"It is the near future. The world has become highly information-intensive, with a vast corporate network covering the planet, electrons and light pulsing through it. But the nation-state and ethnic groups still survive.
And on the edge of Asia, in a strange corporate conglomerate-state called 'Japan'..."
So begins Ghost in the Shell, one of the most widely recognized pieces Shirow has created throughout his career.
For those not in the know, it focuses on Section 9, a special international hostage rescue unit (really an anti-terrorist unit) formed by the Japanese Government in 2029. While there are a whole host of characters, the story particularly revolves around Motoko Kusanagi, a fully converted cyborg whose only remaining organic component is her brain. Of course, part of the success was the same-year release of the phenomenal GitS anime, which realized technologies from the manga, like thermoptic camouflage, beautifully.
As seems to be Shirow's preference, this is another 'Police Woman' manga, like Appleseed and Dominion, but one that focuses on the technologies of the near future, particularly cyborg and AI technologies, and their effect on what it means to be human, a tale perfectly suited to my tastes. We have people's ghosts (somewhere between a soul and a person's memories) being rewritten, androids going berserk, terrorists well... blowing stuff up, and shady politicians and businesspeople around every corner, all taking their turn at having Section 9 run them to the ground.
With a fair number of characters in the tale, Shirow makes sure to give all of them useful roles at some point or another, though just a few really get spotlighted. Motoko, being the lead, obviously gets the bulk of the attention, next up would be Batou, Motoko's partner, who receives the brunt of Shirow's humor. Next up are the two with the least amount of cybernetic components, Chief Aramaki, who heads up Section 9 with a no-nonsense attitude, and Togusa, a police officer who was transferred to Section 9 particularly because he is still 'mostly human.' Then we get to the background members of Section 9 - Ishikawa, the 'info wizard,' Boma, the 'brute with a big gun,' and Paz and Saitou, who don't seem to have a readily identifiable classification. Last but certainly not least, we have the squad Fuchikomas, high-mobility AI tanks with the naively innocent intellect of a child, and a source of great amusement when they're not busy with their assigned tasks.
As mentioned, there's quite the list of technological marvels running around here. The aforementioned Fuchikomas are likely the cream of this crop, what with being high-mobility, AI tanks, but other bits are right up there too. Thermoptic camouflage certainly makes for great brain candy, because really, who doesn't want the ability to be invisible? People have the option of replacing/enhancing body parts with cybernetic technologies, or even getting a full body replacement (though only members of the government, like those in Section 9, get the really high-end bodies). Enhancements are even out there to allow people to communicate strictly through thought, though that seems to still require some wiring in 2029. Of course, all these cybernetics make for a field day for hackers, and these big cyber criminals are one of the primary reasons for Section 9's existence.
Spanning 346 pages in the original, uncut version(1991), the initial US release(1995) saw two pages removed, as they contained a rather graphic sex scene. Apparently these pages were self-censored by Shirow to broaden the appeal and avoid the 'negative' reactions it might have produced. Fortunately for fans worried about losing an important bit to the story, the censored pages don't have any effect on the plot, but rather serve as character development, namely Motoko's side business selling some sort of sex software called 'Endorno.' It also helps to explain Batou's comments and the other actions taking place on the page following the removed scene. Of course, finding this scene isn't really a problem anymore, as the scene was restored in Dark Horse's new 2nd Edition, printed in 2004(albeit in a more compact form), shrink-wrapped so the kiddies can't sneak a peek at the stores.
This was my first Shirow manga, the start of my Shirow obsession, and one of my more collected series. I started off with getting the first issue in late 1999/early 2000 at a much-lamented $28 from the local comic shop while I was at college. Much lamented both for that sticker price, and returning in the fall to find the Trade Paperback version for $25. Beyond that, I've gotten issues 4 and 5, and the Solid Box Edition, and a whole mess of random scans from the book. I'm always on the lookout for the issues I don't have, though budget concerns have kept me from looking too hard of late. And yes, for those curious about it, the Solid Box version contains the deleted pages as well.
Hrm... well, I was going to do a full showing of cover scans from the various issues, but I seem to be lacking on US cover scans, so if anyone out there has scans of them, or could scan them for me, I'd highly appreciate you getting in touch with me.