For those of you who haven’t yet watched or read any of the episodes/installments of Ghost in the Shell series, here’s a bit about its background.
Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese anime and manga franchise, which is the work of the popular manga artist named Masamune Shirow. Its movie editions were created by filmmakers Kenji Kamiyama and Mamoru Oshii, with the backing of popular anime studio and production house Production I.G. The series started publishing in the form of a seinen manga starting 1989 and later got compiled into several tankobon volumes by Kodansha, before being adapted into TV series, movies, original video animations (OVAs) and video games.
As we’ll be referring to these manga, TV anime and movie series at many points in this article, here’s a list of them to help you avoid getting lost!
- The Ghost in the Shell (May 1989 to November 1990)
- Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (September 1991 to August 1997)
- Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor (1991 to 1996)
- Ghost in the Shell (November 1995)
- Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (March 2004)
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (September 2006)
- Ghost in the Shell: The Movie (June 2015)
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, First Gig (26 episodes aired from October 2002 to October 2003)
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Second Gig (26 episodes aired from January 2004 to January 2005)
- Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture (10 episodes aired from April 2015 to June 2015)
Original Video Animation (OVA)
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – The Laughing Man (September 2005)
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Second Gig – Individual Eleven (January 2006)
- Ghost in the Shell: Arise (four episodes released from June 2013 to September 2014)
Moving on with the series’ background, Ghost in the Shell tells the story of a fictional anti-crime/counter terrorist unit named Public Security Section 9 (also known as Section 9), that’s an intelligence department specializing in cyber-crimes and takes direct orders from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Japan.
It’s a futuristic anime/manga series set in the mid-twenty first century (around 2030 AD) and features characters that possess cyber-brains, enabling them to interface their biological brains with different networks. Their level of cyberization can vary from minimal interfaces to complete brain replacement with cybernetic parts (in severe trauma cases) and a fully prosthetic body, turning them into cyborgs. The series follows the missions carried out by Section 9 members, who are mostly cyborgs with a solid background in police and military services.
Let’s talk about the characters now, starting with the main characters first. Please note, the appearances of these characters vary from time to time in the different manga, TV, movie and video game editions, so I’ll touch upon them only briefly as it may be out of scope of this article to list out every appearance trait in good detail. Nevertheless, I’ll give you a basic idea about how each one looks! Good to go!
Motoko Kusanagi is the protagonist of the Ghost in the Shell series and arguably one of the most interesting and popular manga characters ever created. Often referred to as ‘Major,’ Motoko holds the position of Squad Commanding Officer in the Section 9. She’s involved in many high profile cases such as the Individual Eleven, Laughing Man, Puppeteer and more.
The complete details of her origins are still a mystery, but she can be seen keeping her human emotions in check every now and then. Motoko is a reserved person and doesn’t discuss her personal life with anyone. She was involved in a plane crash in her childhood and had to undergo complete cyberization when she was only nine. The only organic parts that Motoko retains in her body are small portions of her original brain and spine. So, she can be considered a full-conversion cyborg. She had a difficult time adjusting to her new body, resulting in the breakage of her doll which used to be her most favorite toy. It was the only time that she could be seen crying.
Motoko undergoes intense training later in her life and joins the elite forces as an Electronic Warfare Expert and Squad Leader. She meets Lt. Col. Aramaki (Section 9 Chief who later recruits her) for the first time while leading an operation via Section 9, in the capacity of a Covert-operations Squad Leader. It is believed that Batou and Ishikawa, the other two members of Section 9, had served with her in the military in the past.
The animated movies based on the Ghost in the Shell manga series show Motoko Kusanagi to have left Section 9 after getting fused with puppet master (Project 2501). But you can see her leading the Section 9 squad actively in the television anime series.
Her appearance in the film series is quite different from the manga and anime series. The movies show her having an androgynous, emotionless and a more serious face, with blue-grey eyes and black hair. In the anime series, Motoko can be seen with red-violet eyes and blue-purple hair. She wears a strapless leotard, minus the trousers, thigh-length boots and a leather jacket, unless the situation calls for a different dress code.
