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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, January 21, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2005



What They Say
The original GHOST IN THE SHELL was hailed by critics and audiences alike as one of the finest Animé films ever produced, and influenced Hollywood films from THE MATRIX to A.I. GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX features the same cyberpunk atmosphere, characters, and settings as the original film, but takes place in an alternate timeline where Major Motoko Kusanagi and Togusa are still members of Section 9--a police agency that hunts down cyber-criminals and terrorists. Based on the manga by Masumune Shirow and directed by Kenji Kamiyama (who directed and assisted with the animation on BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE and JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE), STAND ALONE COMPLEX focuses on creating complex mysteries, a dark futuristic setting, and kinetic action sequences. Volume 4 contains four episodes of the acclaimed action series, and continues the story of Motoko and her quest to bring down criminals both real and virtual.

The Review!
While providing nothing in the Complex vein this time, Ghost in the Shell rolls out some fantastic Stand Alone material.

Special Note:
The special edition release of this series features two discs in each keepcase. The first disc is the same as the regular edition release. The second disc contains the DTS edition, which is the focus of this review. This disc is essentially the same as the regular edition in terms of visual content and menus but doesn't have any of the extras, hence the need for the inclusion of the regular edition (which I have to consider something of a failing; the DTS edition should not have to rely on the regular edition to provide all the content. I would rather have seen the extras shunted onto their own disc at the end of the series or something else other than including what's basically a completely unnecessary disc outside of a few extras).

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese which is also a DTS 5.1 mix. This is one of the more active original 5.1 Japanese language tracks for a TV series that I've heard and it feels even fuller and more active and distinct in some areas than the Dolby mix, but that may simply be my hearing playing tricks on me. Right from the opening moments of the episode itself with the helicopters flying by, highly reminiscent of the movie sequence itself, you know you're in for a treat. From ambient sounds to all out action and some brief dialogue, the mix is fantastic and quite encompassing. It's not a track that's active every minute of each episode, but when it kicks in, it's done for a reason and not so much a gimmick. We had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of it. This is a show where you kick back and crank it up and let it all just flow across you.

Video:
Originally airing in 2002, this series is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Stand Alone Complex is one of the most luscious transfers I've seen in a year of gorgeous releases. After taking in the first four episodes I'm hard pressed to find even one tiny thing to truly complain about, never mind even nitpick. Colors are gorgeous and solid, especially all the various areas of large soft colors that look to be amazingly solid and with no visible break-up even during pausing. Cross coloration is non-existent from what I could see, resulting in a smooth and clean transfer that just shines from start to finish. If this keeps up for the entire series, than we're in for one of the best looking things this year.

Packaging:
Being a double disc release, the keepcase is standard sized but contains a flippy hinge inside that contains the DTS disc. Using the original artwork from the Japanese DVD release, the image of Motoko looks much better this time around as she's in one of her dark gray skin suits with some padding and kneeling down on the hard gray surface while a traditional temple is behind her in the fog. It's a good looking piece but not one of the best looking pieces of the series. The front cover and the spine are both clear with the volume numbering while the back cover provides both episode numbers and titles. There are a few very small shots from the show used here while the bulk of the background is just mechanical in nature and not really meaning anything. There are a couple of paragraphs of basic premise summaries and material to give you the feel of the show. The discs features and extras are all clearly listed. The insert is once more a very text heavy piece with the couple of pieces on the shows creation, some done in a rather colorful way.

The special edition packaging itself is the same as previous volumes but with no extras that require more space since it's just an ID card, the slipcover fits fine all the time unlike the previous ones which had far too much open space to be useable once you take the extra item out.. It's an average cardboard box that's slotted down the sides to show off the keepcase artwork in an interesting way. It's basically an expanded slipcover that's in more of a traditional box mode. The ID card itself is a simple little plastic piece that serves as a Section 9 identification so at least if anyone cosplays as her they've got something authentic to add to their costume otherwise it's an extra that ends up rarely being taken out of the keepcase..

Menu:
The menu layout is very well done by utilizing the virtual menus the characters themselves use to access the net as the central focus with clips from the show playing there while various CG styled images play in the background. The very haunting opening song plays briefly to all of this as well but would have been better served by ending softly instead of abruptly. The general layout and design is very good though with quick and easy access and top level access from some of the deeper menus, a real rarity among most menu designs. Access times are nice and fast and my decks defaults were correctly read.

