Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • 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. #1

By Chris Beveridge     July 26, 2004
Release Date: July 27, 2004


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex SE Vol. #1
© Manga Entertainment


What They Say
Female cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her fellow police officers of Section 9 hunt down a host of criminals in both the real and online worlds. In the course of their work, Kusanagi and Section 9 must do everything from resolving hostage crises to hunting down runaway state-of-the-art killing machines.

Disc one contains the original Standard Edition DVD.
Disc two contains four thirty-minute episodes presented in anamorphic widescreen, English and Japanese DTS 5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo.
Disc three contains the original series soundtrack CD.

The Review!
The special edition release goes towards catering to a smaller segment of fandom but somehow manages to miss the boat in some regards.

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).

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
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 seventh Japanese DVD release, we get a great looking dark and gloomy image of Kusanagi standing against a storm-gathering set of clouds in her skin suit while coming out of her tachikoma. It's an image that definitely sets the mood of the show and really has the right feel to things; it just fits, especially since it's not content specific to any particular volume. I do wish that the original logo, already in English, was used though since I like the cleaner line work of it instead of the circuit board style used here. 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 though I think the 110 minute runtime is padding things out just a bit too much since each episode, even with the tachikoma end pieces. The insert is a surprisingly bland piece that starts by providing the first onscreen text translated here and opens to a two panel spread of text in large print and surrounded by a few shots from the show that explains the world premise and how things got there. Heaven forbid you watch the show and find out.

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 soundtrack included in the release is great but again, not problem free. Two of the songs run together instead of being separate tracks and one track is split at one point. Here's how the pressing I have plays:

08 - Velveteen contains track 09 - Lithium Flower as well
09 is Home stay
10 is Inner Universe
11 is first 2:14 of Fish - Silent Cruise
12 is rest of Fish - Silent Cruise

I've never had this happen with any professional or self-made CD in the fifteen plus years that I've been listening to and buying CDs. This is one of those errors that just boggles because you have to wonder how asleep at the switch someone was to let something like this get through. The music itself is fantastic and it's a Kanno score that I think is wonderfully different from her other material, but the technical issues are just boggling.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
The extras are available only on the Dolby Digital disc. There aren't a lot of extras on the opening volume but there's some interesting material. The textless opening and ending sequences are a big plus, particularly the opening sequence since there's simply so much going on there to see. There are also two video interview segments, each running just about eleven minutes. The first is with the series director as he goes over the influences of the movie itself and what kind of stories they wanted to tell while the second is with the actress for Kusanagi and she talks about the stylistic differences in the characters and the approach in comparison with the movie as well. Everyone seems to be acknowledging the film but not living in its shadow which definitely helps the series feel like its own thing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of those real rarities in the anime world. When a property starts either as a movie or a TV series and then transitions to the other form, it generally seems to fail horribly. TV series going into big budget movies tend to shirk what makes the series great and focus on the wrong things, often dropping the characters themselves into cardboard cutouts of themselves, while a movie transitioning into a TV series is even more rare. When that does happen, the property is often so drastically changed to adapt to TV standards that it's a pale shadow of what the movie was and ends up pleasing few.

The impact of the film Ghost in the Shell is simply undeniable in the long run. It's essentially the film that defined a generation of fans after the Akira generation and set the stage for a lot of SF action shows that follow. With its basis in Masamune Shirow's excellent manga series, the film went in its own direction while giving the nod to its source quite well. Seven years after the release of the film, the twenty-six episode series launched in 2002 with a much heavier influence from the manga and with Shirow on as an advisor as well. While a lot of Shirow's more comical side and offbeat nature that fills the edges of his stories are absent, the hardcore material is here in what is the best adaptation of his work to animation yet. Stand Alone Complex is quite simply with these opening four episodes a series that quenches a thirst I hadn't realized I had.

