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
Jesus Christ, Media Star
The image that remains with me is this: Batou is carrying a huge, cruciform piece of masonry. He’s heading back into danger, to brute-force his way into a hole the Major and Kuze—her first love and the season’s primary antagonist—are trapped in, together, expecting destruction. She’s on the verge of eating an apple. It’s all biblical up in here, if the bible were a fairytale (visually there’s far more Snow White to that apple than there is Eve). Of course it rather is a fairytale, to the culturally accustomed/religiously disinclined post-Christianity observer. This describes me personally, and it describes Japan generally: Japan has its Christians, but seventeenth century internal politics saw Christianity (Catholicism) fully buried, made arcane, for over two centuries—longer than it had been established there. Missionaries gained a dissented foothold, and then Catholic teaching was prohibited after 1639, when Japan closed its borders, and those Japanese Christians who wished to retain their religion became Kakure Kirishitan: Hidden Christians. Today, after the gentle resurgence that followed the Meiji restoration, Christianity is a minority religion in Japan, precious to only approaching one percent of the population. It comes up in anime a lot, though. A lot.
And Kamiyama says it, right out: I like emulating others. I’m that kind of person. As much as 2nd Gig is a decoupage of past Shell and past Oshii and Shiro-adjacent works (check out the OVA Gundress), it contains pastiche workups of other transcendence and sacrifice stories. So of course the Bible is in there. I’ve no doubt any number of other stories I don’t know are there too. Kamiyama, purposefully or pathologically, is producing a level of post-pop, quality meta-fiction that creators working with an awareness of TV Tropes could do with striving for.
Batou might be American (this is unclear: while he has ties to the American military, and is fairly obviously visually based on Steven Seagal, in-universe facts remain unstated) but he lives in Japan and serves Japan (and I mean, Steven Seagal LOVES Japan). More importantly, he has been created several times over by Japanese people. The character’s “personal knowledge and views” are irrelevant because they don’t exist; in a scene like this it’s all about what the creative team is trying to infer with aesthetic decisions based in their personal readings of cultural cues, mores, and motifs. In my complete viewing of 2nd Gig episode 25, Batou’s oversized cross is not just empty symbolism. Batou performs Simon. He takes the cross, literally and figuratively, for the Major. Batou becomes Batou of Cyrene.
Within Christian scholarship, Simon of Cyrene is debated as a paragon of compassion. Some argue he was chosen by guards to take the cross when Jesus stumbled, and could do nothing but comply for his own safety. Some argue that even if this is so, he surely came to feel compassion for Jesus before the journey to the hill Christ died on ended. Batou has a choice when he turns back for the Major (he turns back against orders, surely the greatest exercise of free will imaginable), but engage yourself with the Ghost in the Shell canon and then come suggest to me that Batou would ever do anything but go back for the Major.
What interests me is whether Batou is thinking that the Major was right to follow her connection to Kuze—the fascination and residual intimacy which led her to being trapped in a hole with him, about to die in the nuclear strike Section 9 failed to prevent. Whether or not he forgives her for endangering herself. He seems pretty angry. The obvious thing about his feelings on the subject is that they don’t impact his action. Honestly it’s pretty Messianic, although I suspect every culture will have an iconic version of the gentle thunder of a man’s fierce compassion.
All of this biblicalism is supported and cross-referenced by the Christ imagery that Kuze is aflame with: shafts of light, his entire stated motivation, his reaching arms, even partial, bloodless (because: cyborg) stigmata. In the hand on the same side as that one he used, as a paralytic, fully organic child, to pray for the Major’s deliverance. The Major’s pedestal is so high that it takes a demigod to even hope to reach her.
“The only thing that makes me feel human is the way I’m treated,” the Major says, in Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. It’s not plaintive. It’s literal: though she is, to her knowledge, a near-complete cyborg, unable to check the realness of her own brain, potentially deluded about her humanity, those around her continue to treat her as they would treat “a human” because they combine observation and assumption, and believe that she is one. Outside of sci-fi, how we’re treated does impact our perceptions of ourselves. As Batou races to save her, the Major makes ready to complete the circle of her physical life, dying in the arms of the only other survivor of the plane crash that ended her original, organic embodiment. She’s prepared to come back to the “first boy she ever loved,” and allow him to also be the last—a decision inextricable from her destruction. Batou’s return tells her that others will turn back for her, as she’s prepared to turn back to Kuze, as she did as a child. It tells her she still exists after Kuze, and apart from Kuze, and the time in her life that he represents. Her physical self is not inextricable from his. She was ready to call the totality of her prosthetic life up and count it but Batou’s treatment of the her than he knows, body and all, calls that an underestimation. It’s a quite heroic save of the last person you would assume to be in distress.
