might they live?). The Major’s ghost, presumably, tells her she’s a woman. What are the bodily choices she’s given? All of the female prostheses, cyborgs, and androids seen in the franchise are similarly babely along a very narrow template: long-limbed, slim, toned. Pert and rounded breasts and buttocks; pretty, low-detail face. Elegant.

Does her adult body match her childhood prosthetic body? As seen in season two and suggested in season one: yes.

The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002

Why choose to differentiate yourself from your old self — from the physical continuity that has been applied to your awareness — in the name of not being accidentally attractive?

Are they advantages to, or opportunities within, being attractive? Yes there are. Are there disadvantages and perceived obligations? Can it be uncomfortable? And are there ways to achieve things other than through attractiveness, normativity, or the ability to be underestimated?


Why stick with a body despite the opportunities it doesn’t give you? Batou asks her, early in the season, why she sticks with “that female-model body”. Switch to a male chassis, increase your strength and physical power, he says. She ducks out of the question, physically besting him with her hacking skills (under her cyberbrain-hacking instruction, he punches his own face). The Major says that while she can out-think Batou, she doesn’t need to outmatch his bodily strength. I don’t like this exchange; it sounds too much like women are weak but they’re cleverer — which isn’t true enough to serve.

Existing in-story in a fully manufactured body, being under creative control of animation professionals who present her as a sexual prospect, the Major allows me to consider from just the right distance: what does it mean to have one of these? A “woman’s body”.

What does it mean for me to filter all of my experiences through this physical object, meat, bones, etc, and to exist inescapably within perceptions that hinge upon the visual? Before it was mine, this body existed as a concept. I was a child once and the female body existed before I reached puberty. Before I’d finished growing into it, I was grappling with what my adult body meant people would think I should do for them. I was frightened and resentful of what it meant I would have no choice but to “be”. I am more likely to be observed from afar than I am to register as a whole person — my ghost comes in second, and my shell cannot escape observation (you are a woman with a man inside…). Why don’t I cut my hair alarmingly and have my breasts removed and slouch and receive poor dentistry? Why don’t I escape from being womanly?

What use has a cyborg for nipples? They aren’t reproductive there. So what need has a cyborg for breasts?

What need has a cyborg for a working mouth when it can produce dialogue through hidden speakers or wifi communication? To smile, to comfort, to humanise. Breasts for gendering or communicating atmosphere of character, or feeling gravity in a different way to the rest of the body, or using for personal stress balls, or just… experiencing. Nipples for sensualising a sterile body. Tell the weather with them, realise how tense you are. What need has a human for nipples or breasts, if they don’t plan to or can’t reproduce? Are your breasts for child-feeding, only? How sexually invested in them are you? Do they matter to you when you’re not fucking or feeding? Would you give them up? Are they you, or are they tools you own? Do they belong to you or are they a part of you? What do they mean? To you?

In the last-but-one episode of Stand Alone Complex season one, it happens again: Batou gives the major a piece of apparel in order to demonstrate his protective urges. But it’s different this time.

The Major, Batou, and her watch, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002

Batou returns her wristwatch to her (important note: she takes it when it’s offered). Instead of a jacket she patently doesn’t need, it’s her treasure — something she remarked aloud to him about missing. He has risked his life and wounded his body to retrieve it for her. In this incarnation, he finally achieves his desire to protect… something that matters to… her. The Major — finally! — admits that her body is her body: “This body’s always suited me. No other will do.”

The Major and her watch, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002 The Major and her watch, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002 The Major and her watch, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002

Just previous to remarking upon the loss of her watch, the Major is seen from behind, at a distance, in a composition mirroring the water fight scene of Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. The thigh high leg sheaths are there, and a heavy jacket over the high-cut leotard-basque mimics the hip-focusing slung belt of the earlier image. It’s not just the basics that are repeated. Her buttocks aren’t detailed, they aren’t rounded, and her posture does not suggest sensuality. She’s not actively sexualised here: her body is not given by animators to audience as a sexual prospect. Despite the many times within the series when it has been.

