When I first saw Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence I left the screening unimpressed. At the time, it felt like a confusing trip through a philosophical morass. I disliked the Major’s lack of screen time as I loved her central role in the associated TV series. Still, when I heard that Bandai planned to stop releasing material, I knew I should pick up the Ghost in the Shell movies I did not have, including Innocence. Shortly thereafter I had a long trip to take and decided to give Innocence another look.
Mamoru Oshii directed Innocence and he structured it as a detective story, but it lacked the resonance I felt with his earlier Patlabor 2. A good mystery story should keep the audience on the edge of its seat, guessing at the outcome. I never felt invested in the outcome of Innocence. I could follow logically as the heroes tracked down the perpetrator, but I just did not care. In Patlabor 2 the investigation into the mastermind behind a terrorist attack formed a central part of the movie. Whereas in Innocence the plot mattered little, only the action scenes and the interaction between the characters mattered.
The highlight of the film lies in its visuals. It looks great, especially given its age and it’s one of the nicest examples of animation I’ve seen. The producers invested time and money in adding background detail and moving people in areas where other films use matte paintings. The backgrounds and the visuals kept me engrossed in the story.
The action scenes are amazing as well. Lots of guns. Lots of explosions. Lots of hand-to-hand combat. The choreography looked fluid and the various aircraft, cars and boats looked great. The vehicles blended in with the rest of the animation, rather than sticking out as computer generated vehicles often do.
The artists produced seamlessly blended visuals, but the writers failed to create a similarly integrated script. Instead, the writing felt like two different works. One part included standard movie dialogue. The kind that moves the plot along and deepens the audiences’ understanding of the characters. The other part takes the form of a philosophy journal with famous quotes inserted haphazardly. The movie’s fixation on philosophy overwhelmed me at times. A little philosophy in anime gives the plot added significance. Here, the references overshadowed whatever message the movie tried to convey.
Overall though the quality of the Japanese production impressed me and Bandai did an admirable job keeping the English dub at a similarly high level. The cast from the Ghost in the Shell TV series returned for the movie and sounded comfortable in their respective roles. The movie exists in a different continuum than the TV show, and therefore could not take advantage of the character building from the show. However, the voice actors still benefited. The actors sounded at home in their roles, unlike the stiffness of the acting in the first Ghost in the Shell movie.
Overall, I highly recommend the movie, even with its uneven script. The attention to detail of the animators shows through. If you are deciding which Bandai releases to pick up, this deserves a place on your list.