She undergoes a complete makeover in the latest Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013) series, where she looks much younger and shorter. You can see her wearing high heel boots under a red leather pants and a jacket. Her hair are cut in a close and straight form.
Her personality traits are slightly different in every adaptation of Ghost in the Shell series – Manga, movie and television, as all of them follow their own timelines. Motoko Kusanagi is shown having child-like mannerisms in the early part of the manga series, often exhibiting an immature and light-hearted nature. She slowly turns into a more serious person after the Puppeteer case. You can see her evolving into a spunky and irreverent individual who has a commanding presence. On the whole, Motoko’s personality is much more sexy, vivacious and slapstick in the manga series.
The film series portrays her as a contemplative person exhibiting brooding demeanor occasionally. It shows her tendency of questioning her humanity and if she has a soul/ghost or not. The anime series on the other hand shows Motoko’s humorous side, something that was found wanting in the movie adaptations.
She is believed to be a bisexual as some times she gets close to other female cyborgs, yet on other occasions she’s shown having feelings for the fellow Section 9 member Batou. In regards to her closeness to other female cyborgs, it’s a common trait in advanced cybernetics to be more compatible with the people of the same sex. Regardless, Batou reciprocates her feelings as he often calls her using her first name instead of her title ‘Major.’
Motoko dresses quite provocatively and likes experimenting with things that are considered vices by the normal humans, in an effort to better understand her femininity and humanity.
Motoko has an incredibly flexible prosthetic body and exhibits amazing levels of coordination, speed and strength. Only a small part of her spinal cord and brain retain her original human tissue. The rest of it all are cybernetic and prosthetic implants which provide her with phenomenal physical and mental abilities. She can easily hack into other cyber brains and computer databases to find her way out of difficult situations.
Major is easily the most feared Section 9 agent as her expertise in martial arts, intelligence levels and leadership skills, apart from plenty of combat experience make her a very powerful agent. She also has the ability of becoming invisible using the therm-optic camouflage technique, as and when needed.
Another powerful cyborg, Batou (name pronounced like the French Bateau) is an ex-military ranger who has a history of fighting in the South American War. He’s the leading male character of the series, lead investigator of the Public Security Section 9 and the second most powerful and prominent character after Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell series.
Batou served in the capacity of a Sergeant in the Army before going through cyberization and ending up in the Public Security Section 9. He meets Motoko in Section 9 and develops feelings for her, which go unresolved for most part of the series. His name ‘Batou’ means ‘Eight-headed’ in Chinese which is of quite some significance as the ‘Kusanagi’ of Motoko Kusanagi is derived from a sword taken from an eight-tailed and eight-headed dragon named Orochi, in the Japanese mythology. So, there’s apparently a connection there.
As evident from several Standalone Complex TV episodes, Batou had served in the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) earlier, and had held the JGSDF ranger qualification. He and Motoko Kusanagi were a part of the unit that fought in the World War IV, and was deployed in South America. He becomes a regular partner of Motoko after joining Section 9 and accompanies her on several important missions.
Batou is 6’ 1” inches tall, has a very muscular body and his most noticeable cybernetic enhancement is his eyes which look more like disks or some classy shades.
His appearance is slightly altered in different editions of the anime/manga. For instance, in Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface manga, he makes a cameo appearance with his head shaved and wearing a simple black outfit. Then in one of the films, he’s shown with a white crew-cut, quite similar to the manga, while in the other, he’s seen sporting a ponytail.
Batou is a very likeable character who frequently jokes with every one including the Major, Togusa and the Tachikomas (the walkers or rollers that have artificial intelligence). However, you get to see his serious side in a very pronounced manner whenever people dear to him are threatened or hurt. For instance, when one his trainees Yano is killed by Koil Krasnov, a cyber-criminal, Batou expresses his anger by calling up Section 9 Chief Aramaki immediately and ensures that Koil meets the same fate (in the manga) as his beloved trainee.
