I’ve been rewatching Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex for about the third time straight through. It’s been a while between viewings of the series mostly because I’ve gotten into this rut of watching three or four series at once.
But I came across an episode in the middle of the show called “The Day of the Machines” which I’d always kind of half watched. First because it mostly focuses on the Tachikomas (which were never my favorite characters) and second because I always thought it was just another of those, “Here’s a lot of explaining stuff so we can look smart” episodes that are really prevelant in Japanese cyberpunk (and to a lesser extent William Gibson).
Okay, so that might just be Oshii and Innocence, but I might get to that in a bit.
The whole episode always struck me as a throwaway episode, until this time when I actually watched it. I’m going to go into some possible spoilers, so if you haven’t watched this show, please do. First of all because it’s awesome. And second of all because it’s awesome.
The Micro Structure of the Episode and the Macro Implications
The first thing that struck me is that this episode actually has a plot. The whole episode centers around what Major Kusinagi is going to do with the Tachikomas. And their discussion about how to make the major like them. Now granted there is a little of theme tossing in here, the writers weren’t particularly subtle about discussing the nature of the interaction between man and robots.
But they also weren’t particularly heavy-handed either. While it does watch like the later chapters of “Snow Crash”, it doesn’t get worse than that. And while the tension is pretty low key between the tanks and the Major, it’s still there.
As I was rewatching it though it dawned on me. This is the Standalone Complex in reverse. Namely, it’s a bunch of individuals, who are supposed to be uniform, who spontaneously develop unique personalities and view points. So that the discussion of the nature of the interaction between man and machine becomes less important. Really the discussion is there as a medium to convey the macro implications. Basically it’s the fact that they’re HAVING the discussion that becomes important.
The Importance of a Dog
Something I have to point out about the episode is that the dialogue flowed naturally. While the discussion they were having might have been high-handed, the language they used was very much in line with their characterization up to this point. There had been several instances where they’d displayed curiousity and a social nature, so hearing the Tachikomas discuss this never seemed like the creators talking through the characters.
One of the times they’d displayed that curiousity happened in an earlier episode where one of the Tachikomas had escaped and helped a girl named Miki try to find her dog.
Needless to say it comes up in the “Day of the Machines” episode. Now it comes up in an off hand way as they’re all standing around discussing the nature of machines in society, when one of them says, “I’d really like to see her again.” and they all chime in that they would too.
Bang… it’s the Standalone Complex in microcosm. Essentially it’s a group of individuals who all think they had the same experience because they were all sharing information through a common link.
When I realized that, I sat back and said, “Wow.” First because the whole scene is a throwaway scene. Or at least it’s set up that way. No special importance is placed on it. There isn’t any dramatic music to let the viewer “know” that something important is coming. Essentially there’s no real reason to pay attention to it.
And secondly because it arrived so naturally. There wasn’t anything forced about the way it came up. The writers didn’t need to expound on it, or bring in Satre and Socrates to point out how brilliant they were. It just appeared and then it was gone.
And that’s what I wish every anime could do.