Ghost in the Shell, alternatively named Kōkaku Kidōtai, is a canonical manga story created, written, and illustrated by Masamune Shirow (1961- ) which was serialized from April 1989 until November 1990 in Young Magazine.  Shirow has produced subsequent stories including Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (2001) and Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor (2003).  The title, Ghost in the Shell was chosen in honour of Arthur Koestler’s influential publication The Ghost in the Machine (1967).  Shirow’s Ghost is a sophisticated story which raises questions about personal identity, the soul, humanity, and the influence of electronic networks in a world increasingly pre-occupied with and reliant on technology and computers.  While initially published as a manga series, Ghost has since been released as graphic novels, anime television episodes, movies, and video games.  Mamoru Oshii produced movies of both Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) to much acclaim. In 2002 a television series known as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex presented an alternative story to the original manga and resulted in several continuations being developed in 2004 and 2006.  The series Ghost in the Shell: Arise was produced in 2013, presenting events prior to those in the original manga story.

Ghost in the Shell is a story set in 21st century Japan in which technology has progressed, completely immersing society and individuals with electronic networks.  Individuals, who possess electronic enhancements, can directly interface with the digital world through cybernetics or shells that allow them to communicate with one another or augment their abilities.  However, as a result of being enmeshed with computers, both individuals and society are increasingly at risk from computer hacking.  The overarching narrative of Ghost is set in the fictional city of Niihama, or New Port City, in which the counter-cyberterrorist organization Public Security Section 9, led by the protagonist, heroine, and cyborg Motoko Kusanagi searches for the hacker known as the Puppet Master.  This Puppeteer has hacked into government systems and individual cyborgs and is therefore considered an imminent threat. Most adaptations of Ghost follow the actions of the members of Section 9, which often involve investigations into the Puppet Master, corrupt officials, and criminals.  In Shirow’s original work, the Puppeteer is an artificial intelligence, or conscious program, who escapes capture by merging with the protagonist Kusanagi.

Given the story’s focus on the influence of computers and technology on society and personal identity, Ghost in the Shell has remained influential and become subject to popular discussion, philosophical debate, and scholarly discourse since its release. Unlike many contemporary stories, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) and Akira (1982-1990) which are wary of a technologically driven society, Ghost in the Shell suggests the possibility of advancement through the unity of humanity and computers. Ghost has been credited with influencing stories like The Matrix (1999), AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001), and I, Robot (2004) as well as television series such as Star Trek and The X-Files.

–Sean Morton

Further Reading

  • Napier, Susan J., Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005.