Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Jennifer Rocks
Review Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2007



What They Say
The year is 2030 and six years have passed since a criminal known only as The Laughing Man swept through top medical nanotechnology firms committing acts of cyber-terrorism, kidnapping, extortion, and corporate espionage leaving no known suspects. New information is revealed to Japan's top homeland security force, drawing Major Kusanagi and Section 9 into the hunt for a suspect capable of hacking the eyes of every operative, obscuring all details of his appearance and leaving behind a trail of copycats and hacked cyborg citizens.

The Laughing Man tells the story of the entire first season of Stand Alone Complex as a 2-hour film.

The Review!
The idea of turning the highly intricate and convoluted Stand Alone Complex series into a movie is certainly intriguing, but how can less Tachikoma screen time be a good thing?

Audio:
I primarily watched the 5.1 DTS English audio for this review. The audio track is pretty fantastic, with a very dynamic mix and great use of the surround speakers. This is an action packed movie, and the sound is robust and engaging. The Yoko Kanno music is fantastic, though there is no new music.

For fans of the original English dub, it is important to note that there is a new English voice cast for this movie. With an original cast as fantastic as the original series had, the new actors have big shoes to fill. For the most part the new actors do their best to recreate the same style and tone as the original cast but end up feeling like less intense versions of the characters. By no means does the new cast do a poor job, but they are definitely not up to the high level of the original cast.

Video:
The transfer is pretty fantastic looking; there are no noticeable issues. The show uses a wide range of lighting, from very bright to very dark scenes. In all cases the colors, including the blacks, are all very solid. There is a fair amount of computer animation used throughout the movie, which blends in fairly seamlessly with the overall style. The animation is really good looking and is very well presented here.

Packaging:
The case comes with an attractive blue slipcase that features the Laughing Man logo as well as the movie’s rather long title. The backside of the slipcase again features the movie title, though here it uses the series logo, as well as brief technical specifications for the disc.

The keepcase itself has some interesting artwork, with all of the members of section nine and the Laughing Man himself arranged over a golden toned cyber brain interface. The Laughing Man logo appears as a watermark near the head of the Laughing Man. The cover artwork is interesting in that it uses a warmer color palate, which contrasts nicely with the cool blue of the slipcase. The back of the disc uses the same blue as the slipcase and packs a lot of information into a small space. Not only is there a synopsis, feature listing, quite a few images from the movie, and the disc technical specs, but there is also a rather lengthy staff credit list.

Menu:
The menu is designed after the cyber brain interfaces used within the show and, though simple, are very appealing looking. The menu transitions are very smooth and use a neat mechanical whirring sound as the interfaces change. Interestingly, only the main menu on each disc features music. The menu navigation is all very clear and easy to use.

Extras:
A new Tachikomatic Days, which is as hilarious as the originals that were featured at the end of each episode of the series, is a nice addition. This short features the Tachikomas, who make only brief but important appearances in the movie, and is full of irreverent humor.

The Stand Alone Complex Archive is a good makings that covers the idea and process behind creating the movie as well as the original Stand Alone Complex series. There are lots of neat peeks at the original production process, as well as some interesting comments from the director. For fans of the Ghost in the Shell world, this is a nice treat.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Laughing Man movie takes the twelve and a half hours of the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex series and condenses it into two hours. For those unfamiliar with the Ghost in the Shell world, it is set in the future where nearly everyone has been cyberized to some extent. Some people, such as Section 9 agent Togusa, are all natural aside from a cyber brain, which allows direct connections to the world of the net. Others have more substantial cyberization, such as Batou, another Section 9 member who has cyberized the majority of his body, including his eyes. And then there are those, such as Major Kusanagi, who are fully cyberized, with the only remaining natural part being their brain.

Major Kusanagi is the squad leader of Section 9, an elite special operations unit who focuses on investigating and bringing to justice cyber terrorists. Kusanagi and the members of Section 9 are pursuing the case of the Laughing Man, a cyber terrorist who has spawned numerous copycat crimes. Section 9 must wade through the imposters and try to discover the motives behind the original crime in order to locate and bring to justice the true Laughing Man. As Section 9 begins to uncover the truth behind the original Laughing Man incident, they find that the political involvement and societal implications are far greater than they could have ever guessed. As things progress, the very future of Section 9 is at stake.

Several major plotlines from the original series are all condensed, clearly connecting into one cohesive story. Connections that were perhaps a bit tenuous or unclear in the series are now made obvious, though some story points seem to suffer without the greater context of the series. There is so much going on in the world, and so may different angles that are explored in the series, that due to the compressed nature of the movie are completely abandoned here.

Another downside to this movie version is the lack of character development and backstory for the members of Section 9. It’s clear that the viewing audience is meant to have an attachment to the characters, especially Kusanagi, Batou and Togusa. However, without all of the character development provided in the series, there isn’t much of a foundation on which to build affection for them. All of the characters are still shown to be excellent in their given roles within Section 9, but the perilous situations they are put into aren’t quite as nail biting without this foundation in place.

The primary example of this is the presence of the Tachikomas in the movie. In the series they play a pivotal role, as not only the embodiment of some of the core themes, but also as important members of Section 9. Within this movie the Tachikomas are present in a handful of important scenes, but are far less impactful without the development of their characters.

The movie comes to a crashing conclusion, wrapping up much as it did in the series, though the resolution here feels a bit hollow.

In Summary:
While the Laughing Man movie is an interesting addition to a Ghost in the Shell collection, it is a bit problematic as a stand alone movie. Though it neatly ties together many of the plot threads of the original series, it looses quite a bit by cutting out the much of the character development. For those who are uninterested in devoting many hours to the series, this is definitely a good peek at the world, but is by no means a full view.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Audio,English 2.0 Audio,Japanese 5.1 Audio,English 5.1 DTS Audio,English Subtitles,Tachikomatic Days,Stand Alone Complex Archive

Review Equipment
Samsung HLT6187S 61” DLP HDTV, Sony DVP-NS975V Progressive Scan Up Converting DVD player, Pioneer Elite VSX-81TXV DD/DTS receiver, HDMI cable, JBL Multi-Channel Speaker System with 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.95
Running time: 106
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