I begin to believe that Batou is the protagonist in a story about masculinity (which the Bible sort of is, too? Jesus was a powerful skeleton warrior). In his case: men who pine after women, women who are masculine enough to inspire awe and afford them leadership; women too masculine to directly appreciate the men who shoulder the cross for them (a necessary act which allows her, so ungrateful, to exist in her masculinity in the first place—without the support of the male “wife”, there would be no room for such an unruly woman, and she would have to survive another way. BinaryBinary0011010100101). Men using physical masculinity (strength) to allow for women who possess the masculine-assigned trait of “getting things done” because these poor, marvelous men are saddled with (no!) feminine sensitivity. Which the impressive/outrageous women reject or lack. Bad Boys, who are girls. Think about how Batou asks the Major if he’s a good enough teacher for the newbies. “If you aren’t, who is?” she says. Batou: World’s Best Mum, while Dad Kusanagi goes out to do the real work that we all acknowledge.
(Lois and Superman.)
Seinen Anime is for Adolescent Boys and Men
The more I think about Batou being the true protagonist of Ghost in the Shell, the more I like it as a way to discuss the story. Batou, basically, is a shonen hero in a seinen world. He’s a kid who believes in justice—the frowning grins, the childish outbursts of shouting, the burping, the heh-heh-heh-whoops smile when he opens a window to see somebody peeing, during the first season. Batou says “baka” under his breath in the back of a courtroom, and does a thumbs-up gesture, and believes in the humanity of his robot friends no matter what the rules are on that sort of thing. He encourages his friends, and loves to eat. He’s grumpy, he teases, he’s the keenest of his gang. Batou and Goku, or Seiya, are not such different guys. But Batou does not live in a shonen world, where things are simple and you can easily understand them.
Shonen stories, in their best and most popular forms, exist to set down a framework of values which the watching child can internalise; use to navigate the far crueller, weirder, stupider “real life.” This is hard to do. We don’t like it. Seinen stories tend to gratify that dawning knowledge of life-is-unfairness, Jesus-in-the-garden feeling, in their young-adult, male target market by drawing up “darker, grittier” realities: stories that hinge on corruption of one sort or another. Hokuto No Ken’s Kenshiro is the impressive protagonist because he is incorruptible when everybody else has given in to fear, despair, and violence; Golgo 13’s Duke makes his living from murder’s place in world politics; Lupin III’s core cast are misfits and criminals who get away with things by being smarter than the system—the system that is supposed to protect “us”, the system that fails us all in one way or another. Despite his archetype, Batou, like his audience, has to live in a world which isn’t fair (in shonen everything is fair in the end, because everything is training and then you win the tournament and probably save the world). His struggle is precisely ours. We have to look at our options and make them work, and do our best for the people around us anyway. Batou is the means by which we give the world of Ghost in the Shell our sympathy and our belief. You don’t love the X-Men because they make the world look perfect.
(How tragic is it when we see how plainly he resembles the Tachikomas’ creator-father? Does anybody love Batou fully for himself? Does the Shell throw things off for everybody, always?)
Togusa is a far more obvious everyman, or audience proxy, but his obviousness is what disqualifies him: he is too necessary. He is the measure by which the futurism and militaristic aspects of the characters and their environment are judged, he believes in simple justice but unlike Batou he hasn’t yet realised that “fair” isn’t real, or that sitting tight and knowing you’re right won’t ensure your safety. Togusa is too pure to be universally sympathetic, and he’s too much Mr Normal to provide sympathetic exploration. He’s part of the framework of the setting. He can’t grow, because if your beams expand then the brickwork starts to buckle. Batou is the guy inside of the house, listening to the creaks, where Ishikawa’s silent knowledge, Togusa’s wide-eyed idealism, and Aramaki’s navigation of the systems of this fictional world are the scaffold around him, the building itself. What’s the Major? Well. This house…is haunted.
This is a great big problem though, because if Batou is the protagonist, then the Major is his obstacle. I don’t know if he knows it (I mean: I don’t know if the creators wrote and animated him to appear to know it, or if their work resulted in cues that may reasonably infer that he does).
