|“||Just a whisper, I hear it in my ghost.||”|
Motoko Kusanagi (草薙 素子, Kusanagi Motoko) is the main character in Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex anime series. She is an advanced cyborg with highly advanced capabilities, recognized as a true professional in her line of duty. Often referred only as "The Major" (少佐), Motoko is one of the best police agents out there, and her squad, known as Section 9, is highly regarded as well. In the Stand Alone Complex continuity, Motoko Kusanagi is a confident, calculating, and somewhat aloof individual. Despite that, she is far from emotionless; she knows how to be friendly and her peers find her quite approachable, while her rage is something to behold. Yet deeper under the shell, she guards the story of her cyberization, or full-body prosthesis procedure, which damaged her memories from her childhood.
Over the course of the series, she and her team take on particular cases known as "Stand Alone Complexes": processes or events which harbor no point of origin, leading multiple independent people towards one mutual goal. Beneath the veneer of organized crime, she uncovers plots such as the Laughing Man, the Individual Eleven, the Solid State Society, and the post-human phenomenon.
Little is known about the Major's past. She keeps her personal life for herself, and not even her closest ones know about her true identity. Motoko Kusanagi is a mere pseudonym she was given once she experienced cyberization. With that name, she was enlisted in the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force and served some time, until she was recruited by Daisuke Aramaki to work for his Public Security Section 9, a private investigation group. She's the second highest-ranking member and the most cyberized person in the team.
As the years go by, Motoko and her team are enlisted in the cases of Stand Alone Complexes, in pursuit of a cyber criminal hacker known as The Laughing Man, and later on the second season, the Individual Eleven case. She has a knack against injustice, and fights for the fairness of humankind, a trace of which she longs to possess.
Despite hinted many times, it's finally revealed in season 2 that Motoko underwent cyberization when she was a child, being a survivor of a disastrous plane crash. She and another handicapped boy were the only ones to have been successfully treated. The transformation procedure had wiped most of her childhood memories, but she could recall the fact that the other survivor, who was around her age, had devoted himself to her while she was in coma, folding cranes as he desperately wished her to get well. Out of circumstances, they had lost contact with each other and went their separate ways. Motoko finally became who she is to this day, while the other boy disappeared from sight.
Little is known about the Major's childhood, during the times before she was Motoko Kusanagi. At her young years, she had a family and was involved in a plane crash, which she and another boy ended up as the only survivors. She was kept in a coma state and needed urgent care, while the other boy had most of his body paralyzed save for his left arm and face. Seeing her sorry state, the boy felt sympathy for her and urged the doctors to help her first, folding cranes as a way to wish her well. Eventually, the girl was pulled away from the clinic, and the boy thought she had died. In reality, she had gone prosthetic transition and became a full cyborg: her ghost put inside a shell. She was adopted by another family and was given good foster care, even possessing a toy doll. When she learned about the boy's efforts and devotion for her, the girl returned to the clinic to visit him, every day. Despite bonding together as friends, she was reluctant into revealing him her true identity. Nevertheless, the girl wanted to be reunited with her guardian again, so she invited him to become a cyborg too. He accepted, on one condition: if he would be a cyborg, he should have the ability to fold cranes with his left hand. He then demanded the girl to do it for him, but she failed due to her lack of fine movement controls. Saddened to have failed the very person who motivated her to live again, the girl left, telling the boy that she would return once she was able to fold as many cranes as he did for her. She was never seen again, as the boy realized who she was and soon became a cyborg, ultimately leaving the hospital before she could return. Both children parted ways ever since, regretting that they were never true to themselves and their feelings. Little did they know that their paths would cross again.
Serving the JGSDF
Later years, the girl took the name of Motoko Kusanagi and was enlisted in the army due to her status as a full-cyborg. She made her way up to the rank of Major, eventually catching the attention of Lieutenant Colonel Daisuke Aramaki, who was also head of a special operations team known as Section 9. Forming the main squad, Daisuke and Motoko recruited former ranger Batou Buttetsu, engineer Ishikawa, bomb squad trooper Boma, street thug Pazu and eventually the mercenary Saito, who was defeated in a marksman showdown with The Major. Their latest member was the detective Togusa, a family man with almost no prosthetic enhancement. Particularly during this time, The Major and Batou formed a close professional and friendly relationship, with implied sexual tension between the two.
The Laughing Man Arc
In the 2030's, a series of cyber crimes against the government rise. Medical doctors who specialize in prosthetic designs are attacked, and a conspiracy about a medical product circulates. A mysterious figure is the origins of these attacks: The Laughing Man, a hacker who cannot be seen. Daisuke Aramaki enlists the Major and her team to investigate and uncover the criminal behind the fraudulent acts. At the same time, she takes on side cases and brings battle against the enemies of the law.
The cyberbrain switch
Motoko tries to stop an official's brain getting trafficked by a conspirator who stole his body in a geisha parlor. With the help of Section 9, she manages to apprehend the criminal and prove her team's worth.