It’s his short temper that doesn’t get Batou the commanding role in many of the Section 9 missions. Batou is all about strength and brute force. He loves big guns, cars and is deeply attracted to Motoko- a fact he’s unable to hide from others. Motoko considers him her confidant and best friend, who although can be a jerk at times, is nevertheless a pretty good guy with a kind heart.
Batou’s personality is quite similar in the manga and television anime series. His character depiction in the movies is slightly different from the two in the sense that he’s shown as more silent and stoic in the former, and light-hearted in the latter. He appears particularly bitter and distant in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, in which he plays the central role.
He’s loved a lot by the Tachikomas as he takes very good care of them and showers them with affection every now and then. He even dubs one of them as his personal favorite, refusing any other and feeding organic oil to it! His actions go a long way in developing the artificial intelligence of these Tachikomas.
As also mentioned earlier, Batou loves his cars. He owns a yellow-colored Italian Lancia Stratos coup from the 70s era and is very possessive about it; so much so that he doesn’t let anyone drive it. You can also see him driving a stylish yellow Ford GT adorned with black racing stripes in the movie Solid State Society.
An expert in martial arts and boxing, Batou is very good in hand-to-hand combat. His cybernetic eyes provide him special visual abilities, thus making him an excellent marksman with just about any weapon. He spends a great deal of time exercising to keep himself in the best physical form.
In Ghost in the Shell movies you can see Batou fitted with a prosthetic arm that has a hidden shotgun inside. Furthermore, he survives grenade blasts and a fall from a great height, both proving his tremendous physical abilities.
Fondly called Aramaki by everyone, Lt. Col. Daisuke Aramaki heads the Public Security Section 9, the anti-crime/antiterrorism unit that deals with cyber-crimes and more. All Section 9 orders flow down from him. He’s extremely loyal to his team members and doesn’t mind putting his position and life at stake for them if needed.
Daisuke Aramaki is the brains behind the creation of Public Security Section 9 group, in an effort to better tackle special criminal situations involving cyber-crimes among many others. He personally recruits all the Section 9 operatives, after thoroughly analyzing their characteristics and unique abilities.
Not a lot is known about Aramaki’s background, but the Solid State Society movie shows that he went out of favor with his mentor Col. Tonoda for having helped in getting the latter imprisoned. This happens just before the start of Standalone Complex series. Quite contrary to his depiction as a loner, Daisuke Aramaki was actually a married person at one point of time. He also has a brother going by the name Yousuke Aramaki, who makes a reappearance after having gone missing for a while.
He’s often referred to as ‘Old Ape’ by the Section 9 operatives as his earlier depictions in the manga series show him more like a simian.
If you look closely, Daisuke Aramaki’s appearance in the manga as well as the anime series is kept quite like the character ‘Dusty the coffin maker’ in the 1968 movie ‘If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death.’ Google up and you’ll find out! It was apparently done as a homage to the character.
His hair look quite funny and when Batou makes a funny remark about them, Aramaki lifts it up to reveal metallic cyber-brain parts, freaking the former out.
Aramaki comes across as a very shrewd and sly character who knows the intelligence business in-and-out as he’s been into it for a reasonably long time. He has a plan for every possible situation and doesn’t mind going head to head against the political honchos if he’s confident about the cause he’s promoting. As Aramaki is a seasoned player, he is well aware of the kind of corruption that exists in the people above him and knows how to deal with it.
Togusa (another Section 9 operative) and Aramaki are the only two people in the group who are fully human, apart from their cyber brains. So he does bring a human element to the way Section 9 operates. Out of all the members of the Public Security Section 9, it is Motoko Kusanagi that he trusts the most.
As Daisuke Aramaki has a cyberbrain, it does give him some special abilities, over and above the powers available to normal human beings. His main strength is his long experience in the field of intelligence that enables him to make correct strategic decisions most of the time.
