In From the Vault by John Tebbutt

Ghost in the Shell is locked and loaded

Facing the tank

Ghost in the Shell

Recently, while re-watching Mamoru Oshii’s remarkable anime feature Ghost in the Shell (1995), I unexpectedly found myself seized with a fascination for the weapons used by the film’s heroes. The film should be well-known to anime fans — it’s a dense, often disorienting meditation on the self-actualization of intelligent machines and the concept of “humanity” as it applies to almost completely artificial beings. It’s set in the distant future, and follows the exploits of a
high tech squadron of bionically enhanced crimefighters known as Section 9. I’m not normally a gun nut, but something about this movie made me want to research firearms. Here’s what I found.

First of all, let’s examine Togusa’s trusty Matever revolver. Togusa is the most human agent of Section 9, possessing the least amount of bionic enhancements of the otherwise cyborg-heavy team. He was selected for Section 9 specifically  because he thinks differently fromhis cybernetic teammates, and his
choice of sidearm is a visible manifestation of that difference. Togusa receives a lot of sass for packing this “antique,” but steadfastly refuses to switch to an automatic. It makes sense that the other Section 9 operatives want Togusa to update his arsenal, because they are semi-human machines who must constantly update and replace their own body parts when better, newer parts become available. Hanging on to what they perceive as outdated technology must seem crazy to them.

As it turns out, this Matever is based on a real gun — the Mateba autorevolver. It’s called a Matever  in the film either to avoid copyright issues or as a simple mistranslation. The Mateba is a rare example of an “automatic revolver,” — it recocks the hammer after each shot, just like an automatic pistol. This  means that multiple shots can be fired much faster than with a standard revolver, and without the danger of jamming like an automatic.  Also, the barrel of the gun is
aligned with the bottom of the chamber, instead of the top. This means the bullet is fired much closer to the line of the wrist than most handguns, giving it greater accuracy, reduced recoil and less ride-up.

Oddly, Togusa’s pistol is chambered for ordinary 9mm ammo, and the cyborgs of Section 9 freely mock its lack of stopping power. In real life, the Mateba fires a .357 Magnum round, which is much more powerful than the ammunition used in most automatics.  Some Matebas even use the mighty .44 Magnum round, made famous by Dirty Harry.

Now, let’s move on to the gun used by the film’s main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi. Although appearing to be a beautiful woman, the Major is actually almost entirely machine, with only her brain and conscience (or “ghost”) to remind her that she was once human. With her strength, fighting ability, “thermoptic camouflage” (invisibility) and inhuman cunning, she makes a formidable field operative. Her weapon of choice is the M-23, a compact, strange looking submachine gun that bears a striking resemblance to the real world’s FN P-90. Rather than go into this weapon’s physical specifics, I’d like to detail the peculiar things Kusanagi does with the gun during the film’s climactic tank battle.

Tracking her quarry to an ornate but abandoned building, the Major finds herself up against a heavily armoured walking tank. She’s alone, and armed only with an M-23 and a Unit B (a metal briefcase containing various components for reconfiguring her weapon). Included in the case are extra magazines, a grenade launcher attachment with several grenades, a bayonet, tools and an additional heavy-duty gun barrel used for firing high velocity (HV) ammunition. She can’t possibly destroy a tank with this, but her strategy, which might not be apparent at first viewing, is to disable the tank’s twin guns so she can try to open the vehicle’s hatch by hand.

First, she replaces the M-23’s barrel with a heavy-duty one and switches from standard bullets to HV ammo. Then she throws a grenade (rather than launching one) as a distraction to cover her first volley. Notice that she’s not shooting at the tank this time, but rather at the white car underneath, which the tank is protecting. With the car disabled and unable to escape, her next targets are the tank’s gun turrets. She destroys one of the tank’s guns, but the HV ammo she’s using causes the M-23 to overheat. Cursing, she ejects the overheated barrel, which drops into the water, hissing and steaming.

Now lacking the ability to use HV ammo, Kusanagi’s only hope is for the tank to expend all of its ammunition. She replaces the M-23’s original barrel, fires a few rounds to get the tank’s attention, throws the gun to the left to draw fire away from her, and dashes to the right, up a flight of stairs. With some impressively acrobatic handsprings, she manages to dodge bullets until the tank finally runs out of ammo. The driver of the white car emerges with a submachine gun, but he gets taken out by a second grenade thrown by the Major.
Our heroine can now approach the tank’s hatch.

Whew! Sorry if that was a bit too gun-geeky for y’all. Next week, we’ll be back to the usual moviegeeky material, I promise.

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