Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig Vol. #5 (of 7) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006
Release Date: Monday, September 04, 2006
What They Say
The war at home...
The Major, following a lead on Kuze, the lone member of the Individual Eleven who survived, heads to Taiwan. There she becomes involved in some local "trouble" involving a kid and the local gangs. Then, inexplicably, Batou and the Major are assigned to an international task force to capture the terrorist Angel's Wing. While they're halfway around the world in Berlin, Section 9 continues the investigation.
Back in Japan, tensions at the Dejima refugee camp are on the rise; a full-scale confrontation looks imminent. The Major dives the net and attempts to hack the refugee cyberbrain to determine Kuze's location and stop them before the violence escalates any further!
17. Red Data
18. Trans Parent
19. Chain Reaction
20. Fabricate Fog
The ongoing story in Stand Alone Complex really heats up in the latest explosive volume.
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 have grown into their roles so well that, although they sound different to their Japanese counterparts, they all fit their roles just as well.
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 thin black border, and are clear and easy to read. We finally consistently get translations of the Japanese portion of the episode titles as well.
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.
The menus have a completely different feel for this season, and after an opening animation the main menu has a red theme this time. Computer style sound effects play over this menu, and the selections each appear to the left (episodes) and right (setup and extras) of the screen. 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. 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.
The extras are much the same as past discs, with more interviews. Here we get another instalment with the always interesting Kenji Kamiyama, as well as a cast interview with Atsuko Tanaka (Kusanagi), Akio Ohtsuka (Batou), Koichi Yamadera (Togusa) and Taro Yamaguchi (Borma).
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sometimes you just know a series is good. But what's even better is when, no mater how good the previous episodes were, it continues to get better as it goes along and surpasses your expectations. That's when you know a series is great, and that's exactly what 2nd GIG is.
This volume begins with a couple of individual stories, but all four episodes on this disc really have the story of the search for Kuze looming in the background. In the first episode, Kusanagi goes to Taiwan to carry out an undercover investigation on Kuze's links in the country. While there, she saves a boy from the local mafia, but he ends up getting her to stay with him, blaming the potential repercussions he might receive because of her intervention. They end up staying together, as the boy ends up trying to deal with the mafia on his own terms, and Kusanagi discovers what he is actually doing with some friends. She's also eager to learn why these people follow what Kuze says.
As with all the episodes not focussing on expanding the overall story arc, this one homes in on one person, in this case the Major, and gives us another interesting look at her character. She's one of those that I find I can always follow in a different adventure and enjoy her exploits whether we see something new about her or not, because there are just so many facets to her character. One of my favourite scenes in this episode was when she and the boy were sharing the bed in the hotel room, and although the pair have said they're mother and child to the hotel staff you're not quite sure exactly how she looks on the makeshift relationship. The boy asks if she is capable of sex, and sure enough her reply is along the lines of "do you want to see for yourself?" The response is just so right, so Kusanagi, and reminds me of how she treats everyone as equals no matter who they are or indeed how old.
The second episode on the disc is more Batou-heavy, as he and Kusanagi are sent to Berlin to find an international terrorist known only as Angel's Wing. Batou finds it all a bit dull and repetitive, and as you'd expect from him he wonders why he and the Major are actually on such a straightforward mission at all considering how they're usually utilised for speciality missions in this sort of situation.
Nevertheless, he ends up tracking a young girl in a wheelchair and finds himself drawn to her as he awaits the inevitable appearance of the terrorist. Unfortunately, story-wise it's all a bit predictable and obvious where things will go, even down to a certain feature of the girl that's "surprisingly" revealed at the end of the episode, and of course the totally expected connection to the terrorist. Despite its problems though, the tale is so well executed that it makes you almost forget its flaws and just enjoy the episode.
But however good or disappointing you might find the first two episodes, the real meat and potatoes of the disc is the two-parter that closes the disc. Things really start to heat up as the refugees in Dejima, led by Kuze, declare their independence from the state, and it's clear that Kuze is up to something more. Naturally, Section 9 are on the case and with all the lads they have on where he is, they are told to capture him at all cost. While the rest of the team carry out the grunt work, Kusanagi hacks into the refugee cyberbrain and finds roads leading to Kuze, as she finds herself in the compromising position of understanding the reasoning of some of what he does and it clearly affects her state of mind a great deal. Sure enough, when the gunfire begins as Section 9 try to capture Kuze, things go horribly pear-shaped.
It's something of an embarrassment for the whole team, particularly Kusanagi, so they try to go all out for a second raid of Kuze, but first need to track him down. The Major uncovers a wealth of information that leads back to transactions for plutonium relating to the refugees, but as we see Kuze's plan unfold, it only goes to prove that he has the unwavering support of many signed up to his cause.
And of course, the whole affair is capped off with some extravagant action sequences that quite literally blew me away, much like the two episodes taken as a whole. They are perhaps two of the most gripping episodes of the entire series " first and second season " and that is saying an awful lot considering the quality of the series so far. I was in awe during the action sequences at everything that was going down, and the story is ramped up to such a degree that it's going places I really didn't expect, but look sure to be very intriguing. There's some fantastic characterisation in here as well, particularly in the case of Kusanagi as for the first time we really see her waver, and the reaction to something she saw before ends up having an unusual effect on her to the point of the mission failing. I actually never thought I'd see the day where not only was Batou disappointed, but Aramaki would give her a bit of a dressing down as well. Overall the story has just been ramped up to such a high calibre that it's cruel to expect us to wait to see how it will conclude.
With this volume taking us up to episode 20, the story heats up to such a degree that the wait for the remaining two discs is just going to be all the more excruciating. While the series has always had some of the best characterisation and highest quality story telling, this volume managed to surpass all my expectations and blow the series out of the water with the last two episodes. If this level can be sustained for the last two volumes, and I sincerely hope it can, it will cement the series' place in anime history as one of the all time greats.
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Interview with Kenji Kamiyama (Director),Interview with Atsuko Tanaka (Kusanagi); Akio Ohtsuka (Batou); Koichi Yamadera (Togusa) and Taro Yamaguchi (Borma),Episode Profiles
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
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