Masamune Shirow, the Cyberpunk Mangaka

Masasume Shirow

Masamune Shirow’s Cyberpunk Writing Led to One of the Most-Recognized Anime in the World

If you’ve ever come into contact with any of the iterations of Ghost in the Shell, you have Masamune Shirow to thank for that. Arguably the most noted work of Masamune Shirow, the pen name of Masanori Ota, Ghost in the Shell is a cyberpunk story set in a future where humans have connected their minds to a series of networks and systems, and can even gain cybernetic prosthetics to become full-blown cyborgs. 

Much of Masamune Shirow’s work deals with cyberpunk themes, including androids, mind-hacking, and cybernetic prosthesis. But that isn’t all that Shirow has to offer; he has other manga series he’s created, along with a massive library of art books. 

Ghost in the Shell follows Matoko Kusanagi, a member of Public Security Section 9, a counter-cyberterrorism organization in the fictional future city of New Port City. There are 3 parts to the original Ghost in the Shell manga, the first being the story of The Puppeteer. 

It follows Major Kusanagi and the rest of the crew as they track down a cybercriminal who has been hacking into the cyber brains of the future populace to bend them to its will. The second, entitled Ghost in the Shell: Man-Machine Interface, takes place five years after the events of Ghost in the Shell, as the Major now goes by Matoko Aramaki. 

She now works for a multinational conglomerate as their chief security officer, stashing bodies for her mind to inhabit all over the world. After the work of a professor of Artificial Intelligence falls into the hands of data pirates, Matoko must investigate reports of an upcoming coming danger. 

The third volume of Ghost in the Shell is a prequel to the second, entitled Human-Error Processor. It’s a collection of stories about the members of Section 9 as they solve crimes and respond to emergencies following the events of the first Ghost in the Shell. 

The first Ghost in the Shell movie was released in 1995 and is the film that largely introduced the world to Shirow’s. This spawned a sequel (Though creatively it’s divisive on whether it should be considered a sequel), another OVA, novels, video games, and the live-action film starring Scarlett Johansson. 

While he had minimal work on the Ghost in the Shell iterations that came from his original work, he worked on the anime adaptations of many of his other works.

Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed Also Deals with Cyberpunk Themes

A few years before the initial run of Ghost in the Shell Masamune Shirow released Appleseed, another cyberpunk story. The story follows Deunan Knute and her cyborg lover Briareos as they navigate a world ravaged by a non-nuclear World War 3. 

The major nations of the world are in disarray, but the chaos has given rise to a variety of independent nation-states. One of these, Olympus, is home to a populace that is mostly cybernetically augmented in one way or another. 

As former members of the LAPD, Deunan, and Briareos are recruited into the city’s ESWAT team, similar to the pre-war SWAT Teams. 

Eventually, Shirow would release a book entitled Appleseed Databook that covers in great detail the world of Appleseed, its technology, and his philosophies that inform the narrative of the story. In 1988 an Appleseed OVA was released that borrowed the setting and characters from the original manga, but ultimately developed its own plot. 

In 2004 another Appleseed feature-length movie was made and was followed by a sequel, Appleseed Ex Machina in 2007. 

In 2011, a CG Appleseed TV series was released. Appleseed XIII ran for, appropriately enough, 13 episodes, and was eventually compiled into two feature-length films, Appleseed XIII: Tartaros and Appleseed XIII: Ouranos. 

Masamune Shirow Appleseed

Masamune Shirow’s Dominion Shows Why Tanks Aren’t Great for Police Work

Another one of Masamune Shirow’s works, Dominion, also takes place in a cyberpunk future, but in a world where air pollution and bacteria have affected the world so much that gas masks are required when stepping outside. The series follows a special police force that specifically uses tanks. 

This force consists of Leona Ozaki, a young officer who is eager to please and obsessed with her tank she’s named Bonaparte, her squad, and the chief known only as The Chief. They mainly fight against Buaku, a supposed “super criminal” and his gang. Buaku is supported by AnnaPuma and UniPuma, or the Puma Sisters. 

The Puma Sisters are twin catgirl androids that were lovedolls until they broke free of their programming. Buaku and his gang are trying to capture an experimental government gene therapy that will alter humans’ DNA to self-oxygenate. 

The government plans to use this instead of actually fixing the pollution issue, and the Tank Police seek to stop Buaku from getting his hands on it. 

Dominion had a few OVAs that cover events around the main timelines. While the original manga was released in 1986, the first Dominion OVA released in 1988. It serves as a prequel to the manga and covers Buaku’s origin leading up to his discovery of the gene therapy known as the Greenpeace project, as well as the woman it seemed to be used on first. 

The second, New Dominion Tank Police, is more or less a sequel to the manga, despite some superficial changes. Tank Police Team Tank S.W.A.T. 01 was released in 1993 and takes place near the beginning of the Dominion Conflict: No More Noise arc. Shirow emphasizes that this arc is more of an alternate timeline, and there are several aspects of it that set it apart from the original Dominion story. 

Orion Muses on Sci-Fi and Religion

The largest departure from Shirow’s cyberpunk themes is the manga, Orion. This story follows the Shinto god of destruction Susano as he attempts to stop the Yamata Empire from destroying all the negative karma in the galaxy through an experimental reactor. 

As one can imagine, this is a story that is steeped in Shinto, Buddhism, and Japanese mythology. There are many different religious aspects to this story, but there are still many science-fiction elements as well. Starships, for example, play a major role in the story, and observers have likened their use in Orion to those in the story Dune. While magic is also wielded, it requires quite a bit of science to keep it in check. 

So while Masamune Shirow somewhat steps out of his usual habit of cyberpunk stories with Orion, there’s still quite a lot of these elements. 

Masamune Shirow’s Artwork Has Been Collected in Numerous Artbooks

Much of Masamune Shirow’s artwork has been made available in art books and poster books that he’s released over the years. One of the first released art books known as Intron Depot contains full-color drawings and other sketches for his works such as Ghost in the Shell, Orion, and Dominion. 

These drawings were left out of his works because they in one way or another would “devalue” the work, according to him. Much of the artwork in Intron Depot comes with Shirow’s thoughts and opinions on them, including why they weren’t included and what he feels he got wrong with them. 

His art books are often themed and are often titled according to the objects they feature, such as guns, swords, and women carrying one or the other or both. Later artbooks feature quite a bit more erotic content, and feature compilations of artwork Shirow did for various men’s magazines. 

This includes his Galgrease collection, so named because the women featured appear to have an oily or greasy sheen to them.  

Masamune Shirow’s work telling cyberpunk stories led to one of the most recognized and most lauded anime of the modern century. His work has dealt with themes such as ecology, biology, identity, and what it means to exist in a world full of rapidly-advancing technology. 

His work is highly influential, and worth exploring if you’re looking to build your anime literacy. 

Masamune Shirow / Kodansha
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