"Why are humans so obsessed with recreating themselves?" This question—posed by one of the many pensive characters in Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence—suggests the depths and the limits of this distinctively philosophical anime film. Oshii's characters make many provocative comments and ask many eminently ponderable questions, but each is a puzzle unto its own bound together loosely into a 100-minute meander punctuated with flurries of animated action. As such, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is roughly equivalent to the Matrix sequels: drama-starved dazzle and irresolute interrogation.
In 2032, mechanized creatures outnumber biological humans. Cyborgs, like hard-ass anti-terrorism detective Batou (voiced by Akio Ôtsuka), have artificial bodies and human vestiges in their brain; they also seem to retain a soul. Completely mechanized robots, called dolls here, also walk the streets. Not unlike humans, they are prone to malfunction. Batou sets out to investigate murders committed by rampant gynoids (female pleasure 'bots). While investigating with partner Togusa (Kôichi Yamadera), Batou laments the loss of his former partner, a cyborg named the "The Major" (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka), and wonders if he will ever encounter her again. I'd say it's a good bet.
From the intimidating opening titles to the inevitably showy multiple climaxes, Oshii crafts highly detailed, richly colorful, animation in a realistic (occasionally photo-realistic) graphic style. The cityscapes, vintage car designs, and futuristic hardware (like holographic conference calling) will be enough to hold some anime fans rapt, but the undernourished drama of mopey detectives given to poetry and philosophy is less than inviting. The characters flirt with getting to know themselves better but fail to change discernably. Oshii packs the story with allusions to Descartes, Milton, Confucius, and the Bible, but too often Ghost in the Shell 2 comes off as more self-important than profound.
At its best, this uncommonly contemplative anime evaluates artificial intelligence as a mirror to humanity: toy dolls, marionettes, and music boxes (whose wind-up tinklings infiltrate the musical score) represent humans' desire to recreate soulful humanity with machinery. On the other hand, the cyborg's best friend is his dog, a suggestion that biological life is too precious to abandon wantonly; the vestigial human fear of being reduced to clockwork mechanisms is palpable (besides, an e-brain is susceptible to hackers). Finally, Oshii never consummates his intellectual dalliances, leaving Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence too inscrutable to be entertaining, too incoherent to be cogent.