Bandai Entertainment dips into the Blu-ray pool with a high profile title for their first release but come up a bit short.
What They Say
The year is 2032. With the advancement of medical technology humanity has grown into a more technologically driven creature, creating a breed of cyborg citizen. Along with the development of cybernetics the world has seen rapid development in the field of artificial intelligence, making androids a commercially viable venture. A recent string of murders perpetrated by a prototype female android has drawn the attention of Section 9, a unit specializing in counter cyber-terrorism. With none of the victims� families pressing charges, suspicions arise regarding the nature of the androids and their production.
Months have passed since the end of the Puppet Master incident, and with the Major still missing investigative duties fall to her cyborg commando partner Batou and his newly recruited biological partner, Togusa. Can the two overcome their differences and discover the truth behind this string of murders?
Innocence has been released twice on Blu-ray in Japan already, the first time with a PCM mix and a number of lossy audio tracks. The second release went all out with three lossless tracks which really captured the feel of this rather dynamic mix at times. Bandai Entertainment unfortunately falls really short here in the audio department. The release is made up of three audio tracks, all Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks encoded at 640kbps. No lossless is to be found here at all and it is a disappointment, regardless of how good these tracks are. If you don’t have lossless capability, you’ll certainly like what you hear here with its bass level, surround usage and overall placement and tonality. If you’ve heard this in lossless form, be it PCM or the other codecs, you won’t find it to be the same. This release is also unusual in that it contains two English language tracks. The first one is the original Manga UK dub that was done back during its DVD release in the UK and the second is the newly commissioned one by Bandai. They’re both pretty close to each other since they have a lot of the same cast, and it’s uncertain as to why a new dub was created since a fairly serviceable one was already out there unless there are various union related rules about it. Regardless, it is good that they included both, but having all three tracks in a lossless format would have made this a far better release in the audio department. As it stands, there is no high definition audio included on this release and that’s a black mark against it.
Originally released to theaters in 2004, this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is encoded with AVC and has a resolution of 1080p. From appearances and discussions, this edition in terms of video looks to be a very close mirror – if not the same – of the Absolute Edition that was released in 2008 in Japan. The transfer spends a lot of its bitrate in the mid thirties with peaks higher and has a very good film-like feel about it for the most part. It’s certainly better encoded than the first Japanese edition which was MPEG-2 and what we see here are pretty much the flaws that are in the source, such as some of the banding and minor motion effects. Colors are muted in general, which is intentional, but when the high crisp quality CG animation comes in, such as the floats, it’s incredibly vivid and very appealing looking. Grain is fairly regular throughout with only a few scenes feeling like they’re grainier than they should be, leaving us with an otherwise very solid first attempt from Bandai Entertainment. I was pleased to see the bitrate as high as it was throughout, though the possible sacrifice in having it as a BD-25 likely meant that’s why we’re not getting lossless audio.
Packaged in a standard Blu-ray case, the cover art for this edition breaks ranks with all the other releases in an appealing way. The central image is of the Major with the director’s favorite dog sitting in front of a massive piece of machinery that’s all bronze and faded looking. It’s a very murky looking piece of artwork but with its mixture of bright colors and dark colors, it certainly catches the eye as you make out the details of it all. The logo is fairly standard to what we’ve seen before, particularly in the Innocence portion of it, and there’s only the couple of standard product logos beyond that. The back cover is well laid out as it carries over the background artwork from the front cover to a darker level. On top of that we get a good rundown of the world the feature takes place in and where things have been before this since there’s a bit of history there. A number of shots from the film are laid out nicely and there’s a clean listing of the discs extras. The technical grid is what we’ve seen from most other companies, albeit a bit smaller, as it breaks down the technical side of how the audio and video is presented. The remainder is given over the production credits and a few logos, including marking this as a Region A release. No show related inserts were included nor is there anything on the reverse side of the cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty nicely done with the golden bronze hue used as it uses the cyborg being built CG animation for the background. With the expected vocals used to provide a bit more atmosphere, the main menu is very easy to look at and navigate as it provides everything in quick loading sensible menus. The colors may be a little oppressive after awhile, but it fits in well with the show. Submenus load quickly and the layout is very easy to use and I was glad to see that they properly labeled the two dub tracks. The pop-up menu uses the same bottom layer as the main menu which looks good when loaded during the show and is obviously quick and easy to use as well. The only downside to this release is that they did make this a BD-Java release (for some reason?) which means that it won’t remember where you left off if you hit stop. While that’s not a bad thing, it is a bad thing if you don’t include the bookmarking option as well. That feature is sadly not here and is something that removes a good chunk of usability for a lot of people. If you’re going to make it so resume-play doesn’t work, provide us with the ability to bookmark where we left off.
The extras for this release are all presented in standard definition format which is expected. The extras are pretty meager overall with just the director’s commentary provided and a Japanese produced making of sequence which runs about fifteen minutes or so. Neither are new extras as we’ve seen them on previous releases in multiple regions.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers and that some of it was originally written for the US DVD release and Japanese Blu-ray release)
When the first Japanese edition of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence was released on Blu-ray, it was an instant pick-up for me even if I don’t care for the film storywise. It was a release that I carried into a number of retail stories so I could demo it on various TVs so I could decide what set I wanted to pick up as it gave me a feel for how recent theatrical anime productions would look. Of course, it was an early release and it got an even better edition put out a lot more recently which showcased the lossless audio side very well.
