Masamune Shirow is the Larry Cohen to Mamoru Oshii’s Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick might be more technically proficient but if I want to put on a movie after a long day, I will reach for the problematic, complicated, bizarre, and consistently inconsistent Cohen.

Oshii seems to create by elaborating from a core thematic idea, which produces a consistent & coherent result (and therefore, a result that can be boiled back down to its core idea). In other words, something that only has rewatch value on aesthetic grounds.

Meanwhile, Shirow seems to just want to draw tits, guns, and robots. So, he draws tits, guns and robots. And then, he justifies his drawings with a dense ad-hoc web of footnotes about industrial-scale manufacturing, high-frequency trading, psi research, & comparative theology. In other words, because there is no grand design, every time you revisit a Shirow work you encounter a new corner of the fractalline mess of Shirow’s psyche & interests. Shirow is like if Tetsuo Araki was intererested in women. (Again: it really seems like Shirow is politically problematic along multiple dimensions. It’s a little hard to tell if he writes about sexy bisexual armored riot police because he just likes to draw tits and guns, or if he sees women as objects & is a cryptofascist. And like a lot of manga artists who engage weirdly deeply in shit that’s adjacent to far-right politics — ex., Hellsing’s author — it’s fascinating enough to justify consuming the material but you’re never sure if you want to pirate it just in case…)

This is all to say (as I have before) that Oshii, by streamlining away the deep strangeness of the GitS manga in his 1995 film adaptation, paved the way for the further dumbing-down of the material in every future part of the franchise other than SAC. In the past I’ve overstated this a bit, saying things like “Oshii ruined GitS”. This is misleading: GitS would not be a bigger franchise than, like, Appleseed or Tank Police outside of Japan without Oshii. But, Oshii’s GitS is the model for the rest of the franchise.

(Another part of this is that Oshii is a Christian. Christianity is pretty rare in japan. It’s possible that when he replaced themes about Buddhist conceptions of fate with themes about Cartesian ideas of self, it made it more alien to Japanese audiences, but I doubt it… Certainly, it made the franchise substantially less mind-bending and substantially more accessible to westerners, who have been sucking Descartes’ cock for centuries. The manga blows everybody’s mind, but the movie only blows the minds of folks who haven’t taken an introductory philosophy course.)

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store