Takeshi Kago conspiracy
A giant mobile tank conducted by the ghost of Takeshi Kago is let loose from a military camp. Takeshi Kago was a man who was struck with a terminal illness. However, against his own will, his parents prevented him to become a cyborg due to their religion's beliefs. Kago seemed to have survived beyond his original body and is heading home to meet his parents with unknown intentions. Motoko, leading her team against Kago, is forced to choose between letting him go to his house or stop his collateral damage. In the end, she short-circuits and fries his brain. She realizes that his last thought was to show his parents the new body he found, devoid of murdering intent.
Illegal Prosthetic Trade
Motoko visits her nurse friend Kurutan who is taking care of sick children. When Motoko spots a girl who is waiting to become a cyborg, she recalls memories of her childhood, as the girl reminds Motoko of herself. Since the hospital lacks supplies to help the girl, Motoko suggests someone is disturbing the shipments and makes her own investigation. With the help of Togusa, Motoko finds a trio of med students who steal and sell prosthetic parts for the hospital, although the parts are defective. She takes them all on her own and goes beyond her duties to teach them a lesson. However, her good conscience refrains her from killing the students and she takes them in. In the end, the girl at the hospital is ready for safe treatment and Motoko is relieved.
The Network Movie Director
A Tachikoma finds a strange cyberbrain in a market. It brings it to Section 9's headquarters, but Motoko and Batou take the brain for investigation. Motoko and a Section 9 technician jack inside and she realizes the cyberbrain belongs to a movie director who hosts the same movie over and over again. Furthermore, numerous people, including the Section 9 technician, become enthralled with the movie. Motoko wonders what is so special about the movie and the movie director invites her to see. Motoko tests her will but is eventually enthralled with the movie as well; she even weeps at the sight. However, she is able to break herself and the technician from the movie's trance. When the movie director asks her how she did it, Motoko tells him a movie with no end is just an endless loop of transitions that harms the viewer's will to go on, and she didn't want to be hurt forever. The movie director congratulates her from being able to move forward, because his film is meant for people who want to see their past over and over. Motoko parts ways with him but promises not to destroy his brain.
Though unstated, Motoko's vision was probably about Hideo Kuze when he helped her get through her cyberization process. As mentioned in Season 2, it is her most cherished memory, but is one that drives her forward. However, Kuze and the memory itself will not appear or be shown until the second season.
Laughing Man Incident
Motoko is assigned to investigate the case of the Laughing Man, a mysterious hacktivist who targets government agents tied to a conspiracy involving Serano Genomics' micromachine medicine for cyborgs. The Japanese government had apparently concocted a plan to make an inexpensive cure and stimulate the economy at the behest of free market. Throughout this investigation, she tracks numerous suspects who could be the Laughing Man, such as the former left-oriented activist Nanao Ei, in order to divulge the truth.
Thanks to Togusa's assignment in a mental care clinic, Motoko deduces the Laughing Man is a library employee named Aoi, who is also a med school student. After another series of uncovering secrets, Motoko eventually concludes Aoi's actions are justifiable and seeks to find common ground with him. Near the end of the case, Motoko is finally assisted by Aoi as she tries to disclose the truth about the conspiracy, but another danger rises.
Hunted by Umibozu squad and disbandment of the team
The government officials behind the medical conspiracies want to hide their crimes and deploy the Umibozu squad supervised by Gayle Yasuoka. Motoko and Section 9 are deemed terrorists and are hunted. Meanwhile, Aoi continues breaching in the Net while Section 9 draws the attention of the corrupt government. Motoko finds and teams up with her acolyte Batou while the others are arrested, and goes to his apartment. Their joint survival sparks a deeper bond between them, but Batou pulls back reluctantly. The next day, Motoko heads out to a helicopter pickup platform and is seemingly killed. Meanwhile Batou is "kidnapped" and put under interrogation; this ended up being a Section 9 maneuver that would help them stay safe under the radar, and Motoko was in fact very well alive. She and Togusa, who had just recovered from his desperate terrorist attack, explain the joint plan with Aoi to their team. Once done, Motoko heads off to the library to meet Aoi. She talks to him and confronts him about his contributions, and he engages her in a witty discussion. He tells her he indeed succeeded at a degree, but he would need her to understand. Motoko deduces he merely took the best out of the Laughing Man's popularity, an image he must have created. Aoi admits his success is related to popularity, but not only that, and he adds that he was not the original Laughing Man. Aoi explains he simply pursued the idea and formed an objective of his own. In other words, he created a meme, a Stand Alone Complex. Motoko compliments Aoi for using a simple network phenomenon so efficiently, and invites him to join Section 9. Aoi politely refuses, but promises her he'll help anytime, as long as she never reveals who he is to the public. Motoko and Aoi's joint efforts cause the thwarting of the corrupt governement and an immediate re-election campaign. Yoko Kayabuki wins the election and becomes the first female Prime Minister of Japan.
The Individual Eleven Arc
Reforming Section 9 - The Fall
Two years have passed since the Laughing Man incident. Influxes of refugees are brought in Japan to fill labor works. At the same time, a group of ultra-nationalist terrorists, The Individual Eleven, reject the immigration program and start inflicting rampage on the refugee population. Section 9 prepares to return for a second gig.
