I've been a Ghost in the Shell franchise fan since I first saw the original movie back in the late '90s. Production I.G.'s Stand Alone Complex TV series and the Solid State Society film were excellent. So I certainly wasn't going to miss the latest series, Arise.
Enter Arise - Alternative Architecture, a repackaging of the four Arise films into half-hour TV episodes, plus an additional 2-episode extension of the story. I was able to pick up the series from Amazon Video streaming for $30. I usually wait until things I want to watch are available on a video streaming service (Netflix, Crunchyroll, Amazon Prime streaming, etc), but I make an exception for Ghost in the Shell. I own all the other movies and series already and see no reason why Arise shouldn't join them. (It's the first I bought in the cloud rather than on a physical DVD, which is nice - one less thing to keep track of.)
The story for Arise takes place earlier than the other parts of the franchise. In the others, Major Motoko Kusanagi is part of Public Security Section 9, leading a team under the direction of Section Chief Aramaki. Arise starts earlier, when the Major is still in the Army, and goes through how she leaves the Army, works with Aramaki, and forms the rest of the team.
For some reason, the Alternative Architecture version of Arise chose to jump around in that timeline. The first two episodes actually show the whole Section 9 group together, then later episodes jump back to show how they got there, and finally the last two episodes continue where the first two left off. It was a little confusing at first, though it was easy enough to straighten out by taking a quick look at how this compared to the order of the four Arise films.
Not that confusion is any great surprise with any Ghost in the Shell series. I usually have to watch two or three times to catch most of what is going on. Every story takes place on multiple levels, usually including high-level politics, relationships in the team, and impacts on the individual characters. All of this against a background of some shadowy mastermind, whose ties to the crimes being investigated in each individual story arc are only gradually revealed. Arise is no exception to this formula.
One consequence of working in the earlier time-frame is that the Major is a more interesting character, in my humble opinion. In the movies and Stand Alone Complex story-line, she was portrayed as being at the top of her game, highly experienced and in command of a crack cyber-warfare unit. In Arise, we see her alone and vulnerable right from the beginning, and she has to work her way into that position at the top. She's still basically a superhero, but one that we see grow into the role, rather than starting out that way.
Production I.G. has already created the next installment, a movie that continues the Arise story, but it's only released in Japan at this point. When a version is available here in the USA, I'll probably go back and watch the whole series again beforehand to catch stuff I missed the first time.