Thoughts on the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex PS2 game

Major Kusanagi jumping in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex PS2 game

Kusanagi being Kusanagi.

A new Ghost in the Shell game, the multiplayer shooter First Assault, is due in the near future. And of course we’re all awaiting the new movie, with Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, (justifiable whitewashing accusations aside, I have to say Johansson’s perfectly cast for the role). Perhaps it was all this that inspired me to give the old Stand Alone Complex PS2 game a go, having not done so at the time of its release. Here follow some thoughts on that game.

The GITS SAC PS2 game alternates between two playable characters, Motoko Kusanagi and her second-in-command Batou – the obvious choices. While their missions are separate, the two are both working to solve one case; a typically GITS story, packed with complex corporate-espionage/terrorism/cybercrime. These characters are in communication with the others whom we know and love, and the Tachikoma tanks make appearances (indeed the Tachikoma is a third playable character, albeit for one brief mission alone). The GITS feel is captured superbly through the cast and the tale, with the use of voice actors from the TV series adding to the effect considerably; and while it can be hard to follow the complicated story initially, let’s not pretend that isn’t something to which GITS has often shown a slight tendency.

The graphics are – well, the graphics must have looked great back in 2004, so, I’m guessing that gives an idea of how they look today. But this shooter’s not overly old-fashioned in terms of gameplay; it doesn’t have the highest sophistication in terms of targeting etc, and some aspects of the controls are perhaps a little awkward from time to time, but overall it does much of what more modern shooters can do. On normal mode, I wouldn’t have minded a little more difficulty – at any rate, highly advanced players should certainly select hard mode. I’d also have liked more boss fights, or at the least more diverse enemies, as taking out increasing numbers of the same-old low-level types can become repetitive. That said, the makers do find other ways to introduce variety. The use of two main characters is important to the gameplay even more than to the story, each favouring a different approach due to their different areas of ability; I won’t go so far as to say that Kusanagi’s missions require stealth play, but her low strength/high agility compared to Batou rewards more emphasis on strategy. Though I did tire of the fiddly jumping challenges which Kusanagi’s missions involve, as it took me quite a while to acquire the knack for these. The option of ghost-hacking enemies also lends a little diversity (but in later missions I personally found hacking tediously tricky).

Overall I’d recommend this game to the GITS fans out there, the ones who didn’t play it at the time – I doubt the game’ll mean much to non-GITS fans, to be reasonable. But to those who are fans of GITS already – in particular the TV show GITS SAC – this work’s an essential addition to the universe. The characters and story do convey the GITS atmosphere accurately, and furthermore the game’s a fun little shooter (if not a wholly flawless one). It’s pretty cheap these days, given its age, so grab a disk on Amazon, or get the game on Steam; what have you got to lose?

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Liked Durarara!! ? You’ll love Durarara!! x2

Headless rider Celty Sturluson without helmet in Durarara!! x2

Sometimes a girl struggles to get a-head in life.

Durarara!! has been in the thoughts of English-speaking lovers of anime lately, with the dub of the second season nearing its end round about now if I remember rightly (I couldn’t wait when I ran out of dub watching this second season recently, so I continued on to the end by means of the already-released subbed episodes). When thinking of writing this article, I wondered if DRRR!! qualifies for a speculative fiction site; in a sense a curious doubt to have, considering we’re discussing a show which features a headless Irish fairy astride a motorbike and a mind-controlling demon blade in love with humanity. But that’s DRRR!! for you – concepts which could in themselves form the premise of an anime are details merely, constituting single strands in an endlessly diverting cat’s-cradle of storylines, all as delightfully wacky. And that’s why an article on the latest offering from this franchise does in fact deserve to be on a website devoted to the innovative – it’s speculative fiction without restricting itself to being that alone, throwing this together with other genres crazy in their infinite variety (crime/caper, psycho-thriller, comedy, romance…).

Shizuo Heiwajima carries Varona's motorbike in Durarara!! x2

Who doesn’t love Shizuo?

DRRR!! has always called for a fair amount of concentration, in view of its continual changing between stories and perspectives; there’s that tendency for each episode to focus on a character while being narrated by another one completely, and also the frequent jumps back and forth in time, an episode often occurring before the events of the previous one – perhaps explaining/leading to these in some way. With regard to this occasionally confusing quality, I find the second season, DRRR!! x2, rather easier to follow; not actually because of any decrease in complexity, but because of knowing the people by this stage. Or some of them, for the cast in fact becomes bigger than before – new characters are introduced, with old characters sometimes removed from the action to draw attention to these. I did miss Dotachin, leader of that lot in the van, one of my favourites, who spends much of DRRR!! x2 incapacitated; and likewise Shizuo, the lovable hothead, one of pretty much everybody’s favourites, who’s confined to a prison cell for a not-insubstantial portion of the time. But the new characters are sufficiently compelling that it matters little (with particular mention to the Russian assassin/badass book-lover Varona, and the full-of-himself but also oddly likeable ladykiller Rocchi). And certain older cast-members do receive their share of screentime, schoolboy turned internet-gangleader Mikado especially. I’m loving Mikado’s arc in DRRR!! x2, an arc which takes him to ever-darker places. Also, rest assured that even those favourites who leave the screen for a while will soon be back in force.

