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Ghost In The Shell by Andrew Osmond [Book Review]


I am a big fan of Ghost in the Shell in its animated form. As such, I always look forward to new books with that as its focus. The few books I have managed to get a copy of have always been enlightening and give an insight into either Mamoru Oshii (the director) or the Ghost in the Shell franchise itself.

The book "Ghost in the Shell" by Andrew Osmond (author of works including Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist) was released 11 September 2017 and I eagerly awaited its arrival. I'm one of those people who looks forward to learning new things and gleaning new snippets of information and context about subjects I enjoy. This book had some expectations to live up to.

I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed this book by Andrew Osmond. I found it to have a light, breezy writing style that was very easy to read and take and retain information from. Some books on anime (and animation) can have an overly pretentious style that acts as a real barrier for entry but this has no such issue. Having the references and notes on the pages as the text kept a really nice flow when reading. There was no break as I flicked to find the footnote reference, my eyes just moved down the page and then back up again. Reading the references felt like a conversational aside or a director's commentary. The way the references were presented and what they contained really added to the body of the text and showed what is needed for a well-researched book such as this.

The books covers many aspects of Ghost in the Shell. It talks about the animated film (obviously!) providing an effective summary of the plot whilst highlighting key moments of the film. Additionally, it introduces significant characters and components of the story. Andrew then takes us on a journey through the Ghost in the Shell world. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that he introduces us to the architects, builders and financiers of an iconic anime. He introduces us to Mamoru Oshii, Masamune Shirow (the manga creator), the team behind the script, the music and the animation. We stop off at Production IG and discover how the film was funded. Finally, Andrew reveals potential external influences on the franchise and brings it up to date with the 2017 live action film.

The topics it covers are relatively diverse but each chapter flows neatly into the next. In the main, I was aware of a lot of much of what was written from reading about the franchise over the years. What was great was having it all in one place, all put into context with the relationships articulated. The new bit for me was around the history of Manga Entertainment, their inception and their involvement in part-funding the Ghost in the Shell anime. For those who remember the Manga Entertainment trailers on the videos and DVDs, that section of the book explained the style of those trailers.

The book is peppered with illustrations and stills from the works of Oshii. Where the stills are part of a sequence you get the sense of the key moments within it. It's as if you are seeing the keyframes for those sequences. The "western" poster for the film is shown next to the Japanese poster and the differences are quite stark. I think that this is the strength of a book like this.

It is quite a small format book so these images are quite small and it would have been nice to see them printed larger. I appreciate that it would have changed the dynamic and flow of the book if that had been the case however. There appears to be some new artwork in the book which is very nice to look at. Aside from stills relating to the live-action film I would be very happy with any of the images reproduced, framed and hung on my wall.

Comparisons with "Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii" by Brian Ruh are unavoidable. This book by Andrew Osmond gives a great summary of the works of Oshii where the book by Brian Ruh goes into much greater depth. In some ways, I can imagine that readers can have their interest piqued by Andrew's book and can then go on to Brian's. As everything in this book is focused on Ghost in the Shell, it feels like Andrew is picking out the themes and similarities across Oshii's work with respect to Ghost in the Shell where Ruh's text feels more like an exploration of each work of Oshii.

During and after reading this book I wanted to watch all of the Oshii films Osmond talks about. Sadly not all of them are available in the UK anymore so I will have to make do with those that I have. I remember watching some of Urusei Yatsura when visiting relatives in France when I was much younger and that is perhaps the work of Oshii that I would like to watch now. O.K., that wasn't really a criticism of the book.

For fans of the animated Ghost in the Shell, this is a well researched and presented book that will tell you things that you didn't know about the film or its creators. It is written in a style that is easily accessible and flows. Very quickly you realise that you have finished the book which then gives you time to open that DVD or Blu-Ray and re-watch the classic that is Ghost in the Shell. It is also a great gateway into the more academic text that look at themes within Oshii's work.

GHOST IN THE SHELL by Andrew Osmond is published by Arrow Books. Buy from Amazon.or Amazon UK.
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