Grade: C-

It’s been nearly a decade since the appearance of “Ghost in the Shell,” a picture that’s become the virtual touchstone of Japanese anime, now a widely-regarded and popular form in the western hemisphere as well as the East. That’s certainly why so many have been eagerly looking forward to Mamoru Oshii’s sequel to what they consider a classic of its kind. They’re likely to be very disappointed in what they find in “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.”

The original picture was set in the future, in an age when cyborgs and humans live side by side; the central figure was Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg intelligence operative involved in a case that led her to the Puppet Master, a cyber criminal who’s a mixture of man and machine. The story was hardly very clear or intelligible, and much of the dialogue was pretentious drivel, but the brooding visuals were impressive, and helped the picture to become a cultish hit.

This new installment is quite beautifully animated, too, but by now the style no longer seems as revolutionary as it once did, and it’s no longer enough. It has to be joined to a compelling narrative. And that’s what “Innocence” conspicuously lacks. Kusanagi is long gone, but her old partner Batou, an almost pure cyborg, is still on the job, now working with the apparently human Togusa. The duo is assigned to a case involving a “gynoid,” an automaton of sorts designed to provide sexual fulfillment, which has gone berserk and committed a murder. Before long it becomes clear that the killing is part of a larger pattern, and the crime-fighters force a local crime lord to reveal the ultimate power behind what appears a nefarious plot. That’s a corporation called Locus Solus–a silly Latin name–that, it turns out, is producing lots of “defective” gynoids for a greater purpose. A kidnapped child is also somehow involved. In the last act the partners find their was into the Locus Solus production plant for a big showdown, where an old friend of Batou’s reappears to offer assistance.

As far as plot goes, “Innocence” is pretty much impenetrable, but what makes it especially exhausting is a mountain of technical babble in the dialogue and long-winded philosophical reveries that slow everything down, especially on the issue of what humanity really means. Much time is spent on Batou’s relationship with a dog that he’s taken as a pet and buys expensive food for. One would think that this subplot would engage a viewer’s emotions some, but it really doesn’t; it just seems like so much filler, though the pooch is nicely drawn. Some of the shoot-outs are impressively rendered, but the overall look of the locales is surprisingly bland, except for the city that houses the Locus Solus plant toward the close. Nor are any of the characters particularly endearing.

The result is a picture that’s unlikely to attract the attention–or the reverential following–of its predecessor. Nine years is a long time in popular culture, and “Ghost in the Shell 2” seems way behind the curve.