A show’s pilot episode is the most important episode, and that goes double for anime. Anime pilots, if they are to be effective, must establish a world and premise enticing enough for us to watch the subsequent 300 episodes of Anake slowly falling in love with Ranmer, or Naturo going Super-Sayain to fight the skinless Fleshgiants, or Yukio winning endless card games by the skin of his teeth. The non-pilot episodes of any given anime are what Gabriel Garcia Marquez might christen 100 Years of Derivative Trash.
Well, I refuse to watch all that and so should you. Much more efficient than sitting through the whole show, I prefer to only watch the pilot episode and then guess at what will follow.
Here are my conjectures for today’s anime:
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
The pilot: In AD 2030, a sexy cyborg woman beats up some people on a roof and then decides to assault a tea room full of robot geisha in Tokyo. (In case you were wondering, this is a Japanese anime. From Japan.) Wearing a ridiculous catsuit, she kills the geisha (but can one kill a mere machine?) and her team rescues the lone survivor of the attack, a Japanese government minister. Afterwards, we learn that her team is an elite spec ops unit called Section 9, one that defends Japan against political intrigue, cyberwarfare and robots. We know they are important, stylish people because they all drive expensive cars very irresponsibly. (But can one irresponsibly drive a mere machine?)
After some detective work, the sexy cyborg woman – Major Kusanagi – changes into a leotard with thigh-high stockings (shown above) and then walks around like this is her normal business attire. Which, apparently, it is. As she yells at people in a somewhat sexy way, the rookie team member – his name is Togusa – figures out that one of the other hostages they thought dead, an American, is the one behind it the geisha incident. The American attacked the Japanese minister and then, because in the future everybody’s brains are computers, uploaded his own mind to the minister’s body, stealing it. Using that body, he hoped to access confidential reports and take them back to the U.S., but the Major and her team arrest him at the airport. Imperialism averted.
Next, there will be more international intrigue and computerized deception. The Americans send a new spy to steal more Japanese secrets, but up the ante: this time it’s an Apache helicopter with a human mind inside of it. His name is John. Confident in his large, blockish body, he tries to win the heart of a beautiful young Japanese OH-1 Ninja – a smaller, more modest model. Her name is Akiko. She is a traditional yamato nadeshiko, a quiet girl who understands more than she lets on and is embarrassed of her voluptuous body. Initially, Jim only wants to have helicopter sex with Akiko so that she’ll divulge national secrets during pillow talk. Yet as the story progresses their emotions – so very human, although they are both helicopters – complicate matters. Who is deceiving whom? (Can one fall in love with a mere machine?)
Finally, a bumbling American spy is sent to figure out why John is taking so long. He is furious that the helicopters have fallen in love – “They’re just machiiiiiiiiines!” he says – and tries to kill them both, but Section 9 shows up and captures the murderous imperialist. In custody, they stare disapprovingly at the new spy until he admits that America caused Japan’s 1990s economic downtown by manipulating stock prices. Mitsubishi gains 4% when he and John the Apache are sent to prison. As Section 9 packs up, Akiko seems very conflicted. (Can a mere machine feel a divided sense of loyalty between her nation and her love?)
Then probably more stuff happens with guns and fast cars. There is a robot every now and then. Throughout these episodes, in the background, there is a great deal of character development. Ghost in the Shell is a very serious show, based on very serious principles, and so the characters are dynamic. If we’re going by the first episode, the most important characters must be the Major’s breasts – they’re barely off camera for a second – so they will likely get the most coverage.
As all the international power-brokering goes on, and as Section 9 takes down rogue agents and foreign spies, the Major’s breasts grow. As people. They experience every vicissitude of human life. They fall in love. They eat ice cream. They learn to ride a bicycle. At the climax of a multi-episode story arc, they even save Japan – leaping off the Major’s body to smother the Lawnmower Man. Finally, we get an explanation: the Major’s breasts were infected by a computer virus and developed free will. They now want to vote.
Japan is thrown into turmoil as political parties form and dissolve around this issue. People shout in the streets and wave signs in the air. The complicated subtext, perhaps too difficult for a foreigner to understand, asks the viewer a fundamental philosophical question that only Ghost in the Shell is brave enough to tackle: Are breasts really human beings? This is the mark of a really good anime, guys, one not afraid to engage with difficult issues in between showing us scenes of breasts taking showers and walking around in revealing fur coats.
Our main characters, front and center.
Behind all this, the American Empire (the name is canon) snickers. The spies of President Bush never thought that Operation: Sentient Breast would work so well. They ready their armies to march on and conquer Japan. “The Nipponese,” says a blonde Texan in a large and shadowy chair, “will be our vassal state once more!”
Just then, the skylight above him shatters and Section 9 rappels into the room. The Americans have been outfoxed on their home turf. Trying desperately to escape as his men fall to Section 9’s onslaught, the Texan is tripped by something indistinct on the ground: breasts! Yes, Major Kusanagi’s breasts have once again saved Japan. They might have gained sentience, and they might have a lot of questions about their place in the world, but they are still loyal Japanese. Outmanned and outgunned, the Americans admit responsibility for the faulty nuclear plant at Fukushima, having sabotaged the Japanese government’s own plans for a reactor totally impervious to tsunamis.
As the screen fades to black, a public service announcement comes on reminding all those who liked the show to vote.