Motoko Kusanagi

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Motoko Kusanagi
Ghost in the Shell character
Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG Motoko Kusanagi.png
Major Motoko Kusanagi as portrayed in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG
First appearance The Ghost in the Shell
Created by Masamune Shirow
Voiced by Atsuko Tanaka
Maaya Sakamoto (young, Arise, Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijōban)
Hiromi Tsuru (PlayStation game)
Portrayed by Scarlett Johansson (2017 film)
Nickname(s) Major "Macho"
Aliases Chroma (online name)
Species Human (augmented-cybernetics)
Gender Female (gynoid)
Title Major
Nationality Japanese
Affiliations Public Security Section 9
JGSDF (formerly)
Powers and abilities Surprising physical strength
Genius-level intellect
First-class detective, hacker, security consultant and special forces veteran
English adaptation
Voiced by Mimi Woods (film, PlayStation game)
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (TV series, Innocence)
Alison Matthews (OVA)
Peggy O'Neal (young)
Elizabeth Maxwell (Arise)

Major Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子 Kusanagi Motoko?) is a character in the Ghost in the Shell anime and manga series. She is an augmented-cybernetic human employed as the squad leader of Public Security Section 9, a fictional law-enforcement division of the real Japanese National Public Safety Commission. Being strong-willed, physically powerful, and highly intellectual, she is well known for her skills in deduction and hacking.

Conception and creation[edit]

Motoko Kusanagi's body was chosen by Shirow to be a mass production model so she would not be conspicuous. Her electrical and mechanical system within is special and features parts unavailable on the civilian market. Shirow intentionally chose this appearance so Motoko would not be harvested for those parts.[1]

In the film adaptation, character designer and key animator supervisor Hiroyuki Okiura, made her different from her original manga counterpart stating, "Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg. Therefore her body is strong and youthful. However her human mentality is considerably older than she looks. I tried to depict this maturity in her character instead of the original girl created by Masamune Shirow"[2]

Kenji Kamiyama had a difficult time identifying her and could not understand her motives during the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Due to this, he created an episode in the second season where he recounted her past. He was then able to describe her as a human who was chosen to gain this superhuman power; she probably believes that she has an obligation to use that ability for the benefit of others.[3] English voice actor and director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn states she loved playing the role of Motoko Kusanagi and described her as "someone [who] was that strong, and still kind of feminine at times, but also kick-ass".[4]


Motoko Kusanagi's masterful computer-security hacking allows her single consciousness in controlling her humanoid robots remotely with the ability to move from host to host.

Kusanagi is also able to hack people's cyber-brains, as demonstrated in the second season of the series, and see through their eyes, or even take control of their bodies altogether.

As a cyborg, Kusanagi is able to perform numerous superhuman feats, such as superhuman strength, leaping between skyscrapers, advanced acrobatics, or shooting down a bullet after it was fired at mid-range.


In literature[edit]

Manga series[edit]

Motoko is a commanding presence when on assignment, but also trades insults with her troops. She constantly calls Aramaki "Ape Face" as well as other members in Public Security Section 9, and when the Puppet Master reveals the "Motokos" that exist in the minds of those who know her, Aramaki's "Motoko" is sticking her tongue out. She is much more light-hearted and immature in some occasions. Due to the Puppeteer case, she started to change and became much more serious.

In the sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Man/Machine Interface, a person known as Motoko Aramaki appears. She identifies herself as containing "Motoko Kusanagi" elements, along with Project 2501, the Puppeteer. She is also identified as "Motoko 11" hinting that there is more than one.

A second character is also introduced in Ghost in the Shell 2: Man/Machine Interface by the name of Millennium. Millennium controls a group by the name of "Stabat Mater" that is researching a process known as "Brain Expansion." This research is apparently called off after Millennium is taken over by Motoko Aramaki. At this time Millennium is revealed to be "'No. 20' (Millennium)," indicating that Millennium is another of the Motoko Kusanagi/Project 2501 hybrid entities.