The Major retreating, Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, episode 25, Production IG, 2002

Nothing is immutable.


Next: Shirow’s original manga! Slick sex on the page and cute joke faces

Series Navigation<< Ghost in the Shell: The Major’s Body (2)Ghost in the Shell: The Major’s Body (4) >>
Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at and give me lots of money

19 thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell: the Major’s Body (3)

  1. While I don’t disagree with your formal analysis, I find the morality of your argument flawed. It is the artists prerogative to include whatever characteristics they wish, so I do not see on what grounds you say that Shiro’s choices are hurtful. What is it to you which type of female form he prefers? I do not believe he created this character for you so the responsibility lies with you to accept it or reject it, the same way Togusa dealt with the Major’s manner of dress. He simply ignored it. This is fiction after all.

  2. I think this is a very detailed and well thought out explanation about the various reasons as to why the Major’s body is shown in such a way. nicely explained and well paragraphed, with great examples shown to emphasize the point you are making.

    Very well done, my friend.

  3. I saw the series for a second time and I was still confused about that scene.

    I interpreted it as implying that male cyborg bodies are not adjusted to – and therefore cannot control themselves with – lust or intimate closeness (signalled by soft smile), which draws from the same idea, trading cleverness for intrinsic sexuality or sentimentality (broadly mental?). What you say makes sense though.

    I’m still unsure whether it actually buys into that idea because it’s almost too absurd to be taken seriously, makes fun of guys as not really in control the way they think they are (but maybe that’s not strong enough) and, although the nature of gender is at the forefront, it seems like the Major is making an individual decision. Personally, I really thought she was going to physically beat Batou, which I wouldn’t have doubted (both times I watched it, years apart), and maybe that’d be more important. The fact even she didn’t answer in a way that says “I can match you physically” arguably weakens the response for all females. Maybe she could still beat him, but chose not to – she only ever seems to get violent when she’s angry.

    Still, I expect an idealised male cyborg body would have at least a little more strength than a female one. Maybe you’d expect Major to Or maybe apparent muscle mass doesn’t make a difference for cyborgs. They, too, question whether Batou’s weight-training is pointless in an ep or two. If so, then it’s just aesthetic, attuned to society. Internal gender? Would you expect Major to instead agree to have a male body? How do you react?

    It seems a little desperate to use a brief, in-world argument to justify what are essentially contemporary cultural symbols (female and male bodies and their associations), whether or not it’s depicted in the future (and it’s not a stretch to think they should still have questioned this aspect of society, given the rest is good). It’s a near future anyway.

    (I watch subtitled Jap-dub if that changes anything; I doubt it).

    [Do you mind removing this copy as a reply to your comment, leaving this as a main one? I’d prefer it for ease of reading…]

    1. If it’s meant to make fun of guys for not being in control re: lust or intimate closeness, that’s HORRIBLE. What a dangerous myth! So I hope it isn’t.

      With the idea of male-coded bodies being stronger, i.e. bigger with exaggerated musculature, I just consider Bruce Lee. Not a big guy. But probably gonna beat you.

      1. @former: Yeah I wasn’t saying the lust thing was good. I was pointing out that my different reading, if true, would still point to the same stereotype in the end. But I meant that making fun of guys could be separate from that reason – it could be making fun of guys that think that way. Is it possible for that to be a positive thing? E.g. perhaps it’s about making fun of Batou for even suggesting such a thing (and that’s why she decided to have him punch himself rather than beat him up – it’s designed like a joke to me). She’s verbally silent on his question, so she isn’t necessarily speaking on behalf of all females with her specific action (mental power), even though Batou tries to frame this about generalisations. But by her overcoming him, she’s at least saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and that is helpful to all females?

        @latter: Yes, that’s why I thought Motoko could still have won a physical fight. And I went on to say that Batou’s muscle might actually not make any difference (I guess they wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t true of their world).

