There are two major misconceptions with animation. The first and possibly the most widely speculated is that animation is geared toward children. This was brought into light with what Disney has done since 1937 with the premiere of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and has continued in the majority of American animation ever since.
The other misconception is animated movies are simpler than live-action films. This not only refers the premise but the way it’s designed. This is easy to misconceive because traditional animation is not only drawn frame by frame but also because American writers design their movies so children can understand them.
The fact of the matter is another genre of film tends to present animation as complex and adult oriented. That genre happens to be anime, and there isn’t a film out there that proves this better than the 1995 classic “Ghost in the Shell.”
“Ghost in the Shell” is an animated movie based on the popular seinen manga of the same name. Seinen manga are Japanese comics aimed for men, ages 18 to 30. The whole premise of the film involves a detective named Major Motoko Kusanagi who is trying to track and catch a criminal known as “The Puppet Master.” The plot is much more complicated than what’s on the surface. The film takes place in Hong Kong, 2029 and the technology has become so advanced biologists have found a way to sew a person’s persona to an artificial body, which is the definition of a cyborg. The protagonist happens to be one of these cyborgs. The Puppet Master has a way to hack into these personas and use them to commit acts of terrorism.
If you view this film, the very first thing you may realize, is it demolishes the theory that animation is for kids because within the very first scene, there is a large amount of graphic violence, including a person’s head gets blown off. In addition to the violence, there is a large amount of profanity and non-sexual nudity in the film, most of which is necessary.
Along with the violence, nudity and profanity, there is a large amount of character development, which is something you don’t really expect in animation. What you expect in the majority of animated films is action, action, action, not listening to Motoko talk about her transition from a human to a cyborg. It’s very apparent this isn’t for kids and kids probably don’t want to watch it anyway.
One way this movie disproves the simple animation theory is its use of low key lighting. Normally, an animated movie tends to have few shadows. This has realistic shadows, almost up to the point where it can be labeled as a film noir. This, however, can be linked to the genre of film known as cyberpunk because this genre is known to incorporate film noir very frequently.
But it’s not just about the lighting within the story itself. The film is known as a psychological film because a major part of the story involves the philosophical aspect of humans transitioning to cyborg life. There is even one scene where Motoko doubts her existence. Something as emotional and complex as that isn’t something you can get out of a simple film, and there are more examples of this throughout. Other scenes include the idea of combining personas, how dangerous a computer virus is to a cyborg and even if the whole idea of the technology is a good idea in the first place.
This film alone shows the misconceptions people have with animation can be completely wrong which is what makes this film so great. A film this mature, this complex and this character driven is something you don’t expect out of an animation film. It is not just this movie that is like this. Others include, but are not limited to, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Fullmetal Alchemist: Conquerors of Shamballa, and xxxHolic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in terms of adult themed movies, and Wall-E and Up for complexity.
It’s a good idea to expose yourself to animated films outside of the official Disney animated canon to realize animation isn’t always for kids, and is complex for a reason. That reason is not only what gets these films academy awards for Best Picture/Animated Feature/Foreign Film, but what makes these films better than many live-action films.