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Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi is one of the most recognizable characters in anime. But her characterization differs greatly depending on the work. At the Waseda University Festival, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama explained why.

Kusanagi, the cyborg commander of a special operations division tackling cyber-crime, is perhaps best known for her deep existential pontification, as depicted in the 1995 movie adaptation by acclaimed director Mamoru Oshii. Her long periods of rumination contemplating the essence of the self, whether or not she is “alive,” and the meaning of identity, characterized the entire movie and for some, crystallized Oshii’s style of auteurism.

It is interesting to note, however, that this was not the main drive, nor even the focus of the original manga by Shirow. In fact, one look at Motoko as depicted in the manga version calls to mind a jokey, laughy character. Shirow’s Motoko–while still being a team leader and evidently strong and agile–is almost a younger, more excitable girl as opposed to Oshii’s depiction. This does not restrict itself to Motoko, the manga on the whole has many instances of comedic moments, while Oshii’s work is slow, sombre and meditative.

So what about Kamiyama’s version? Kamiyama admits that there is a clear difference between the character in the manga and the movie, and Oshii’s version was the one that many people came to accept. So when the TV series project came along, from the outset, Kamiyama and his staff were faced with a hard decision: which one of the two Motokos to choose to expand upon? Both are difficult to plan a series around. Besides the obvious story elements, this being anime, the visuals are key in setting the tone of a show. So if they were to adapt Shirow’s version, whose look jumps from comical caricature to serious action, they would need to set up many more rules and instructions to the animators to keep everything uniform (for example, a list of design settings with certain facial expressions for certain scenes, like “gag faces,” another list for others, etc.). This would be too tough to manage within the schedule.

On the other hand, jumping off from Oshii’s version presented its own set of problems. Oshii had by this point began to utilize increasingly sharper and more “realistic” character designs in his movies, to suit the heavy tone of the serious themes in his works. The change from Patlabor the Movie to Patlabor 2 clearly shows this progression and Ghost in the Shell was an extension of this. This would suit a weekly anime series as fewer design variations would be employed, but then the issue becomes more about whether the theme matches the designs. In other words, it worked for Oshii’s movie about the search for the self, but that same story cannot be broken down and reproduced for 26 episodes. As Kamiyama puts it, “The first episode would be the final one!” People would get bored of watching a character search for their identity for half a year.

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So as a result, the answer had to be somewhere in between. The voice actress would remain Atsuko Tanaka, who had played Kusanagi in the movies. In rehearsal for the TV series, she would play the role she was accustomed to, Oshii-style: cold, pondering. But Kamiyama had the idea that this character would be in the middle of her journey, and so in the recording for the first episode, he asked Tanaka to play the character 15 years younger, as if she is still not at the stage where she is dissatisfied with her work. Oshii’s character has an air of finality about her, almost obsessed with her own mortality. The Kamiyama version needed to not have reached that place yet. This illustrates perfectly how creators change and adapt characters and settings and, of course, stories to best suit the particular medium. The omission of the manga’s Fuchikomas from Oshii’s version and the addition of the Tachikomas in the Kamiyama version also derive from this reason of matching the elements with the tone and mood of the work.

This process is also a chance for growth from project to project for the creators. For Kamiyama, each of his subsequent lead characters in his works has informed the next, from Motoko to Balsa from Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, to Akira in Eden of the East, to the team of Cyborg 009. What is the difference in motives between Motoko and Balsa? Motoko is part of the police, so she has a duty and responsibility to find the truth and serve justice. Balsa fights to protect, because she is a mother with maternal instincts, unlike Motoko. As for Cyborg 009, what is the difference between this team of crime-fighting cyborgs and that of Ghost in the Shell? It is a challenge to make such a distinction, but the key is likely in that the 009 guys don’t actually want to fight.

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This long line of evolution has culminated in Hirune-hime, to be released in March 2017. Kamiyama gave very little away, other than that the story is set in Chichibu right after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and that the main character, Kokone, is a regular girl. The presence of a transforming robot–which looks like Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero 6, and indeed, is designed by the same Shigeto Koyama–and a plushy dog that comes to life implies some fantasy elements. Kamiyama’s idea for this work is simply, “a movie I would like to show my daughter.”

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It might be a fun experiment to line up all of Kamiyama’s heroes together and see if we can predict what the next entry in his lineage of characters will be like, before the movie is released in the spring.

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