Laughing Man (Ghost in the Shell)
|Ghost in the Shell character|
The Laughing Man logo
|First appearance||Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex|
Steven Blum and Michael Adamthwaite (OVA)
The Laughing Man (笑い男 Warai Otoko?) is a fictional character and the primary antagonist of the animated series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. His voice actor is Kōichi Yamadera, while he is voiced in Bandai Entertainment's English dub by Steven Blum.
The Complex story arc of Stand Alone Complex focuses on the Laughing Man case, and on a medical/governmental conspiracy tied in to the fate of the Laughing Man. The Laughing Man is an expert hacker, able to hide his physical presence by editing himself out of video feeds and cybernetic eyes, concealing his identity by superimposing an animated logo over his face, and hijacking cybernetic brains altogether, all in real-time.
The character's name is taken from the title of J. D. Salinger's short story, The Laughing Man. The Laughing Man logo is an animated image of a smiling figure wearing a cap, with circling text quoting a line from Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye (see below). The Laughing Man's actual name, as far as can be ascertained, is Aoi (アオイ?), meaning Blue in Japanese. In the last episode of the first season, his red hat has Aoi patched on the inside; while in episode 11, "Portraitz", the director of the vocational aid center calls him by this name when introducing him to Togusa.
The Laughing Man logo was designed by Paul Nicholson, a London-based designer for graphics and clothing company, Terratag. Nicholson was asked to read a short story by J.D. Salinger, "The Laughing Man," and to base the logo on that. The story revolves around a boys' after-school organization called the Commanche Club. The Commanche Club's Chief often brings the boys to Central Park for baseball games, and these games are the source of the baseball cap featured in the logo. The text given to Nicholson by Production I.G. read: "I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes." The phrase is an excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye, also by Salinger. Nicholson said of the latter, "At first this text made no sense but now, having seen the whole series, I can understand the relevance to the character."
||This section describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (January 2015)|
The hacker's first appearance in the GITS: SAC storyline is six years previous to when the series started, when he assaulted the CEO of Serano Genomics in public on February 3, 2024, hiding his face from eyewitnesses and cameras with his Laughing Man logo. The Laughing Man can "steal eyes" of entire crowds in real time by hacking their visual cyber-brain implants, either to make himself appear invisible or to hide his face with the cartoon logo. He can also easily erase all records of his existence, including the memories of people with cyber-brains. Many of those who saw his face would only recall and refer to the stylized logo as depicted above, and were not able to realize anything was unusual when asked to describe his features. Togusa was one such person, as were many of the witnesses of the initial incident involving the head of Serano Genomics.
The Laughing Man has quite a fascination with The Catcher in the Rye, as if the work greatly influenced him: like that novel's main character, Holden Caulfield, he can't stand "phonies" (corrupt politicians in this case). For a time, he also kept a left-handed baseball catcher's mitt with a quote from The Catcher in the Rye written on it: "You know what I'd like to be? I mean, if I had my goddamn choice, I'd just be a catcher in the rye and all". While Aoi did indeed possess this mitt, the term "a lefty's catcher mitt" is described as being net jargon for "something people think exists, but really doesn't." For this reason, Section 9 inadvertently overlooks the only physical evidence of the Laughing Man's whereabouts and identity.
For an unknown amount of time before the storyline begins, the Laughing Man lived in the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare's Rehabilitation Center, posing as a deaf-mute in a wheelchair. He apparently revealed his ability to walk and talk to the other patients at the center, who knew him as "leader" (団長 danchō?, "chief" in the English dub) and referred to his occasional periods of communication as "visits." While Togusa is investigating the center, he discovers that someone has written the famous Laughing Man logo text in a PBX cabinet. The words "or should I?" have been appended to the actual quote, signifying the doubts of his own current course of action. Realizing he is in danger of being discovered, he decides to erase all record of his existence from the center. For completeness, he replaces Togusa's memories of his face with the Laughing Man logo, and wipes the memories of his friends (who apparently not only consent to this treatment, but seem to expect it).
