The Geopolitics of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

The two TV series and one movie that make up the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime are set in a post war Japan, not the post-war era after World War II but a later, partly nuclear, war in which a largely neutral Japan was not as damaged as many other nations. When the show begins we do not know much of this background, as the tale progresses there is an unfolding of details that show us the context the characters live in. As we watch the program we find out more of what happened, that Tokyo is no longer the capital, the political ramifications of the war, and that Japan has actually prospered partly due to developing technologies for cleaning up radioactive sites as well as developing advanced prosthetics to the point that cyborgs are not unusual.


All of this is not the story itself; it is the context, the stage setting, the world where the story exists. Readers of Masamune Shirow’s original Ghost in the Shell manga, will be familiar with some of this. However, you don’t need to read the books to enjoy the tale being told in the anime, the story stands well on it’s own. It is significant to note that Shirow is credited with having a role in making the animated series.

geopolitics ghost in the shell


In this future China still exists as a nation and has uneasy relations with Japan, much like in our present world. There are hints in the series of new nations coming into being during to the chaos of the war and of independence movements among ethnic minorities. Where these new nations are is not spelled out, just in some part of the larger Euro-Asian mainland. Again much like the present world where there are now Central Asian nations that were once part of the old Soviet Union.

geopolitics ghost in the shell


In the story of Stand Alone Complex, the United States no longer exists. The country has fragmented and some states, mainly the states of the old Confederacy with parts of the Mid-West, have formed Imperial Americana. The best source of information on this is actually in Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed ID book where there is a map of the world that shows the territory of Imperial Americana, the remaining part of the US on the map is called The Alliance, which does not enter into the Stand Alone Complex story. Imperial Americana has treaty relations with Japan so the two countries cooperate on occasion and in the series. So when you see Americans in the show it does not refer to the U.S. but to another nation that does not exist in our world. By the way, Appleseed takes place much later than Ghost in the Shell in the same fictional future world.

geopolitics ghost in the shell


Beyond these elements there is yet another layer of geo and domestic politics in the background of the Stand Alone Complex series. This is the actual world of contemporary Japan and international politics that influenced the original manga and the anime. The world of political maneuvering within Japan, of treaties between the U.S. and Japan, of ethnic Taiwanese soldiers who died in WWII being enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine, of controversies regarding the Japanese Self Defense Forces taking part in international actions in other parts of the world, of the debates on taking in more refugees, even of the internal discussions of moving the capital to another city or having a plan for a temporary capital in case a disaster strikes Tokyo. But covering such contemporary issues in the series would not be just a column in a blog but an entire longer work.

Watch on Viewster:

With English subs in the US and Canada

What are other anime that have an interesting take on geopolitics? Sound off in the comments, and feel free to propose other subjects you think should be covered in my next posts!


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