Another one of the important male characters in the Ghost in the Shell series, Togusa is the second one after Daisuke Aramaki who hasn’t undergone complete cyberization, and only has partial cyber brain implants attached to him. However, this holds true only for the Ghost in the Shell’s film adaptations and the anime series. He’s just like other cybernetics of the Section 9 group in the original manga series.
Togusa comes across as a regular Japanese beat cop, who has a solid background in police services. The reason why he gets picked to be a part of the Section 9 group is to bring some simplicity and sanity to it, considering the techno-world that they constantly stay in. This apart from the fact that he’s a highly intelligent and uncorrupted police officer. His inclusion also brings about a certain unpredictability and variety to the group.
Togusa is around 5’10” tall and in his late twenties. He has a slightly archaic and peculiar fashion sense, walking around with a distinctively thick mullet. Many manga and anime lovers consider Togusa as the most handsome of all the Section 9 male operatives!
Togusa is married and a father too. He has a young daughter and a son. He’s depicted as a highly emotional individual in the manga series, who is constantly plagued by low self-esteem. However, in the film adaptations and anime versions of the Ghost in the Shell series, Togusa is portrayed as a rather accomplished person, retaining some of his original character traits. In fact, he becomes the Head of the Field Operations in the Solid State Society after Motoko Kusanagi leaves Section 9. He gets quite temperamental and emotional whenever any of the Section 9 group members are faced with failure or threats. He’s very passionate about the group and jumps right in to help, whenever the need arises.
Being the only member of the Section 9 group who doesn’t have a military background, Togusa can be seen feeling slightly insecure about his abilities, especially when he’s compared with other group members.
Togusa is closest to Batou among all the Section 9 operatives and the two hang out regularly as good friends whenever they’re off duty.
As he’s not a complete cyborg, Togusa’s abilities and strengths aren’t of the same level as other important Section 9 operatives. Nevertheless, he more than makes up for his shortcomings by contributing through his intelligence, agility and skilled use of his favorite weapon, Mateba Autorevolver. It’s sort of an idiosyncrasy, as you’ll always see Togusa using his 6-shot Mateba rather than the Section 9’s standard weapon of choice - the Seburos. He’s trained in both of them, but prefers using the former, something which he’s constantly rebuked for, by his superiors. His justification is that Seburos are too aggressive, and the Mateba revolver gives him the much-needed stopping power.
The official sharpshooter or sniper of the Section 9 team, Saito has a cybernetic wrist and a single cybernetic eye. He’s another least cyberized member, having much fewer cybernetic enhancements compared to the other operatives of the Section 9 group.
Before getting drafted into the Section 9, Saito had fought against the American Imperial forces and many UN soldiers in the capacity of a mercenary hired by a private military organization known as Red Bianco. This organization was working alongside the Mexican government in an effort to liberate Mexico from the foreign rulers. His left arm and eye got hurt badly during the battles with Japanese, British and American peacekeepers of the United Nations, who coincidentally were led by none other than Motoko Kusanagi. He later reveals in an episode of the Standalone Complex: Second Gig that it was Major Kusanagi who had taken out his left arm and eye during his WW IV battles.
Saito looks a little different from the other Section 9 operatives due to his Hawkeye and artificial prosthetic left arm. Apart from that, he’s one of the cooler looking Section 9 members.
Saito is not a very patient person, especially when it comes to dealing with his fellow operatives. Nevertheless, he does have the ability of acting in the most cunning and patient way when the situation really demands such traits, all thanks to his on-field mercenary combat experience. Nevertheless, he doesn’t hide his disappointment about the grunt work that he’s often asked to do as a Section 9 member.
Saito has the special ability of handling any kind of firearm, especially the automatic ones with amazing precision and accuracy, which earns him the primary role of tactical sniper of the group. He can think exactly like the enemy snipers, thus being able to anticipate any of their moves pretty accurately. His left eye had been replaced by a prosthetic eye (Hawkeye) which can interface with the satellites, enabling him to take incredibly accurate shots.
