Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG Vol. #2 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Release Date: Monday, March 13, 2006



What They Say
On her first visit to one of the refugee areas, the Prime Minister receives a bouquet of flowers and in it is a death threat. Section 9 is called in to provide round-the-clock security for her as they work to catch the would-be assassin. As they do their legwork, more and more links to the mysterious "Individual Eleven" are uncovered.

Meanwhile, Togusa is trying to unravel the reason for a man's suspicious death and it leads him into the bowels of Tokyo and a government cover-up. Then, Section 9 is ordered to transport some dangerous plutonium out of one of their refugee districts and the creepy Gohda is once again given command of the operation. When it's all over, the Major and the rest of Section 9 try to figure out exactly how all of these things are linked together. These strange happenings can't all be coincidence...

The Review!
2nd GIG gets into full swing with some real quality episodes in a strong second volume.

Audio:
For this disc I watched the episodes with the English 5.1 track. I noticed no dropouts or distortions on either this track or on spot-checking the Japanese 5.1 track, and a brief check of the 2.0 tracks displayed no problem either. The music continues to come across very well indeed, and the effort put into the various sound mixes really pays off. The dub is excellent and the voice actors finish the season on a real high.

Video:
Once again with this volume, we seem to be getting a transfer direct from the high-definition masters, as there didn't appear to be any PAL conversion problems that most series face (and the runtimes for each episode are shorter than their US counterparts), and the result is another superb widescreen transfer. I didn't notice any transfer problems in terms of artefacts or other compression issues, it just looked excellent.

The subtitles are in a decent sized white font with a black border, and are clear and easy to read.

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

Menu:
The menus have a completely different feel for this season, and after an opening animation the main menu has a red feel this time, with a swirling circular image of a Tachikoma in the centre. Computer style sound effects play over this menu, and the selections each appear to the left (episodes) and right (setup and extras) of circle. You can select each of the episodes, "System Parameters" (the language settings) and "Data Archive" (the extras). Selecting an episode takes you to a sub-menu in the same theme, except clips from the episode appear in the centre circle. From here you can switch episode, run the episode itself or "View Source Code" which displays a text-based summary for the episode.

While they're a nice enough theme, there are a couple of frustrating things. First, there's no "play all" option, and after each episode you're returned to that episode's menu, which breaks the flow of viewing somewhat. Also, you can't go directly into an episode without going through another menu, making navigation a bit cumbersome. And finally, the IDT Entertainment logo plays before each episode as well, and is unskippable, which is just a bit frustrating and needless.

Extras:
The extras are much the same as the first season, with more interviews. Here we get an instalment with Character Designers Goto Takayuki and Nishio Tetsuya, split into two parts (the first running about 12 minutes, the second about 10), where they discuss their thoughts on the series and their designs. For a fan of the show, these are always really interesting extras that I am happy to see,

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the first volume of 2nd GIG eased us in to the way the world of Stand Alone Complex has become, this volume really starts thrusting the plot forward in all sorts of interesting directions. I wasn't quite as enamoured as I'd expected to be with the last disc, and so perhaps my expectations were slightly lower going into this one. Maybe I'd settled on this season simply equalling the first. But instead this second volume has enough quality that it could genuinely topple the first season in the quality stakes.

On this disc we get at one "individual", one "dual" and two "dividual" (stand alone) episodes on this disc, though in reality the episodes are linked in that events in one will have a knock on effect in the others. The first episode on this disc was my favourite of the volume, with the Prime Minister receiving a death threat while she's on a visit to the refugee district. Her cabinet calls in Aramaki and Section 9 for help, but only in a defensive, protecting role. They show him a strange marking that appears on the note that accompanies the threat, which Section 9 focuses in on. They discover that the markings relate to some historical story relating to something called The Individual Eleven, but there isn't much time to follow up because the Prime Minister decides (against their recommendation) to visit a local temple, where despite a trap from Section 9, she is left wide open for attack.

What I really like about this episode was the pacing. Right from the time the Prime Minister receives the death threat, things start building and building through to the action packed conclusion. Once again the expertise of Section 9 is put to good use with the back-room bunch tracking down the symbol that represents "The Individual Eleven". This is perhaps the most intriguing piece of the story, as this season's arc seems to be focussing on it, and it's a name we've heard before and also the name the perpetrator in this episode uses. Once again it's also some sort of historical reference and we're sure to see more of the story unravelled as the season continues. The lead up to the action scene was excellent as well, with Section 9 laying a trap only to have Kuze outwit them and almost carry out his attack on the Prime Minister as planned. This episode really sets things up nicely for the story to continue.

The third episode on the disc was another excellent one, this time having Section 9 called in by the government to aid in the transport of the plutonium from the underground nuclear plant in Tokyo, talked about in the previous episode, to a safer destination. While Section 9 are unhappy about being used by the government, particularly Batou who sees it as Aramaki rolling over for them, they do assist but are forced to work with the Ground Self Defence Force, and the operation is being helmed by a government operative called Gohda. This causes all sorts of interesting friction, as the group enters the refugee district and gunfire breaks out.

It's the tension between the different parties that helps make this another cracking episode. Members of Section 9, Batou in particular, are getting a bit dismayed from their current dog work of sorts from the Japanese government, and having Gohda sent in to control this mission doesn't help ease that tension at all. When you add in the events that take place, from the refugee fire to the different conversations, things really start to become a bit of a mess for everyone. But there's still time for a wicked little twist at the end that shows no matter how good our crack team at Section 9 are, they can still get played as well. And I am extremely glad this isn't the last we'll see of Gohda, since he's a very interesting (and seemingly somewhat sinister) character.

The two episodes in between are good in their own right as well. The second episode is another nice episode centred around Togusa, as he investigates a man found dead (right at the start of the episode, no less) who had been trying to blackmail the Energy Ministry. He finds the dead man's wife, who protests her late husband's innocence, and the pair delve into his past to try and uncover the truth behind his blackmail, and in the process discover some interesting government activities. It's always nice to get a bit of focus on a certain character when we get a bit of downtime in a non-arc related episode, and Togusa continues to be one of the core cast members that really intrigues me. The way he works, so very methodical, and the way he thinks, is quite different to the rest of the team and when you see him work alone you can also see why the individual qualities of the group are just what makes Section 9 great as a whole.

The final episode has Section 9 investigating a restaurant worker who has been seen at several incidents that The Individual Eleven has claimed responsibility for. Batou and Togusa lead the stake out but they soon uncover the interesting twist that this episode holds: Section 1 is also investigating the same man, but exactly why they don't know. It really feels as though events are starting to build towards something big, with several different players becoming involved and every episode here had me intrigued to find out a little more about what is going on.

In Summary:
This second volume really kicks 2nd GIG into full throttle, as the plot is thrust forward in all sorts of interesting directions, ready to come together soon for what is surely going to be an explosive event. The characters, quality of story and production values are as brilliant as ever, so it's easy to recommend since you'll become totally engrossed in the experience while you watch. Given how good this disc was, I really am sure this season will manage to surpass the first, which is high praise indeed.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Interviews with Goto Takayuki and Nishio Tetsuya (Character Designers),Episode Profiles

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Manga UK
MSRP: 19.99
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