As our high-tech “utopia” gathers steam, keeps our attention glued to our phone screens, makes us more depressed and angry, and forces us to question what it means to be human, it’s worth exploring how this new world is expressed and anticipated. Art reveals a lot about not only the author’s feelings, but the feelings of the world that produced that work of art. One of the most prescient fictions out there in this genre has been the Ghost in the Shell franchise, beginning with Masamune Shirow’s manga in 1989.
In the Ghost in the Shell world, there’s no need for smartphones anymore, because technology has become internalized. Brains have been cyberized, giving them all the functionality of today’s smartphones and more. If you think attention spans are bad today, imagine how it would be then!
In December, I picked up one of the latest installments in the meta-series, The Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network, a collection of four graphic short stories.
As in my review of the Five New Short Stories collection, I’ll take review each story in the Global Neural Network series. What can they tell us about ourselves and the world we live in today?
This was my favorite story in the Global Neural Network collection. I can’t quite put my finger on Motoko Kusanagi’s design here. It looks like a unique addition to the meta-series. Her boss, Daisuke Aramake, leader of Public Security Section 9, has a design that’s characteristically him. Overall, the art is crisp and detailed. David Lopez did a good job.
The story, by Max Gladstone, takes place in Shanghai. Motoko Kusanagi and Daisuke Aramake are invited to a party, but it gets crashed by well-armed terrorists – literally. The windows in the high-rise building get shattered by armed assailants inside flying power-suits.
I told you that Ghost in the Shell was an inspiration for my upcoming Red War books. This kind of stuff is one of the reasons why. Global Neural Network gives us glimpses of the future of high-tech warfare, a topic I also explore.
Anyway, Aramake gets taken captive, where he’s put into a bizarre virtual reality replaying the same memory over and over. The old coot’s seen every trick in the book, though, and he laughs off the terrorists in their attempt at interrogation – but something isn’t up, and he can’t last forever.
Motoko Kusanagi, meanwhile, evades the local cops and does her own investigation, meeting up with an old comrade in the process. And from there, her own mental game takes shape as she and her comrade try to unravel what’s going on.
There is a well-executed surprise at the end that I won’t spoil.
Automatic Behavior was the kind of story that fans of action or mystery in general, and not just fans of the meta-series, will love. Global Neural Network indeed kicked off with a classic story that did service to Ghost in the Shell.
The design of Motoko Kusanagi here was very much based on the classic 1995 movie. Giannis Milongiannis obviously had this in mind when he did the art here. It’s not quite as crisp as in Automatic Behavior, but the classic feel of it and the homage to the series’ past will catch your attention.
Redbloods is a truly international story. And again, it has a classic Ghost in the Shell flavor to it, exploring what it would mean for humanity if we could truly just swap our brains into a different, customized body, whenever we choose.
In Japan, Public Security Section 9 raids a boat with a kidnapped victim inside, but they quickly discover that something is wrong with her cyberbrain. She’s carrying something akin to a digital split personality disorder. It calls to mind Ghost in the Shell: The Lost Memory.
To get to the bottom of it and where it came from, two of Section 9’s members, Saito and Togusa, travel to the broken remnants of the former United States. We see glimpses of the shattered landscape in the place formerly called Louisiana as they journey to the headquarters of a bio-supremacist gang that are more than they seem.
What Redbloods lacks in plot twists compared to Automatic Behavior, it makes up for in action scenes. You’ll like it if you’re into action. The ending is characteristic of the Ghost in the Shell franchise as well. It makes you question what it means to be human in the age of high technology.
After The Ball is Over
This one is unique because it doesn’t focus on the exploits of Motoko Kusanagi and Public Security Section 9. Instead, we see the lives of two ordinary people trapped behind the borders of the American Empire, the most powerful successor state of the former United States of America.
A woman meets up with an old boyfriend who wants to get out. She reluctantly agrees to assist, not ever having totally gotten over her feelings for him.
We see an espionage-laden road trip as the two get closer and closer to the border, trying to figure out how to cross. The art, by Khoi Phan, does a good job in conveying a sense of despair. We get the feeling of loss. We see what the two are trying to escape from.
What’s interesting about this is that we hear of the American Empire – it plays a big role in the climax of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig, but we don’t venture into it before Global Neural Network. In a sense, this was a good follow-up to Redbloods, even if it doesn’t focus on Section 9. The place has turned into a totalitarian state. I got shades of Palpatine and the Galactic Empire.
As our high-tech world enables more censorship and control, it’s a chilling look into our own future.
The final installation in the Global Neural Network collection has an art style that primarily resembles Ghost in the Shell: ARISE, but it varies, particularly in Motoko Kusanagi’s design. The antagonist faintly resembles the Puppeteer in the 1995 movie. The story shows this character stealing art, erasing the identities of the authors, and creating some sort of black market over intellectual property.
What we get is a story about identity that might sound a bit confusing, but is firmly in the Ghost in the Shell tradition. Given the mutable nature of individuality in a collective of information, which is one of the staples of the series, does such a thing as intellectual property even exist anymore? We’re debating that right now – Global Neural Network just makes it more obvious.
Still, Star Gardens wound up being my least favorite portion of Global Neural Network. It lacked the emotional punch, the action, and the dramatic plot twists seen elsewhere in the collection, at least in my opinion.
Global Neural Network isn’t the best of the Ghost in the Shell collection – far from it – but it lives up to the meta-series as being an entertaining edition that you’ll enjoy if you like science fiction in general, and may inspire you if you like telling sci-fi or action stories.
While I have a physical copy, you can get the Kindle version for $7.99. I’d say it’s worth that price.
Speaking of storytelling, bookmark my Patreon page, where you’ll be able to get my short stories in the future. The launch is only a few days away and the first 25 patrons will get something special!