However, his Hawkeye is vulnerable to hacking attempts by the enemy. This gets proven when a think tank vehicle successfully overwrites his Hawkeye, causing him confusion in the second episode of the Standalone Complex: First Gig.
The primary information or computer expert of the Section 9 team, Ishikawa specializes in cyber technology and warfare. Another one of the least cybernetically augmented members of Section 9, he doesn’t get the sort of focus that other operatives enjoy in the Ghost in the Shell series. You can see him digging up information needed by the rest of the team, doing all his work in the background. So, he doesn’t get the same kind of footage as others. However, unlike Daisuke Aramaki, Ishikawa does go out and take part in the on-field battles whenever needed.
Ishikawa had served with Batou and Motoko Kusanagi in the South American War where they were a part of the Japanese UN contingent and fought alongside the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces. He’s one of the oldest members of the Public Security Section 9, and is well aware of the likes and dislikes of Major Kusanagi.
Ishikawa’s appearance is characterized by his untidy hair, a large beard and a slightly older look. He’s a thinly built man who doesn’t enjoy the same kind powers as his colleagues as he’s among the least augmented Section 9 members.
Like Motoko Kusanagi, Ishikawa also doesn’t mind breaking the law’s if he needs to. For instance, he operates a cyber-pachinko parlor called Parlor Ishikawa and hacks into the elderly players’ brains to obtain a little extra processing power.
You can see him indulging in complicated and long-winded expository speeches far too frequently to the liking of other members, only to inform them about the developments related to his work.
He seems to be fond of drinking. You can see a Chivas Regal bottle in his office in one of the final episodes of Standalone Complex: First Gig. A similar bottle can be spotted in the Ghost in the Shell film too. Regardless of his indulgences, there are no indications in the series of him being an alcoholic. He also smokes cigarettes and cigars, and can be seen puffing on them occasionally, mostly in stressful situations. Ishikawa is also fond of American Superhero comics, as stated in the 12th episode of Standalone Complex: Second Gig.
An exceptional information gatherer, Ishikawa’s strengths lie in his ability to hack any system. He can convert any computer inside a network into a sort of magical database. Among the oldest members of the Section 9 team, Ishikawa is much older than the other operatives. So he does have the experience needed to be a part of and to contribute to successful operations. However, he’s weaker than the other members when it comes to physical abilities, so is hardly shown taking part in combats. But he does go out to fight if the situation demands.
Referred to as Boma in the manga series, Borma is the in-house Explosives’ Specialist of the Section 9 group. Actually, this guy suffers the same problem as Batou when it comes to the pronunciation of his name! Poor lad has been called by all sorts of variations like Bouma, Booma, Buma and more, but most Japanese stick to simple ‘Boma.’ So we’ll go with that!
He’s another one of cyborgs in the Section 9 team who is more cybernetically enhanced than others. But he gets rarely used in the series. In fact, he was completely neglected in the Ghost in the Shell movie. You do see him showing up sometimes in the later episodes of Standalone complex: Second Gig though, performing his duties.
Not a lot is known about his past, but whatever little can be gathered from the series suggests that he served as a Demolitions Expert in the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF). Hence, it can be assumed that he was either a member of the Special Forces or simply a Combat Engineer. Many also believe that Borma was a virgin when he underwent cyberization, after getting infected by the Individual Eleven virus.
Borma is huge, bald, and scary! He’s the only member of the Section 9 group that has the same body structure and strength as Batou. He also has the same optical eye implants as Batou, however of a different hue. They’re apparently a different model, having different abilities. His baldness and eyes are easily his trademark features.
Somewhat a generic guy, Borma is arguably the only Section 9 member who doesn’t get to do anything cool. However, he’s far from being a goody-two-shoes, as is evident from the way in which he assassinates the lawyer who’s targeting Togusa.
