After nuclear World War III and non-nuclear World War IV (the so-called Second Vietnam War), the world is a very different place. Japan has since risen as a major superpower once more, despite Article IX of their Constitution, which prevents them from taking part in actual combat. Instead, using nanotechnology, the country turns the tide with microscopic machines that scrub the environment clean of radiation, thus making nuclear weapons less of an advantage. The wars end and the geopolitical climate shifts considerably, most notably, the splitting of America into three separate nations – the American Empire, the Russo-American Alliance and the United States of America.
Meanwhile, Japan has flourished. It’s home to amazing technological achievements including full-body prosthetics and intelligence-enhancing brain implants, making total recall and vast information storage possible. Cyberbrains and cyborgs are commonplace. Androids and artificial intelligence are advancing exponentially. Robotics like mechanized armor and multi-pedal tanks ensure some country or privatized military are heavily armed. The Internet has evolved into a single global ether that any individual with a cyberbrain can tap into in real-time. Cyberspace is as real as you make it.
Japan also flounders. The country has no idea what to do with the three million war refugees it gives ill-equipped shelter to. The shadow of the ultra-nationalist American Empire looms over the mostly-ineffective Japanese government while big companies and manufacturers secretly hold the reins. The proliferation of advanced technology brings a dark side as well – cybercrime, a new brand of terrorism. Boundaries are blurred; man and machine are almost the same and reality itself is in question. Espionage and subterfuge is at an all-time high.
This is the backdrop of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, perhaps the greatest work of cyberpunk science fiction put to screen.