Can’t Live With’Em, Can’t Live Without’Em
Batou’s deep attachment to the Major is understandable, and can’t be shrugged off as simply physical. He could buy a body identical to hers and put any part of him in or on it whenever he cared to. But something about her personality, her Ghost, keeps him suspended. Near to her, but not too close. The Major’s capable aloofness inspires and spurs Batou; she’s his inspiration, and she should be, because she’s terrifically able, and she’s his boss. But combined with his romantic feelings, she offers the antithesis of closure, and that’s all she gets, too. Kuze fails to upload himself or her, Kuze dies. We’ve learned about the Major but she hasn’t learned anything new. Life just goes on. Nothing about these characters suggests that their relationship will ever “move forward” and nothing suggests that they will ever achieve a clean break. Batou is too loyal, because (he thinks) the Major is too perfect (out of his league) for him to warrant the migration of his feelings. And in fact she is! As discussed, she’s the ultimate, rarified proactive woman. Within the narrative shape of this story, she is so many things that motivate him, and has so many of the qualities that his character defines as good. She’s so many things good for him, that that’s what makes her his obstacle. The thing we’re interested in seeing him struggle against. We see again and again, writers claiming that marriage and long-term romance don’t work in fiction, because you need drama. Perhaps rather than dramatic tension between characters, you need characters who seem real in dramatic circumstances. Perhaps there just hasn’t been enough creative engineering of the character it would take to live this life, and go home together and kiss?
Do you have anyone? Kuze asks her. Sort of, she says. She whispers to Batou when they’re cut off and he cannot hear her. The Major chances belief in the possibility of absolute-digital existence, but apparently her Ghost believes in fully spiritual force too. Maybe she can love him a little, when he’s not looking.
I’m not comfortable with the placement of this high-achieving woman in the path of a tragic subversion of a shonen hero. Or, as I’ve argued, of “an average viewer.” The only way for the audience to achieve catharsis in this situation is to direct resentment at the Major, and her inability to requite. Who does the Major represent? Hot women? Women who work? Women who reject feminine socialisation? Women who won’t date you? Women
Woman/sex/resentment is an undertone, but it’s present. I don’t know if it’s present as a warning or as a mirror.
We’re All Aware of Intimacy
The concepts of the Major’s romantic life, and intimate, sexual lives in a cyber-enhanced society are encouraged to grow in the viewer’s mind. This happens gently, gradually, but quite definitely throughout the series. I’ll relay the instances which struck me:
While Gohda must ride with Section 9 and some of the Japanese Army, to move nuclear weapons in secret, Gohda is shown to be a deft manipulator of fears and weaknesses. He says to Batou, asking why the latter stays with the Major and Section 9, “You’re not in love with her, are you?” We understand that he is.
During an episode in which Section 9 discovers that a suspect pursued by Section 1 has been framed, Batou introduces himself and Togusa as “in the same line of work.” “Oh, you work with Motoko?” says a man, a basic and regular-looking man, resembling (upon second glance) the boyfriend we saw in the original work. This is the same line used in the manga by said boyfriend, in fact, and suddenly, the viewer is aware of previous incarnations of these characters (only the viewer who has seen it all. Those who don’t know the 1989 Shirow work will not understand this is an allusion. This is an easter egg for those who have worked hard at their study) and must ask if their relationship is replicated here, and if so: how similarly? Does she date? Considering Stand Alone Complex and 2nd Gig as an isolated property, it seems shocking. Batou doesn’t make a joke about the length of the dalliance, here.
As mentioned, Prime Minister Kayabuki is twice suggested by the Major as Aramaki’s “type”, with which he easily agrees.
During an episode in which the Major’s childhood is dwelt upon, and she speaks about “the first boy she ever loved” (indication enough that this is a romantic season), we get our first view of the Major in off-duty civvies. This relates, of course, to boundaries of formality and “private” information. It’s made possible for the viewer to understand that this “first boy” is semi-regular antagonist Kuze through several cues within this episode and those following; Kuze is also seen sitting silently in a chair as the Major stands across from him, during the opening credits. So their significance to each other is clear throughout the series—whilst initially it suggests he is the true antagonist, the gradual seeding of romantic atmosphere is supported by the repetitious reminder of their bond.
The Major’s genitalia is directly or indirectly referred to by several characters.