Dasiuke Aramaki strikes a deal with Prime Minister Yoko Kayabuki, asking her to reinstate Section 9 on the condition that Motoko and the team can save all the hostages held at the Chinese Embassy by Individual Eleven members. Motoko succeeds in saving everyone and neutralizing every terrorist without being detected by the intervening city police. She escapes by falling off the building, a performance of her signature stunt in the Ghost in The Shell mythos. Section 9 sees another day and returns to action to fight the Individual Eleven threat.
Gino Tadashi's delusions
In the "dividual" filler episode, Motoko is involved in a side job and is disguised in a prostitute's body. She unknowingly gains the attention of mentally-ill pilot Gino Tadashi, who is enamored with her. He takes control of his desires and gives her a ride back to her base of operations. Using her communication links, she comments to Batou how tragic Gino's life is, and how Gino's hard work must have caused him to turn insane.
Stopping the Jigabachi malfunction - Exploited by Kazundo Gouda
Motoko and Section 9 are contacted by Kazundo Gouda, a mysterious figure and leader of the Cabinet Intelligence Service, to investigate a strange malfunction with a Jigabachi helicopter squadron, which started with a single pilot and then spread to others. Motoko and the Tachikoma fight against the helicopters and emerge victorious. Gouda thanks Section 9 and tells them of his suspicions that the refugees from the nearest camp might have infected the pilots' cyberbrains with some unknown virus they were carrying. However, after the operation, both Aramaki and Motoko comment that Gouda is extremely meticulous and must have planned something about the situation already. She asserts to watch for Gouda as Section 9 begin to work with him and help his problem with the increasingly dissatisfied refugee community.
The Mysterious Assassin
Motoko continues to work closely with the Prime Minister on the refugee situation. Kayabuki expresses her concern for the refugees, but cannot hope to make her plans come to fruition as mistrust and misogyny flow through her administration team. After a press conference, Prime Minister Kayabuki is sent a cryptic message; a box filled with severed hands, marked with a symbol belonging to the Individual Eleven terrorist group. Motoko suggests to interpret this message as a death threat and organizes Section 9 to isolate Kayabuki and protect her from the Individual Eleven, whom they previously encountered during the hostage rescue. Kayabuki takes shelter in a Buddhist Temple alongside Section 9 hidden in secret. However, a white-haired, athletic assassin dressed as a deliveryman sneaks in the Temple during the night. Motoko finds him disengaging his invisibility camouflage and seemingly preparing to kill Kayabuki with a katana. Motoko and Batou rush to help Kayabuki. They shoot the assassin 17 times, but the assassin is not killed and resists the bullets, revealing himself to be among the rare cyborgs who are fully prosthetic, such as Motoko herself. To Motoko's surprise, the assassin tosses his blade, jumps off and escapes the Tachikoma. Kayabuki recovers from her shock and Motoko briefs the situation: The unidentified assassin is a full, reinforced cyborg, and had no intention to kill Kayabuki in the first place. Motoko surmises the assassin probably wanted to pass a symbolic message.
Motoko and Section 9 continue to assist Gouda in his plans to handle the refugee situation. Motoko teams up with a platoon of JGSDF soldiers and settles a camp near a refugee enclave. However, tensions rise as the soldiers prove to be cold and distant to the approaching refugees. Furthermore, Gouda instructs the soldiers with classified information which stirs conflict with Section 9. The group then sets out on vehicles, off to the unknown. During the road, Gouda reveals the refugees are intent to get their hands on a nuke so they can fight back against the Individual Eleven, and perhaps even Japan. The Section 9 and JGSDF convoy is subsequently interrupted by a group of refugees waiting on the road. A soldier who talked with Gouda at the military camp starts to break down and murders the refugees, saying he saw one of them draw a weapon. Motoko notices that none of the refugees had weapons, and she begins to have suspicions about Gouda and his role in tempering the soldier's psyche, which reminds her of the helicopter pilots. When the mission is finally over, Motoko is infuriated to learn that Gouda used Section 9 as scapegoats while he had another team of soldiers fetch the plutonium for the nuke and had it shipped to the government by sea.
