Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #02 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Manga Entertainment
  • MSRP: 49.95
  • Running time: 120
  • 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

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #02

By Chris Beveridge     September 24, 2004
Release Date: September 28, 2004

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #02
© Manga Entertainment

What They Say
Section 9 has their hands full with the reappearance of the laughing man, a cyber-terrorist who hasn't been heard from in six years. Aramaki believes that the police's prime suspect is a decoy; he orders his team to look into it. Major Motoko Kusanagi, meanwhile, in response to the Laughing Man's latest threat, is guarding the Police Superintendent-General at a press conference. This will mark the beginning of Section 9's ongoing encounters with the laughing man.

In the meantime, they will also have to capture a foreign revolutionary and put a stop to what looks like an organ smuggling ring. The Major and Section 9 are determined to bring these criminals to justice!

The Review!
My inner geek is truly sated by this show.

Special Note:
The special edition release of this series features two discs in each keepcase. The first disc is the same as the regular edition release. The second disc contains the DTS edition, which is the focus of this review. This disc is essentially the same as the regular edition in terms of visual content and menus but doesn't have any of the extras, hence the need for the inclusion of the regular edition (which I have to consider something of a failing; the DTS edition should not have to rely on the regular edition to provide all the content. I would rather have seen the extras shunted onto their own disc at the end of the series or something else other than including what's basically a completely unnecessary disc outside of a few extras).

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese which is also a DTS 5.1 mix. This is one of the more active original 5.1 Japanese language tracks for a TV series that I've heard and it feels even fuller and more active and distinct in some areas than the Dolby mix, but that may simply be my hearing playing tricks on me. Right from the opening moments of the episode itself with the helicopters flying by, highly reminiscent of the movie sequence itself, you know you're in for a treat. From ambient sounds to all out action and some brief dialogue, the mix is fantastic and quite encompassing. It's not a track that's active every minute of each episode, but when it kicks in, it's done for a reason and not so much a gimmick. We had no issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of it. This is a show where you kick back and crank it up and let it all just flow across you.

Originally airing in 2002, this series is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Stand Alone Complex is one of the most luscious transfers I've seen in a year of gorgeous releases. After taking in the first four episodes I'm hard pressed to find even one tiny thing to truly complain about, never mind even nitpick. Colors are gorgeous and solid, especially all the various areas of large soft colors that look to be amazingly solid and with no visible break-up even during pausing. Cross coloration is non-existent from what I could see, resulting in a smooth and clean transfer that just shines from start to finish. If this keeps up for the entire series, than we're in for one of the best looking things this year.

Being a double disc release, the keepcase is standard sized but contains a flippy hinge inside that contains the DTS disc. Using the original artwork from the sixth Japanese DVD release, the image of Motoko leaning against a Tachikoma is decent but it's a bit too muted for my tastes, especially with the kind of grimy sunset that's used for it. The front cover and the spine are both clear with the volume numbering while the back cover provides both episode numbers and titles. There are a few very small shots from the show used here while the bulk of the background is just mechanical in nature and not really meaning anything. There's a couple of paragraphs of basic premise summaries and material to give you the feel of the show. The discs features and extras are all clearly listed. The insert is once more a very text heavy piece with the couple of pieces on the shows creation, some done in a rather colorful way.

The special edition packaging itself is interesting yet in the end useless and counterproductive. Designed to hold both the keepcase and the included CD soundtrack, it's an average cardboard slipcover that's slotted down the front to show off the keepcase artwork in an interesting way. The back cover provides a rundown of the show and some artwork and provides a detailed listing of what's on each disc, though it lists the extras completely separate and not on what volume they appear. The problem that I come back to with it is, who keeps their CDs with the DVD? I certainly don't keep my CDs mixed in even when they have room in the box like .hack did if you were creative. So you instead end up with a slipcover that has too much open space and is easily pushed in and "wounded" in a sense by what's around it. Just grabbing it from the shelf causes it to take some extra wear due to the pull on the open space.

The menu layout is very well done by utilizing the virtual menus the characters themselves use to access the net as the central focus with clips from the show playing there while various CG styled images play in the background. The very haunting opening song plays briefly to all of this as well but would have been better served by ending softly instead of abruptly. The general layout and design is very good though with quick and easy access and top level access from some of the deeper menus, a real rarity among most menu designs. Access times are nice and fast and my decks defaults were correctly read.

