The Laughing Man (笑い男 Warai Otoko) is a mysterious figure in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Youth and subculture have iconified the logo of the Laughing Man, the most widely known case of corporate terrorism since World War IV. It all began with the kidnapping of Serano Genomics' CEO, Ernest Serano. Soon after, six major micro-machine companies were blackmailed. The symbol of the Laughing Man is widely known. The case and details of the origin and identity of the culprit is not.
"In the Ghost in the Shell series, Laughing Man proves to be the ultimate hacker, capable of such feats as hijacking multiple video streams simultaneously, taking over someone’s cybernetic brain entirely, or even editing his own images out of someone’s cybernetic eyes, and 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, which reads: "I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes." The supposed Laughing Man's name is Aoi. In the last episode of the first season, there is his red hat with the name Aoi patched on the inside.
The Laughing Man logo was designed by TERRATAG. Based in the UK, Terratag was asked to read a short story by J.D. Salinger, The Laughing Man, and to base the logo on that. The story centers around a boys' after school organization called the Comanche Club. The Comanche 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 was given to Terratag by Production I.G. and reads: "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 written by J.D. Salinger. In the book the text continues to read: "That way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life".
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.
Concerning the fictional origin of the logo, Togusa speculates in episode 20, "RE-VIEW", that there's a connection between the Laughing Man and the Sunflower Society because of the similarity of their logos, while the Laughing Man himself says that was inspired for his logo by the (fictional) Starchild Coffee company logo (itself a reference to the real-life logo of the Starbucks coffeehouse chain).
The hacker's first appearance in the GITS: SAC storyline is six years before the anime starts, when he assaulted the head of Serano Genomics in public on February 3, 2024, hiding his face from eyewitnesses and cameras with his Laughing Man logo. The Laughing Man is such an expert that he can "steal eyes" of entire crowds, in real time—hacking their visual cyber-brain implants, either to make himself appear invisible or to hide his face with the cartoon logo. He can also alter memories, erasing all records of his existence. Many of those who indeed saw his face would only recall and refer to the stylized logo as depicted above. Togusa was one such person, as were many of the witnesses of the initial incident involving the head of Serano Genomics. His talents were recognized even by Motoko Kusanagi and Aramaki. When Section 9 finally tracked him down, they offered him a position on the Section 9 payroll; The Laughing Man was flattered by the offer but politely declined it.
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). He also kept a prized left-handed baseball catcher's mitt for a time with a quote from The Catcher in the Rye written on it. Ironically, while the mitt is actually real, the term "a lefty's catcher mitt" is described as being net jargon for "something people think exists, but really doesn't."[verification needed]
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, not-coincidentally, 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" ("chief" in the English dub) and referred to his occasional periods of communication as "visits." When Togusa comes to investigate the center, he discovers that someone has written the famous Laughing Man logo text in a PBX cabinet but has added "or should I?" Apparently feeling that he was about to be discovered, the Laughing Man erases all record of his existence from the center, including wiping the memories of his friends (who apparently not only consent to this treatment, but seem to expect it as if they know of it happening before) and vanishes again before Section 9 can track him down.
The Laughing Man has 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 that eventually stuck.
The Laughing Man's kidnapping of the head of Serano Genomics was actually a spontaneous act, and he did not strike again until some six years later. However, following the kidnapping there was, for some time, a large wave of "Laughing Man"-related graffiti attacks, corporate vandalism and extortion. It was later revealed that a corrupt power cabal in the Japanese government used the sudden appearance of the Laughing Man to their own advantage by carrying out acts of corporate sabotage, then heavily using the "Laughing Man" motif in order to fool the media into thinking it was the Laughing Man's doing, thus shifting suspicion from themselves and their illegal actions.
An unexpected element was that 39 people who were arrested in regard to the assassination attempt on Secretary General Daido all showed no sign of external influence by The Laughing Man, or anyone else. It was thought that many of the direct attackers were not influenced at all; they attempted the assassination to be a part of The Laughing Man's effort for the truth. The police, however, informed the public that they were forced to do it through ghost hacking.
"The Laughing Man" became something of a pop culture obsession for a time, much to the chagrin of the actual Laughing Man—the irony being that since everybody used his icon and name for their own purposes, the original meaning of his actions, an artful forced confession of the truth through fear in the public eye, became "phony" itself. The effort to stand for and demand the truth was also lost forever. A further irony is that the Laughing Man icon itself is a retooling by the Laughing Man of the fictional Starchild Coffee company logo (itself a reference to the Starbucks logo) and the Sunflower Society logo.
The Laughing Man admitted that he embarked on his notorious kidnapping caper after chancing upon a file in the depths of the Net detailing the extensive corruption in the corporate world, leaving the true identity of the propagator of the aforementioned incidents a mystery. The identified Laughing Man confesses to have been a brash student at the time, but had mellowed out somewhat over the six years since the Serano Genomics event, seeming to now prefer a more intellectual approach over his former overzealous and radical approach. His real name, as far as can be ascertained from the number of events where he appears, is Aoi, meaning Blue in Japanese. The first and last letters of "Aoi" form "A.I.", which stands for artificial intelligence, one of the final explanations for the origin of the Laughing Man.
After the events of the Section 9 raid by the Umibozu and the last meeting with Motoko and Aramaki, it was discovered that Aoi, though responsible for the initial incident that made the Laughing Man a phenomenon, was not in fact its true originator. He chose to confront Serano only because of the file he found, and despite years of extensive investigation on his own part, he never discovered the origin of that file. It could be said that whoever abandoned the file was in fact the "real" Laughing Man - and it is possible that he obtained it from someone else. Aoi tells Aramaki to make of that what he will.
Aramaki understands the sheer absurdity of it all, but is still impressed enough with Aoi's skills to offer him a position with Section 9. He expressed "that the true Laughing Man is an A.I. developed by stray strands of code scattered about the internet, and that this A.I. brought the file to his attention."[verification needed] Though Aoi is deeply flattered by the offer, he declined. Afterwards, he disappeared again for the last time from Japanese society, and probably remains employed as a librarian in the National Library.
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. 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 entitled Portraitz. 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 Caufield'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. In The same episode, Batou makes a statement about a Marx brothers film, Salinger himself was a known fan of the Marx Brothers.
- "The hit series Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex, features a logo for hacker and cyberterrorist "The Laughing Man", in the show he is only identified by his logo which forms a distinct part of the Standalone Complex imagery. I discovered that Paul Nicholson of Terratag designed the logo for Production I.G." from "The Laughing Man - Ghost In The Shell: Standalone Complex's Hacker Logo"
|Characters of Ghost in the Shell|
|Public Security Section 9|
Motoko Kusanagi |
Daisuke Aramaki |
|Japanese Government and Military|