Motoko and Aramaki agree to bolster Section 9's forces in preparation for a possible three-way war between the Individual Eleven, the refugees, and Japan. She and Batou make a test to pick up potential recruits, but during the test, she suddenly loses connection with him and finds herself drawn to a refugee residential district. Believing she is being attacked by a virus, Motoko follows the suspicious signal and stumbles upon an Antique Shop. Upon entering the shop, she finds the same body she used as a child and another that belonged to a boy. Motoko stares at the boy's body with a sad look. The shop owner, an old woman, notices the Major's fascination and decides to recount the story behind the conserved bodies. Years ago, there was a terrible plane crash: a boy and a girl, around the same age, were the sole survivors . The boy was paralyzed and was only able to move his hand and head, while the girl, a young Motoko, was induced in a coma. During their procedures, the doctors seemed to prioritize the boy, who was left behind by his relatives. This left the girl untreated and uncared. The boy however, began to fold cranes in order to wish her well and begged the doctors to save her. Thanks to his insistance, the girl was brought to a cyberization clinic, and she disappeared for a while. The boy, who didn't know what was going on, assumed she died and fell into depression. However, the girl successfully became a full-cyborg and returned two years later, after hearing what he did for her. But upon meeting him again, she was too shy and didn't tell him who she really was. Instead, she visited him every day to play together, while trying to convince him to become a cyborg like her. One day, the boy had enough and asked the girl to fold a crane with her left hand; if she could, then he'd become a cyborg and get out of the clinic. Seeing it as a chance to tell him the truth, the girl tried to do so but failed miserably, as she wasn't able to control her fine motors correctly. The boy then decided he would stay human and live his life on a wheelchair as a punishment for failing the girl who was by his side when no one else was, oblivious that she was in fact next to him. The girl felt ashamed, since she thought she was responsible for putting him in this situation. And so, the girl promised to come back again when she would make as many cranes as he did for her. She left, practiced and eventually returned, but found out the boy had already left the clinic that day. He left to undergo cyberization so that he could go look for her. She never saw him again. Back in the present, Motoko recalls the boy tenderly, then asks the shop owner if she knows where to find him now. The shop owner tells Motoko that she first met the boy when he was already a young man studying in University in med school. He had found the two bodies and brought them to the Antique Shop, where people came to forget their memories. The young man, as opposed to the rest, came to remember his memories and wanted to mark his story. Motoko urges the old woman to skip the details and tell him where he is, but the old woman reveals the boy was drafted out for the Peninsular War and probably died, hence why she hasn't taken care of the bodies for a while. Motoko is shattered, but folds a crane and places it near the boy's body. Before leaving the store, Motoko tells the old woman that she is sure the girl is still searching for the first person she ever loved.
Pursuit of Hideo Kuze
Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9 are contacted by Kazundo Gouda again. He gives them information about his recent research about the Individual Eleven terrorists. According to Gouda, the Individual Eleven are now at war against the refugees who have begun to fight back despite their apparent lack of weaponry. While Togusa investigates the strange behaviors of the Individual Eleven terrorists, he learns they follow the ideals of Patrick Sylvestre, a revolutionary and left-oriented philosopher. Togusa and Boma later find that Sylvestre is a fictional character who exists only in the Net, and something else is motivating the Individual Eleven aside their hate for refugees. Motoko temporarily sets aside her secret investigation on Gouda and turns her focus on the Individual Eleven. But while pursuing the case, she learns on live TV that twelve key members of the Individual Eleven have murdered each other, with only one survivor: the assassin who targetted Kayabuki. Using video footage and net-dwelling, Motoko follows the assassin's traces, but he is riddled with mystery and unlisted information. To the least, she managed to find his name: Hideo Kuze.
Upon rewatching the footage of the group's suicide, Motoko observes that Kuze was trying to talk out the man who was attacking him. She and Batou surmise the members of Individual Eleven must have been infected by a virus, which changed their behavior, and that Kuze alone was able to break free from it. Thanks to Ishikawa and Boma, their assumptions are confirmed: The Individual Eleven is a virus that turns people into ultra-nationalist terrorists, and someone must have made the virus in order to spark tension with the refugees and start a war.
Yoko Kayabuki eventually contacts Section 9 and informs them of her research on the refugees. She briefs Aramaki and Motoko, and reveals that 3 million refugees are now connected in a mysterious cyberbrain-hub; a gigantic network server created and controlled by a single person. Kayabuki guesses the refugees have found a leader to fight back against their oppression, and leaves Section 9 to investigate the matter. Ishikawa, in hopes to find the refugee leader, heads out in Asia to find out more about the refugee influx, which started out with the Peninsular War in Korea. When Ishikawa returns, he brings an unsettling revelation to the team: Hideo Kuze is the leader of the refugees. Once a commando and squad leader in a PKF cyberized unit of the United Nations, Kuze witnessed injustice and war crimes against the refugees and deserted. On his own, Kuze started rallying the refugees and built a solid community. Young couples would confide with him, elders would tell him their life stories, while children asked him to fold origami toys. However, Kuze distanced from them, possibly due to being infected by the Individual Eleven virus. Still, Ishikawa notes that the refugees' recent activity prove that Kuze returned to fight at their side. When the briefing is concluded, Motoko shows up and admits she was snooping the conversation out of curiosity. At the surprise of everyone, she is unfazed by Kuze's possible threat, and is even fascinated by his story.
