Ghost in the Shell Arise hit Japanese theaters once again this past weekend with its final episode: Ghost in the Shell Arise – Border:4 Ghost Stands Alone. Unfortunately, instead of a grand send-off wrapping up the whole series, Ghost Stands Alone is little more than another average Arise episode.
One of the central mysteries of Ghost Stands Alone is Emma, who turns out to be a cyborg with two ghosts—that is to say two souls—in her robotic body. This is an incredibly interesting twist as it conjurs any number of questions. Which soul is responsible for the crime and how do you prove which one is? What if both are? If not, how do you prosecute one for the crime but not the other? And of course, if proven guilty, how do you punish one but not the other? And watching how the characters react to this unique situation as they attempt to solve the overall mystery is interesting as well.
This episode of Arise has three really good action scenes. We've get to experience a fight in a ballroom that continues through various floors of the skyscraper below, a prison break, and a fight against a giant tank. While all three are a fun thrill ride to watch, the giant tank fight is probably the best of the bunch as it allows us to see how the Section 9 team is able to work as a unified group against what should be a dire threat. And though most of this episode’s runtime is dialogue between the characters, the action is intense enough to make sure the overall episode never feels boring.
Cyberpunk mystery is a driving factor throughout the Ghost in the Shell franchise. And while the mystery in Ghost Stands Alone is serviceable, it is also convoluted. When it all comes down to it, Ghost Stands Alone is a matter of political games. What starts out looking like terrorism has more to do with clashing philosophies in the military than anything else. And when you step back and take a look at all that happens in Ghost Stands Alone and and contemplate the reasons behind what happens, the whole conspiracy plot seems like a lot of overcomplicated work for very little payoff.
As a standalone episode, Ghost Stands Alone is decent enough with its self-contained mystery. However, as the conclusion to the Arise series, it is more than a bit lacking. While characters from past episodes are main players in Ghost Stands Alone, there is little in the way of an overall cohesive plot over the series. Instead of feeling like one grand, overarching story of the Major building her Section 9 to combat a major crime or conspiracy, it all feels like nothing more than a series of disconnected mysteries during which the Section 9 team just happened to come into being. Without an overall plot or thematic arc, it just feels far less important or epic than it could have been.
This has pretty much been my biggest complaint about Arise as a whole: Each and every episode has to have major visual or thematic call backs to previous Ghost in the Shell iterations. One or two references over the course of the episode would be a nice touch for fans, but what occurs is too much. The episode starts with the Major diving off a building and cloaking as she falls—i.e., like the start of the original film. Then, later on, the Major encounters a giant robotic tank. To stop it, she has to jump on and open the hatch—her arm starting to tear off in the process as you would expect. And to top it off, we have numerous scenes of ghost hacking and a scene with the Major and Batou on her boat.
When it comes down to it, the real problem with constantly referencing other Ghost in the Shell works is simple: They keep reminding me of something better I could be watching instead.
In the end, Ghost in the Shell Arise – Border:4 Ghost Stands Alone is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the Arise series in general. It has a decent standalone plot and mystery but never really reaches the heights the franchise is known for. Most of the time, it seems content to retread the ground covered by its big brothers instead of forging its own unique identity. And while there are some truly interesting dilemmas brought up in Ghost Stands Alone, they are rarely explored in any deep, meaningful way. If you are a fan of Ghost in the Shell, the action alone is likely enough to make you enjoy this one—and, let's face it, it's always great to see the Major's Section 9 team doing what it does best.
Ghost in the Shell Arise – Border:4 Ghost Stands Alone was released in Japanese theaters and on the Japanese PlayStation Network on September 6, 2014. It has been licensed by Funimation for a release in the West, but no specific release date has been announced.