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Ivan Kirigin's views on Robotics & Culture: future. perfect. progress.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Best in years

Wired News: "An Anime for Deep Thinkers":: The sequel to "Ghost in the Shell" is probably the best anime I've ever seen.

"Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" continues the story of a future where the secrets in the human body are all revealed. There is no real difference between cyborg body parts and biological body parts, other than the probability that the cyborg parts are better. The entire story goes beyond the trivial storyline in most American movies about robots: they'll kill us, enslave us, or take our jobs. The future presented here is one which is far more likely than such dire predictions, at least for a distant future. In the short term, there might be commotion, but that is best left to another posting. The point is that a disturbance to our economy is not as interesting as a disturbance in our collective psyche, and I enjoy when the latter is explored.

The reasons I liked the story are many. First, the graphics are perhaps the best I've ever seen. A combination of ultra-crisp, hyper-real 3D animation, and highly stylized, traditional manga, these scenes would be photo-realistic, if only the result weren't so fantastical. In addition, the characters drawn in the traditional anime style avoid the major problems of 3D animated humans, such as a lack of expressiveness and personality (think "Final Fantasy").

The movie gives ample time to the rich 3D scenes in expository scenes of the environments and oddities of future. This is aided with glimpses of the lives of those involved in what is basically a mystery/thriller. With accelerated intelligence, even secret-government-organization cyborg commandos manage to quote everything from Milton to Sun Tzu, with surprisingly piquant results. In other films, their 'heady' attempts at dialogue land flat. Here it is remarkably believable.

What I really enjoyed is the prime concept of this future: humans are but machines, save for a 'ghost' in our brains, whether biological or mechanical. This is rather optimistic, that there is something special about a human brain that is non-replicable, but let's run with it. In this world, there is no difference between a 'virtual thought' and a 'real thought', as is evident in a nightmarishly recursive fantasy prank. In this world, a brain can be 'hacked', challenging free will. Dolls and Gods are pure, while a cyborg man with a ghost is hurt in knowing his limitations. It is a choice to continue living in the real world, or unleash your ghost on the net and find notions like happiness as 'quaint'. Accelerated intelligence indeed! From the wired review:
But the most powerful sequence shows Batou coming home to a basset hound who is overjoyed to see him. There's just a hint of connection there -- Batou, the cyborg who is all alone in the world, senses deep inside what it feels like to be human. He knows being affectionate has some value, but isn't quite sure how to feel it. It's almost unbearably sad.
The dog is remarkably cute.


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