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Ghost In The Shell
Shirow Masamune
Dark Horse Manga paperback $24.95
UK distribution by Titan - £19.99

review by Steven Hampton

Sexy super-agent Major Motoko Kusangi is extremely talented, absolutely hard-as-nails when the gun-battles and kung fu fighting start, and exquisitely beautiful in that way of nearly all ultra-cute, manga heroines. Despite her obvious femininity, Motoko is also a cyborg that comes apart at the seams for necessary maintenance, and she thinks little of losing a limb or two when the one-on-one combat situation demands sacrifices. With sex-doll glamour, engaging wit, and unaffected air of educated sophistication (albeit frequently undermined by unpredictable fits of girlish temper) among her other assets, Major Kusangi is a ferociously spirited and actually formidable opponent, despite being underestimated by her boss, and political superiors, colleagues in the 'secret police' department of Section Nine, male subordinates and, especially, by her enemies. She's smart as a whip, and quite probably the ultimate cyber-action girl in the world of Japanese comicdom that's heavily populated with indomitable champions.

Ordnance techie: "The SeburoTM  C-25a and 26a both hold 50 rounds of 6 x 25 HV shells."
Major Kusangi: "Put a matte finish on it. If I get a chance, I'll try it out."

Most of the manga I've read have either appealing characters or indescribably complex (if often fantastical) plotting. What distinguishes Ghost In The Shell from the vast number of similar sci-fi thrillers on the market is that it offers both fascinations, with convoluted and imaginative stories and staunch yet sympathetic heroes. Despite the relative densities of both 'hard' and 'soft' science fiction themes here, author Shirow Masamune maintains a cracking pace and a delightful sense of crazy humour throughout. Although the book showcases all the usual clichés of terrorist schemes, assassination plans, and political conspiracies, there's far more thoughtfulness and verisimilitude here than we have any right to expect from a genre comic book. The writing is certainly worthy of literary merit in 'novelistic' mode, being just as rich in character development as the very best spy novels, and boasting plenty of story-arc chaptering of the sort found in cutting-edge film dramas. But this isn't a novel or a script, so let's not forget the artwork, which ranges from dynamic black and white panels typically packed with incident and detail, and the bursts of glorious colour, which feature pleasantly shocking use of primal red and cool blue, slotted almost at random into the main monochrome pages.

Motoko: "I need a full set of spare parts for my body!"

Ghost In The Shell presents a dystopian future (April 2029 to September 2030) where the Major's team don't just ride 'motorbikes'; they wear them as wraparound motorised armour, with cybernetic links plugged into the AI brains of these robotic, stealthy 'fuchikomas' (who are intelligent enough to plot a rebel against slavery). Here, a naked female android without feet or forearms is thrashing about wildly like an unfinished Frankenhooker on a science lab test-bed. There, hackers can reprogram civilians' hi-tech implants, turning people into the puppets of criminals. It is a 'big picture' of a future that's obscene and sublime, with monstrous techno horrors alongside the amusing gizmos that work like mental telepathy or invisibility cloaks. With its car chases, firebomb carnages, airborne black ops' strike teams, remote-operated espionage drones, bombastic legal wrangles, moments of delirious comedy, metaphysical conundrums, and philosophical monologues, this is undoubtedly one of the finest science fictional comic books of the 1990s.

This slick new edition of Ghost In The Shell (originally published in 1991, translated 1995, revised 2004) features previously censored pages (including sweaty lesbian antics, and gross-out horror stuff, unseen outside Japan), and presented here in traditional Japanese style, reading right to left.
Ghost in the Shell

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