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 4 of a pan-franchise series (find part one here, part two here and part three here).
Shirow Masamune’s original manga features the franchise’s only scene of actual sexual congress. Without warning, the reader turns the page onto a full-colour, seventy or eighty percent explicit scene of group sex. Genitals are covered (arguably seen in one panel but not anatomically recognisable) by hands, limbs and angles, whilst being obviously manually stimulated. Breasts and nipples are shown to the audience by Shirow, being squeezed and otherwise sensually manipulated, as well as left alone to stand on torsos. Backs are arched, faces contorted, the participants (all female, all thin, long-limbed, hourglass and femme) cry out, and skin is coloured to appear oiled, flushed, and experiencing sexual extremes. This scene is present to inform the reader that the Major sometimes enjoys sexual tripping (cyberbrain-enhanced and drug-boosted) with these two women. This writer suggests that these scenes attach the Major more clearly to the organic/urge-based humanity that she worries she’s escaped; when one fears losing one’s identity, perhaps it makes sense to reinforce it by surrounding oneself with mirror-bodies and striving to beat your personal best of physical experience.
If we trust GhostintheShell.wikia, Shirow says in Intron Depot 1 that [translated]
I drew an all-girl orgy because I didn’t want to draw some guy’s butt.
Also from the wikia: this panel was cut from the original American release of the manga, as it would have entailed giving the book an “adults only” rating. Ultimately, Shirow decided it wasn’t important to the plot.
It’s true; this scene doesn’t otherwise inform the plot. It’s also not the extent of her civilian character; later we are introduced to a boyfriend of some months, whose active presence in the story does not overlap with these women’s. We get very little insight into her emotional life and it’s strange, honestly, strange as heck, to see her with a boyfriend. That happens literally nowhere else within this franchise. [post-writing note: OK, let’s leave Arise: Ghost Tears alone for now.]
One (or more — it’s hard to tell due to the production-line appearances chosen by Shirow for these characters) of the other participants in the sex scene returns, apparently some sort of cyber-medical aide, within expository scenes regarding cyber prosthetics, full-body cyberisation and the like. She makes sexual comments to the Major, who accepts and tolerates them but does not respond in kind — similar to Stand Alone Complex scenes where the Major asks her suggestive nurse friend to witness her transferal into a new body. The on-page sex involves almost no eye contact, and after their encounter is interrupted and the Major must leave for work, she treats the other women with blasé civility.
In one of these later appearances the sexual friend wears nurse-themed fetish lingerie; other than the major, who appears in a number of stylish civilian outfits as well as workwear, most cyberbodied women — i.e. most women — in this manga appear decorated instead of dressed. Of course, clothing is not a survival necessity for a cyborg or prosthetic AI. And are we unused to the idea of a woman’s body as a decorative object? No. Men wear suits, women and womanlike robots enter the swimsuit round.
Within the rest of the eleven illustrated chapters of baseline Ghost in the Shell (in fact at this point the series was published as 攻殻機動隊 which romanises to Kōkaku Kidōtai — literally “Mobile Armored Riot Police,” an extremely boring title that I sort of like) the Major does not find herself within actively sexual situations. She is drawn in such ways that position her as a bird to watch; Shirow often uses hard swoops to detail the underneath and behind view of her pelvis, and emphasises her breasts.
Panels focus on crotch-level views. Occasionally these scenes have the feeling of trying to illustrate how female bodes are used by a patriarchy (check out the “made in Japan” stamp on the gynoid’s buttock to the left)… but they do nothing to defuse what they are observing. The Puppetmaster’s appearances are little altered between the manga and Oshii’s film, and so many earlier observations may be repeated here. Think your own thoughts about the difference in nipple-deliniation.
This is two layers of cloth suckered to her sternum & inframammarial fold
The Major’s flesh-coloured body stocking is in evidence again (I should say, here’s its genesis). The Major appears apparently dressed in a t-shirt, pouched, high-legged underpant and boots combo, the body stocking is only identifiable on the Major after the clue of Batou’s similar outfit gives way to, once more, the hip/thigh fabric crinkles — or on the example above, a line across the fingers which signifies the end of a sleeve. Incidental characters wear ruched PVC knickers, various other fetish lingerie and military-styled accessories to complete professional tecnho-medical tasks as well as to threaten and perform criminality. Male characters universally wear full-coverage professional gear. It’s hard to prise a progressive diamond out of such rough binary sexualisation. Love the Major — in this manga she’s cheekier, expressive and more of a rollicking personality than elsewhere — but for the first time I question her personally. Does she value women she doesn’t want to bang? (Does she even value the ones that she does?)
Does the manga?
I’ll return to this comic when the Major’s Body series is finished — it’s a spectacular achievement in various ways. Shirow’s drawing ability is exceptional. But I don’t regret introducing it on WWAC through this lens: this is the gaze that kept me away from the title for a decade plus. Spray your seed where you like, man, but don’t be surprised at what grows.