... among other things. One thing is certain - Masamune Shirow (a pen name, no doubt) loves having strong leading lady types in his work. If it isn't in his comics, it'll find its way in his art. Funny how this obsession got to a point where it almost ruined one of his stories, but more on that later. For now, let us ogle at some of his work.
Yes, as you can see from these examples, it's very hard to take Mr. Shirow's work seriously.
Just kidding! Shirow's stuff is fantastic. I mean, just look at it! Pirates in bikinis. Cyber-girls in bikinis. Cowgirls in bikinis. And they're all drawn in a fairly unique oh-so cute anime/manga style!
One blog puts it "...Many of his images will be unappealing or downright offensive to some women. Ironically, strong women are the central characters in his comic stories." Hahahahahaha!
An Incomplete and Badly Researched Look at Shirow's Work
Despite the grins on the women on Mr. Shirow's art, he had a really tough time getting his work published and recognized. He finally got his break publishing with some manga called "Black Magic". This eventually landed him a publishing deal, which in turn got him to create Appleseed. Does it ring a bell? It's the popular manga series that eventually got made into a bunch of movies (the ultimate honor for a Japanese manga artist!), and put Shirow on the map.
Appleseed, to put it simply, is a Japanese manga about the trials and tribulations of an anime chick named Deunan Knute and her cyborg pal Briareos. They're part of an elite team out to keep the peace in a last-bastion type city where bio-robots things live peacefully with humans.
Yes, you heard that last part right. Appleseed's backstory is actually loosely based on a novel called "Brave New World", a story about about a totalitarian state where its citizens know nothing of wars or illnesses, and have access to every material pleasure known to man. This delicate order is in turn preserved through genetic engineering(hatching?).
Appleseed brings up the point that the more 'perfect' bio-robot people (known as 'bioroids') have been selected as the next step of humanity's evolution. Sounds crazy? Frederik Shodt interviewed Mr. Shirow about this how this "co-existence" would work, and this is what he had to say:
"...if a robot becomes so advanced that it can coexist on an equal basis with humans, is it really a robot? Perhaps it's just a human made of different materials...[laughs]. Of course, you could argue that the robots that can't think at all, the ones working in our factories today, are already coexisting with humans. When we get to floor cleaning robots, vacuum cleaner robots running around, and so forth, they'll probably seem a lot more human-like. The real problem is when we get to true humanoid robots."
Yeah... Maybe in a hundred years. But that's the thing. Shirow's work is full of that stuff, and none more so than Ghost in the Shell.
This version of "GiTS" should not to be confused with the anime movies directed by Mamoru Oshii, even though both are about the same secret police force and star the same impossibly sexy and headstrong cybernetic chick who goes around killing people. Did I mention that both properties deal with a lot of "deep" philosophical and existential stuff?
I've read half of the original manga, and my overall impressions of it is that it's OKAY. Mr. Shirow's panel is chock full of crazy details that help flesh out this weird cyberpunk world. There are instances when there's so much weird sci-fi elements thrown in that you can't help but take them at face value so you can move on with the general plot.
What if the entire human brain was digitized, and wired to the internet? What would happen to our identity if it can simply be hacked like some computer?? That's the kind of stuff you have to contend with when reading some of the earlier Ghost in the Shell manga. It's interesting to know that this smörgåsbord of ideas aren't exactly... unnatural in the world of GiTS. Mr. Fred Schodt interviewed Mr. Shirow about this and he said:
FS: Much sci-tech information in your manga seems to be delivered as a sort of background, ambient noise, which many readers probably don't understand right away but eventually soak up unconsciously through osmosis. Is this a deliberate strategy?
MS: No, it's not something I do deliberately. It merely happens because of the way the stories are structured. I don't deliberately have a lot of explanations about the reality in which the characters live. To the characters this information is obvious, and natural; the readers enter the world of the characters, and it should ideally become a "natural" world for them, too.
Man-Machine Interface is one of the later (and allegedly better)
Ghost in the Shell books
FS: Do you ever get complaints from people who can't understand what's going on in your stories because there's too much complicated information?
MS: Sometimes readers do complain. I realize my stories should be easy to read, and I try to make them easy to read. It's a tug of war; I don't want to make the stories too simple, nor do I want to make them too complex. I struggle to find a good balance... I know it's tough for the readers sometimes...
My final thoughts on that
Tough is right! His stories can get really whacked out sometimes. Now I know I can cover some more of Mr. Shirow's other works like Dominion: Tank Police, or maybe Orion, or perhaps his more recent works - but I won't. I haven't read them, so why bother?
have were concerned about Shirow's art taking a drastic turn when he switched
to the digital medium
And yet the amount of work he has produced all these decades means he's doing something right. According to one interview, Shirow said: "...For The Ghost in the Shell I drew an average of forty pages per episode and it took me around forty days to do one episode. But the number of hours I can work, and the efficiency of my work fluctuates, so it's not always possible to do a page a day. It's a real struggle simply to adjust my schedule to "meet the deadlines!"
The Man We Know as Shirow
He laments that while ".. There is currently a vast gap between the lowest and the highest incomes of manga artists." But for all the success Shirow has had in his career, he's still an artist at heart. According to this fan known as Puto:
"..Name alone clearly means nothing to Shirow; if it did, he would have leapt out of the closet and taken the credit for his work. But this rich and successful man still hides in the shadows, happy to let his art speak for itself. By refusing to be identified or photographed, he ensures that his fans only see his work, not his personality. The fact that many companies seem to be paying for his name and not his immense talent, is something that only careful management can prevent from becoming a problem in future."
The thing with a lot of Japanese sci-fi work (as I've said numerous times before) is that they're hodgepodges of different elements all rolled into one crazy package. On the surface, this truth can be easily be seen on much of Shirow's work. But as so many have mentioned before, artists like Shirow have made these worlds their own.
Toren Smith interviewed Mr. Shirow on his 'influences', and here's what the good man had to say:
"Of course I do believe that my work is original in its own way, but there's always some past experience or memory that triggers the ideas I come up with. I may be able to build on ideas, to adapt them, and thus come up with something new, but I have doubts about whether it's truly possible for anyone to create something completely new and original.
Emphasizing a combination of females and mecha, as I do, is something that's been around for a long time, and neither the idea of cyberbrains nor Special Forces units are themselves new, either. But as with cooking, even if the ingredients are the same, the way they are mixed together and the goal of the person doing the mixing creates a different flavor. In that sense, if the result of cooking can be called original, so, too, can my work. I always try to draw manga that are true to myself."
According to Puto's Masamune Shirow fan site, a common characteristic in Shirow's works, at least according to the artist himself, are that they:
And that's about all I can say and stand. Masamune is the best, and his cute little art shows what kind of a person he really is.
Now I know what I forgot to talk about when it comes to Masamune Shirow. His mecha designs. Drat! I've focused too much on posting these "cute" pinups. Oh well. Perhaps next time? In the meantime, why don't you watch this weird intro cutscene from an old Playstation game called Project Horned Owl, which features designs by Masamune Shirow. No reason.