The first season of this excellent cyberpunk series is a great buy for anybody.
What They Say
Female cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her fellow police officers of Section 9 hunt down a host of criminals in both the real and online worlds. In the course of their work, Kusanagi and Section 9 must do everything from resolving hostage crises to hunting down runaway state-of-the-art killing machines.
For this viewing, I listened to the English dub, which is offered in 5.1 surround. Interestingly, the Japanese dub is also offered in 5.1, which is not seen often, but is welcome for sub fans. 2.0 options are also available in both English and Japanese. The audio for this title is excellent as each track comes through clearly with no dropout. In particular, the music is wonderful—more top notch work from Yoko Kanno. The mix also has some nice directionality present, especially during the fight scenes and the times when the Section 9 members are talking through the network. Excellently well done all around.
There is an oddity, though: disc 2 randomly has the DTS 5.1 mix from the special edition, while the rest have the standard Dolby mix. What this means is that those who do not have a DTS receiver, such as myself, disc 2 has to be watched in 2.0. Outside of this being a mistake, I’m not sure why this is. The 2.0 mix is nice in its own right but is certainly inferior to the 5.1 mixes.
Offered in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, this title is also visually impressive. A relatively dark series, there is not a whole lot of color differentiation, but the different tones all come through cleanly and clearly. They also nicely blended the transitions between 3D and traditional animation, long a sticking point for me in anime. The character designs and object models do a good job reflecting the cyberpunk nature of this title as more people than not have cybernetic enhancements, and there is plenty of technology for the uber-techno-geek to gawk at. This really is a slick production.
I never have a lot of negatives to say about Bandai’s Anime Legends releases, and this is no different, though there is a minor technical flaw. For this release, all seven discs come in an amaray style case that is roughly half again bigger than a standard single. The front of the case holds one disc, while each side of a two-sided insert and the back hold two each. It is a nice and compact setup, though the insert has a tendency to catch the top disc on the back (disc 6) as it is opening and bending it forward. Only closing the case fully or popping the disc out seems to fix this.
The front cover has a watercolor image of Kusanagi standing in front of a Tachikoma tank. It is a really neat image, though the lightness of the coloring is very different from the boldness of the actual show. The back has a series summary, along with stills, episode listings, and technical details, and there is a second image of Kusanagi at the bottom wearing a helmet looking ready to dive into the network. The back has more of the bold coloring that is normal for the show and has more of a cyberpunk feel to it as the background has graphical representations of network data and transfers. Overall, a really nice, not to mention compact, packaging job.
Much like everything else on this release, I like the menus on these discs. Designed to look like the internet/network that is seen throughout, it uses the show’s themes well. An opening animatic looks like the network booting up, ultimately booting a data disc in the center, which runs clips from the episodes in the center and has the selections at the bottom, though the selection for play all is set to the side. In the background are a continuous loop of network-looking animations along with more show clips. During all of this is the beautiful opening theme by Yoko Kanno. The menus are wonderfully designed, with the only real flaw is the fairly abrupt jump as the animation loops to the beginning, especially in the sound. Otherwise, it is great.
Aside from clean songs on the first disc, the meat of the extras are in the series of interviews with staff and cast about the making of this series. Each disc, except the second which has no extras, contains two, roughly ten minute interviews with a cast member, crew member, or group of people about their parts. These are pretty interesting to listen to, especially the one on the fifth disc with Kenzi Teraoka and Shinobu Tsuneki who were in charge of creating the various mechanical objects and vehicles seen. Taken collectively, these interviews provide a pretty thorough behind the scenes look at Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex.
The last extra is not actually in the extras section, but appear at the end of the episodes. Tachikomatic Days are animated shorts involving the Tachikoma robots getting involved in wacky plots or just discussing moments in the previous episode. They all relate to the episode in some way.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a reimagining of the Ghost in the Shell story, making it separate from the manga, the original 1995 movie, and its 2004 follow up, Innocence. As a fan of the various iterations, I had been interested in seeing this from start to finish as I previously had only seen random episodes here and there. Fully expecting to enjoy this just as much, I went away enjoying it even more.