Having spent a long period debating alone with master manipulator Gohda, and having achieved something of an informational victory, Batou takes a long, deep drag on a cigarette. This is the only post-coital moment you’re going to get, pal, I thought. The two characters immediately begin to talk about the huge, self-manipulatory importance that people and societies tend to place upon sex.
Batou finds a moment to ask the Major about what he perceives as her feelings for Kuze. He is able to do this within the bounds of professionalism (official query: will these potential feelings affect her ability to direct the team against him), saving either of them from having to acknowledge his deeper motive and allowing him to express his support and worry within an established, sterile protocol, instead of having to choose between sitting on it and inappropriately prying. He wants to ask because he cares personally, but he is able to ask because professionalism allows it. Are consent and boundaries different within professional arenas?
Batou feeds the Major, passing her a cyborg-nutrient bar. He’s the only person to visibly nourish her, or to allow the audience to see her eating at all. She remarks it “really tastes bad”—surprising to hear her waste a sentence on such an irrelevant detail. This scene calls back to Batou’s earlier conversation with Togusa about desire, taste craving, after cyberisation. You never lose the ability to want a certain food, he says, even if your cyber mouth won’t taste it and your cyber body won’t extract any use from it. Her remark on sensuality comes after the Major has made renewed contact with Kuze, and recognised him a little. She’s found he’s not coped well with life after repeated trauma. We know that her example convinced him to accept prosthesis, enabling his path through war. She knows that too, and bites at her thumb, pensive, unguarded, experimenting with touch.
The Major plays a sex worker in a long-term undercover sting operation. This episode is about fixation, fantasy, detachment from reality, social leagues and the twin traumas of war and genital loss, as well as sex post-prosthesis. A sex worker demands more money to work with the genital prosthesis the guest protagonist has. He reacts as if he knows it’s repugnant. Private areas of his body are not shown.
The First Boy She Ever Loved
Kuze echoes the Puppetmaster of Oshii’s film, and the original manga, in several ways. He tends to speak electronically, without moving his mouth (this is explained as a tic of his prosthetic makeup, but it remains an active choice made by the creative team), he has a washed-out, monochrome colour scheme, and a narrative suggestion of post-sexuality. This is achieved by showing only his childhood paralysis and prosthesis, and his traumatic army service (I remind you that the second episode of the series, 飽食の僕 NIGHT CRUISE, framed army service and large-scale prosthesis as tightly entwined with impotence and emasculation, or masculine disempowerment), his lack of romantic partnerships through a life of general popularity, the fact that he never shares a scene with a woman, and his (non)animated lack of extraneous movement. Kuze is affected by the Individual Eleven virus, a virus which was designed to affect only those who were virgins before they received their cyberbodies. Kuze was a child. The Major was a child (was Borma? Tell us about Borma!). There’s no suggestion that they had, but if these children had experienced intercourse, it wasn’t consensual. Was Gohda’s concept of virginity a construction which considered ability to consent? Why does childhood sexuality come up more than once during 2nd Gig? Is prosthesis supposed to be a puberty metaphor? That’s much too simplified. Is prosthesis supposed to represent the dawning knowledge of our bodies as they’re seen by others, and ourselves? Does it represent loss of innocence?
Kuze and the Puppetmaster are also both the only dangers to their respective Majors’ individuality. They’re both present during her evolution, a levelling up of her consciousness, and they both threaten to destroy the “her” that we know. Kuze’s ultimate answer to the problem of human suffering is mass-migration of consciousness into the vast and, hopefully, infinite net. The Major, having tried to help him, finds herself caught in the tow of his radicalism, about to die/upgrade. I don’t think the intention here is to warn of the dangers of romantic connection. I think this subplot is useful as a warning to be sure of the separation, and difference, between romantic attachment and the desire to believe that your deepest hurts can be comforted away.
Unlike Sleepless Eye and Arise: Ghost Tears, the Major’s connection to her man (her men, actually) serves to show us how far she’s come since she was a child in a hospital bed. She was a guinea-pig for advanced prosthetics technology. She was a little girl with a deep attachment to her co-survivor in a tumultuous post-trauma environment. But now she’s the woman we’ve known for two seasons! Our Major stands up tall, all alone, and sticks with her team, and forms affectionate, respectful, give-take relationships based in individual compatibility and professional admiration. She used to be a little girl who lost her parents and her physicality. She loved a boy before she grew strong enough to leave Batou alone with his feelings. She used to break dolls by accident, and now she has the fine motor control to eat fruit without bruising it. Our Major is considerate enough to protect citizens from crime and corruption, and, having seen the last season, we still know personal details like her moviegoing habits. Here we go: she’s human enough to exist in her own life’s continuity, and yearn for the best friend she lost. Even if she decides to act based on principles, duty and rationalisation, she is still feeling the choices she doesn’t make. The Major of 2nd Gig is warmer. Now she is complex. This is a character who can show us how to live. This is a character who can forgive us our imagined trespasses.