In film[edit]

Animated films[edit]

In the film series by Mamoru Oshii, the Major's design is significantly different in comparison with her original manga appearance. Unlike her manga counterpart, the Major has an androgynous face and rarely shows emotion. Like the manga, Public Security Section 9 investigate the crimes of a genius hacker called the Puppet Master. Kusanagi is frequently portrayed in the film as contemplative and brooding, in contrast to the down-to-earth nature of her partner Batou. Since she has a full cybernetic body, she is not certain her "ghost" retains any humanity and speculates on the possibility that she is entirely synthetic, with artificially generated memories designed to fool her into thinking she was once human. Throughout the movie, she seeks to find answers to her questions and finally meets the Puppet Master, a rogue AI who became sentient and who is also looking for existential meaning. In the climax of the film, Kusanagi and the Puppet Master "merge" to form an entirely new entity that exists free of physical boundaries and propagate itself through the Net.

In Innocence, picking up three years after the events of the original movie, the Major herself does not make any sort of appearance. Throughout the film, the Major makes her first "true" appearance in Kim's manor, where she breaks into the hallway component of Kim's looping false memories and inserts herself (represented by the little girl prosthetic body she inhabited at the end of the first movie), and providing clues to alert Batou to Kim's attempted "ghost-hack" on himself and Togusa. The Major's "ghost" eventually returns in person to help Batou on the Locus Solus gynoid factory ship. Using a satellite transmission, she attempts to download her "ghost" into one of the Hadaly gynoid production models - however, due to the insufficient memory of the gynoid's e-brain, she is only able to download a fraction of her full "ghost" into the doll. (She notes with marked disdain that the gynoid had barely enough memory for her combat protocols.) Her personality has not changed much from the first movie - she still retains her fondness for philosophy and her considerable skills in battle, though she has also gained the Puppet Master's formidable hacking abilities. In a climactic sequence, she tears apart her mechanical body in the process of opening the ship's CPU hatch in order to hack into it. After successfully locking down the ship and uncovering the truth behind the conspiracy, Kusanagi prepares to once again disappear into the Net, but reassures a despondent Batou that whenever he logs in, she will always be beside him.

Live-action film[edit]

Scarlett Johansson has been cast for the lead role in a live action film version being produced by DreamWorks.[5] So far it is unknown whether she will play Motoko or an original character, created for the movie.

In television[edit]

Stand Alone Complex series[edit]

Motoko Kusanagi in her JGSDF khaki military uniform and form fitting combat suit.

The Major retains much of her personality from the manga in the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and its followup Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG, although she is not disrespectful toward the Chief like she is in the manga. Unlike the movies, where she had black hair and blue-grey eyes, she now has blue-purple hair and red-violet eyes. Throughout the series, The Major maintains her signature commanding presence and authority. Among the various members of Section 9, Kusanagi is usually the one Chief Aramaki singles out to accompany him on official and off the record business. Kusanagi's personal life is not shown much in the first season. She underwent cyberization at a very early age and had trouble adapting to the use of her body which resulted in her inadvertently breaking one of her favorite dolls. She holds a wrist watch as proof of her past.

In the first season, Kusanagi started questioning the use of the Tachikoma sentient tanks, due to them showing signs of individuality and curiosity not suited for combat. Ultimately, she decides to have them stripped of their weaponry and sent back to the lab that manufactured them for analysis and further work. When the Tachikoma sacrificed themselves to save Batou, Major Kusanagi understands that she was wrong in halting the usage of the Tachikoma and proposes that they might have evolved to have ghosts themselves.

In the second season her past was revealed. She was once a little girl who had been in a plane crash causing her to be in a coma. A boy who was also a victim of the plane crash continuously made origami cranes using only his left hand, as much of his body was paralyzed in the accident, in hopes of giving them to her when she woke up. Motoko was eventually taken away when medical complications occurred. The boy thought she had died, but she was actually being cyberized and given a full prosthetic body. When she returned to see the boy, the boy did not recognize her and ignored her. When she left the hospital, the boy realized she was the girl in the coma and made a decision to get cyberized and look for her, but he never saw her again. Throughout the second season, the Major and Section 9 go against a terrorist group called "The Individual Eleven". Believing it to be another stand alone complex they unwillingly teamed up with Kazundo Gouda in order to figure out their motive. When the 11 leaders of the individual eleven reveal themselves, they all kill each other except for Hideo Kuze. It was later revealed that Hideo Kuze was the little boy who Motoko once knew as a child; this discovery caused her some emotional confusion.