Motoko heads in Taiwan to see more of Kuze's story for herself. She learns that a lot of people there were inspired by his actions, but a few were inspired in the wrong way. Though Kuze, called Roh by the Taiwanese, had motivated people to pursue the best of themselves, some have turned to black market and smuggling. Motoko tracks Chai, a young boy and drug dealer who aspires to be someone who fights back like Kuze. In exchange for information about Kuze, she helps him win in a gang war against the Xiaojie mafia, Chai's main competitors. Motoko saves Chai from attackers and brings him to a hotel, where he tells her about Kuze's influence. While spending the night together, Chai seems interested in becoming a cyborg like Kuze and asks Motoko if she, a full-cyborg, can still have sex. She teases Chai and asks him if he really wants to find out, but he declines for the time being. The next day, she finds out Chai left to make a deal with the Xiaojie. Knowing Chai, her only lead, is in danger, she storms the Xiaojie hideout, forces them to hand over Chai, and tells them not to hurt the refugees. In return, she hands them back the cocaine Chai stole from them. Motoko returns to the airport with Chai and prepares to head back for Japan. Before she leaves, she suggests Chai to make a future for himself rather than getting into trouble by trying and failing to become someone he will never be.
The Plutonium Deal
Upon being informed by Prime Minister Kayabuki that Hideo Kuze is hosting a cyber-net hub, a server where numerous people's consciousness are stored, Motoko decides to dive in to learn more about his whereabouts while staying out the radar of Kazundo Gouda. She uses her disguise Chroma and inflitrates Kuze's net, but is suddenly discovered despite the cover. Kuze warns her not to touch his mind, because it can alter her psyche and kill her. Unable to control her curiosity, Motoko tests Kuze's words, which end up being true as she receives an enormous discharge of information that sends her in a temporary state of shock. After being taken cared of by her allies, Motoko abruptly confesses she knows Kuze. Following the information she received from Kuze's cyberbrain hub, Motoko chases him to to a ship deck. However, her visions were in fact blurred and her hunches were wrong; Yano is killed and Kuze is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, Kuze becomes aware of Motoko's chase and hastes his activities : Making a plutonium deal with the Russian mafia, with Kazundo Gouda manipulating the latter group behind the scenes. Batou scolds Motoko for her failures, and he confronts her about his suspicions. Indeed, Batou had noticed Motoko has grown a bias towards Kuze. Unable to hide the truth, she admits that Kuze reminds her of and may be the boy who selflessly motivated her to live when she was going through a near-death experience. She then tries to convince Batou that if Kuze is in fact that boy, he is not a bad person and can be compromised with. Batou shrugs her off and they head off to Kuze's real location, Etorofu.
End of the 2nd Gig
The Solid State Society Arc
The Post-human Arc
NSA recruitment and the second return of Section 9
Motoko Kusanagi often switches her prosthetic bodies. Despite that habit, she keeps distinguishable traits among the many shells she uses. Her body frames usually consist of a slim and athletic, well endowed young woman. She keeps violet-colored hair and crimson red eyes, similar to her chilhood shell. Sometimes, she wears maroon colored glasses.
In Season 1, Motoko's standard attire is quite a revealing one, as noted by many characters. It consists of a light purple leotard worn over the chest that goes just above the crotch. The bottom of the leotard is black. An utility belt is attached on the leotard, precisely the waist. A dark purple leather jacket covers her upper set of apparel. Under her waist, Motoko dons clothing similar to pink leggings, which go up halfway to the thighs, revealing her rear. Her boots are purple. Considering the impracticability of her getup, she sometimes wears pants instead. She always keeps finger-less military gloves.
In Season 2, her attire is more efficient and optimized, and is slightly is different from the first season. Motoko wears a sporty jacket that only reaches her biceps and her collarbone, with a protection around her neck. She keeps her signature leotard. Her pants are light purple, with a black belt. She still has her black fingerless gloves and boots. Since Motoko is mostly seen in this version of her Section 9 uniform, it is arguably her signature outfit.
In Solid State Society, Motoko dresses in her plain grey skintight bodysuit and combat boots, with a black combat trench coat. With other clothing worn on the back side. The bodysuit seems to not be of Section 9's combat uniforms, as it didn't have the same designs as the ones worn with her combat uniform. She continued to wear finger less gloves. She seems to have replaced her traditional marooned colored glasses with normal black lenses. It's likely that Motoko wore this attire during her two years away from Section 9, as she remained active in secret. At this point, she likely discarded her signature leotard attire.
Motoko has worn several other attires through the series.
When attending conference meetings, Motoko wore a khaki military uniform, with badges addressing her rank as major.
When assigned in a top secret mission, Motoko wore combat clothing given to her and her team for the mission. It included a brown vest over a black short sleeved shirt, with a pair of combat pants as well.
When assigned to travel to other locations, Motoko wears a white coat with a grey belt worn. A white undershirt with a black tie tucked in is worn underneath, along with long grey boots.
When posing as the thief Cash Eye, Motoko wore a white skintight bodysuit. The biceps areas had black designs and accents across her body. To conceal her identity, she donned a large gray visor . This outfit has never appeared again since then, as the episode was an homage to Cat's Eye.
While she is outside missions and to keep up with Section 9, Motoko would wear a dark blue form fitting dress uniform that slightly revealed her legs on the sides.
When she was re-experiencing her past, Motoko wore a short loose blue shirt and white pants.