Bring ‘Em In
But our Major is not allowed the non-sexual affections of romance, despite the practical asexuality of both of her intimate masculine relationships. I don’t understand the boundaries. Why can her body be used to excite the audience, but not sustain closeness or build pleasure with a trusted, proven partner? Why can she endanger and introduce her body for business, but not even get a back rub or a buss on the cheek? Why is the physical standoffishness of a character who wears a custom strapless leotard to work given such crumbs in a season that’s supposed to explain her to us? Does she desire desire? Does she desire anything? She faces total disembodiment, comes back from the brink, and she doesn’t even want a QUICK fuck? This woman whose manga counterpart schedules in drug party boat sex like some people have business brunch? It’s not that it “doesn’t make sense,” but that it’s not allowed to show sense, and that it’s unhappy. It doesn’t feel like a story told by a woman, like I’m watching her story. The Major’s Diary. I can imagine all sorts of motivations and reasonings and discussions she could have. But they aren’t there, and it isn’t the Major’s story, or a woman’s at all. It’s a story about Batou’s hard life and his love for a hard woman, told mainly by Kamiyama, and the Major is there to give us something to look at and ponder. There’s a lot to her, there’s a lot to appreciate, but this is Kamiyama trying to understand the Major, and so we see a fit, sophisticated, hourglass, animated babe, with character made up of a kind, clever man’s attempts to understand a perfect, imagined woman.
At the end of my favourite season of my favourite version of my favourite lady cyborg, my opinion is that (like her ghost-dubs before her) Kenji Kamiyama’s Major Motoko Kusanagi is not a feminist icon. She does not offer us a revolution. No matter how keenly we perceive her ghost, she’s still just man-made data in a sea of kyriarchal feedback (Even if she was a living woman in a parallel world, she’s law enforcement. She works within the system.). She’s confined, only free to expand herself within boundaries, and she has no girl-kouhai to reach back to lend a hand to, no woman senpai to look ahead towards and aspire. She’s a woman in a worse political landscape than the one I can observe in my own government, police and armed forces now—17 years before the Individual Eleven incident is due, 10 years after 2nd Gig was made—which all have visible women, plural. In a nutshell, the Major and her story don’t show us how to make change, or imagine a world without sexism, or even show us how to centre women in our lives (even if that woman is us). But the Major that we each build in our own secret mind-stage sanctuary gives us a way to cope bravely with what we’ve got. She can be an allegory for how it feels to live in a patriarchy, and how to live amongst socialised girl hate, and how to believe you’ve the right to succeed in boys’ club careers and hobbies. Or lifestyles! She can be a woman who doesn’t back down, and who frowns at men and believes herself right until it’s proven. If there’s nothing to get between her and us, she lets us feel strong, and capable, and challenged, while we live in the patriarchy that we know, and with the old guard, whom we love. Speculative fiction or not, she travels beside us, not ahead. It’s up to you, or me—the Individual—to decide when she’s useful.
And when she’s not.
Major: I have to admit, for a movie it wasn’t bad—but diversionary entertainment is transitory, it just comes and goes at the viewers whim. It’s the way it should be, but a film with no beginning or end that hooks an audience and won’t let go of them is harmful no matter how wonderful you may have believed it was.
Kanazuki: Ohh, you’re a tough critic. Are you saying that we members of the audience have a reality to which we should return?
Major: Yes, I am.
Kanazuki: For some who sit and watch the film, misery will be waiting for them the instant they go back to reality. You’re willing to accept responsibility for depriving these people of their dreams?
Major: No, I’m not. But dreams are meaningful when you work toward them in the real world. If you merely live within the dreams of other people it’s no different from being dead.
Kanazuki: You’re a realist.
Major: If a romantic escapes from reality, then yes.
Kanazuki: A strong girl you are. If the reality you believe in ever comes about, you give me a call. When it happens, that’s the time we’ll leave this theatre.
– Stand Alone Complex Season 1: Tachikoma Runs Away; The Movie Director’s Dream – ESCAPE FROM