The Ill Communication

After completing his story for Ghost in the Shell in 1990, Shirow immediately began penning a sequel for it a year later with Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface.  And it's within these pages that he delved even deeper into the philosophical side seen from the original story and much less regarding all the tactical, police styled detective narrative, making it a controversial wrinkle in the franchise for fans of GitS.  So much, in fact, that he needed to go so far as to make a note of it in the front of the book:


In the Ghost in the Shell graphic novel published in 1991, the heroine, Motoko Kusanagi, fusez with a self-described "intelligent life form" and left Section 9 of the Public Security Bureau.  This story takes place four years and five months later.  As a result, this story is quite different from what was original called Ghost in the Shell and featured Public Security's Section 9 (the Special Assault Force).  I thought of visually differentiating the new Japanese title from the old one by merely changing the last kanji character, from one that means "military unit" to the homophonic kanji for "body" or "form" (which would shift the meaning of "mobile force" or "riot squad" to something like "mobile-unit-body-entity"), but for a variety of reasons I decided not to do so.  To those readers expecting a direct continuation of the prior storyline, I apologize and beg for your understanding.  I'm sorry, folks!

-- Shirow Masamune

Comparing it to the first book, Man-Machine Interface is a tough pill to swallow.  You'll need to read it a few times over in order to dig through the layers of deep explanations that cross religious and technological subjects that are mentioned in nearly every panel and thrown at you at high speed with little to no explanation.  And when details are given, it's noted in the margins with a sentence or two from Masamune, trying to fill in the gap of information relating to the acronym or metaphor that just flew over our heads.  And there are a TON of margin notes in this book, making me wonder if it was all added in the tankobon rather than in the original comics because the publisher themselves had a difficult time trying to decrypt and follow the story.

Speaking of which, and as was mentioned in his Apologies and Corrections letter, the story takes place four years later after the events from the first manga.  It's now 2035 and follows Motoko, or rather the new being that came about from her and the artificial life from Project 2501 fusing together.  She no longer works with Public Security's Section 9, her old team.  Instead, she works for a large company called Poseidon, which has a floating, man-made island constructed as its headquarters.  Calling herself Motoko Aramaki, her job involves dealing with terrorists and criminal activity around the world.

Doesn't sound so different when compared to what she did while working at Section 9, but this time she's a one-man (woman) army, doing what took eight -- including Aramaki -- now can be done with just one, thanks to the abilities she now possesses which in part came from the AI she fused with, allowing her to connect and travel global networks and use them to her advantage like no one else can.  With it, she can easily jump from network to network with ease and ghost-hack into others like if it was nothing.  In fact, these tools are her biggest weapons when fighting crime, swapping them for guns to where I can't think of a time where she fired a gun at someone.  Stuff like this shows how strong of a departure it is from what was in the first book.

But what's interesting is knowing that all of the events in the second book take place in one day, giving a sort of 24 vibe from the television show.  Although, it is a bit confusing because some events are jumbled around, having taken place before other events occurred, causing you mentally build the timeline in your head and puzzle together what happened when and figuring out who knew certain things before something happened.

Starting from the first page, the story accelerates pretty fast, not allowing the reader to ease into the world like before.  Even though they are rarely mentioned, you will be a bit lost if you haven't read the original manga as you won't understand some of the characters or the technology already established and why the focus is centered on Motoko Aramaki.  Even someone like me who's deep into this franchise was lost on what was happening.

The prologue begins inside of a traditionally styled Japanese shrine where we see Daisuke Aramaki in a meeting with the Kannushi who has also summoned a psychic investigator from the Japan Channeling Agency named Tamaki Tamai.  They requested Tamaki for an update regarding the spiritual existence they've been keeping tabs on.  Meanwhile a person who closely resembles Kusanagi is on a small boat in the ocean, about to meet up with someone named "The Doctor" seeking her for a job he wants to hire her for to resolve a matter at a facility where a riot has erupted regarding a wage dispute.

The first part of the prologue is the new stuff.  The more vague, abstract side of the story is the content which I guess I personally don't really care all that much for.  But like he said in the preface, this is a different story he wanted to tell, so you should prepare yourself and keep your expectations in check and opinions open when you come across these parts.  Although, that's not the entire focus of the book as a good chuck of it involves Motoko Aramaki and her business affairs regarding cyber security.

She's the kind who works on her own, with little to no oversight on what she does.  With Section 9, there was a bureaucracy starting with ape-face Daisuke Aramaki, followed by the Internal Affair Minister, and then Prime Minister at the top, but not at Poseidon, where even Chief of Security Lee doesn't know much about her.

Most of her work is done inside the floaty cyberspace world, where she can dive in at any time and go just about anywhere from company networks, to satellite systems, to terrorist servers, and more as if it was no big deal.  And while she doesn't work with any humans with the exception to her secretary that takes care of the regular business affairs, she primarily works with her six agents that are A.I. beings similar to the fuchikoma's, but existing in the cyber world rather than being objects in the real world.  They are short, cute, a bit of comedy relief, and vital to her operations as they work based on the orders she gives them, which happens a lot.

Actually, this happens more often than you'd probably want it to.  But if you're the kind of person who likes seeing an officer give orders to crewmen in the control room onboard a submarine, barking technical jargon you've never heard before like "Adjust 'Trash can bomb' and 'compression errors' to activate with 'Cinderella' antibodies at the outer limits of level 6" and "Stand by with four decoys, plus C42 anti-probe and C41 anti-intercept devices", then you'll love Man-Machine Interface as a lot of dialog is like this happens between Motoko and her agents.

When flipping through the pages, each panel is a work of art.  While the first few pages of each chapter from the original book were done in color, MMI on the other hand, has half the book done in color, with the other half being traditional black and white manga drawings.  But when looking at the colored pages, you'll notice he did a blending of 2D hand-drawings that were done digitally and 3D computer generated images, which I'm guessing was unheard of back in the early 1990s; which probably explains why this comic took nearly five years to complete.  You can tell a lot of meticulous and detailed hand crafted work was done for each panel as they are really pleasing to look at.  But at the same time tarnished due to the number of up skirt and crotch shots there are.  Come on, Masamune!  Really?  You had to put that many skeevy camera angles into your work?!

Personally, the parts of the story that take place in reality were more interesting than when she's in cyberspace as those are the times when she interacts with other humans, allowing for dialog to take instead of underlings only responding to her with responses like "Yes, ma'am".  The scenes when she's with Mr. Lee are probably the best as it has an action-like movie feel to it, giving for some suspenseful parts, like when Motoko is breaking into the highly secured server room that houses the supercomputer named the Decatoncale.

But the true purpose behind this book is the idea of a new type of A.I. being that is so advanced where humans will need to figure out and deal with someday.  We've seen this topic before with many films spread throughout the decades from the 1920s with Metropolis to recently with Ex Machina in 2015.  For Man-Machine Interface, it's probably the most in depth, thought provoking story I've ever seen regarding the subject.  Unfortunately it fails to capture that idea in an entertaining way like how it's trying to do through the pages of this comic.  But this is subjective, so it may just be me.

I guess the alternative would be to make a film out of it MMI, making a condensed, streamlined way of projecting Masamune's ideas similar to how they did it with the 1995 film Ghost in the Shell that explained the ideas from the first book in a 3 minute scene rather than 30 dense pages from a graphic novel.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

JP Original Print: 1991
JP Book Release: 2001

US Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
US Release: 2005
312 pages

Posted on: February 16, 2017