When assigned to a different squad as part of a special mission involving other nations, Motoko wore a long brown coat and black clothing underneath.
When traveling in Taiwan to search for Kuze, Motoko wore a sleeveless white button up shirt with a long black skirt and heel shoes.
Sometimes, she will participate in missions wearing only her grey combat bodysuit.
Personality and traits
The Major is known to be extremely stoic and foreseeing. She always takes the best and most optimal routes in the world she lives in. Her life experiences have made her an assertive woman with a keen judgment. Her enemies fear her because of her prowess and prosthetic advantages, while her friends and close ones enjoy her company. Though she is mostly professional in her duties, Motoko holds a rather comical and friendly relationship with her Section 9 operatives, most notably Batou with whom she has a close bond. Motoko also understands many a human concepts, such as desire and lust. She exploits this to an advantage, as she usually tends to wear revealing clothes to fool her dim-witted opponents. In her mind, the shell she uses is not what defines her true self. However, deep down inside her, she secretly longs for a sign that can prove her humanity. There are many hints to this personal quest, as Motoko is sometimes showed experiencing human activities like socializing, people-watching, and sexual intercourse. Despite being dejected by society because of her lack of outward humanity, Motoko doesn't feel any grudge for the world, and always tries to get the best of reality.
In reality, the hope that clings to her is her childhood, at the time she had lost everyone close and dear to her. When all seemed lost, there was a boy who gave her hope: a motivation to live and find purpose again. Motoko was never one to believe in fairy tales, but the boy's determination had indeed motivated her to go on with life. After becoming a cyborg, Motoko befriended him, but thought she had disappointed him because she wasn't able to return the efforts he had given for her. Thus, leaving the first person she loved, The Major went her own way. And as an adult, she accomplishes herself for her own sake, but ultimately, as a token of appreciation for the boy's efforts, whom she swore to find again.
The Major has access to the most advanced technology of combat cyborgs in Japan. Despite that, she keeps a good balance between a human-resembling body and technologies useful to her job. Since she is fully prosthetic and mechanical, save for her human consciousness, Motoko is quite prone to travel her mind into the world beyond. Aside from her body and mental aptitudes, she is an accomplished fighter with great judgment and self-control. She is knowledgeable in many forms of martial arts and strategies, as demonstrated many times through the events of Stand Alone Complex. She is also a great hacker, able to gain access to restricted information throughout the planet. Her weapons of preference are the Seburo M5 pistol and C-26 A assault rifle. Even if she's a force to be reckoned with, Motoko isn't invincible and can be scarcely outmatched in different outcomes, due to her versatility and balanced body composition, which lacks a overspecialty in a specific domain. In the S.A.C continuity, Motoko had only been bested by the greatest of her foes, notably in hacking by the enigmatic Laughing Man, in influence by the CIS' Kazundo Gouda and in emotions by the full-cyborg revolutionary Hideo Kuze, the latter of whom she shares many similarities.
- Expert hand-to-hand fighter : Motoko has gone through extensive military training. She is well-versed in CQC and makes use of her cyborg body's agility as well.
- Expert marksman : Even without the use of control softwares, Motoko is adept with firearms, notably with pistols as her preferred type. She owns the Seburo M-5 pistol and is rarely seen without it. In other situations, she uses assault rifles.
- Enhanced strength : Motoko's cyborg body gives her strength above the peak human condition.
- Enhanced senses : Motoko is equipped with state-of-the-art optics and is usually known to turn her sensory receptors to a higher intensity than humans.
- High durability : Her cyborg body can take more damage than any human, though it is still vulnerable to bullets.
- Superior intellect : Motoko has had her scholarship completed before joining the army. Her experiences in battle and counter-intelligence have made her a tactical and quick thinker.
- Acute tactical knowledge
- Spying : Motoko is a master of disguise. Her knack of changing bodies matches her ease to use varied body language.
- Hacking : Motoko is an expert hacker. She usually dwells the Net with her avatar, Chroma, and can defend herself from threats. She can easily steal data and upload viruses, although not as efficiently as the Laughing Man
- Sleight of Hand : Motoko has practiced folding cranes without the use of control software and has become extremely skilful with her hands.
- Prone to hacking : Motoko's status as a full-cyborg makes her vulnerable to expert hackers
- Bullets and anti-cyborg weaponry : Despite her body's durability, it can still be destroyed completely
- Aloofness : Motoko tends to dislike social interactions and meeting new people despite her job. She usually stays with people she knows.
- Guilt and self-loathing (in SAC 2nd Gig) : In the second season, Motoko is heavily affected by guilt for having failed her and childhood friend and lover.
Batou is Motoko's main acolyte and closest confidant, as in the majority of the Ghost in The Shell continuities. Batou serves directly under her command and they share both a professionnal and affectionate relationship. In the series, it is often implied that Batou has strong feelings for her, to the point of loving her; whether Motoko reciprocates his feelings is left to interpretation. Motoko easily confides her feelings with Batou, while she is unable to do so with others. Outside of work, she spends a lot of quality time with him in the city. His outgoing nature compliments with her usually serious, but secretly mischievous personality.
