Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #03 -

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Mania Grade: A

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: B_
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Manga Entertainment
  • MSRP: 49.98
  • 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

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #03

By Chris Beveridge     November 19, 2004
Release Date: November 23, 2004

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #03
© Manga Entertainment

What They Say
Major Motoko Kusanagi and her fellow police officers of Section 9 continue to hunt down a host of criminals in both the real and online worlds. Convinced that the cyber-terrorist known only as “the Laughing Man” has resurfaced, Section 9 accelerates their inquiry to include eavesdropping on a chat room whose participants are not who they seem to be. They are also found investigating a facility for the treatment of children with 'cyberbrain closed shell syndrome' – a malady which renders the victim unable to cope with the cybernetic interface in their artificial brains. In the meantime, Kusanagi’s right-hand man, Batou, must confront a serial killer with connections to his own dark past.

The Review!
There are few shows that while watching you almost want to recite "this is so good", but Standalone Complex is definitely one of them.

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 Japanese DVD release, the image of Motoko in an all brown and sort of gauzy piece attached to her body suit set against the backdrop of the sky and presumably a building piece doesn't strike me as all that good looking of a piece. There's just too much brown in the design and the look of it all comes off almost as copper and unappealing. 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 are 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. Since this release has a t-shirt in it, the box is a bit thicker and definitely wider so that it can hold the shirt inside. It's an average cardboard box that's slotted down the sides to show off the keepcase artwork in an interesting way. It's basically an expanded slipcover that's in more of a traditional box mode. But it doesn't work well enough to hold a part of the series. If you keep your discs in the keepcases that they come in, it holds four of them but then has a bit of empty space. However, if you use the double-thinpaks for your collection as I do, it holds seven of them just right, with a bit of snugness. So in a way, I've got a nice box for my collection. But for anyone that's not thinpaking their collection, you've got a larger useless container this time around.

As for the shirt itself, it uses the image from the front cover of this release and it looks good enough there though as I've said, I'm not exactly a fan of this particular piece of artwork. Or XL sized shirts, which makes the shirt just as useless as the cardboard box is for most other folks.

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.

For the extras on the regular disc, we get a pair of interviews. This time around, the voice actor for Batou talks about his role on the show, the approach and what he's gleaned from it. There are bits with them doing performances and all, but I only skimmed the extras since they were doing things for upcoming episodes. The other interview is with the audio director for the series, which is definitely a key player in this release, and we get some interesting bits on how he dealt with such a dynamic series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As we get deeper into the storyline of this series, it's easy to see why it would turn some people off and they can't find anything to latch onto here with the characters or the story. But as each episode goes by… no, as every couple of minutes go by, I find myself drawn ever deeper into it and finding myself falling even more in love with this series. So much of what it's doing is just a huge draw on the kind of science fiction of the near-future variety that I really enjoy watching. And the simple fact that they're avoiding most of the real problems that end up affecting shows like this only helps it even more.

The Complex Episodes continue to push forward with the Laughing Man storyline and it's an amazing piece that's bringing to light a number of issues in dealing with society and how it has to handle a changing world like this. The opening episode alone was a piece of pure gold in my mind. Taking the form of a chat room in virtual reality form, "The Laughing Man Room" brings a group of people together to the main chat table where they talk about the Laughing Man and all things related to him. In front of each of them there are virtual text windows of others that are listening along and contributing to their favorite main talker. What this episode does, in being an all-dialogue episode really, is present a wide variety of theories about what the Laughing Man is all about while also providing a good amount of new information for the viewer to see how all of this is being interpreted.

Exposition episodes are dangerous things if done poorly, they feel like it's an information dump on the viewer and it can give the impression of dumbing down the series. This episode does an amazing job of bringing about so much information, verbal sparring and conspiracy theories while also providing some humor in the realm of the Laughing Man symbol. That piece so needs to be properly marketed for this series that it's a shame it hasn't yet.

The Laughing Man material shows up in other ways later in the volume that are interesting as well. Togusa gets something of an episode to himself as he gets to go undercover at a Cyberbrain treatment facility where people who have had the work done on themselves don't exactly come through all in one piece or as proper as they should. What Togusa finds in there is fascinating as the bulk of the people there are actually kids. In a way, it's like a mental institution but much cleaner than generally given credit for in movies, where these kids are having to adapt to their cybernetic upgrades and aren't able to. From kids that can do nothing but read page after page after page or they just block everything out and ignore the world. But something sinister there happened recently when this isolated facility ended up getting a net connection to the outside world and it ties into the Laughing Man.

There's a real creepiness to this episode where we get to see what happens to these kids and others who suffer from their upgrades for a variety of reasons. When Togusa is shown the hallway where they're all in small cubes doing barrier work and it just seems to go on forever, that simply gave me a chill down my spine.

The real chills came in episode ten here though, "A Perfect Day for a Jungle Cruise", an episode I've made sure not to let some people watch. This standalone episode gives us something of a peek at Batou's back story from when he was in South America doing military work there after the American Empire had started pulling out of that region. This episode plays out in a fairly straightforward manner, but you can see the heavy influences of both Silence of the Lambs and Strange Days in it. It's almost like the two movies were really combined in a way and just placed both in this future setting and in the jungles. It's an ugly and nasty episode where people who know too much are being the quietest instead of trying to get everything resolved. It's a solid story and it's very well told, but it's a hard piece to say you actually enjoyed it.

In Summary:
Standlone Complex is simply a beautiful piece of work to me. There aren't many shows that really play this kind of setting up in the way that they're doing here outside of the occasional theatrical piece. To have as lengthy of a series as this telling such tales only makes it all the more interesting. This volume of episodes brings us more interesting and intriguing elements of the Laughing Man tale but it also provides a pair of very good episodes that deal with giving us a bigger understanding of this world of the future. In the first twelve episodes now, this show has not disappointed for one second of screentime.

Japanese DD 5.1 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English DTS 5.1,English Subtitles,Voice Actor Interview,Sound Director 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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