In the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society OVA, the Major has left Section 9 for two years and does not appear much in the first half of the film. She first appears on a building jumping off into the darkness. She shows up later as Chroma, to warn Batou to stay away from the "Solid State Society". She returns to her normal body after "Chroma" re-stores herself in the recharging chamber. She is suspected of being the Puppeteer, but is no longer suspected when she rescues Togusa from a (coerced) suicide attempt. She leads Section 9 on a raid to find the Puppeteer. At the end of Solid State Society, she repeats her famous line, "The net is truly vast and infinite."

Arise series[edit]

In the Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013) OVA series, Motoko is completely redesigned from her previous incarnations, as are all members of the main character cast. Her cybernetic body is shown as far younger in appearance and shorter in height to other versions, resembling a teenager or young adult and not much taller than Chief Aramaki. Her hair is blue and cut in a close, straight bang form, and she is usually shown wearing full red leather pants and jackets and high heel boots.

Critical reception[edit]

Motoko Kusanagi was well received by media. Motoko ranked 13th in IGN's list of the top anime characters of all time in 2009, commenting that "though she may be cool, professional, and mostly artificial, she's unquestionably human, and following her adventures through Ghost in the Shell was never less than fascinating."[6] In 2014, IGN ranked her as the 11th greatest anime character of all time, saying that "Motoko was a stunning example of a strong female character that didn't need to have her feminism make a statement."[7] Derrick L Tucker of THEM noted that the Stand Alone Complex version was easier to get attached to over her film counterpart due to her design and personality.[8]

Motoko's female identity and appearance is countered by the autonomous subjectivity, resulting in a "male" cyborg body which cannot menstruate.[9][note 1] The original film depicts Motoko's identity and ontological concerns with and ends with the evolution of the being, resulting in full subjectivity, through a new form of reproduction with the Puppet Master.[9][note 2] Austin Corbett commented on the lack of sexualization from her team as freedom from femininity, noting that Motoko is "overtly feminine, and clearly non-female."[10]


  1. ^ The English dubbed version from Manga Video changes the line to "Yeah, I must have a wire loose!". Orbaugh described this change as "sanitized".[9]
  2. ^ "The juxtaposition, in the first five minutes of the film, of her reference to menstruation with the scenes of her cyborgian replication, immediately underscores the fact that this film's theme is the problematic of reproductive sexuality in a posthuman subject."[9]


  1. ^ Masamune, Shirow (1995). Ghost in the Shell. Dark Horse. 
  2. ^ Ghost in the Shell - Production Report (DVD). DVD Extra: Production I.G. 1996. 
  3. ^ "Interview: Kenji Kamiyama". Production I.G. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  4. ^ "NDK 2011: Interview with Voice Actor and Director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn!". Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  5. ^ Kroll, Justin (January 5, 2015). "Scarlett Johansson Signs On to Star in DreamWorks’ ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved February 11, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Top 25 Anime Characters of All Time". IGN. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  7. ^ Isler, Ramsey (February 4, 2014). "Top 25 Greatest Anime Characters". IGN. Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  8. ^ Tucker, Derrick. "Review of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex". T.H.E.M. Anime Reviews. Retrieved 2009-02-09. 
  9. ^ a b c d Orbaugh, Sharalyn (November 2002). "Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity". Volume 88. Science Fiction Studies. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  10. ^ Corbett, Austin (March 2009). "Beyond Ghost in the (Human) Shell". Journal of Evolution and Technology - Vol. 20 Issue 1. pp. 43–50. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 

Further reading[edit]