In the first season, it is already established that Batou and Motoko are very close, especially outside of work. Even under stressful situations, Batou is always there to humor her. Later in the story, Motoko tells him of her past and her painful transformation into a cyborg. Batou comforts her and buys her a wristwatch to remind her of his devotion and loyalty; a gift she cherishes dearly. When Section 9 is targeted under suspicion of terrorism, Batou takes the initiative to shelter Motoko at his apartment. They share an intimate moment, but Batou pulls back before bringing things to a next step. When Batou fights the Umibozu squad at her estate, he finds her underwear while looking for weapons, and appears to be quite gratified. Among the members of Section 9, Batou was the one who was most distraught when Motoko faked her death. Ishikawa teased Batou for it, only to get a furious response from Batou.
In the second season, Motoko's relationship with Batou becomes strained. While they are initially on good terms, even more than the first season, their bond suffers when Motoko begins to feel a connection with their target, the revolutionary leader Hideo Kuze. Batou begins to chastise her for sympathizing with the enemy, but this only sparks a revelation from her. Motoko confides to Batou that Kuze could be the boy who helped save her life when she became a cyborg. Throughout the season, Batou becomes suspicious that Kuze is indeed the boy from Motoko's childhood and is determined to stop him, much to Motoko's frustration. Batou even gets into a fight with Kuze, perhaps out of jealousy. In the end, Batou desperately tries to call out Motoko not to follow with Kuze's wish, hoping she won't leave the world and head for the Net.
In Solid State Society, Batou and Motoko haven't seen each other for years. When she returns, Batou notes how she has changed since the events with Kuze. However, a mutual enemy brings them back together, and they are able to build back the bond they once shared as Motoko returns to Section 9. Motoko agrees to stay in the real world and continue her life with Batou at her side.
In SAC_2045, Batou and Motoko's relationship has mended completely.
Daisuke Aramaki is Motoko's superior and mentor. He enlisted her in Section 9 and appointed her as the field leader. He fully trusts her and assigns her on the most important cases. In return, Motoko sees him as some sort of a father figure as she lost her own at a young age. At some point, Aramaki noticed this and made a remark, but Motoko joked about how he'd rather be her grandfather due to his old age.
When Motoko was six years old, she survived a plane crash that cost the lives of her parents and everyone on board, save for a boy around her age. The boy, who still had a functional hand and face, begged the doctors to save Motoko, who was completely paralyzed and induced into a deep coma. Meanwhile, the boy began to fold cranes as a way to wish her wellness and good fortune. Though she was unable to feel his presence, the boy saw Motoko as his only friend since the rest of his family abandoned him. After some time, Motoko was taken out of the clinic to undergo cyberization. Because the doctors didn't tell the boy any details, he fell into depression, believing she died. Two years later, Motoko returned to the clinic to visit him, but he did not recognize her as she became a full-cyborg. She wanted to see his kindness and affection for herself, but all he did was ignore her.
Following a few months, Motoko eventually broke the ice and suggested him to become a cyborg like her. The boy, still unaware that Motoko wanted to be with him again, challenged her to fold a crane. Due to her lack of fine motor controls, Motoko utterly failed. He then rejected her offer and told her he would stay human as a punishment for not being able to save a friend that was once by his side. Motoko, seeing the proof of his love, promised she would return when she would fold as many cranes as he did. But when she came back, the boy had already become a cyborg and left the clinic. Motoko moved on with her life, but she never washed away the guilt of losing him, the first person she ever loved. It is to be noted that Motoko wears her watch in the left hand as a reminder of the boy.
In the second season, Motoko and Section 9 are assigned to stop a rising revolution led by a rogue soldier named Hideo Kuze. Hideo Kuze is a full cyborg and is a "dark version" of Motoko. Through the conflict with Kuze, Motoko manages to hack into his mind, but is suddenly struck with memory flashes of the clinic. Motoko begins to feel an uncanny resemblance between the boy and Kuze, but the connection is too blurred. Later on, when she trains new recruits in her team, Motoko's mind plays tricks on her and drives her to an Antique Shop. There, she stumbles upon her and the boy's bodies, stored in a vintage car. The shop owner finds Motoko interesting and recounts the boy's life. Motoko learns that after the boy left the clinic, he never stopped searching for her and kept bringing back clues to the shop, until he got drafted in the Peninsular War, a failed operation of the United Nations. Crestfallen, Motoko assumes the boy cannot be Kuze and is probably dead already.
However, Ishikawa returns from a trip in Taiwan and reveals Kuze was actually involved in the Peninsular War and even survived the ordeal, which reignites Motoko's suspicions. Motoko pursues the case to stop Kuze, but cannot manage to corner him until the battle of Dejima. Collateral damage caused by the American Empire forces Motoko under debris with Kuze. She finally takes the time to confront him about his origami cranes, and he realizes at last who she is. As an act to reconcile their love, she helps him upload the refugees' consciousness in the Net to save them from the horrors of war. In return, Kuze confirms her suspicions that Gouda sparked the war by trying to control him and the Japanese Army, through the use of complex machinations such as the Individual Eleven virus. Kuze surrenders and is put under capture for interrogation, but the American Empire "assassinates" him. Motoko is devastated by the loss and deserts Section 9. In Solid State Society, Motoko's absence was due to her dwelling the Net to find Kuze. It is unknown if she managed to do it, but her behavior with Batou implies she did.