Extras:
For the extras on the regular disc, we get a pair of interviews. For this volume, we get an interview session with Koichi Yamadera and he provides his thoughts on the benefits of playing Togusa, the one of the group who isn't quite as perfect as the rest of the leads. The other interview which is equally as interesting is with Sakiko Tamagawa who handles playing the Tachikoma's in the series. The way that the character is approached and dealt with is interesting to learn here and adds more to the overall performance I think.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the third installment provided such great episodes, particularly in the Laughing Man case with the beautifully done chat room episode, I was keen on seeing even more material for this storyline on this volume but that was not to be. Taking a bit of a break from that angle, the series in this installment provides four stand alone episodes that deal with a wider range of issues but also brings in some interesting moments in the overall continuity in its dealings with the Tachikoma's.

The stand alone episodes are just as exciting in general to me as the complex episodes and ones like the first one here really prove that to me. The episode is fairly standard in that there's a mystery to be solved, which in this case is the re-appearance of a ten year old girl that was kidnapped sixteen years ago by one of the pro-humanity groups. The problem is that she looks exactly the same as she did then and an SST team that got close to her confirmed her genetics over it so now it's up to Section 9 to infiltrate the off-shore platform, which also serves as something of a junkers paradise for the raiders of the sea, and rescue the young heiress. Her own history is interesting enough in being one of the first to be cyberized during the start of that technical revolution by her own father but it's mostly just background material. It's the actual infiltration and capture that makes the episode exciting.

It's fairly standard in that you get the setup and then it proceeds for the probably more than half of the show in dealing with the various small groups making their way in, scouting out the location and getting all their plans in order so that they can pull off the operation as quickly and smoothly as possible. This kind of material is just incredibly appealing to me and watching it play out is just pure fun to watch. When the acts start to go down and the violence erupts, the show kicks over from the more subtle music to the beautiful action pieces of what I'm finding to be an amazing soundtrack overall and it just flows perfectly right up until the end. And even with an episode like this where it's fairly cut and dry there is still plenty of mystery at the end where not everything is truly resolved but you get to see the end of Section 9's involvement and no epilogue explaining it all to the viewer. I know how that can irk some but in a show like this it's almost expected.

One of the more fascinating sub plots of the series so far has been watching the evolution of the Tachikoma's. This became more noticeable after Batou got chastised for feeding one of them natural oil and that particular unit, which is Batou's favorite even though they're all supposedly identical, ended up seeming to have slightly more personality and individuality to it than the others. But since they all link repeatedly and have a relatively shared consciousness as far as their level of consciousness is defined, the others find themselves taking on shreds of its personality as well and their continued growth and discussions become more and more interesting. Since they're able to talk and discuss things such as life and death and the meaning of ghosts, but in their own skewed perceptions of the world since they're somewhat limited in their ability to get data at times, it's almost comical but at the same time it cuts through much of the obfuscation that people put on such things. When the Tachikoma equates God as the analog version of the mathematical number zero, it all makes a certain sense in how its presented but at the same time you can laugh at the audacity of the Tachikoma to say it so casually.

They get practically an entire episode to themselves here as they explore a variety of issues while there's some downtime in Section 9 but there are some interesting developments that occur with them that Motoko notes and forces Batou to accept. Since he's become so attached to the one unit in particular it's something that he needs to really accept and she at least understands that though she does it in her own particular way. But even then, she doesn't need to go too far since the Tachikoma does things that proves her point just as easily. But for Batou, this works out nicely since it sets things up nicely in the next episode as he heads off on a mission by himself.

This was particularly interesting for me as I had just a week earlier spent some time criticizing the character's inability to carry a movie by himself, or at least a Mamoru Oshii driven movie. The single episode here has him investigating a potential spy in the midst of the military by checking out a former boxing champion and Olympic level athlete who has gone downhill since but spends his time teaching technique to cadets and others across numerous bases. Batou turns out to have been a huge fan of his over the years and is able to use his own personal knowledge of him to enable him to get close quickly and begin his investigation. This is a very man-heavy episode since it opens with such moments as the two of them boxing each other but these kinds of moments are just great to watch. The passion and energy within these shots are addictive and while it's not a major fight or anything, it's something that draws me to the edge of my seat in fascination as it's just so well done and engaging. This episode does a good job of exploring some of what makes Batou tick by reflecting him off of others, such as the spy and his family as well as Togusa and his family. A little bit deeper into his life we get but still never enough.

In Summary:
Ghost in the Shell continues to feed a certain craving in anime that I have. Just about every aspect of this series has won me over from the start and it only continues to be more and more engaging and exciting as it goes along. With stories this time that don't tap into the Complex episodes, we get to see more sides of things and an expanded look at how Section 9 works that it helps to flesh things out even more. Taken as a whole, this is a great set of episodes particularly if you're enjoying the growth of the Tachikoma's and their own nifty way of dealing with each other. I simply can't get enough of this show.

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

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Manga Entertainment
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 110
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