Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #04 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Friday, April 08, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2005



What They Say
A band of terrorists claims to have possession of a girl who was kidnapped some years ago, but when the Major and company are called in to resolve the situation, they realize that something is very wrong—the girl appears to be the same age she was when she was kidnapped!

Things get even tougher as the team is assigned to guard a very wealthy and reclusive businessman who is a target for assassination by an international crime syndicate. As machines learn to evolve and human emotions cloud judgment, Section 9 will come face to face with a brave new digital world.

The Review!
Four solid stand-alone episodes from the crew of Section 9 make for an enjoyable fourth volume of Stand Alone Complex.

Audio:
The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track was used for my primary viewing session. From the opening theme to the ending theme, the track is rich and vibrant providing action throughout the entire soundstage. Whether it is the echoes of footsteps in the sewers or the staccato of gun fire, it resounds with crystal clarity from the speakers. There are no noticeable distortions, dropouts, or other problems. Music, dialogue, and action are balanced well and do not overshadow each other. It is a superb audio track that makes the title even more enjoyable.

Video:
Superb also describes the video transfer for this title; the colors are solid, deep, and lush. From dark alleyways to a sun-light highway, the world of Ghost in the Shell is highly detailed and stunning making for a visual feast. Cross coloration and other problems seem to be non-existent; this is a gorgeous transfer that immerses you in the story's world.

Japanese credits during the opening and ending are replaced with English equivalents. Subtitles are yellow for dialogue and green for the song translations; both are quite readable without taking away much from what is on the screen.

Packaging:
Kusanagi crouches on the front cover in front of a temple gateway with her gun in hand. The series title is at the bottom with the volume number in the upper right corner. On the back cover, the requisite screenshots, synopsis, and disc specifications are rendered with a mechanical feel. There is a small typo on the name of the voice actress listed in the extras listing.

The insert contains no chapter listings containing a summary of what the series is about along with a brief description of the Tachikoma. It features the memorable line "...they are capable of operating independently even without an operator."

Menu:
The menus are rendered as the net interface the characters use; the main menu features a loop of the opening theme song with scenes from the episodes playing in the center of one of the menu controls. The menus are sharp and help immerse one in the world of the series. The main menu does have one minor flaw, as it does not use a consistent color for highlighting a selected menu item. It is a minor nuisance but does not detract much from a beautiful and functional set of menus.

Extras:
Your extras are an interview with Koichi Yamadera, voice actor for Togusa and an interview with Sakiko Tamagawa, the voice actor for the Tachikoma. Both interviews are superb with Yamadera's interview touching on points of the series that make it enjoyable to this viewer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the four stories on this volume are all stand-alone episodes, there is still a thread that ties them all together. While most of the plot does not revolve around them, the Tachikoma are the threads that tie the episodes together and allow more of the rest of the character's inner thoughts and selves to be exposed.

The volume opens up with an unusual mystery; a girl kidnapped over sixteen years ago has reappeared as a member of the terrorist organization that kidnapped her. What makes this case especially unusual is that Tokura Eka appears exactly as she did at the time of her kidnapping. Section 9 infiltrates the oil platform turned drifter city in an effort to locate Tokura and the military team that made first contact with her.

There is some great action from start to finish in this episode, as Section 9 splits up to penetrate the terrorist's lair and to find the missing military team. The episode starts slow as both teams are in search and stealth mode, but by the end of the episode both teams find themselves in one nasty hairball of a fire fight. A perfect finishing touch is applied when the team captures their target but learn nothing that helps solve the mysteries of the case.

It is these small, realistic touches that help make this series enjoyable; life does not always hand you the answers especially for field cops. The viewer can relate and empathize with the characters more readily through plot turns like this. When you see Batou and Kusanagi watch Tokura taken away, you can feel their frustration at not obtaining the answers they sought.

What is also apparent in the small touches from this episode is that the Tachikoma are starting to take on a more human personality. While they are only AI, their constant exposure and sharing of information and experiences among them have begun to develop individual personalities in them.

This thread ties us into the next episode where Section 9 must foil a hitman from killing an extremely reclusive banker. The themes brought up at the end of the episode are a mirror to those the Tachikoma are raising in Kusanagi's mind. We also get another peek into Togusa's personal life and how it contrasts with the lives of those more cyberized than he.

Tachikoma and their individuality are the focus of the third episode; the Tachikoma begin to become aware of their individuality and discuss what it means to be alive and human. This display causes Kusanagi to have the Tachikoma sent back to the lab as they have become a less effective weapon. This does not sit well with Batou at all and affects him quite deeply.

The final episode kicks Batou while he is down when he must take down a personal hero that has begun to sell military secrets. Batou's anger boils over at the end of the episode in a fit that stuns even Togusa. Every single minute of this volume was exceptionally written and executed allowing the viewer to enjoy it on multiple levels.

What was especially well done was the discussion of some of the large philosophical questions about life; having the thoughts and concepts expressed through the child-like innocence and exuberance of the Tachikoma manages to make the discussion feel less like overblown pedantry. And the discussion remains true to the material of the series, including the movie, that came before it; it offers no clear answers to the viewer but presents some concepts to get one thinking. Cap this off with some great exploration of Batou's character and another peek into Togusa's personal life, and you have another volume that keeps me glued to the screen.

In Summary:
While the absence of complex episodes is slightly disappointing, the material in these four stand-alone episodes makes up for it quite well. A common theme runs through all of them and is tied together by the always adorable and amusing Tachikoma. Great writing and character development are the highlights of this volume and continue to make this series the high benchmark that most other anime will have a hard time coming close to.

Features
Japanese DD 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Interview with Koichi Yamadera,Interview with Sakiko Tamagawa

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Manga Entertainment
MSRP: 24.95
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex