Ghost Tears opens with Motoko making passionate love to her then-lover, Akira, later even featuring the two attending another couple’s wedding with Motoko wearing a rather promiscuous, alluring dress. Her colleagues, especially Batou, make fun of how fatuous and short-lasting this relationship is. How does Motoko respond? She hacks Batou’s prosthetic arms, again reminding him of how humiliating it is to be punched by your own fists.
Being the third installment to the Ghost in the Shell Arise series, Ghost Tears is quite the bombshell. A sexy and assertive Motoko leads an investigation into a terrorist organization whose symbol is the Scylla, an ancient sea-monster. Meanwhile, given that the original Ghost in the Shell franchise only hinted at casually sexual relationships between Motoko and a few others, a great leap is taken to visually display Mokoto and Akira “passing the time together.” And no, cyborg sex is just as crazy as it sounds.
As the story progresses, Mokoto and Akira’s relationship eventually blossoms into a romance. And while this new development may sound fun and gratifying, the romantic flavor in Ghost Tears bears a double-edged sword. For one, because previous installments of the franchise never mention much about Motoko’s romances, teasing dialogue about Motoko’s former relations with men can feel a bit unnatural. Although Motoko has indeed always had an enigmatic quality about her, seeing her supposedly fall in love with another person simply doesn’t blend well with her exceedingly self-reliant personality. However, that is not to say the romance wasn’t fleshed out appropriately. In fact, Ghost Tears is brave in attempting this feat while exploring crucial parts to Motoko’s character: Should a cyborg as robotized as Motoko live as a human or as an object? Should she love another human with ease?
These inquiries are hardly new to the franchise, after all. The original Ghost in the Shell (1995) portrays a mysterious and dystopian universe filled with questionings of the self, and Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig similarly spotlighted Motoko’s character feeling lost, uneasy, and insecure. However, Ghost Tears breaks away from the crowd by sacrificing the always rational, composed Motoko in lieu of a perhaps more humane and emotional depiction of Motoko. As a result, her struggles become a bit more relatable, but can also alienate some viewers due to their inconsistencies to Makoto’s depiction as a character in the rest of the franchise.
In addition, the plot is also somewhat of a mixed bag. Similar to the first two parts of the Arise series, the mystery feels underwhelming mostly due to how little information is revealed, the loose pacing, and how quickly everything is pieced together. Akin to other installments of the Arise series, there’s hardly any thrill in its predictable manner of presenting a murder, some suspects, and then the resolve. In particular to Ghost Tears, the slow pacing for most of the movie is a rather different approach than the action-filled climax and beginning. And for some, this blend could come off as distasteful and chaotic.
The animation has its highs and lows: for the most part, the action sequences are fluid and invigorating when there are exciting encounters. Moreover, the blue ocean scenery within Mokoto’s mental universe and the city backdrop capture great atmosphere depth. However, there are some fairly flawed and dreadful-looking illustrations of Motoko in certain scenes. Her character design and composure would look off-set, and this made the animation look very shaky at times. But hey, at least Motoko’s exposed body was drawn to be aesthetically pleasing and rather erotic in some scenes; so no complaints there. Complementing the art, the OST was used suitably, and the ED in particular ended on a chill, feel-good vibe that left the movie on a pleasant note.
Recapturing the strangely charming aura of the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) while putting its own spin on Motoko’s character, Ghost Tears is unique in its content but lackluster in its presentation: All in all a must-see for fans of the Arise series thus far.
The third time’s the charm. Almost.