The second season of excellent Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series not only lives up to the potential of the first, but actually surpasses it.
What They Say
The year is 2030 and six years have passed since the end of World War IV. Influxes of refugees are allowed into Japan to fill the labor gaps of the growing economy. Terrorist cells identifying themselves as the Individual Eleven have begun a series of ultranationalist attacks targeting refugee camps, foreign consulates and even the Prime Minister.
A charismatic new leader rises amongst the refugee's resistance movement, a former member of the Individual Eleven. Simultaneously a top member of the Cabinet Intelligence Agency contacts Section 9 with shocking revelations and unknown ambitions regarding the current state of affairs.
When the refugee resistance procures a nuclear bomb can Major Motoko Kusanagi and Public Security Section 9 diffuse the situation and help avoid a catastrophic civil war? Can they uncover the mastermind orchestrating the situation? Who is the mysterious resistance leader and what link does he hold to the Major's past?
Contains episodes 1-26.
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.
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. There is a little bit of artifacting at times in the darker colors in the background, but it is nothing particularly noticeable unless looking for it. 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. 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, and thankfully it seems they fixed the issue with the insert catching the discs in the back that irritated me on the set for the first season.
The front cover has a pencil sketch images of the major players from this season. 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, all set against the standard circular image used in the network diving imagery. 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 zooms in on the back of the Major’s neck as if diving into her memory, ultimately giving way to a loop of clips from the episodes in the center. Selections are along the bottom, and the background has a series of text scrolls that looks like data being analyzed. During all of this one of the upbeat themes used sometimes in chase scenes plays in the background. The menus are wonderfully designed, with the only real flaw being the fairly abrupt jump as the animation loops to the beginning, especially in the sound. Otherwise, it is great.
There is not a whole lot of diversity with the extras, but there is a lot of what they do have. Each disc has at least 2 interviews with various members of the creative staff, each discussing a different aspect of the series and/or creation of. A lot of information to digest in these. And at the end of each episode, 2nd Gig gives us the second season of Tachikomatic Days, which are animated shorts involving the Tachikoma robots getting involved in wacky plots or just discussing moments in the previous episode. Essentially they are an extra thirty to sixty seconds of adorable tanks doing adorable things.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is the followup to the excellent first season, and provides a new issue for the members of Section 9 to get tied up in. 2nd Gig follows up in the grand Ghost in the Shell tradition of providing plenty of hard hitting, sci-fi violence with some thought provoking questions, but tempers it this time around as we get to see more of the past of the various members of Section 9 than we ever have before, particularly with the Major. Because of this slightly new approach, I found 2nd Gig to actually be better than the first season, which I did not think was possible going in.
Following the end of the Laughing Man case, and the secret reinstatement of Section 9, the crew goes back to work as if nothing had ever happened. However, there is a new Prime Minister in charge of the country, and shifting political alliances are making things dicey for the group that is already under increased scrutiny.
At the heart of many of the issues facing Japan is the decision as to what to do with the increasing amount of refugees (essentially illegal aliens) piling into the refugee camp outside Tokyo. Some people seem to favor allowing them into the country, while others favor throwing them out. The confusion goes right up through the government, and nothing seems to be happening despite mounting hostilities from some citizens.
At the heart of the issue is a group calling themselves the Individual Eleven who claim to want to expose the injustices of society. But when they commit mass suicide, the focus shifts to the one member who refused to die: Hideo Kuze. Kuze becomes an inspirational leader for the refugees in their quest to be accepted as citizens of Japan. But despite Kuze’s reputation as a leader to be feared, he actually attempts to promote peaceful solutions to the conflict rather than outright violence. At times, he might offer the suggestion of violence, just to show the refugees mean business, but he would rather not have to go forward with it.
Section 9’s other issue is Cabinet Intelligence Service agent Kazundo Gouda. He is placed in charge of Section 9 a couple of times during missions, but always rubs them the wrong way. It is quickly apparent that Gouda is attempting to manipulate things behind the scenes, but Section 9 cannot figure out how or why, so they are forced to keep observing and guessing what is going to come next. One way or another, the outcome threatens to enact mass changes within the Japanese infrastructure.
2nd Gig uses the same sort of approach that the first season did: it suggests the overarching storyline early but does not hesitate to have episodes about other random crimes. I like this approach because it is a more natural reflection of life in law enforcement. Just because a police officer might be working one case does not mean he/she does not have to stop on occasion to clean up a different mess. Though it means moving away from the problems with Gouda and the refugees, I think it flows well.
The first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was one of my favorite anime series ever, and I thought that it really hit at the potential that the Ghost in the Shell movies hinted the series had. Much like that season, I have no real complaints with 2nd Gig. The plot is intriguing and tightly constructed, there is plenty of good action, and I love all of the characters. Gouda in particular is well done, his deformed face matching his chilling demeanor.
But as much as I liked the first season, 2nd Gig takes a step beyond because for the first time (at least in the anime) we get a close look at the backgrounds of a lot of the characters. In particular, we get to learn a lot about the history of the Major, and it really helps to explain why she is as coolly efficient at her job as she is. A certain person from her past also shows up, which opens up a human side to her that up to this point has been missing. Unfortunately, opening up that side also opens up the possibility for fallibility.
Interestingly, although learning the Major’s past was by far the most interesting part of the series as a whole, my favorite episodes only involved the Major as a side note. The second episode—Night Cruise—followed a random guy as he continued to lose himself in delusions about the evils of cyberization and how he was going to fix society. The tenth—Trial—involved Togusa in a case where he was being accused of excess violence while preventing a crime. And the fourteenth—Poker Face—told the story of how the sniper, Saito, met the Major and joined Section 9. All three episodes revealed plenty of detail about side characters and the world that just did not get the airtime in previous iterations, though I almost wish Trial had been a two-parter.
And of course, despite their apparent destruction at the end of the first season, 2nd Gig feature the return of brilliant Tachikoma think-tanks. Following on in the grand tradition of the first season, much of the purpose of the Tachikomas is to stand around and discuss what it means to be an individual, and whether they are truly individual themselves. And of course, they do this in adorable fashion, providing a little bit of comic relief in what is otherwise a fairly serious series.
Much like the first season, I really cannot say anything bad about Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. It has plenty of good action and thought provoking plot points. If anything, with the inclusion of insights into the pasts of the Major and other members of Section 9, it actually surpasses the first season, which I would have thought was hard to do. If the first season, or any of the other Ghost in the Shell properties, interested you in any way, then you most certainly cannot go wrong with this one. Very highly recommended.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Tachikomatic Days, Textless Opening, Interviews with the Cast, Director & Creative Staff
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080p, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System