        So do you think they should have chosen to show Motoko physically beating Batou, and that would have been a good step to restoring female credibility, despite the rest of the “fan-service” (don’t like that phrase)?

        1. I don’t know, it’s kind of a heavy thing to make a joke on. And either way–maybe there’s some nuance we’re missing by needing subtitles, but that we’re having to throw ideas back and forth makes it a pretty bad attempt, whatever they’re going for!

          And again, I don’t know… people say a lot of things that aren’t true in real life, so why not in fiction? I think he’s just bugging her because he can, because he’s kind of a baby sometimes.

          I don’t think she really needed to give a response, to be honest. The whole series is a response, in the story it tells about how there’s more to identity than choosing power.

  4. Regarding the Major and why she chooses to stick to a female body. Maybe I misread the scene, but the impression of that scene was always this: Batou asks why she doesn’t switch over to a female body. She invites him to spar with her. They get into position, Batou readys to strike. The Major smiles at him, sweetly, and Batou hesitates. The Major takes advantage of Batous hesitation and hacks into his brain, forcing him to punch himself instead. I can’t remember if it’s before or after–this scene has always left an impression on me, but I’ll admit it’s been a few years since I’ve seen it. Maybe it’s time fora rewatch?–but I seem to remember saying either before or after the fight that she sticks with her female body because it has it’s advantages. The implication is less “women are weak but cleaver,” and, to me, more “just because you perceive your male body as superior to my female body doesn’t mean it’s without it’s weaknesses–weaknesses that this female body is fully capable of taking advantage of.” In that sense, I don’t see The Major as a victim of the male gaze. Is she subject to it? Sure. But she takes it and she owns it. She’s aware of the effect that her body has on men, and she uses it. She knows that, with her voluptuous female body, she can get into places that her male co-wokers can’t, and extract information from people in a way her male co-workers wouldn’t be able to pull off. She embraces her sexuality and she takes ownership of it.

    That being said, does make all of the gratuitous angles and shiny highlights on her boobs, ass and lips any less gratuitous? No, those are clearly fanservice and an clear example of “sex sells,” so to speak, but at least the writers behind the show gave her character design a reason beyond just gratuitousness.

    1. They’re talking about physical power, and she bests him with mental power to prove that she doesn’t need the male chassis he’s suggesting. We both saw the same scene!

  5. Reader, re: comment previous to this one — Sven and I are discussing, via email, why I choose not to reply to his comment after he starts it with “I must also say that I am vehemently opposed to certain brands of feminism circulating on the internet.”

    1. So… that’s why you chose to discard everything else he/she commented on??? They weren’t directly insulting or stereotyping feminism as a whole, and there actually ARE dozens of branches of feminism, some of which I disagree with as well and choose not to associate with- particularly the more radical perspectives; still, I do try to acknowledge that they have a right to a set of beliefs, just as I do. Sven has some good commentary. I suggest you reconsider you decision to ignore it.

  6. I’m quite interested in discussing this show, and in particular Motoko. I must also say that I am vehemently opposed to certain brands of feminism circulating on the internet. Let this be clear before we go on. I value equality as a… virtue, or how better to put it. I think it’s something worth striving for. Additionally, I have only finished SAC. I have not completed the second season yet.

    I hadn’t considered the thought that Motoko is a “survivor” of “prosthesis”. But in the second season, she’s shown as a relatively happy child. I think the choice was either put her in a prosthetic body or let her die. It is not clear if her new body resembles her old. I don’t think it’s reasonable to imply that her being cyberized was immoral.

    Regarding Batou suggesting switching bodies to a male one- I found it more of a comment on her “masculinity”- how she can be so calm, confident and “scary”. Perhaps it was a way to comment on how, given that she’s considered (and considers herself) female, those characteristics might not be so gender-specific. And switching bodies is shown as a process requiring rehabilitation, so it might be utterly impractical to have one “civilian” and one “on-duty” body.