The extras for this volume, found on the Dolby Digital version of the release, are a pair of interviews. The first is a nearly ten minute interview with Aramaki's Japanese voice actor, Osamu Saka. I only skimmed this as it looks like it could potentially provide some spoilers. The second interview is done with Yoko Kanno, where she talks fairly in depth about the score for the series and just what she was trying to get across. I've heard her fairly well criticized as this being her weakest score yet, but having listened to the first CD in heavy rotation I'm not coming back with the same impression. It's definitely not like a number of her recent works but I also think too many people are still remembering only her really big numbers such as Escaflowne. Her work here is just fabulous, especially as she works with more foreign talent and brings in their creativity and ideas to her own constantly changing and evolving style. I'd much rather have someone who is willing to do things completely differently from score to score than to have someone who has such a distinct sound that it becomes common across unrelated shows.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Much like the first volume of the Stand Alone Complex series, this show simply provides everything that appeals to me in a series like this. Back when there was practically no manga available in this country and even the term simply wasn't known among my group of comic book collecting friends, my discovery of Appleseed and Masamune Shirow was one of the key changes in what I found appealing in things. That series of books just had a certain style to it, with characters that are almost so coldly professional but still had a certain warmth to them, that appealed massively to me. While the Ghost in the Shell manga didn't appeal in quite the same way, this anime series is playing up to what I loved so much that it's almost scary.

One of the best things about it is that they're being considerate in clearly labeling what the mythology episodes are and what the standard episodes are. Alternating between a mix of Complex and Stand Alone episodes, you get a healthy dose of tales that appeal to those wanting to have a big picture come about during all of this while also ensuring that there are some good episodic tales mixed in that help build up the structure of this world as well. The stand alone episodes bring in so many disparate elements and flesh things out that it's building such a richly realized setting that it only enhances the mythology episodes even more since you can start to imagine just how many different ways a scenario could go.

This volume provides a great mix of the two. The disc opens with a double episode tale that goes back to the Laughing Man tale as he's seemingly come back to haunt things again after nearly six years of being quiet. The SIU has a clear idea of who the person is now based on a whole lot of evidence that they've gathered over the years and the way it's all pieced together but there's something that continues to just bother Section 9 and Aramaki over how it's all coming together. The person suspected to be the Laughing Man, a former leftist revolutionary named Nanao=A, just doesn't really fit the mold for it when it all comes down to the real details of everything. But the group still has to get involved just on the chance that it is and due to the viruses that Nanao=A has been responsible for in the past and is likely to unleash this time around.

This tales starts off with a huge amount of information that gets quickly confusing but it all slowly becomes clear as it goes along. The concepts of brain hacks isn't new but it's run with in an interesting way here with viruses being spread to them. I also really loved the way that they had Nanao=A playing with everyone's visuals in the past by using that image that became a logo eventually. The idea that someone could alter what you see due to your cyber implants, and that it was so widespread that nobody really saw him other than two homeless men, is both fascinating and creepy.

The two individual follow-up episodes were equally enjoyable but for varying reasons. Having Section 9 assist on tracking a foreign visitor that comes to the country every six months started off as a simple piece but it ended up going into some dark territory about the Ghosts that some of them do carry and just how far the technology has gone. Some of it was just too unexplained since you would imagine that there would be more people using such things but I may just be getting ahead of the narrative. The other tale where they investigate the black market selling of organs thinking it might be part of the Mafioso trying to gain some new ground in Japan again plays up the normal kind of stories you'd expect in this kind of world, but it messes around with it a bit as well by having the kids involved in it almost coming across as strange modern day robin hood's that Motoko and company end up busting.

It also managed to provide some background for Motoko without going the route of doing flashbacks to her own transition to a full body prosthetic and the mental anguish over it. It's given some interesting moments through the life of another who avoided such a thing and it gives her the fire to investigate, but it's not the entire focus. This episode also let the group play a bit with their prey since they figured out the deal early on and it has a bit of a lighter feel to it but mostly in that way that certain groups of people can get away with. It's got the humor that you can only participate in if you're really one of them. It also manages to end with one of my favorite Batou moments yet. Add in some great Tachikoma moments and it's a solid piece.

The Tachikomatic Days at the end of the episodes continue to really amuse as well, from the virus insertion attempts to the strange game of "Bang tag" that gets played. There's something so offbeat and completely weird about these bits that they simply have me grinning from start to finish.

In Summary:
Stand Alone Complex is a rare series in that from the very opening of the show when the music kicks in and up until the very last credit rolls that I'm literally on the edge of my seat watching it. There's so much in here that fascinates me. It's the kind of show where I watch it and where it shows things that a lot of people would consider ugly or disturbing to be fascinating. It's almost like trying to explain to someone why you can see beauty in the design of a gun, in its form and function, when all they can see is that it's a killing device. Stand Alone Complex is a violent show that's filled with a disturbing future. But it's also something that can serve as a guide for where we're really going. Much of this is on the verge of reality in various forms and within my lifetime and that both excites and scares me. Being able to watch it safely is like a voyeuristic thrill.

Japanese DD 5.1 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English DTS 5.1,English Subtitles,Osamu Saka Interview,Yoko Kanno Interview

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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