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'Ghost in Shell 2' too intense, violent for young anime fans

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE — ** 1/2 — Animated sequel based on the Japanese comic book series; in Japanese, with English subtitles; rated PG-13 (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, brief nudity).

The nearly seamless blending of traditional, two-dimensional animation with digitally created, three-dimensional artwork in "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" is mind-blowing. But the plot of the film is headache-inducing.

That's not meant to discourage the makers of this animated science-fiction thriller from trying to do something more thought-provoking than the standard animated fare. But with the nearly nonstop action and somewhat weighty philosophical musings flying at the audience at the same time, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed.

Also, the level and intensity of some of the violence here probably should have earned the film an R rating, rather than PG-13. (Parents should be warned that this is definitely not for younger animation fans.)

This sequel to the 1994 anime hit again follows Batou, a cyborg (a man/machine hybrid) who works as a detective for Public Security Section 9, an anti-terrorist unit in futuristic Tokyo. He's still haunted by memories of his former partner, the Major, whose humanity was lost and whose consciousness seemed to disappear with it.

Batou now finds himself partnered with the mostly human Togusa, and the two are investigating murders that appear to have been committed by androids. (As it turns out, they're "pleasure-droids" that evidently snapped and killed their owners.)

In some ways, the plot is very reminiscent, in its initial themes at least, with both the movie and book "I, Robot." But it chooses to delve further into questions about the meaning of existence and humanity — even more than its predecessor, which strongly influenced the "Matrix" movies.

However, all the philosophical chattering here starts to become wearying. But the action scenes help, and there's no denying how dazzling the animation is.

"Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of action violence (shootings, martial-arts combat and some explosive mayhem), some fairly graphic gore (at least by PG-13 standards), scattered use of strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word) and crude slang terms, and brief female nudity. Running time: 99 minutes.