From what little can be discerned, the film takes place in 2032, a time when various types of robotic beings rule the planet. Even humans have been reduced to robots, with their souls inhabiting artificial bodies (hence, the ghost in the shell). Our hero is Batou, a robot with a human soul. He's a cop investigating a series of androids that have gone cuckoo and starting killing people. Batou's partner is Togusa, who's still largely human and acts as the audience surrogate. The malfunctioning robots are tracked down to a company called Locus Solus, who built the gynoids (as they are called) strictly for sexual pleasure. Once Batou and Togusa pay Locus Solus a visit, the audience is treated to an endless parade of philosophical discussions, which serve only to bog down the narrative and muddle the plot. However, much hinges on Batou's memories of someone called The Major. But by the time Batou finds The Major, most viewers will have fallen into a techno-coma, which is when an anime film places too much emphasis on high-minded dialogue and endless shots of computer panels blinking and beeping and turning and whizzing and spinning.
If the film had any desire to be more thematically accessible, discussions of man versus technology, human identity and the nature of love could have been quite rewarding. However, it all becomes a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that only the most hardcore anime geek could possibly get excited about.
Then, of course, there are the visuals, which are far beyond what Oshii achieved nine years ago. Character design is standard for anime, although Batou is striking, with his alabaster face and blank eyes. But the real jaw-droppers are the backgrounds, as well as the vehicle and building designs. Much of it has that "Blade Runner" feel, but the colors and the detail truly achieve the level of art. A mid-picture festival sequence reportedly took over a year to complete, a claim that seems hard to dispute.
Considering how groundbreaking the original was and how long fans waited for this new installment, "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" is a disappointment. If there is ever a "Ghost in the Shell 3," one hopes the quality of the story matches the quality of the visuals. Directed and written by Mamoru Oshii. Produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and Toshio Suzuki. A DreamWorks release. Anime. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief language. Running time: 89 min