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Motoko & Alita: Mind & Identity



The Ghost in the Shell and Gunnm had their live-action adaptations recently with Ghost in the Shell (2017) directed by Rupert Sanders and Alita: Battle Angel (2019) directed by Robert Rodriguez. These are the only satisfactory manga and anime adaptations.

Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi                                       Rosa Salazar as Alita.

In 1989, Young Magazine published the work of Masamune Shirow, The Ghost in the Shell. In 1990 Business Jump was in charge of making Gunnm “Battle Angel Alita” by Yukito Kishiro. Two stories that revolutionized the cyberpunk genre. They also dealt with the search for identity while also treating this topic in different ways.



With The Ghost in the Shell manga, Masamune Shirow showed a future world in 2029.  Men had been able to incorporate cyber implants into their bodies, increasing the capacity of the human being. Some were becoming complete cyborgs while preserving their very human brain. This was a double-sided coin, however. These advances also had their dark side.

It was easier to suffer hacks of great severity in the cybernetic body and implants, regardless of size. That’s where Major Motoko Kusanagi and Public Security Section Number 9 came in. They were responsible for dealing with and solving cases of this magnitude.


The Shell

In both the manga and the 1995 anime movie, directed by Mamoru Oshii, Motoko and his team have to deal with the investigation of a hacker named Puppet Master. The more she immersed herself in this investigation, the more Kusanagi questioned her identity. She eventually came to her own conclusions. Little is known of Motoko Kusanagi’s early history. We’re only given hints at some of her backgrounds.

Usually, it’s through flashbacks and nearly always from the points of view of others; rarely from Kusanagi’s herself. The Stand Alone Complex television series establishes that Motoko Kusanagi has lived within her cyborg “shells” practically since birth.

As explained by Mamoru Oshii:

“The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ is an alias and her current body is not her original body.”

Motoko Kusanagi‘s body was designed by the manga author and artist Masamune Shirow. It was meant to be a mass production model so she wouldn’t be conspicuous. Her electrical and mechanical system is special and features parts unavailable on the civilian market. Shirow intentionally chose this appearance so Motoko would not be harvested for those parts.

The Major has had different versions. But the theme of the search for her identity and where she really comes from is dealt with in the anime movies (Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence). And also in the anime series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG). Who she is,  is the main story and the rest of the plots revolve around it.

In the case of the manga, Motoko is much more light-hearted and immature in some instances. Due to the Puppeteer case, she started to change and became much more serious. Her sexuality plays an important role in her personality. They make it clear that she’s not limited by her current gender.



Something similar also happens to Alita. She’s another complex character. She’s lost and wants to know her past. In Gunnm, Yukito Kishiro shows us a cyborg found and rebuilt by Daisuke Ido. Alita suffers from amnesia and Ido adopts her as his daughter. But as time goes by, it becomes clear that Alita hides combat skills as great as they are mysterious.

As a way to discover her own past, she will be tested against situations. This stimulates and flourishes these skills so that she can get answers about her origin. With this objective, she faces various enemies throughout her journey. She becomes a Hunter-Warrior, Motorball runner, security agent, and many others while she puts her life at risk. Her story leads her to face even greater challenges and dangerous creatures outside the planet.

The manga had its adaptation with two animated installments based on the first two volumes in 1993. Unfortunately, they were not very successful due to the Asian financial crisis. But there was another reason. The adaptation simplified in place for the intricate plot of the Manga.


The Future

Both Alita and Motoko demonstrate in their stories just how human they can truly be. They have marked the history of manga and anime while being part of the broad repertoire of empowered female characters. They also have a legion of devoted fans throughout the world.

We hope Alita: Battle Angel (2019) has a sequel in the future. But now, the opportunities are in doubt due to the acquisition of Fox by Disney. But we will have more Motoko in a new installment of the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2045 in 2020 by Netflix. The new anime series will have character designs by Ilya Kuvshinov.

Motoko Kusanagi by Ilya Kuvshinov.