Following the Laughing Man's kidnapping of the head of Serano Genomics, there was a large wave of "Laughing Man"-related graffiti attacks, corporate vandalism, and extortion; broadly referred to several times as "Corporate Terrorism." He didn't strike again until six years later, but in the meantime a corrupt power cabal in the Japanese Government led by Secretary General Kaoru Yakushima used the Laughing Man's sudden appearance and apparent connection to Serano Genomics to their advantage. They carried out the aforementioned acts of corporate terrorism while using the "Laughing Man" motif, which fooled the media into thinking these acts were the Laughing Man's doing; thus subverting his motives in the process. As a result of the publicity, "The Laughing Man" logo then became something of a pop culture obsession, much to the chagrin of the actual Laughing Man. Since many used his icon and name for their own purposes, his effort to stand for and demand the truth became just one phony meaning among many. One such imitator launched an unsuccessful hacking effort to assassinate Daido, quickly followed by 39 other physical attackers. When all who were arrested showed no sign of external influence, nor any connection with the Laughing Man or his imitator, it was thought that they attempted the assassination to be a part of The Laughing Man's effort for the truth. However, the police informed the public that they were forced to carry out the attack through ghost hacking to avoid further spontaneous assassination attempts.
After the events of the Section 9 raid by the Umibozu and the last meeting with Motoko Kusanagi and Aramaki, it was discovered that Aoi, though responsible for the initial incident that made the Laughing Man a phenomenon, was not its true originator. When confronted, he confesses to have been a brash student at the time of the kidnapping, as he now prefers a more intellectual approach over his previous overzealous and radical ideals. Aoi made it a point that he never came up with the name "The Laughing Man" for himself; it was a label that the media gave based on the J.D. Salinger quote on the logo which eventually stuck. He admitted that his notorious kidnapping caper was planned after chancing upon a file in the depths of the Net detailing the extensive corruption in the corporate world. While choosing to confront Serano because of this file, he never discovered the origin, despite searching for several years. It could be said that whoever abandoned the file was in fact the "real" Laughing Man - and it is still possible that this person obtained it from someone else. Therefore, the originator of this file, and thus the identity of the original "Laughing Man," remain a mystery.
While Aramaki understands the sheer absurdity of the story, he also recognizes that the surrounding events corroborate Aoi's admissions. Since Aoi's true motives finally come to light, Aramaki takes interest in Aoi's extensive hacking skills, and offers him a position with Section 9. Though Aoi is deeply flattered by the offer, he declines; choosing to disappear from Japanese society, employed as a librarian in the National Library. Earlier in the series, Togusa theorizes that because the Laughing Man was such a superb hacker, he placed no value in digital media: it could be easily overwritten or deleted. This could explain Aoi's choice to work in a library; paper media exists in a physical state, and cannot be so easily altered or destroyed.
Other references to Salinger's book The Catcher in the Rye include the red hunting cap that the real Laughing Man wears backwards and the baseball mitt with poetry written on it the laughing man carries while under the guise of a patient at a vocational aid center. Another is his reference to "phonies," a term used frequently by Rye's Holden Caulfield. He also frequently uses the phrase "sonuvabitch" said in the style of Holden. Lastly, when Motoko Kusanagi enters the Laughing Man's library near the end of the series, the camera zooms on her hand moving over the phrase "Fuck you" written on the railing. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden says "You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write 'Fuck you' right under your nose."
Another reference taken directly from J. D. Salinger's short story "The Laughing Man" occurs in episode 11, titled "Portraits/In The Forest of the Imagoes". In this episode a child at a vocational aid center refers to a character named Chief who is going to visit, Chief is the name given by the children to The Laughing Man as well as the main character's childhood idol in the short story.
Another reference taken from The Catcher in the Rye is in episode 12 "Escape From". This episode focuses on the Tachikomas, "think" tanks that are employed by Section 9. Batou's personal Tachikoma wanders off in this episode and becomes acquainted with a little girl. This little girl tells the Tachikoma a story called "The Secret Goldfish" which is actually from the first page of Rye. "The Secret Goldfish" is a short story that Holden Caulfield's older brother D.B. writes before he becomes a "prostitute" writing for Hollywood movies. Later in this same episode, there is a poster that reads "Go See Bananafish" in the cyber-brain theatre. This is a reference to "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", another of Salinger's stories. Finally in the same episode, Batou expresses his fondness of Marx Brothers films, although not from the story, Salinger is a known fan of the films.
In episode 22, Motoko Kusanagi (Major) herself quotes The Catcher in the Rye when speaking to the Laughing Man by referring to Wilhelm Stekel, who is quoted in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye as saying, "The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one" (p. 244).
The Laughing Man logo has been co-opted by pop culture in advocacy for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the loose hacktivist collective Anonymous (using the latter's motto "We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.").
- "Lawrence Person reviews Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex". Review. Locus Online. 15 January 2006. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- "The Laughing Man - Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex's Hacker Logo". Interview. Otaku News. 29 November 2004. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
- Salinger, Jerome. "The Laughing Man". Nine Stories. The New Yorker. Retrieved 14 April 2012.