It's the little things that matter. It's not just that an entirely new Ghost In The Shell animated project has been announced, it's that some of the people involved were responsible for one of the best incarnations of the franchise. And it could scarcely come at a more timely moment in the franchise's history.
These first few crumbs
What few details we have, as reported at Polygon and in other outlets, are skimpy. There is a new animated production in the works; there are no details about length, format, or venue; and there are two key talents involved, Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki.
The first name ought to be instantly familiar to GITS fans, as he is the director responsible for Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. That alone sold me on this offering, but the other name is also an eyebrow-raiser: Shinji Aramaki is well-known for his involvement with another Masamune Shirow manga adaptation franchise, Appleseed.
I'm far less a fan of Appleseed in any of the incarnations I've seen thus far than I have been of GITS. It has some of the same themes as GITS, but expressed in a way I don't find nearly as compelling. Each of the shows or movies they've teased out of the material so far have been competent and watchable, but never really on fire. It's not clear what Aramaki's full role will be, though; if they have him on board simply to oversee the design of the project, that sounds like a role he's ideally suited to, as he has done great work in that department for decades.
For Kamiyama to be on board, though, is the real win. He is arguably one of two people who was most instrumental in making Stand Alone Complex into the high point for the franchise. The other was screenwriter Dai Sato, and while it's not clear if Sato is part of this new project I'd be surprised if Kamiyama didn't tap him again for those duties.
New futures abound
Kamiyama's involvement also gives me hope as to how this incarnation of Ghost could push things further. I'll be arguing in a forthcoming piece that SAC remains the high point for all of GITS thus far, and one of the arguments I make in support of that thesis is how the show wasn't content to just reiterate the futurology found in the original comic or movie (transhumanism, the barrier between machine and man being erased, digital life transcending physical borders). It looked to new, more immediately relevant futurologies (Anonymous, Wikileaks, the Internet of [Broken] Things) and made hay from those. If a new GITS project can find new ways to look forward and think about what we're heading into — and what we have already become to a large degree — it'll be worth it.
The timing of the announcement is also, um, interesting. Paramount's live-action Ghost In The Shell, starring a hotly debated Scarlett Johansson, opened to tepid word (to put it mildly) and even more tepid ticket sales. It does not look like the start of a Western live-action edition of this franchise. A good case can be made that the movie flopped because of the cloud of controversy hanging over its casting, but I think that was only one of many elements that contributed to its failure. This may be worth its own essay, but a lot of what the movie explored had already been explored previously in popular culture and to better effect (The Matrix, mainly), and audiences weren't automatically interested in the movie just because it was based on another source in popular culture for many of those things.
When Ghost In The Shell: ARISE was still in the works, early enough that the name of that project hadn't even been revealed yet, one bit of word that came back from the production team was how the success of any future GITS projects would depend on its success outside of Japan. That actually wasn't a huge change from how things had already been done, as the original GITS movie was a joint east-west coproduction itself.
Between that and the general fizzling-out of the 2017 movie, I sense that a new animated production is more in line with how to do right by this franchise. The best thing to do with it is to serve the audience it has reached and cultivated for a long time now — a cult audience in both Japan and the West that is happy to meet the material on its own terms. So far the right people seem to be on board to make that happen. My fingers remain crossed.
P.S.: Please bring back Yoko Kanno, too. PLEASE.