    There’s no denying that Motokos body is sexualized. I know that Shirow Masamune does some quite erotic art, and that the manga portrayal of Motoko is sometimes pornographic. Even though it’s technically the artists choice, I think the in-universe explanation works quite well. Or perhaps this is an explanation of my own that merely fits with the universe. Potential headcanon. Ohboy.

    She is a fairly sexual creature, as I have understood from explanations of the manga. When she is hit on in the second season by a greasy, perverted assemblyman, she deals with him without being phased. At least there is no indication that she is. She exudes a very secure sense of confidence. She doesn’t seem to care about such “downsides” as being hit on by greasy people. Few would dare to try to objectify her either, nor would they succeed. And, of course, should she chose to go out to a bar or whatever, it’s naturally going to come in hand there.

    And you do raise an interesting point- by sexualizing herself so during work, isn’t she showing a lack of respect for her married coworkers? And how does Togusa deal with her? He’s kind of paradoxically shown as a man who lets himself get emotional, and arguably has poor impulse control, but never portrayed dealing with this. Sure, he is implied to care a great deal for his family, but that alone might not be enough when he deals with Motokos “in-your-face” style. While I agree that she shouldn’t be forced not to wear what she wants to wear, one wonders why she sometimes doesn’t wear more functional clothing.

    I personally find what Motokos body represents more titillating than the actual presentation of it. She represents artificial “perfection”. While she’s clearly not flesh and blood, she is quite close. She’s considered very attractive, able and without imperfections. This, coupled with her personality, makes her a very attractive character. I must say, regarding her presentation, that I felt a little dirty during some of those scenes pictured at the top. She’s in combat- why am I suddenly “forced” to look at her chest or butt? It feels like it’s done to “cheapen” the show to increase appeal to the masses that love “tits and guns”. That said, I don’t have anything against titties. I love them! Just… I prefer to not have both what I’m watching AND myself feel cheaper.

    I look forward to hopefully discussing this some more.

    1. She was in a near fatal plane crash where her and another were the only “survivors” she was about 9 and was the 3rd transferred to a “full body” prosthesis. She was the second to survive the procedure well before any laws had been made about it.

      According to the manga and some of the light models. Other then being the projected “ideal” of what she might have looked like she likes the “female” body for a few reasons. First her body size is much smaller than the average male, it works well as a distraction in combat, her girlfriend likes it and the motor controls are finer.

      Her main job was Spying in the “early years” having a nice and functional body gets the job done much faster than “dumpy one”

      She’s also a combat pilot and most aircraft are too small for anyone over 5’6 her smaller size Being smaller allows her to do her job.

      She’s also in a lot of tunnels and a smaller body works well there too.

      After a few fights she needed a few “illegal” upgrades and tweaks to her system. her girlfriend is skilled in both parts of that. she also was rescued from some slave/prostitution ring or something. (things been going since the early 80’s) and would not appreciate Her being a man.

      as for the “weaker” comment. the male body in the show is designed for heavy things and is likewise reinforced. thicker cables, heavier bones, and stronger skin. Her body is using smaller parts, thinner materials but that maxes out her motor skills. she’s not as strong as most full body combat males and interestingly females thanks to the mods but she makes up for it in agility.

      Next, her stripperiffic outfit is because of 2 simple reasons. Shiro likes the female form, and most of her body has activatable thermal camo that allows her to disappear when needed. However you’ll notice that when she’s in “full combat” she’s wearing a catsuit that has a “better” version of the hardware.

      As for her breasts, she likes her breasts.

      1. “…Shiro likes the female form…”

        No. He likes a very specific version of it.

        You’ll notice that this section is focusing on one specific piece of the GitS franchise. “Light models” (light novels?) are irrelevant. [EDIT: mistakenly thought this comment was on the part of this series covering the manga] I’ll have to update the post having read the ridiculous but “canon” end notes.

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