1985 was a time when conspiracy theories were very rarely heard, media was still highly centralized, and Clint Eastwood’s militarism was seen as respectable rather than a sign of burgeoning personality disorder.
Dominion Tank Police is like a silly “A-Team” episode crossed with a Clint Eastwood good-guy-tortures-bad-guy scene.
People get shot point-blank and take no permanent damage. Thousands of bullets get sprayed at civilians who suffer no injuries whatsoever. Buildings crumple as if made of cardboard and papier-mache. Hardened, cynical, adult police officers are hypnotized by a very subdued striptease (which is supported by unexplained music out of nowhere). Some people say this show is surreal; I just think it’s goofy because it cranked the realism knob down to the lowest possible setting.
And of course, torture is played for laughs. At roughly the same time that this story was shown for the first time, the School of the Americas and the CIA were promoting and practicing torture.
I guess I could write a story about how ugly and evil torture is, and how it corrupts the people who practice it. But I doubt that anyone would bother to read such a preachy story. Even I am not crazy about preachy anime, especially when I’m not already convinced of its message. But some writers are so good that they can make me enjoy sermons – Kumeta-sensei comes to mind.
Sometimes I hate a show, or I hate a major aspect of a show, and yet I watch the whole thing out of perverse resentment.
I call this a grudge-watch.
The show is watchable. It’s better than Canadian television, and better than BBC. But the premise of the show is downright evil. The moral of the story is a Family Unfriendly Aesop.
So apparently Major Kusanagi wasn’t the first heroine to make fascist psychopathy into a sexy propaganda statement.
So, the lesson to be learned is that once you have gone to war, you are completely absolved of all sins, and you can do no wrong. Throw all that jus in bello stuff out the window.
Masamune Shirow has only had a few ideas in his entire writing career, and he keeps re-writing them.
If you take a look at Dominion Tank Police after having seen the later Ghost in the Shell stories, you will be struck by how much of Dominion seems like a rough draft for Ghost in the Shell.
Shirow also recycled some big philosophical themes. Apparently Shirow really believes that there is no non-physical human soul, and apparently he really believes a lot of outdated philosophy and science, so I can’t fault him for recycling big ideas. A big idea is much more important than a fictional franchise, and if you want to expound and expostulate your theory of a human mind as tabula rasa, you should feel free to do so in as many comic book series as it takes to get your idea out.
There are some minor details that get recycled too, with less philosophical impact. Batou’s external eye-goggles and the Major’s quest for a Beatrice-character who transcends the limits of the other characters – are both recycled versions of earlier details.
If I had the time and budget to delve into the manga, I could probably write a deep essay about the connections of Shirow’s various themes. I don’t have the time or the budget, so I’m going to end this section with zhai2nan2’s drinking game:
* – Any time a cyborg loses a limb, drink;
* – Any time Kusanagi uses a small handgun to shoot open an access panel on a tank, drink;
* – Any time thermoptic camouflage is used to fast-rope down the walls of a building, drink;
* – Any time you recognize footage copied directly from the 1995 movie version, drink double.
Consider a different topic:
Just feast your eyes on that.
That’s Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, also known as BASIC. It was pretty high tech in 1982.
But it showed up in New Dominion Tank Police, which was made in 1993, quite a long time after 1982. But 1993, computer people were endlessly gabbling about object-oriented stuff. I don’t understand why Masamune Shirow hadn’t heard about it.
I have some very mixed feelings about cyberpunk in general, and about Masamune Shirow’s work in particular. Shirow was just another artist to me until the USA came out of the fascist closet after 2001. At that time, Shirow released Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
Stand Alone Complex is an incredibly beautiful work. It is also a hymn to totalitarian government. If Orwell was horrified by the prospect of a boot stamping on a human face forever, Masamune Shirow was elated by the same prospect.
I don’t think Shirow is a monster; I think he’s too easily influenced, as are many artists. He gives his producers whatever kind of art they think will sell, and (I suppose) he doesn’t have much of a moral compass. It’s not as though he’s a loyal totalitarian; in recent years, his latest iteration of the franchise seems to be backing off from overt totalitarian worship of the State-As-God.
I first encountered Shirow by watching his first Ghost in the Shell movie a few years after it came out, so I wasn’t acquainted with Appleseed or any of his other works. After seeing Ghost in the Shell, I can only interpret Appleseed and the Tank Police stories as re-workings of the same themes that show up in Ghost in the Shell.
The heroine of New Dominion Tank Police strikes me as a rough draft of Major Kusanagi. The 1980s-style alarmism about crime, drugs, and terrorism is sadly familiar; statists have been beating the drum about these same bogeymen for decades.
Shirow’s art tends to argue for just one kind of politics: Shirow’s art argues that the police must be ever more violent. (Some versions of Appleseed minimize politics and focus on the characters; I don’t know how much influence Shirow had over those versions.)
If Shirow takes his art’s political statements seriously, then Shirow is a mad totalitarian. I hope Shirow is just a sensation-monger who uses art as a spectacle. In any event, art has consequences. Stupid stories don’t set out to preach stupid ideas, but they end up teaching people stupid ideas all the same.
Some mullets are murderous.
Some mullets are Macgyver-esque.
But if Masamune Shirow made it, you can expect to find mullets in it.