Jeff Light’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first 3 OVA films in this series could basically be watched each on their own, but this is the first one where I really have to recommend watching the others first. (Review of "Border 1 - Ghost Pain" here: letterboxd.com/nottheacademy/film/ghost-in-the-shell-arise-border-1-ghost-pain/, if you're still on the fence.) This film is the first one to really feel like an episode in a series, as it tries to bring together various elements that have been developed over the course of the previous Arise films while also setting up elements that are not paid off at all within this film, a first for Arise.
I'll proceed to talk about this as an episode from here so SPOILERS for the previous films if you haven't seen them yet. At this point, we've seen Motoko Kusanagi leave the 501st Division of the Japanese military, where she was considered a weapon and a tool, without rights to even manage her own money. In gaining her individuality, she lost her rank and any kind of security, but she was able to get that back and get a new job with Section 9 of the Public Security Bureau, basically the Japanese Police's Special Task Force. By the start of this film, Major Kusanagi has been able to get funding for her own team, pulling from former rivals and enemies to make a quirky group of specialists into a strike force with a huge amount of legal leeway, similar to the German GSG-9 or British MI-5. Perfect for an action movie!
And action there is...plus a whole lot o' plot. This is the first entry in the series where I feel like the plot gets so bogged down that it hurts the story. It's impressive how many threads from previous films are brought together here:
-false memories and "ghost-hacking" introduced in Border 1
-the Qaurdi separatists introduced in Border 2
-the Firestarter virus, prosthetic bombs, and Kuzan Water Company introduced in Border 3
However, they get tied in with the various political and military players in a way where the plot threatens to overtake the story, if you know what I mean. It just felt like we were getting a higher percentage of exposition here than previously, and that was already trending high.
I do like that we now get to see Section 9 firing on all cylinders. The various team members and logicomas support each other with a combination of hacking, detective work, political maneuvering, and brute force. The slowly-developing relationship between Kusanagi and Inspector Aramaki reaches an almost Batman-Commisioner Gordon level here, and Batou becomes a true 2nd Commander. This is the first episode that feels almost as much about the team as it does Kusanagi herself. And it also makes time to define a US-Japan-Middle East relationship that is neither entirely critical nor forgiving of anyone.
That said, the directing felt a bit uneven to me this time, and a bit ham-fisted with the "villain" and the Wizard of Oz references. At 59 minutes, this is the first entry that felt like it had some time to trim, and had elements a bit more typical to other anime. In many ways, it's not as challenging as the previous Arise films, and so for me, not as fulfilling. Still a worthy entry, but it's my least favorite of the series.