Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (also w/Limited Edition) (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Mark Thomas
Review Date: Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Following up the 1995 movie, this production is one of the most gorgeous animes I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the story does not quite match.

What They Say
The year is 2032. With the advancement of medical technology humanity has grown into a more technologically driven creature, creating a breed of cyborg citizen. Along with the development of cybernetics the world has seen rapid development in the field of artificial intelligence, making androids a commercially viable venture. A recent string of murders perpetrated by a prototype female android has drawn the attention of Section 9, a unit specializing in counter cyber-terrorism. With none of the victims� families pressing charges, suspicions arise regarding the nature of the androids and their production.

Months have passed since the end of the Puppet Master incident, and with the Major still missing investigative duties fall to her cyborg commando partner Batou and his newly recruited biological partner, Togusa. Can the two overcome their differences and discover the truth behind this string of murders?

The Review!
Audio:
For this viewing, I listened to the English 5.1 dub. In a nice move, the Japanese track is also offered in 5.1. The dialogue, music, and sound effects are all clear, with no dropout in any of the tracks. This title makes good use of the 5.1 mix, as both dialogue and the sound effects have nice directionality. In particular, the dialogue getting the directional treatment really helps with immersion, and it is done well in this release. A top notch effort.

Video:
Originally released in 2004, this release preserves the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The visuals in this title are absolutely stunning and may just be the best I have seen in an animated film. This film boasts a good range of eclectic coloring that is normal for something in the cyberpunk genre and mixes it with some wonderful dramatic shading. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the computer graphics and traditional animation do not blend too well, but both are so well done that I cannot really complain.

Packaging:
This release has a pretty basic package. Set in a standard amaray case, the front has an image of one of the sexroids, naked, and with her knees pulled into her chest. This is set against a mostly black background, creating a nice contrast between the backdrop and the pale white cyborg. The back has the movie summary along the top, with some screen shots and the technical details below. The DVD has the same image from the front, though the title logo is cutout rather than printed on so that the reflective surface of the disc shows through, making for another contrast. The packaging is not bad by any stretch, but there is nothing overly fancy about it either.

Menu:
The menu for this release is nicely designed. The main menu has a computer rendering of a human spine rotating vertically in the middle of the screen, with inlaid images and text to make it look like a computerized scientific file. The background has a grid with various images appearing and disappearing in it, adding to the computer feel of it. All of this is given in a red/orange scale of coloring. Along the bottom is a bar with the title in the middle and various images from the movie animating on the sides. The selections are on the right side of the screen, in the same red colors as the rest of the screen, but the highlight is in green, allowing it to stand out. While the menu is up, the main theme plays in the background. There is a fairly decent length to the loop, so the song does not repeat too much.

Extras:
There are a few nice extras on this release. The first is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. This is neat, but it does not really differ that much from other ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurettes. There is also a Japanese trailer. The nicest extra is a feature length subtitled commentary with Mamoru Oshii (Director) and Toshihiko Nishikubo (Animation Director). There are some nice nuggets of information in this, and it is nice to go back through and hear their reasoning for doing certain things the way they did.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is the second feature length title in the Ghost in the Shell franchise and is a direct follow up to the original 1995 movie. Therefore, it is also a separate continuity Stand Alone Complex and 2nd Gig. Like every other Ghost in the Shell title, Innocence attempts a complex story that explores the meaning of humanity, but unlike the others, it does not achieve the lofty goals it sets for itself.

According to official records, after the Puppet Master incident, the Major has disappeared. Batoh is the only person aware that she has permanently dived into the network, but he covers for her as he knows that those in charge are only looking to recover the information she has and have no interest in her as a person.

However, with the Major gone, Batoh is a little lost as an officer. His new partner is Section 9 rookie, Togusa, who Batoh likes well enough, but is not particularly close to like he was Motoko. Partially, this is because Togusa is the only member of Section 9 to refuse any cybernetic enhancement, and partially it is because Togusa does not feel like he belongs at Section 9. Togusa does not feel he is an adequate replacement for the Major, and inwardly, Batoh agrees.

