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Manga into Anime Two Approaches: 'Sanctuary' and 'Ghost in the Shell'

Brian Camp compares the adaptive processes of Sanctuary and Ghost in the Shell.

The relationship between manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animation) is long and rich and deserving of more in-depth discussion than possible here. However, interested readers can take a crash course in the subject by reading the English-language editions of two popular manga series, Sanctuary and Ghost in the Shell. Then one can view the animated adaptations, both released on video in the U.S. in 1996. The two films represent the best examples of the opposite poles of manga/anime adaptation: Sanctuary: The Movie is scrupulously faithful to the original's story and visual style, while Ghost in the Shell offers one filmmaker's highly personal interpretation of another artist's distinctly quirky source material.

From the animated film, Ghost in the Shell.

Sanctuary, a continuing series published by Viz Comics, written by Sho Fumimura and drawn by Ryoichi Ikegami (Crying Freeman), tells a story of two school buddies who enter parallel career tracks, one in politics and one in the Yakuza underworld. Their shared goal is to bring younger blood into the aging ruling establishments of their respective institutions. In a tale riddled with violence, political intrigue, deception, and often brutal sexual exploits, the creators take powerful swipes at the domination of Japanese institutions by elderly men who will not make room for the younger generations. The artist's sleek, finely detailed, black-and-white illustrations and realistic backgrounds offer an authentic update of classic crime novel imagery with a touch of film noir.

Sanctuary: The Movie.

The story line in Sanctuary: The Movie (Viz Video) comes from Volume 1 and the beginning of Volume 2 in Viz's series of bound volumes. Although their order is altered, most of the scenes in the film are taken directly from the comic book going so far as to repeat much of the same dialogue and many of the same compositions. The animation is somewhat limited but this enables more detailed artwork and realistic character design based closely on the designs in the comic.

The big difference between the two forms of Sanctuary is the animated version's use of color. The film eschews the black shadows, dark blue nighttime exteriors, and extreme camera angles normally associated with anime noir (e.g. Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Wicked City) and employs lots of sunny exteriors. Nighttime scenes are awash in brightly-lit neon while interiors are dominated by soft browns. Characters are dressed chiefly in light suits and pastel colors, recalling Miami Vice rather than The Untouchables. The color scheme, aided by a warm and infectious jazz score, transforms the dramatic imagery of Ikegami's original illustrations into something more realistic and representative of contemporary Japan than most crime-themed anime. The visual approach closely recalls that of an earlier faithfully-adapted anime version of an Ikegami-drawn manga, Crying Freeman, which also told a violent crime story amidst sunny outdoor settings and bright colors.

Hojo and Isihara, two characters in the Sanctuary comic book.

Ghost in the Shell is the work of celebrated young writer/artist Masamune Shirow (Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police, Black Magic M-66) and is available in a glossy bound volume, containing 10 issues, from Dark Horse. A unique mix of free-wheeling humor, fast-paced violent action, and bursts of overwhelming scientific detail, Ghost follows the adventures of special agent Major Motoko Kusanagi and her colleagues from Section 9 of the Public Security Bureau in Newport City in 2029. They track down computer criminals and breaches in national security. Robots and cyborgs are as plentiful in this near-future world as humans and occasionally display much the same sense of humor and capacity for feeling. Shirow mixes moments of grim seriousness and realistic drawing with comical cartoony asides. The women characters, including the almost completely cyborg Kusanagi, are generally gorgeous, sexy, and often scantily-clad.

Mamoru Oshii's feature-length animated adaptation (released by Manga Entertainment) derives its plot from those portions of the ten-part series relating to the elusive hacker known in the comic as "Puppeteer" and in the film as "Puppet Master." In both comic and film, the hacker turns out to be a computer-created entity, the result of a government project gone awry, that considers itself a sentient life form and seeks its own body. Unlike Shirow's work, Oshii's is dead serious from start to finish and endeavors to make this startling future world as realistic-looking, and sounding, as possible. The film's Kusanagi is virtually expressionless throughout and her voice is a steady monotone. More businesslike and no-nonsense than she was in the comic, Kusanagi's frequent nudity is strictly functional, necessary for the performance of her duties, with absolutely no erotic overtones. The body she unveils is a "shell," a sophisticated product of the MegaTech Corporation.

Sanctuary, the comic book.

Oshii takes the time to craft an elaborate cityscape of dazzling skyscrapers with elegant high-tech features which contrast with the shabbier sections of town, marked by outdoor market stalls, garbage-strewn canals, and abandoned buildings. Some of Shirow's individual panels do indeed provide the visual cues for the film's background designs. However, Oshii expands on them, devoting long segments to detailing the mood and ambiance of a city of such extremes, a preoccupation of Oshii's also evident in his earlier films, Patlabor: Mobile Police 1 (1989) and Patlabor: Mobile Police 2 (1993, both Manga Entertainment).

Whereas Shirow displays an obvious fetish for weaponry and new technology, seemingly delighted with the implications for humankind of such a future, Oshii's approach is more cautionary in tone and asks what defines our humanity in a world where a computer-created entity can have the self-awareness to demand a right to life. Shirow is more concerned with the scientific aspects of the Puppeteer's bid for life, while Oshii is concerned with the ethical and philosophical questions raised. As such, Ghost more closely resembles Oshii's work on the two Patlabor films, both of which dealt with construction technology going haywire during the 21st century redevelopment of Tokyo.

More Ghost in the Shell action.

Sanctuary remains the more dramatic and cohesive manga, while Ghost in the Shell remains the more visually stunning and rewarding film. Shirow is preoccupied with science and technology and their comic, as well as dramatic possibilities, whereas, Oshii is more preoccupied with philosophy. While manga and anime are very closely related, film is a different medium with different attributes. It is interesting to watch how different filmmakers make a fusion of the two. Which aspects of the original do they see as most important and how does that manifest itself on the screen? It could be an almost endless case study.

Brian Camp is Program Manager at CUNY-TV, the City University of New York cable TV station. He has written about Japanese animation for Outre Magazine and The Motion Picture Guide and has also written for Film Comment, Film Library Quarterly, Sightlines, The New York Daily News and Asian Cult Cinema.