Anime adaptation a generic ‘Ghost’ in a switched-up ‘Shell’

Johansson, for her part, looks mostly bored in the role. Images courtesy Paramount Pictures.

5/10 Boring. Risk-free. Done to death.

White-washed, and not just in the controversial casting decisions. Ghost in the Shell is a uniquely Japanese property, and much needed to be changed for it to translate from late ’80s Japanese audiences to mid ’10s global audiences. But instead of identifying how to do that while maintaining its potency, producers simply extracted everything from the movie that isn’t in the current American mainstream, which is almost everything that makes the property unique, and replaced it with essentially nothing. Such is the sad destiny of Japanese media in Hollywood.

In the future, more than 70 percent of the population uses cybernetic augmentations. Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) uses cybernetic prosthetics for almost 100 percent of her body after the one she was born with was mangled in an accident. With her new highly tactical shell, she leads Japan’s Section 9 counter-terrorism unit.

Ghost in the Shell is drenched in the hallmarks of being adapted for a wider, presumed to be dumber, audience.

The script, particularly the dialogue, is garbage. Instead of having conversations, characters say the movie’s themes to each other in as many words. It’s a flaw common among movies trying to trick viewers into thinking they’re watching high-brow material. There’s a desperation to make sure viewers understand, but wondering why a movie is good is a much better experience than knowing why it’s bad.

The sometimes spectacular visuals were the movie’s only chance for a saving grace, but they don’t rise to that level nearly as often as they need to.

Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) is so fucking cool. He’s one of the only characters the movie really gets right, and his scenes are a joy.

The biggest indicator of how condescendingly this movie was adapted is in how it neuters its lead character. As in the source material, Major ponders her identity, but on a very low level. Like Anastasia or Hercules — this was originally a Disney project, after all — she’s not trying to figure out who she is as much as she’s trying to figure out the circumstances of her birth. It’s a search some viewers will sympathize with, but for most of us it amounts to a trip to, and since you’re probably not the long lost Duchess of Russia, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

This is a key difference from the source material, in which Major wonders not who she is, but what she is and how she fits into society, a much more provocative question. Simplifying it like this avoids truly challenging the audience.

Major is also neutered in a more literal sense. Her shell has a cloaking device that doesn’t cover clothing in some adaptations, meaning she does much of her work in the nude. She’s often drawn with big, prickly nipples as a reminder of this. Further, she’s an extremely sexual character, and often engages with other women. Obviously, this adaptation mostly abandons these aspects.

Ghost in the Shell is probably the biggest current title in the subtle, ongoing wave of manga and anime rolling through Hollywood. Inception was famously inspired by Paprika, Edge of Tomorrow was based on All You Need is Kill and Jordan Peele is now being sought to direct a live-action Akira. There’s wonderful potential here for Hollywood to start telling some new stories without having to actually come up with its own original ideas, but if Ghost in the Shell is any indication of how they’re going to do it, I’d rather they stick to remaking the same comic book origin story over and over.

Because this isn’t a new story. This is Blade Runner or Robocop by a different name. 

What’s the point of adapting something if you take out everything that makes it worth adapting in the first place? Creating something that will irk the built-in audience, which is assumed to be too small, and leave interested viewers wondering what all the fuss was about?

Leopold Knopp is a journalism student at the University of North Texas. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at

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1 Response to Anime adaptation a generic ‘Ghost’ in a switched-up ‘Shell’

  1. Pingback: Also go see ‘Your Name.’ | Reel Entropy

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