Through the second season, it is heavily implied that Motoko and Kuze share a bond. Kuze is first seen folding an origami crane in episode 5, and the story of the boy with cranes is explained in episode 11. Later on, when Motoko dives in his ghost to investigate, she realizes she knows him. Though Kuze's habit of folding origami figures can be attributed to his cyber-brain hub, Ishikawa explained Kuze was already an origami enthusiast before he started collecting souls. Kuze also implies in episode 26 he learned without the use of control software after Motoko tells him she did.
Togusa is Motoko's most trusted ally after Batou. She often depends on Togusa to handle cases under the table, where Section 9's activity would remain unnoticed. Motoko likes to tease Togusa and humor him, as he is usually overwhelmed by work. She also tries to encourage him to get a cyborg body, but his choice to remain human always stands. Cyberization is the usual subject of their conversation, as Togusa has a simple and direct approach for doing things, in contrast to Motoko's more subtle and shrewd way of thinking. They also have very different values; Togusa is a family man, holds to tradition, and is loyal to his wife. On the other side, Motoko is quite slapstick and sultry, and is not yet married. Despite this divergence, both respect each other and understand their differences. When Togusa goes through emotional burnouts, he often seeks comfort with Motoko and asks for her advice.
In SAC_2045, Togusa has had a sudden turn. He has divorced his wife and is now a cyborg. It is implied he becomes closer with Motoko, as he admits even more of his inner thoughts than he did in the previous seasons. To a lesser degree, it can be inferred his growing feelings for her was his reason of ending his own marriage and becoming a cyborg.
Motoko was initially aware of the Laughing Man as a terrorist and criminal. However, as she digs in the case and learns the truth, Motoko gets to know Aoi, the real Laughing Man, and becomes quite interested in him. They exchange witty discussions and earn respect from each other. In the end, Motoko helps Aoi reveal the truth about the government's corruption and even thanks him for his deeds. Despite their mutual respect, Aoi refuses to join Section 9, but it is implied he gave them software upgrades for hacking.
"If you've got a problem with the world, change yourself. If that's a problem, close your eyes, shut your mouth, and live like a hermit. And if that's a problem… " -Motoko, holding her pistol at a fugitive
"If you've got time to be depressed, why not grace us with your special talents?" -Motoko to Togusa, during the latter's training
"Apparently, he sometimes likes to swap bodies with geishas when he gets drunk." -Motoko, on behalf of a political suspect
"Don't get so googly-eyed that you wander into its field of fire! Let's go!" -Motoko to the Tachikomas, chasing Takeshi Kago
"No. It was just for a split second, but I felt something when I burned out Kago's brain. "Well, Mom? What do you think of me in my steel body?" It was a strange sensation. It wasn't pride… Or vengeance." -Motoko, after hacking and short-circuiting Kago's brain
"I have to admit, for a movie it wasn't bad- but diversionary entertainment is transitory, it just comes and goes at the viewers whim. It's the way it should be, but a film with no beginning or end that hooks an audience and won't let go of them is harmful no matter how wonderful you may have believed it was." -Motoko to the movie director, about his work
"...Dreams are meaningful when you work toward them in the real world. If you merely live within the dreams of other people it's no different from being dead." -Motoko to the movie director, about ideals and dreams.
"Those are pretty serious words, where'd you get them from, I'd like to know. A watch and weight training gear, both of us have clung to useless scraps of memory, haven't we?" -Motoko to Batou 
"Kuze. Can you fold origami cranes, only using your left hand?" -Motoko confronting Kuze about their childhood relationship
"I don't recall. I have a pseudonym though. It's the same with you isn't it?" -Motoko, sympathizing with Kuze's suffering and struggles about identity
- Motoko has a slapstick and sensual personality, similar to the original manga.
- She is drawn by different artists throughout the series, which is why she looks quite different in various episodes. This is somewhat an allusion to her frequent body swaps, aside production reasons.
- A woman resembling Motoko appears in Batou's picture, depicted as his wife.
- Director and writer Kenji Kamiyama admitted he had difficulty working on Motoko's characterization until he and Mamoru Oshii worked together on making the Puppet Master's story into Hideo Kuze to fit the SAC continuity.
- ntv.co.jp, Motoko Kusanagi
- Interview with Kenji Kamiyama, where he confirmed Kuze's departure was the crucial reason for Motoko's defection.
- This is a foreshadowing of her secret goal and her past, presented in Season 2
- This is another foreshadowing moment, which directly alludes to Motoko's relationship with Batou, and their mutual attachment to bitter pains of the past. At the same time, it is a hint of her past shown in season 2, which is the story of the boy who saved her life as a child.