Batoh and Togusa are assigned to investigate a series of murder/suicide being perpetrated by sexroids. For unclear reasons, a certain model of sexroid produced by LOCUS SOLUS has become corrupted, and individuals have begun murdering their clients before then killing themselves. This is an odd case, as these acts break two of the three governing laws of robotics.

They quickly deduce that the sexroids actions are a result of tampering from hackers, but as they get closer to the truth, the attacks turn on them. Togusa finds his brain hacked so that he sees things that are not there, and even Batoh’s defenses are compromised as he is compelled to attack himself and shoot up a convenience store. Each attack gets stranger than the next, and as they become more complex, it soon becomes impossible to tell reality from fantasy; luckily for them, they have help from a secret partner.

Before I start discussing the plot, I should note that Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is just about the most visually impressive titles I have ever seen, animated or not. It is obvious that Production I.G. spent a lot of time putting this one together as the world that they create is incredibly immersive. Regardless of any other faults, it is worth checking out just for that, as it makes all other efforts seem deficient.

Like other Ghost in the Shell titles, wrapped in Innocence’s plot is the question of what it means to be a human. In this case, the fact that the sexroids are capable of both murder and suicide suggests a level of awareness usually not seen in robots, and therefore raises the possibility of a Ghost being present.

Unfortunately, the plotline is a little stilted. There are some great scenes: the scene where Batoh and Togusa raid the Yakuza hideout is one that particularly stands out in my mind. However, the overall effect is left lacking. The problem, more than anything else, is that the creators delve much farther into the philosophy of life than is normal for Ghost in the Shell, and I think they get lost in it. They do not seem to fully complete the thought processes that form their theory, and the general story suffers from it.

For one, there are a number of instances of Deus Ex Machina that hurt the effect. While I can accept that the characters have certain inside information that I as an outside am not privy to, there were too many times through this movie that Batoh, Togusa, or the Chief know exactly who they need to go see with no real explanation as to how they came to that conclusion. As such, it leaves the viewer a bit disconnected from the proceedings. There are just too many areas where we are asked to take a great lea of faith to keep the story moving.

The other major problem with this story was that the subplot was actually more interesting than the main plot, and the two really did not mesh well together. A theme running through the entire movie is that Batoh is having trouble moving on after the disappearance of Motoko. In the various incarnations of Ghost in the Shell, it has been hinted that besides being her partner, Batoh is also in love with the Major. As such, he struggles to accept that he does not get to be around her everyday anymore. Because of his feelings, it is no wonder that Batoh has a little trouble accepting Togusa as his partner.

This theme continually shows up through out the movie, and it really feels to me that this struggle in Batoh is the real story happening. Unfortunately, except for some later scenes, this conflict takes a back seat to the murder investigation and the exploration of Ghosts. I think the story would have been better served analyzing Batoh’s relationship with the Major more and letting the investigation take a backseat. It would have added some great insight into Batoh’s character and probably would have been a more interesting story.

What we are left with is just a disjointed mess. Because of the leaps of faith and long discussions of philosophy, the general plot seems to jump from scene to scene with no real flow. Taken individually, many of the scenes are really good, but it struggles to form a complete picture. Overall it feels like it is taking on too much. While not bad, per se, thanks to the inevitable comparisons to the other titles in this franchise, Innocence ends up as a disappointment.

In Summary:
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence may just be the most gorgeous anime I have ever seen. The visuals are just absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately, the story does not quite live up to the imagery. Like the other titles in this franchise, the plotline is little more than an excuse to explore the meaning of life, but unlike the other titles, it stumbles in that exploration. While it is not bad, it does not measure up to the lofty heights set by the first movie and the TV series. However, it is worth checking out just for the scenery. Recommended, but not necessarily for the plot.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Director�s CommentaryLimited Edition: Special Collector�s Steelbook Case, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Original Soundtrack

Review Equipment
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System



Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 19.98/29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ghost in the Shell