Saturday, December 01, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #335: Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface by Masamune Shirow

OK, the original Ghost in the Shell is not as wonderful as some people say, but it's a solid cyberpunk story in comics form: crisp and understandable and visually interesting and a good example of a particular era in manga and science fiction.

Its sequel, not good. Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface is tedious, hermetic, endlessly dull, obsessed with its own fictional hacking terms, deeply snoozy, confusing about what scenes take place in cyberspace and which in the real world, painfully boring, and full of characters most of whom seem to be Major Motoko Kusanagi with different color hair -- or maybe Motoko Someone-else. And despite the thousands and thousands of words filling the panels here, and running in ant-type text boxes at the bottoms and sides of nearly every page, it fails entirely to adequately explain both what is actually happening and why we should care.

It doesn't help that both the bafflegab and the underlying assumptions about computer development in this story from the mid-90s are very divergent from what actually happened since then. That's obviously a danger for any near-future SF story more than a few years old, but Shirow focuses intently on those pointless details, telling his readers all of the detailed cyber-stuff that's going on in an endless flow of terms he invented and which don't match anything computers do in the real world.

It's also deeply fan-servicey, as you can see from the cover. All of the women who are Motoko spend the book wearing things that aren't exactly clothes when they wear anything at all. But they seem to be mostly cyborgs, so they don't have nipples, which I guess makes it OK? I was more annoyed than titillated, because of how amazingly blatant it all is. When they're not naked, they tend to wear things that are even more obvious, like a long open coat over panties and nothing else or the sex-dungeon outfit on the cover. (Or, I'd almost forgotten, the first thing we see a Motoko wearing: a skin-tight semi-cheongsam with strategic cutouts and a skirt that falls, more often that not, in precisely the right way to show off her camo panties.) Shirow and his studio are good at drawing the bodies of pretty girls, but I wish they hadn't insisted on doing so in nearly every panel of every page.

And what's the story about? Frankly, I'm not sure. It's a few years after the first Ghost, and Motoko (or one of the Motoko entities, at least) is working for a corporation, doing her usual work of killing people violently for reasons that are murky. This time out, she's aided by cute little computer-graphics thingies (gremlins? software agents? mini-AIs?) and works from a high-tech submarine for no obvious reason other than the Rule of Cool. She's in cyberspace a lot of the time, which adds to the confusion -- we switch viewpoints from a maybe-Motoko in the real world to a maybe-Motoko in cyberspace and then to a different maybe-Motoko in the real world, and it seems like most of the time they're all the same person...but not always. And all of Shirow's female characters can only be distinguished by hair style and color to begin with, particularly since he doesn't have people call each other by name all that much. (The names of the gremlin mini-AIs, now, those are used a lot, which is useless since they all look exactly the same anyway.)

There's some giant big energy things far away in cyberspace, which Motoko wants to investigate. There are some shadowy organizations doing things Shirow never really explains, and who may be opposed to Motoko or her employer, or maybe working in parallel, or maybe just randomly running into each other. Shirow is more interested in packing in another hundred words about how hacking works in his world. Motoko, and maybe even some other people who aren't Motoko, run around the real world and cyberspace, doing random violent things and showing off their panties at least once per page, and then there is Something Transcendent in Cyberspace, OG Bill Gibson stylee.

Do not read this book. Even if you loved the original Ghost in the Shell. Even if you really like Shirow's art. (This book is primarily color, and there's a lot of impressive stuff here.) Even if looking at pictures of manga girls pretend-naked is your top fetish in the world. Well...maybe if all of those things are true.

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