Masanori Ota, otherwise known as the manga artist and writer Masamune Shirow, is best known by his science fiction manga series Ghost in the Shell (1989). First published in English by Dark Horse Comics to coincide with the US release of the anime in 1995 directed by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell has become a visual media franchise involving one of the most internationally popular and critically acclaimed anime feature films in the English-speaking world, an ongoing Japanese-produced animated television series, video games and soundtrack albums. Shirow’s earlier manga series Appleseed (1985) and Dominon (1986) established his signature repertoire of distinctive visual styles including character designs, frenetic combat action, detailed “mecha” or mechanical technology used for transport and war such as insectoid tanks, and sexy gun-wielding female protagonists as well as complex, layered storylines involving political intrigue and philosophical exploration of humans and artificial intelligence as part of his science fictional world building.  Shirow’s creation of action-oriented females as central characters targeted at male readers reflected the trend in 1980s manga towards blending together elements of genres that were traditionally defining of gender-exclusive readerships in Japan. As much as the original Ghost in the Shell manga is referenced as source material for both the original anime and its sequel Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2002), Shirow’s portrayal of the cyborg character Motoko Kusanagi includes sexual activity with other cyborgs,  which is absent from the feature film versions directed by Oshii. Likewise, Shirow’s routine use of comedic facial caricatures which exaggerate his iconic characters’ emotional reactions, a form of visual humor widespread in manga and anime, contrasts sharply with the meditative seriousness embodied by the characters in the anime.

Shirow’s international impact on science fiction is captured best through the visual influences that the anime version of Ghost in the Shell (1995) has had on filmmakers in the United States. Despite the differences between Shirow’s creation and it’s anime adaptations directed by Mamarou Oshii, the overarching creation of a future world where technologically enhanced humans interface directly with digital networks has influenced U.S. film directors the Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999), while James Cameron’s praise for the anime as landmark science fiction featured as part of the promotional marketing for its US video release in 1996. The influence of Ghost in the Shell also extends to academic scholarship in the English-speaking world with Motoko Kusanagi the focus of critical discourse on how fictional cyborgs challenge gender identity. Ghost in the Shell should also be recognised as impacting on the ways Japan figured in the cultural imaginary shaping the English-language cyberpunk movement of the 1990s, especially as an object of techno-fantasies and corporate dystopias.

In 2015 the Japanese marketing of another feature-length instalment in the Ghost in the Shell franchise directed by Kazuya Nomura not only included promotional commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the first anime, but the film’s Kobe-based settings and the character of Motoko were also used to promote tourism of the historic port city of Kobe, the birthplace and home of Shirow. In fact, this regional awareness of how Shirow’s most famous manga creation has contributed to the impact of Japan’s creative industries is the culmination of the decades-long popularity of Shirow’s science fiction franchise in international entertainment markets.

Mio Bryce and Jason Davis

Further Reading

  • Orbaugh, Sharalyn. “Busty Battlin’ Babes: The Evolution of the Shōjo in 1990s Visual Culture.” In Gender and Power: In the Japanese Visual Field. Edited by Joshua S. Mostow, Norman Bryson and Maribeth Graybill. Honolulu: University of Hawai’I Press, 2003: 201-227. Print.
  • Sato, Kumiko. “How Information Technology Has (Not) Changed Feminism and Japanism: Cyberpunk in the Japanese Context.” Comparative Literature Studies, 41: 335-355. 2004. Online.
  • Schaub, Joseph Christoper. “Kusanagi’s Body: Gender and Technology in Mecha-Anime.” Asian Journal of Communication, 11: 79-100, 2001. Online.
  • Silvio, Carl. “Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.” Science Fiction Studies, 26: 54-72. 1999. Online.