Bandai Entertainment made a wise choice in selecting it as their first Blu-ray release to work on since it allows them to work out the kinks a bit but to work with a standalone feature. Rather than delve into the TV series or OVA world first, they’re able to pull from some great elements and produce a spectacular disc. As we’ve covered in the technical side of the review, they managed that on the video end but fell through when it came to the audio side. Beyond this however, they’ve done a solid job with the release and it has me curious to see where they’ll go next. They have a number of features to work with that would be ideal, but they also need to realize exactly what high definition fans want out of their releases. With this one providing some of it, they’ll get the feedback from the consumers pretty easily.
Coming as long after the original movie and following it up along one vein, it's not quite the same as what's come before. Whereas that was a deep philosophical piece that had people like the Major questioning her humanity and what was left of it as she gave her life over to the mechanical side of things, this one has her long gone into the net and Batou not quite an unfeeling callous man without her but someone who isn't quite at home in dealing with others even more than he used to be. While she wasn't exactly human anymore, she was someone that could draw out the humanity in him, particularly his sense of humor. But with her now a part of the net itself, what little humanity he had seems to have withered away and he's simply a man doing his job for Section 9.
Naturally, when Togusa gets assigned to work with Batou on a case where a series of gynoid robots have been going crazy and killing their owners or whoever was nearby, he's not exactly pleased by it. Batou's not someone anyone else in Section 9 could work easily with on a number of levels, personality being a big one. In their initial research they learn of the robots that they're being built by a company who has almost seemingly come out of nowhere to achieve a reputation as quality work with some very addictive dolls. To ensure the sanctity of their operations though, they work out of a large ship that's kept in international waters so they're not kept to the same restrictions as a number of Japanese based companies. Batou's drawn deeper into things before he even knows about the case though when someone takes over his brain and causes him to shoot out his own arm and nearly kill a shopkeeper.
With their investigation being somewhat off the official record at first, Batou leads Togusa to finding an old friend of his from back in the war days that has gone into making himself a next level kind of construct where he's more than he ever was but also far less human. Figuring that his deep connections within the underworld and in the information layer of the net as well will give him some clues, it's another stop along the way to figuring out just what this mysterious off-shore company is really up to before the gynoid dolls can kill again. It's really a very straightforward plot that has Batou and Togusa doing what they do best in an investigative manner.
Why does it fall so short then? In watching this film with it's nearly two hour running time, why did I feel at the end that it was little more than a really expanded filler episode for the TV series and that the TV series has done far more interesting filler episodes? Don't get me wrong here though, the visuals for this film are simply amazing. The opening sequence does a beautiful job of showing how far digital animation has come in ten years by recreating the same opening we saw in the first film back in 1994 but with much more advanced and seamless techniques. It most definitely places that film into the dustbin in terms of visuals. Much of the meshing of CG and animation is fairly well done here, though some of it stands out poorly such as when the pair are walking through Kim's mansion and their movements are very awkward and don't blend well. But then you correspond it with scenes of the far east information city they go into with its spires and towers that are just gorgeous to look at. Or the festival moving through the streets that is so incredibly rich in detail and vibrant in its colors. It's such a visual feast that there is almost more to take in than possible with how its done. So no, it's no surprise that this film is for the most part a technical and visual marvel.
Where the real problem comes in is in the dialogue. Much of it is kept between Batou and Togusa as they perform their investigation, which really covers the first three quarters of the film. It's generally a slow paced piece which is more than fine, but it's filled with banter between the two where they're constantly quoting all sorts of religious or philosophical lines and using them as the way to advance the story. While I won't say that the dialogue between these two made me feel stupid nor lectured to by the pair, it did leave me watching a highly unnatural method of discussion between two investigators. It seemed like Oshii wanted to make each and every line, every word, have such great dramatic weight to it that it would come across almost like a Greek play or an opera in a way. If it wasn't for the incredible performances that Akio Ohtsuka as Batou and Kouichi Yamadera as Togusa put in with their distinctive natures this would have been even more difficult to get through.
And unfortunately, the film is difficult to get through. The plot is so linear in nature and easily projected from the get go that at times you feel like the characters are a couple of steps behind where they should be because of all of that dialogue. I didn't go into this looking for an action piece because the first movie was much the same in a way, but it also had the draw of the Major herself, someone who is very much missing from most of this film. Batou is a very interesting character and the writers of the TV series have managed to showcase that on several occasions, but I don't think he's a character that can carry a full length theatrical piece like this and with as heady a discussion as they all want to go on about here.
A visual and technical masterpiece that will certainly show off just how far anime has come since its predecessor, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence unfortunately is a very formulaic story that's so highly infused with religious and philosophical discourses that they seemingly forgot to put in dialogue for much of the plot. While the US DVD release was probably one of the best looking anime releases out for that format, the film reaches a whole new level here. Its animation style and approach is quite different from that of Brave Story that we saw recently but this one again shows that anime can look amazing here. Bandai Entertainment did a good job with the visual presentation but they fell short on both the audio side and the bookmarking side. With a little bit of luck and hopefully a better understanding of what Blu-ray fans want out of their releases, the next will be hit out of the park with ease. Fans of this feature at least have other options available to them, particularly in Region A, if you’re interested in high definition audio.
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Director�s Commentary
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.