Practitioners 34: Masamune Shirow

Masumune Shirow (is an internationally reknowned manga artist, born Masanori Ota on November 23, 1961 in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

Masamune is a pen name, and a good one, based on a famous swordsmith, Masamune. Shirow is best known for the manga Ghost in the Shell, which has since been turned into two anime movies, two anime TV series, an anime TV movie and several video games. He is also known for creating erotic art, some of which finds itself in sparingly in certain sections of Ghost in the Shell.

Born in Hyogo Prefecture capital city of Kobe, he studied oil painting at Osaska University of Arts. While in college, he developed an interest in Manga, which led him to create his own complete story, Black Magic, which was published in the manga fanzine Atlas. His work caught the eye of Seisinsha President Harumichi Aoki, who offered to publish him.


The result was Appleseed, a volume of densely-plotted drama taking place in an ambiguous future. The series follows the adventures of ESWAT members Deunan Knute and Braireos Hecatonchires in in future cityscape Olympus. Like most of Masamune’s work, Appleseed merges elements of cyberpunk and mecha genres with a heavy dosage of politics, philosophy and sociology. The series spans four volumes, released between 1985 and 1989. It has been adapted into an OVA, two feature films and a series of video games. It was a global sensation, its themes broadening its appeal massively and won a Seuin Award for Best Manga. After a professional reprint of Black Magic and a second volume of Appleseed, he released Dominion in 1986.

Dominion: Tank Police was a two volume Manga series. Set in the fictional city of Newport, Japan, ina future in which bacterial air pollution has become so severe that people must wear gas masks when outdoors, the series follows a police squadron that uses tanks. Dominion has been adpated into three OVA (Original Video Animations – animated features specifically designed to be released in video format – you were wondering, I know you were) series: Dominion Tank Police, New Dominion Tank Police and TANK SWAT 01. Dark Horse Comics carried the imprint of the English translation. Dominion: Tank Police is deliberately wry and isn’t a completely serious dystopian scifi. The lithe image of Annapuma and Unipuma are the most prominent image of Dominion Tank Police; two beautiful android catgirls that develop beyond their artificial programming to become criminals. The central characters are the Tank crew, including Leona Ozaki, who is obsessively protective of her tank which she calls ‘Bonaparte’. It’s all pretty bonkers but the lighter and more deliberately aloof plotting made Dominion: Tank Police popular in the US, Australia and the UK as well as on home soil.

Two more volumes of Appleseed followed before he began work on his master work; Ghost in the Shell.

In 2007, he collaborated again with Production IG to co-create the original concept for the anime television series Shinreigari / Ghost Hound, Production I.G’s 20th year anniversary project. A lighter animation with more traditional themes, three boys with traumatic childhoods, Taro, Makoto and Masayuki, observe strange occurrences happening in their small town and cross over to the spirit world to resolve their childhood traumas.

Ghost in the Shell remains Shirow’s best known piece of work. A multimedia franchise it spawned two anime films, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence; two Anime TV series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIF, an OVA sequel of the TV series; Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society; and three video games on Playstation, Playstation 2 and Playstation Portable game.

Ghost in the Shell focuses on the activities of the counter-terrorist organisation Public Security Section 9 in a futuristic, cyberpunk Japan. Blending, again cyberpunk and mecha along with espionage and themes of creation and the nature of being Human. Ghost in the Shell used CG graphics, colour and B&W traditional ink work in an incredibly complex and detailed world. Multiple layered and densely plotted, GITS (as it will now be unfortunately known) is raw intelligence presented in a powerfully dynamic and intense package. Shirow was no doubt overseeing the publication from his writing and supplying his own artwork but GITS must be the result of multiple art teams working hard to achieve the final result. Because of the nature of publications in Japan it will always be hard to know. If it is just Masumune then it is a superhuman effort.

Masumune Shirow developed concepts a decade and a half before they were adopted by Hollywood. Things we’re seeing now as mainstream developments existed in the pages of Ghost in the Shell decades ago. A thinker miles ahead of his time, Shirow is a visionary. Even launching multi-media franchises years before that became a mainstream practice.

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