Ghost In The Shell: Special Edition (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Luis Cruz
Review Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2005



What They Say
Based On The Manga By Masamune Shirow

2029-A female cybernetic government agent, Major Motoko Kusanagi, anditheiInternal Bureau of Investigations are hot on the trail of "The Puppet Master," a mysterious and threatening computer virus capable of infiltrating human hosts. Together, with her fellow agents from Section 9, they embark on a high-tech race against time to capture the omnipresent entity.

The Review!
A classic title receives an extensive makeover as Manga Entertainment unleashes Ghost in the Shell in a two disc special edition.

Audio:
The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track was used for my primary viewing session. Both the front and rear soundstages were well utilized during the film; music, dialogue, and sound effects were well balanced and suffered from no noticeable problems. After years of listening to a stereo track of this title, the rich and expansive audio remaster breathed new life into this title for me. A second viewing session consisted of the English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The track is on par with the Japanese track providing an equally rich audio experience.

Video:
Having passed over the first DVD release, I have no basis of comparison how this recent release compares. However, this release is far superior to the picture I have seen in the years of watching it on VHS or on broadcast television. The colors are vibrant and sharp allowing a lot of detail to shine through. There were no noticeable artifacts from the digital transfer. One only has to view the original scenes from 1995 used in the bonus material to appreciate how clean and crisp this transfer is.

Packaging:
The two discs are packaged in a folding digipack case; the case itself is held shut by a plastic slipcover. The slipcover bears the familiar image used for nearly every release of this film. The digipack case is decorated with a close-up of Kusanagi from that same image. The back of the case contains the requisite screenshots, synopsis, and disc specifications. Packaged with the two discs are a promotional poster and a postcard featuring artwork from the original manga.

Menu:
The menus are rendered as the green net interface used by the characters throughout the film. The left side of the screen features short clips from the film all tinted in the same green color; the right side of the screen features the actual menu options. The transition animations between menus are bearable since they fit the net interface motif of the menu system. There is one flaw with the menus; when one selects an audio or subtitle track in the setup menu, there is no visual indication of what you selected. No color changes or iconic markers are used to distinguish your selected choice from the unselected choices. Despite this flaw, the menus are usable and reflect the content quite well.

Extras:
The extras are a mixed bag of items; there are brief text biographies for the manga creator Masamune Shirow and for the film's director Mamoru Oshii. Brief is the operative word here as they provide little information on either person. The character dossiers are equally brief and do not add much more to the characters than what one could glean from watching the film. There are also three trailers for the various Ghost in the Shell titles available today; the most interesting trailer was for the original film's theatrical release in 1995. There are snatches of the English dub in the trailer, and it is apparent that an entirely different cast was used for the initial release.

Rounding out and saving the extras is a thirty minute piece on the digital animation process and a twenty-six minute production report. The digital animation piece was the most fascinating; it covered the techniques of both the traditional and digital animation processes in a straightforward manner that was not overly technical. It is the best explanation of some of the core techniques of the industry that I have seen.

The production report rehashes some of these elements and does pad itself out with "highlights" from the film itself, but it manages to provide material that complements the digital animation piece quite well. There are several new pieces added in including brief interviews with the cast and crew along with clips from the film's premier party. Overall, both pieces give a fascinating look behind the scenes of the film.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The original Ghost in the Shell film has been a staple of anime fans since it was first released in 1995. Every festival, convention, and club has shown this film at least once making it something I have seen numerous times. It has been quiet some time since I last watched it though, and I was curious to see if it could still make a strong impression after all this time.

The year is 2029 and sees mankind having made significant advancements in technology. Among these advancements are the ability to replace human flesh, including the brain, with cybernetic replacements and the ability to transfer one's "ghost" to a completely new body. Great leaps in knowledge require people to enforce laws that prevent abuse of that knowledge. Section 9 is one such group of police officers.

Section 9's field team is lead by Kusanagi Motoko, a woman who has had her entire body save for her brain replaced. She and Section 9 find themselves tangled up in a web of intrigue centered around a hacker named "The Puppet Master". As Kusanagi and her team close in on the Puppet Master, she becomes increasingly unsure of her own humanity as the definition begins to blur.

The first thing that struck me as the final credits rolled was just how short this film felt. It was not something I had noticed in prior viewings; the film is paced very well with no places that feel rushed or that the plot is laboring along. However, it left a feeling like there should have been more to the film.

Part of this feeling though is a testament to how well the story was written and how well defined the characters were. The world of 2029 is not a foreign, alien world; apart from the cyborg aspects, it appears all too familiar to the audience and makes a connection with them. This connection is continued through the members of Section 9.

To a certain extent, Kusanagi, Batou, and the rest of Section 9 can be reduced to archetypes seen in countless other works, but there is something natural about them. They are typical people given some not-so-typical tools to do their job; there is no grand quest they are on, no "world is in peril" crisis for them to avert. They are cops who try to do their job as best as they can every day. Whether it is the banter between them or the subtle expressions they give each other, it just rings true to the ear and eye and gives one the impression that they could easily be any one of the hundreds of people we come across in our life.

The crux of the plot is how these mostly normal people deal with the big questions; just what does define an individual? What defines life and humanity? None of these questions are answered by the film which is why one wants more out of it. Yet that is the beauty of the film; it does not attempt to preach or lecture on what the definition should be. Instead, it asks the questions and challenges the audience to find the answer for themselves.

Or, you could just call the whole plot psychological, metaphysical claptrap and enjoy the film simply on its visual merits. Though produced in 1995, the film holds up remarkably well and looks like it could easily have been produced closer to the latter half of the 1990s. What strikes me most is the harmony between the visuals and the plot as reflected in Kusanagi's appearance. Her body is lithe and resembles a marionette one might play with as a child, a most appropriate appearance for one caught up in the machinations of one called the Puppet Master.

What continues to strike me most after repeated viewings are Kusanagi's eyes; throughout the film, there are moments when her eyes seem cold, hollow, and lifeless. At these times, one can feel her inner turmoil; can eyes that dead really belong to someone truly human? Has she lost the essence that defines an individual and become a cybernetic ghost?

And this brings this viewer full circle as there are no answers for these questions; I must seek the answers to these questions alone. And that is why, no matter how brief it now feels, I continue to watch and enjoy this film.

In Summary:
Having more language tracks than one could possibly need, this special edition is most certainly the definitive edition for those outside of Japan to own. Ghost in the Shell in its animated and manga form have influenced numerous titles that have followed it and rightfully so. A true measure of a good story is how well it draws you into the world it weaves; Ghost in the Shell weaves a world that easily draws the viewer in with familiar settings, plausible technological advances, and true to life characters. More importantly, it gives the audience a chance to stretch their imagination and think. All of these elements add up to title that belongs in every fan's library.

Features
Japanese DTS ES 6.1 Language, Japanese DD-EX 5.1 Language,English DTS ES 6.1 Language,English DD-EX 5.1 Language, Spanish 2.0 Language,French 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Character Dossiers ,Creator Biography ,Director Biography ,Digital Works ,Production Report ,Ghost In The Shell Trailers ,2 Sided Full Color Special Edition Poster ,Postcard

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: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Manga Entertainment
MSRP: 34.98
Running time: 82
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphice Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ghost in the Shell