As I described in the last video, I was in need of some optimism in my life, something Aria helped to bring. As a result, I moved past the political stage I’d been in since middle-school; a naive sort of quasi-libertarianism far more focused on dissatisfaction with the way things were than establishing a real plan of action or even a coherent ideological theory. After all, I only knew about politics through a mix of the plainly biased education system, the no-better mass-media, and some googling that couldn’t even be called surface-level. I subscribed to the idea I now see as absurd; that those with consistent ideological frameworks are inherently dogmatic and restrictive, clearly basing their politics on illogical propositions, while I, a genius, thought about things with facts and reason.
God, I’m so happy I moved beyond that. Regardless, this all started shifting shortly after Aria. The reasons for this are incredibly varied and can most clearly be attributed to an understanding that I needed to do some digging into actual politics, as well as a recognition that any beliefs I already had were at least mildly misanthropic and half-baked, a real problem at a point where I was shedding my hatred of humanity. However, nothing made it more clear to me that I had no idea what I was dealing with than watching Ghost in the Shell, especially Stand Alone Complex.
The original GITS, while an incredibly fascinating piece whose philosophy I can hardly claim to fully appreciate, does not get all that deep into the realm of politics. Its questions about dualism and the nature of the self are worth diving into but it practically excises all of the manga’s politics in favor of a specific tone-piece. And that’s not an issue, I could hardly ask Oshii to do anything other than what he did but it isn’t the kind of work which would’ve caused a fundamental shift in the way I think about the world.
SAC, on the other hand, is that kind of work. Now, this show did not exactly “make me a leftist” as such. First of all, it’s a series whose heroes are cops. That’s not exactly an idea you’ll be getting out of any committed Marxist, at least not one with any degree of hope left within them. However, it managed to do something that a lot of media doesn’t. As a cyberpunk work, or at least an adjacent one if you’d like to quibble with definitions, it focuses intensely on the way we as individuals are shaped by larger systems, those far beyond our ability to control or even, at times, to comprehend. The series has a lot to say on the structure of politics and the way change is enacted. I didn’t and don’t agree with all of its conclusions, if it can be said to definitively make any, but it caused a stirring of curiosity within me. I’m used to anime explicitly using outside philosophical concepts, but usually it doesn’t use ones developed by Marxists. And hell, can you think of another show that spends 52 episodes and a movie coming up with a socio-philosophical phenomenon, analyzing the ways in which it could be expressed, and ultimately positing it as a real thing, regardless of the fictionality of the world it’s showcased in? I can’t.
When I saw the show clearly reference or outright quote thinkers like Deleuze or Jameson, I couldn’t avoid becoming interested. Of course, I still haven’t read those authors — though I’ll do so soon, I promise — but I did internalize the fact that there was more research to be done. This did not happen immediately, or, at the very least, I did not jump straight to reading Baudrillard, but it solidified within me a desire to do more research.
And besides, while the show is hardly some bastion of perfect leftist thought, it doesn’t need to be, or at least it doesn’t to get me interested. Over the course of its run, it posits some pretty radical positions. America is bad, not just for the way it has “humiliated” Japan historically but in the way it exploits foreign nations for imperial gain, particularly those in the broader supercontinent it takes its name from. Capital is a serious threat, will work with political actors at all times in order to ensure its own safety, and can not be tackled alone by any individuals, no matter how intelligent they may be. It’s perfectly justifiable for refugees to get ahold of a nuke while they’re being mistreated by the country they’re in. These are all points I will readily agree to nowadays — the nuke may be a bad idea but some kind of deterrent is plenty justifiable — and I don’t know how quickly I would’ve gotten to this point without the influence of Stand Alone Complex.
Because once I watched it, I really started moving. I drifted to the Sanders 4 President subreddit, basically at the birth of its creation and far before he announced his run, and within a couple weeks I was past that social-democratic point. I gravitated towards Marxism, reading Capital within a few months. While my specific political beliefs have changed a ton in the four years since, my belief in Marxism as a general framework around which my thoughts can be organized has not been shaken. Now that I’m finally getting around to reading again, working out my philosophical and ideological positions more thoroughly, I’m glad to be able to return to the show and conduct a far richer internal dialogue with it and I hope to be able to do so again in the future.
What’s perhaps most funny about this whole story is the effect it had on other anime I watched. A couple months after GITS, I plowed through Legend of the Galactic Heroes in a bit over three weeks, and while I loved the show, I thought it was far too kind to autocracy and feudal relations, while also far too binary in the political options it presented. Similarly, Log Horizon’s portrayal of economics was much more interesting now that I had a personal interest in the subject. Just goes to show that being a leftist makes media better if you think about things in the right way, I suppose.