Section 9 is an undercover unit of public security in charge of investigating conspiracies and cyber-crime. The formation of Section 9 was a result of a series of blackmailings committed six years earlier by a man known only as The Laughing Man. Now Section 9 is the most elite of all police units, and they are continually called in to investigate tough crimes.
The spearhead of Section 9 is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg since she was a young girl. Strong and intelligent, not to mention an expert hacker, she is the perfect candidate to be the field commander. The rest of the members provide their own expertise: Batoh is the muscle, Togusa—the only non-cybernetically enhanced member of Section 9—adds detective experience, and Ishikawa is the information warfare specialist. And then there is Chief Aramaki, the fiercely loyal leader of Section 9 whose political connections open many doors for Section 9 that would otherwise remain closed. The rest have their own uses, but not as much of presence in this series.
The day-to-day lives of Section 9 move with little interruption until an assassination plot is uncovered by what appears to be the reemerging Laughing Man. Since their department was created in response to the original crimes, Section 9 is quickly on the case. However, this time, things feel different. For starters, the majority of the original crimes were corporate blackmail, whereas these new crimes are targeting people for assassination. The original Laughing Man was fairly non-violent, but now imposters and suspects are showing up dead.
However, some things remain the same. The culprit or culprits are still untraceable. This potentially new Laughing Man has the same computer hacking skills that the original did, and uses the same tricks to keep his identity a secret. He is even able to pull the wool over the Major’s eyes. As such, Section 9 keeps running into dead ends, and even when they do hit a break through, they cannot break the feeling that they are being led around by the nose.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a terrific series that I struggle to find anything wrong with. There is a little bit of everything in here: action, suspense, comedy, political intrigue, and not a small amount of mystery. Each plot arc is introduced, develops well, and closes out satisfyingly; the characterization is strong; and the world is very well developed. It really is one of the better cyberpunk titles around, animated or not.
I think one of the things I like the best about this is that they do a really good job of filtering the Laughing Man plotlines in with everything else. Like many titles of this type, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is episodic, and not even half of it concerns the Laughing Man case. However, most titles would take the approach of having all non-episodes first before delving into the Laughing Man for the run up to the endgame. This series instead mixes Laughing Man episodes and storylines in with the rest of the non-Laughing Man cases.
I like this approach better for a few different reasons. For starters, many times a shift from an episodic approach to an long term arc feels abrupt. A series sets the watcher up for certain expectations, then forces you out of that mindset. A more practical reason though is that it gives both the feeling that the Laughing Man case is a long term project and that the rest of the world does not stop moving just because the main characters have decided to focus their attention on one specific thing. The Laughing Man is introduced early, but they still have to take time out to deal with other crimes that fall in their jurisdiction. It is an approach that I found very effective and more appealing than the traditional method.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the brilliant Tachikoma automated tanks that Section 9 employs. Aside from being highly amusing in their antics, there is an interesting pathos play at work in the background with the Tachikomas. Originally designed to have a base personality and programmed to follow orders explicitly. However, as they are deployed on different missions and experience different things, the Tachikomas begin to develop their own personalities, in direct contrast from their programming. This starts to raise the moral question of what it means to have a ghost (soul) and whether they can be artificially created.
If I were to find any possible hesitations in my recommendation it is that cyberpunk is not a genre that anybody can sink their teeth into. Science-fiction is already a tough sell for many people, and cyberpunk dials the sci-fi up to eleven. As such, no matter how good it might be, many people are going to want to write it off just because. That said, this is certainly a title that might be able to break down those boundaries as it is just that good.
I find it very hard to find anything negative to say about Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Everything from the storytelling to the presentation is about as good as it gets. People who struggle with science-fiction might have a hard time getting into it due to its cyberpunk nature, but I would urge everybody to give it a chance. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is about as good a cyberpunk title as can be found. Very highly recommended.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles,Tachikomatic Days, Interviews with Cast and Crew
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System