During class discussion of Haraway’s A Manifesto for Cyborgs, I found myself reminded of the classic Japanese manga/anime Ghost in the Shell due to the extremely similar themes. In addition, a Hollywood film adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson has recently been announced, and the controversy regarding her casting has grabbed headlines. While it is extremely unfortunate to see a white actress cast as an iconic Japanese character, her involvement in the project has increased mainstream interest in a fascinating series.
Johansson has been cast as Motoko Kusanagi, the hero and protagonist of the series. Ghost in the Shell takes place in the middle of the 21st century, a period where cybernetic enhancements to both the brain and the body are commonplace, but full-body cyborgs are still somewhat rare. Motoko is a full-body cyborg and because of her enhancements is employed by the government as an investigator who specializes in cases of ‘ghost-hacking’ terrorism, or crimes where a hacker has infiltrated someone’s cyberkinetic brain. In other words, her ghost (consciousness) resides in a shell, or body that is entirely machine. Haraway’s themes and influence are clearly present in the series. Because the entirety of Motoko’s body is machine is she still considered a female? Her body is clearly based on the female anatomy, but she is not particularly feminine. Furthermore, Motoko has no reproductive organs, further distancing the character from the traditional notion of what is ‘female’. Motoko’s ‘shell’ is also owned by the military, so she doesn’t have full autonomy over her own body. Finally, the original manga was released in 1989, not too far off from Haraway’s own work.
While like most things anime isn’t for everyone but I would still recommend the series and films to most, if only because of the fascinating vision of the future it takes place in and the philosophical questions it ponders. In a world where brains can be hacked and implanted with false memories and consciousnesses can be readily transferred into different bodies, what is it that still makes us human?