The finale of season one, though not unsatisfying in its way, clearly wasn’t the end of the tale. Without revealing too much here, DRRR!! x2 has much more sense of conclusion, rounding off the stories and the ideas meaningfully. For example, Irish dullahan Celty’s search for that missing noggin of hers finally leads somewhere. So too, at least to a degree, does that never-ending, ever-entertaining, feud between Shizuo and Izaya. In terms of themes, DRRR!! Seiji and Mika in Durarara!! x2introduces itself, in the prologue of that first light novel that began the franchise, as being ‘a tale of twisted love’. The obsessive loves in this series are many, from Shinra’s long infatuation with Celty, to the strange triangle that forms around Seiji, who despite feeling romantic interest only in Celty’s severed head finds himself constantly pursued by his stalker Mika and his sister Namie. (If it so happens you haven’t seen season one, then… yeah, you did indeed read that last sentence correctly.) DRRR!! x2 resolves the theme, with attention to the Shinra – Celty and Seiji – Mika relationships particularly. Other ideas which dominate DRRR!!, e.g. urban rumours/urban mythology, are tied up in a fulfilling manner also. My sole complaint is that things between Mikado and Masaomi and Anri, between Mikado and Anri especially, don’t advance much from the first season’s finale.

DRRR!! was a whole lot of fun, and DRRR!! x2 is essentially more of the same. In fact, perhaps I enjoyed DRRR!! x2 to a still greater degree. The second season benefits from our having had the chance to settle into the show over the course of the first one, introduces new characters while maintaining the old ones most (if not all) of the time, and concludes the story satisfactorily. So if you haven’t seen DRRR!!, then watch it, and watch x2; if you’ve seen DRRR!! already, and liked it, you’ll love x2 also.

Shizuo and Izaya fight in Durarara!! x2

Here, have some more Shizuo.

Tokyo Ghoul: these ghouls are better vampires than most vampires are

Ghoul attacks in Tokyo have increased in frequency of late, but these flesh-eaters remain a mere urban rumour to student Ken Kaneki – or at least until his promising date Rize proves to be one. After she has almost killed Kaneki, Tokyo Ghoul Kaneki maskfalling beams crush Rize; her organs are transplanted into Kaneki to save his life, turning him into a ghoul (a half-ghoul, specifically). Thus starts Tokyo Ghoul, which in its original manga form began in 2011, but which has found increased success since then due to a recent anime. The second season aired last year, with a possible third season this year sometime. It’s obvious that the titular ghouls – an humanoid species essentially, but one whose diet is nonetheless in the human blood and/or meat line – owe a non-inconsiderable amount to the vampire genre. But this is no criticism, for the franchise’s handling of this content recaptures what vampires themselves often lack today.

Vampires are much altered from the demonic beings of folklore, and even from Dracula. Anne Rice pioneered the repentant vampire; a creature with humanity as well as with monstrosity, a creature torn between these two extremes. Since then the demonic side has been taken increasingly less seriously, relegated to giving vampires a reason for getting a little bit angsty. (Let’s not even talk about Twilight – please.) Hellsing, a vampire anime about vampires per se, pulled off its own impressive take through returning to the origins in a sense, showing antihero Alucard/Dracula as a monster exultant in his own monstrosity. Tokyo Ghoul does something else; its ghouls are more human than most vampires are, as well as more monstrous than most vampires are, restoring importance to the struggle between the two. To explain this: the ghouls are not undead, nor are they nocturnal, nor do they differ from humans in many ways except for their dietary requirements and their possession of a predatory organ called a kagune. At the same time the absence of the romantic traditions surrounding vampires emphasises their feeding’s brutal nature – no slender white necks in moonlight, in fact it’s all a bit messy.

Given that the ghouls, half-ghoul Kaneki particularly, are so human save for their involuntary flesh-eating tendency, Tokyo Ghoul is in part a depiction of people impelled to desperate measures by that primal imperative of the will to survive. Nothing but human flesh keeps them alive, animal meat being no substitute; while some compromise by eating the dead, few have this opportunity. This urge – this theme of hunger, and of appetite – drives the first part of the manga and the anime particularly. The need to feed is the force behind the plot here, ghoul-on-ghoul fights erupting over prey, some ghouls grouping based on feeding preferences (binge-eater or gourmet, for example). Further into the anime – this being further than I’ve read in the manga – the conflicts become much more political ones, and increase a lot in scale. It’s the ghouls versus the government anti-ghoul operatives known as the Doves, as well as disputes between ghoul factions who differ in their aggressiveness towards humanity. The ghoul versus human conflict’s rather tragic, a war few want to be fighting, one with sympathetic characters on both sides, an inevitable war over an insoluble issue. And with regard to the arguments between the ghoul organizations, another benefit of ghouls not being undead loners is that this allows them to have complex affiliations including familial ones.

Tokyo Ghoul tells a compelling story filled with characters whom it develops all the time, and whom it’s not afraid to transform drastically; this last applies to its hero especially. Furthermore it delivers visually, the kagune battles inTokyo Ghoul Kaneki kagune particular being impressive. But above all it reinvigorates the vampire – or vampiric creature – genre, and approaches its subject matter intelligently. It questions humans’ position in the food chain, questions our right to see ourselves as the species of greatest importance; in a sense it exposes the anthropocentric nature of human morality, in this much like that other excellent recent anime Parasyte. I also appreciated the texture provided by the frequent literary references in the manga, in particular the comparison of Kaneki with the protagonist of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but a must-read/must-watch for manga/anime fans with no objections to a fairly dark horror-fantasy.