The Ghost in the Shell (Deluxe Edition) – Masamune Shirow

As cyber-punk manga goes this is probably the most well-known and highly-regarded of them. Influenced by a variety of sources, and in turn providing inspiration for many later artists, “The Ghost in the Shell” is a work that has become truly embedded in the public consciousness (whether people know it or not).

The manga focuses on a future society in which the internet and cyberisation have blurred the lines between humans and robots, and the real world and the online world. Our protagonists are a special ops team whose purpose is to stop high-level hackers and other cyber-criminals. Led by their charismatic leader Motoko Kusanagi, under the supervision of Aramaki, Section 9 is intended to operate somewhat independently of regular law enforcement. They are joined by other team members, Bato, Ishikawa, and even, unusually, a fully human member Togusa. Each chapter of the manga follows the team on a separate action-packed mission and there is clearly a love of cop dramas and science-fiction throughout. Shirow is also dedicated to details and his entertaining footnotes are a pleasant addition to the narrative. Whether it is explaining his thoughts on the political set-up of Japan, or simply to tell you that he quite likes porridge, it is an endearing part of the work that helps you feel closer to the author and understand their reasoning behind certain story decisions. The world of “The Ghost in the Shell” contains a fantastic level of details, whether it is government ministers who reappear, or the explanation of how cyberisation techniques work, and all of this helps create a reality to this unfamiliar future. There is also a sense of fun that is lacking in later iterations of the franchise, with characters often appearing in more cartoonish form to make quips.

The art work is great throughout, with incredible cities, crowded streets and more. They are drawings that it is fun to pick over and spot little additions or simply marvel at what you are seeing. Shirow keeps everything hi-tempo, and states a dislike for exposition when it can be avoided. You will often see characters being active while explaining which helps keep things interesting while giving huge amounts of information at the same time. And every moment of drama is captured perfectly, whether helicopters landing, or characters running, leaping or fighting. The stories all work well in the episodic format as well as a longer story involving the Puppeteer (that was used in the anime film adaptation). A must-read for fans of dystopian science-fiction and action-packed comic books.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Based on the best-selling novel, the manga follows the story of a Shiro Iwa Junior High School Class as they are selected to take part in ‘The Program’, which involves them being shipped to an island and forced to fight until only one survives. Most people will be familiar with the plot from the cult film that came out in 2000 (the same year the manga began publication). Due to the form the manga is able to follow the novel much more closely, includes more details, both on the world that the story takes place in, and spends more time with each of the characters. There are a huge cast of characters, with 42 students in the class, plus the instructor and various side characters who we see in flashback (such as friends and family) and the manga does a great job of making all of these children instantly identifiable, through their appearance or character quirks. The manga is far more grotesque and sexually explicit, including scenes of rape and graphic scenes of shootings, stabbings and all manner of other deaths. Some of this is due to the events being depicted visually (as opposed to the book), and being able to have the 15 years old protagonists shown engaging in sex and violent scenes (not possible with the young actors in the film). I found that my reaction to the manga was different from both book and film. In the book, there is the sense of a puzzle that needs to be solved (how will they escape from the island?); the film is more like an action script (being thrilled at every narrow escape, or shocked at every death); while the manga really brings home a sense of futility, and revulsion at the acts of the government. Things really do seem hopeless at times, and each death is made to hurt.

The story moves seamlessly from one character or group to another, and with flash-backs throughout to show their motivations, or further emphasize something about their character. The art style is very detailed, especially on the characters faces and scenes of blood spattering or gore. There are many scenes of characters bawling, or screaming, with snot and tears flowing freely. One of the things I liked about this version of the story was the ability to include dream sequences (not present in the other versions). One such stand out moment sees Shuuya envisioning his classmates as monsters, with sharp teeth and claws coming to get him. If you are a fan of the film and want to find out more about the characters, or like the book and want to see it represented visually, this is a great read.