Apart from being the main Explosives’ Specialist of the Section 9 team, Borma is seen handling the supporting tasks at the rear end. Most assignments show him as the only member carrying heavy weaponry. Borma also has the skills and expertise related to cyber viral warfare, and can successfully develop virus-countering vaccines, within minutes of the viruses' creation. He usually gets teamed up with Pazu for day-to-day operations, Saito for sniping duties and Ishikawa for carrying out viral warfare and online research.
Often referred to by his Japanese name Pazu, Paz is another one of the Section 9 members who makes occasional appearances in the series. He plays the role of an investigator. Although Paz is given some screen time in the Standalone Complex: Second Gig TV series, he’s a complete no-show in the movies.
Many people in the police circles believe that Paz was a gangster at one point of time and belonged to the most dreaded underworld gang– the Yakuza.
Paz is normally seen wearing a suit, with an open shirt inside. He is thinly-built and his eyes are almost closed at all times.
Paz is a sophisticated, suave and cool guy who’s a womanizer and loves everything about it! Although he’s a Casanova, he does bring a very important asset to the Section 9 team, which is his connections. As he was once a member of the Yakuza gang, he knows all that goes inside the Japanese underworld and how things work there.
He’s a sort of backup person who is a jack of all trades. You can see field agents turning to him for important tasks. A hard-core chain smoker, Paz also makes a pass at Major Kusanagi when he tells her that he never sleeps with the same woman again.
His Casanova ways fire back on him when one of his ex-lovers Kaori Kawashima attacks him in the 13th episode of Standalone Complex: Second Gig, disguised as his own self. It leads to a knife fight with one of them getting stabbed through the eye and dying on the spot. It is unclear whether it was the original Paz or his lover (imposter) who gets killed, as the surviving Paz doesn’t say a word.
Paz’s connections are his main strength and he normally carries a folding knife to his combats.
Fuchikomas or Tachikomas
Although they’re neither cyborgs nor human beings, Tachikomas are easily the most likeable and fun characters in the Ghost in the Shell series! Referred to as Fuchikomas in the manga series, they are small think-tanks that have an insect-like structure, and are extremely mobile. They have combat abilities too and are controlled through an artificial intelligence software. Tachikomas bring the much needed comedy relief to the Ghost in the Shell series, especially in the Standalone Complex series.
Not a lot is known about the origins or background of Tachikomas, apart from the fact that they’ve always been there! In total there are around 12 of them in the series.
They’re almost the size of a small car and are bluish in color, with four eyes on their bodies - one below the abdomen and three on the head, each one having a pinhole for triangulation and the ability of 360° rotation. Their eyes can be seen becoming expressive in different situations, in the typical style of an anime character. They also have two arms and four legs, with wheels fixed into their foot-pads.
It is their artificial intelligence that makes Tachikomas very innocent, naive and always bubbling with childlike energy. They are so likeable that Batou has a favorite among them, whom he treats with organic oil, leading to a significant development of its AI!
They have speech abilities and exhibit an active, jovial, curious and childish personality overall. Even though Tachikomas can function as independent units, receiving direct orders from humans, one can also get inside their abdomen and pilot them from there (as can be seen in the second episode of Standalone Complex: First Gig).
Arguably the most advanced type of artificial intelligence in the world, Tachikomas are a little philosophical about their existence sometimes, much to the surprise of Section 9 members, especially Major Kusanagi.
As also mentioned above, Tachikomas are extremely mobile in nature and have combative abilities which can be used strategically in on-field battles. Their weaponry comprises of two machine guns situated on each arm, a bazooka canon on the front (in between the arms) and four suspension cable guns situated on top and base of the abdomen.
The multiple talents of Tachikomas are valued so much that they are referred to as the Swiss Army Knives of Section 9.
Science fiction, which once used to be all about astronauts exploring the unknown reaches of the space, has come a long way in the past few decades. It actively depicts the relationship between man and the machine these days, paralleling our own society and going far beyond the realm of space opera, and into the domain of cyberpunk. Ghost in the Shell is among the very few anime productions that has content good enough to inspire creations like ‘The Animatrix’ and ‘The Matrix.’ A must watch for all the sci-fi anime fans!