Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 isn’t a bad show; it just doesn’t work.

Not with an audience familiar with the property.

Not with those in love with cyberpunk.

Not even with those who might be going into this cold.

From a technical standpoint, there isn’t anything particularly horrible about it. Nor is there anything spectacular, either. And taken together, the latest title in the Ghost in the Shell franchise is adrift in the land of mediocrity.

There is a good reason that Netflix swooped in and took this show. When the first Ghost in the Shell movie released in 1995, it received critical acclaim for bringing the genre of cyber punk back. Not since Blade Runner had we seen this vision of the future that was gritty and dystopian, yet ripe with possibility considering humans could abandon their physical bodies for cyborg ones. The movie was less about action (even though the action looked spectacular) and more about exploring the consequences of this technology good or bad.

Each successive iteration of Ghost in The Shell has in some way honored the original vision laid out by director Mamoru Oshii and creator of the original manga Masamune Shirow. In true science fiction style, others have used Ghost in the Shell to push their vision of this world. Shirow and Oshii helped shape the television adaptation known as Stand Alone Complex as writers. Even the prequel series known as Arise, which didn’t have the original writer and director involved, managed to at least nail the aesthetic and feel of its predecessors.

The only thing Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 shares with its predecessors is just surface level. This is obvious from the moment we see just how the characters and this world is animated. A slick opening with sharp animation that is so close to real is deceiving because what we get in the show is something between cartoon and videogames. The cell-shaded style is reminiscent of a game like Borderlands or the animated show Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which doesn’t suit this series at all and only serves to make it look cheap. This might have been okay if the other versions of Ghost in The Shell didn’t exist, but when the show that it’s supposed to be the sequel of looks so much better, it’s hard not to feel let down.

Taken at face value, without the context of an entire franchise of shows as a reference point, this might be passable, but the story and world of SAC_2045 has been stripped of nuance and complexity.

This series picks up 15 years after the original Stand Alone Complex and the world has gone to hell. Major Motoko Kusanagi and her crew, which used to form Public Safety Section 9, have left and since become mercenaries for hire. In that span a Global Simultaneous Default has rendered all paper and electronic money useless. Now the wealthiest nations engage in this large “Sustainable War” in order to keep the economy going.

These are all very interesting ideas, but up to this point the show only really engages with it on a surface level. It spends a quarter of its episodes in a Mad Max-esque future America dealing with bandits and paying $1500 for a burrito to show how terrible the world is. Some intrigue develops when America hires the Major’s band of mercenaries and tries to treat them as disposable soldiers at the same time as when former Section 9 chief Aramaki tries to bring them back to Japan, but all of this is slow developing with drab action sequences in between.

The back-half of the show gets a bit more intriguing with the revelation of post-humans and Section 9 once again becoming the crime fighters they were meant to be, but the criminals that they hunt lack flair and are missing the thought-provoking nature that made its predecessors so good.

Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is a disappointment, but there is a chance the 12 episodes due to be released later this year could redeem the show. Right now though, it’s disheartening that a return to this world and these characters could be botched so badly. Perhaps Netflix should do us a favor and acquire the original Stand Alone Complex for streaming in order to make up for it.

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