Ghost in the Shell: Arise was originally animated for the screen as a set of four OVA's. Alternative Architecture is simply the release of those OVA's (originally released from 2013-2014) with the addition of two more episodes which will tie into the third movie in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, which comes out in Japan this June. This review is a review of the first OVA of the original Arise series of episodes, called "Ghost Pain." Prequels are a bitch: just ask anybody involved with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Ghost in the Shell is a similarly iconic series, although certainly of smaller scale than either of the aforementioned nerd behemoths. But what GitS might lack in the overwhelming mainstream appeal of other series, it makes up for in consistent quality; one episode in, and Arise is no exception. Though it will take all of the episodes of the series to really bear this out, Arise might be the most successfully executed prequel of a well-known series I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
"Ghost Pain" introduces us to a re-designed (or I guess, "pre-desgined") Kusanagi, prior to her time as a Major with Public Security Section 9. I had very few worries, since I went in with high expectations, but I was skeptical of the show possibly revealing too much about Kusanagi's past. A constant theme of this series, after all, is the uncertainty of human memory, especially when that memory is tied to a mind anchored to this world through prosthetics. Beyond the philosophical intrigue that this series manages to frequently cash in on, it's just a fact that a lot of successful Japanese anime and manga rely on story gaps to give a certain degree of weight and mystery to the world which is being presented (Cowboy Bebop is the paramount example of this).
Not only did "Ghost Pain" not disappoint by revealing too much about Kusanagi, it actually leveraged the very same themes as more familiar iterations of the series in order to present its plot effectively. Memory and its relationship to our friends, our families, and our duties is front and center in this episode. Sure, it sometimes makes the plot get extremely cerebral, forcing the viewer to do a teensy bit of hair-pulling to figure out what's going on; but, I would rather have my plot be smart than vacuous.
Aramaki is his wonderfully stoic self (albeit with no gray hair), Batou bursts on the scene in true Batou fashion, we get to see a proto-tachikoma with all of the charm of the later models, and Kusanagi is sharp as ever. The success of this prequel, other than the bare minimum of not being a failure, lies mostly in two things: the fact that it nails familiar characters while still weaving a palpable thread of immaturity through all of them, and the fact that it introduces new characters who do not feel forced or alien to the world of Ghost in the Shell.
Production I.G can be a hit or a miss for me in terms of putting together a tight anime. It always nails Ghost in the Shell, though, and Arise was no exception. Voice work was obviously top notch as well: even the English dubs of Ghost in the Shell feature phenomenal voice acting, although good dubs are increasingly becoming the norm, which is super exciting for people who don't like reading subtitles (I personally don't mind it).
I think this is a must-watch if you're a Ghost in the Shell fan (especially if you're a fan of Stand Alone Complex), and an obvious must-re-watch for others, in order to get back in the swing of things for the additional episodes. Of course, the curse of a successful prequel is that it fits into a particular niche of the overarching narrative of the series, and thus owes a great deal of its charm to its interpretation of characters which have already been established. But "Ghost Pain" kicked ass, and I can't say it was anything less than awesome if it's only fault is being later in the viewing order.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise - Alternative Architecture 1.1 Official Website