Motoko Kusanagi, AKA The Major is the central protagonist of the Ghost in the Shell manga and it's animated adaptations. A full-body combat-rated cyborg, she is employed by Public Security Section 9 as their tactical operations leader, a governmental agency operating under a post-World War III and IV Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs. Although many details about her personality, origins and motivations change from series-to-series, some constant and consistent elements of her character are that she is a skilled combatant, expert marksman, a near-peerless hacker and that she has a close working relationship with her partner, Batou.
Across all adaptations, Motoko has been shown to have a mysterious past. Although she is frequently called "The Major" in many adaptations, nobody is sure if this is her real rank, and her wartime records are inaccessible. Towards the end of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex's second season, she hints that "Motoko Kusanagi" might not even be her real name, and that if it isn't, even she can't recall what her real name was. However, some adaptations do provide windows into her backstory.
In Stand Alone Complex's second season, it is revealed that she was the sole survivor of a plane crash when she was a young girl, and her brain was placed in a cybernetic body at a young age. This caused her to feel ostracized and apart from humanity at large, and she struggled with adjusting to her new body, only learning to adapt through her kinship with fellow crash survivor and full body cyborg, Hideo Kuze. Ghost in the Shell: Arise establishes an even earlier time for her cyberization, having been transferred to a cybernetic body not long after she was born after her parents were killed in a terrorist chemical weapon attack. Arise also goes into greater detail in regards to her military background, showing her as an active duty member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces at the start of the series and establishes that Major is her actual rank in the JSDF. The live action adaptation establishes that she was a teenager who was captured and experimented on by Hanka Robotics, with her brain placed in a cybernetic body.
Portrayal in Media
Ghost In The Shell manga series
In the Ghost in the Shell manga adaptations, we are introduced to Motoko and Section 9 as they investigate and pursue a mysterious hacker called the Puppeteer, so named for their ability to hack the cyberbrains of their victims and using them to commit various crimes by proxy. Over the course of the series, it is revealed that the Puppeteer is in fact an advanced artificial intelligence created by another unit of the Japanese government, which has since gone rogue and is inhabiting various robotic bodies. When the last of the Puppeteer's bodies is cornered and destroyed, Motoko believes the matter is closed, until she hears the Puppeteer's voice in her head and realizes she has become the latest host body. When the Puppeteer explains that it wishes to continue its own evolution, and that it wishes to merge with Motoko's ghost to do so, she agrees. The unified entity then quits Section 9, leaving her team behind. In Man/Machine Interface, it is revealed that Motoko, now calling herself "Motoko Aramaki" has become the head of security for a private corporation, and has split her consciousness into several host bodies that she can control at will. Through these proxies, she is able to fight assassins, corporate spies and solve cyber crimes on her own accord. Later, we learn that as many as twenty different copies of the Motoko/Puppeteer entity may exist, and that the "prime" Motoko is known as "Motoko 11".
Motoko's personality in the manga is strikingly different compared to later adaptations. In the field, she is focused, serious and a skilled combatant and tactician. But off-duty and back at her headquarters, Motoko acts far less seriously and has a carefree and childish personality. She openly mocks her boss, Chief Aramaki, calling him "Ape Face", as well as her fellow squad members. She's also far more expressive and emotional than in other adaptations, grinning and flashing the 'V' for Victory sign on a regular basis. Motoko is bisexual and sexually active, having had a seven-month long relationship with her boyfriend, an agent from Section 1, while also engaging in lucrative but illegal lesbian "E-sex", which can only be safely done with same-sex partners. Following her merging with the Puppetmaster, Motoko takes on a much more serious personality, becoming more objective focused. Despite this, hints of her sexuality can be seen here and there, such as choosing to have her small robotic assistants "wear" robotic suits modeled after beautiful, scantily clad women.
Ghost In The Shell 1995 film and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
The 1995 Ghost in the Shell film is a condensed adaptation of the manga series, with some notable thematic differences, with a focus on the Puppeteer, in this adaptation called "The Puppet Master". The overall style of the film is more serious than that of the manga, and Motoko's portrayal in the film reflects this. Unlike her flippant and openly combative manga counterpart, Motoko in the anime adaptation is a far more taciturn and introspective person on and off the field. Her colder personality is reflected in her more inhuman portrayal, as she rarely shows emotion and never blinks. Despite this, she is shown to be intelligent and introspective, stating her feelings of alienation and disconnect as a full body cyborg from humanity at large, and openly wonders if she is or ever was human. This drives her motivation to find the Puppet Master, after it is revealed that like Motoko, as it too ponders the nature of its own existence and seeks to find answers for its existential questions. Few insights are given to her personal life, with the only window into her off-the-job activities being her hobby of SCUBA diving. She's a consummate professional, never once mocks the other members of Section 9 beyond questioning and the occasional sardonic remark, but is shown to take risks and eventually disobeys orders as her pursuit of the Puppet Master becomes a more personal matter.
A major divergence in the plot of the film as opposed to the manga is that the Puppet Master is revealed to be a rogue information control AI called Project 2501 developed by Section 9's rival, Section 6. Seeking to cover up the nature of their involvement, they attempt to destroy the AI, but are stopped by Motoko and Batou. Motoko, badly damaged after an encounter with a "spider tank", agrees to become a "newborn", a being which can self-propagate on the Net, before seemingly killed when she is decapitated by a Section 6 sniper's bullet. It is then revealed that she survived, having merged with the Puppet Master. Provided a body by Batou, she says her final goodbyes to him, then leaves to find answers and evolve as a new being on the Net.
In Innocence, set three years after the events of the first film, Batou searches for Motoko while simultaneously investigating a robotics company after several of their androids go berserk and attack their customers. As he discovers that the cases are connected to the gynoid production company, Locus Solus, and a human trafficking ring, Batou finds himself being aided by the now fully digitized Motoko/2501 entity. Towards the climax of the film, when Batou infiltrates a Locus Solus factory ship to rescue children used for "ghost dubbing" to make the company's gynoids. Motoko downloads herself into one of the gynoids, showing that she has largely retained her personality and combat skills, while also gaining the Puppet Master's hacking abilities. In the end, after the conspiracy is thwarted, Motoko departs to return to the Net, but not before reassuring Batou that she will always be with him whenever he dives into the Net.
Images of Motoko Kusanagi
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The Major in some of her various incarnations. (Image by "池上のろし")
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