Ghost in the Shell is a classic, whether you’re talking about the original manga or the first animated feature film. While occasionally flawed (especially in its second season) Stand Alone Complex, the TV anime based in the GITS world, is also a triumph. So, given all that, why was I so hesitant to read this American-made graphic novel? Was it because the live action, US-made GITS movie was poorly handled? Maybe, but that’s unfair, as a lot of those problems came from trying to do it live action. So, after I received this very nice hardback through the post to review, did it live up to my low expectations? No, it didn’t… it’s far better than I would have imagined!
The first story in the anthology is titled “Automatic Behavior”, written by Max Gladstone (writer of the “Craft Sequence” series of Fantasy novels) and illustrated by David Lopéz, who has done work for DC and Marvel comics in the past, including Catwoman and Wolverine. The story revolves around The Major and her boss Aramaki attending a function in Shanghai, only for the latter to get captured. Major meets up with an old war buddy whose allegiances are questionable, while Aramaki struggles with facing the same exact sequence of events over and over, much to his continued amusement, and eventually anger. It’s a good little story, certainly has the feel of Stand Alone Complex to it, especially the introduction to an old war buddy being a central plot point. The art is good too!
Story number two is “Redbloods” by Alex de Campi (who has written for comic companies all over the world, as well as dabbled in filmmaking) and is illustrated by Giannis Milonogiannis (a Greek artist who has worked mainly with Image comics). It features The Major investigating the reappearance of a little girl who is supposed to be dead that ends up tying in with old, discarded cybernetic bodies of children being sold on the black market. The best part of this story is a long stretch that focuses on Togusa and Saito going undercover in the Ghost in the Shell version of South East America, which is, as you probably guessed, is just as badly off as the Neo Tokyo and surrounding slums we see in the original work, but it lives up to the “Global” part of the title. The art is good, though sometimes it goes really cartoony for comedic moments, which is a pretty normal thing for manga/anime, but somehow seems off here, as if they were trying too hard to emulate manga while writing and illustrating in a blatantly Western style. It, too, feels very close to Stand Alone Complex.
Story 3 is the biggest departure, as the story doesn’t feature any of the core GITS cast. “After the Ball is Over” by Genevieve Valentine (who has various sci-fi and fantasy novels under her belt, as well as some Batman-related comics) and illustrated by Brent Schoonover (who has done a ton of work for Marvel comics over the years) focuses on a young girl in the GITS dystopian Mexico who meets up with an old flame who is trying to smuggle himself to the United States. Sofia, the girl in question, doesn’t wish to help him at first, knowing full well it will result in his death, but of course she gets dragged along. It’s a really strong short story, once again focusing on a part of the GITS world never touched on before, and the artwork is consistently good throughout.
The final story in the collection is “Star Gardens” by Brenden Fletcher (who is most famous for his “Gotham Academy” series) and illustrated by LRNZ (a European artist known for his work on the Golem series). This, out of all the stories here, is the closest to the original work. It focuses on The Major diving deeply into the mind of someone in order to impersonate them and get close to a potentially dangerous radical terrorist, but it leads to her questioning both herself and the idea of what constitutes being a living thing. Her conversations ,both with Batou and with the supposed dangerous terrorist are interesting and the artwork is frankly amazing, with some properly intricate full-page spreads that will have you just staring at them for ages. It’s as stunning as it is interesting, full of themes often explored in the original work. They saved the best for last, that’s for sure.
So Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network is a great read. It starts off quite slow, the first two stories feel a bit like someone writing their own Stand Alone Complex episode, but the latter two are properly top notch stories: one that feels like its own really interesting tale, and the other getting close to touching the original classic. Highly recommended to fans of Ghost in the Shell, or just fans of cyberpunk in general.