The premise is much the same, so if you've seen the film you'll slide right into things here, especially since there really isn't much in the way of an introduction. The show casts you right into an operation as we follow Major Kusanagi into a traditional restaurant that has three robot geisha's pinning down a few important people, one of them a minister of foreign affairs for the government. Kusanagi and her team are part of what's called Section 9 of Public Safety. They're essentially the special ops group of the overall department and the kind of group that's not looked on kindly by others. As with any government organization, there's plenty of infighting going on between the various departments and those trying to keep their own little fiefdom's to themselves. Most of them don't go after Section 9's ops though since they're often trying to make sure they're not the subject of an op themselves.

The show is set in 2030 and follows this group through a variety of, well, stand alone tales. These tales bring forward a look into the lifestyle of a civilization that's going through an evolutionary change as technology is now being tied firmly to it instead of a tool thereof. As seen in recent years alone, the increasing use of technology and information management has led to a variety of new laws and restrictions on its use and Ghost in the Shell takes that several steps further. A thirty year difference brings in a lot of changes, the biggest one is the ability to shift oneself into a prosthetic body and have you brain inside a braincase, allowing you to be able to shift your consciousness between different prosthetic bodies. How does a society deal with something like that both through social norms and the legal side? When you have such events as murder and other crimes involved, it can go quite a few ways and there's always someone to take advantage.

Section 9 is the group of highly skilled people, a mix of those who have gone with full out prosthetic bodies like Kusanagi to people like Togusa, a former cop who hasn't had any enhancements at all. Mix it up with those who have certain things changed about them and it's an able-bodied crew. In fact, simply looking at them and their various enhancements really showcases part of the societal change since there's things like the ocular enhancements that give an almost bug-like impression of the person since they lose that "window to the soul" aspect by the technology. While it's probably not as common as someone having contacts is today, what kind of taboo's would creep up and be challenged by people like that. One of the characters has an eye-patch on one eye, but only to disguise the targeting ocular unit below it that allows him to direct-link to satellites. Does he get stared at in public or is this considered normal? It's these kinds of little things that really intrigue me about this show.

With this volume, we get three stand alone tales (which are done in green title card screens) and the start of one "complex" tale (which is done with a blue title card screen). The separation of the two types is an interesting attempt, since it gives the impression initially of the stand alone tales being filler and not the real meat of the story. I think that's a disservice if someone thinks of it that way as the standalone episodes are the ones that really flesh out the characters and their environments. It's through the self-contained stories that we see how this government works, the kinds of connections the head of Section 9 has and just various bits of background on the characters.

It may just be me, but the opening episodes on this volume felt a lot like déjà vu in a sense. Elements of the various stories felt like they were either coming more directly from the manga itself or from other material. The story of the tank that started off on its own felt like a variation of the Appleseed OVA. Even the older robot models that were being force to commit suicide in another episode felt like parts of Appleseed in how people were dealing with trying to adjust to a different society. The opening tale with the foreign minister and the geisha's felt like a variation of the Ghost in the Shell film itself in some ways, though playing out very differently but still with a few tangents. When we hit the "complex" episode though, there's a lot of differences brought into play and it really starts to foster some of the ideas that were scratched at in the earlier episodes.

The animation for this series is gorgeous, even the all CG opening sequence. The character designs are fairly simple but still contain enough detail and color variations to really give them some life. In particular, I was impressed with how the CG vehicles were integrated into the show. The car sequences are light years ahead of what Initial D first looked like and they're so well blended in here at times that it's sometimes hard to tell. The show also moves easily between daytime and nighttime sequences, each of them showing off the city in its various forms and lifestyles. The night sequences are just gorgeous with the layered blacks and the lights throughout it.

And a special mention has to go the musical score for the series as well. Yoko Kanno has gotten some flack for this show in particular since the general claim seems to be that she didn't make a good fit, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying this score through and through. The opening song with vocals by Origa is simply beautiful and fits the animation quite well. Much of the ambient music in the show is set to the mood quite well and never seems to overtake the scene. I was even rather enjoying the ending sequence with its English lyrics and the way it worked with the still artwork that was used for the sequence. What I think may be the problem with the score is that while it serves the show perfectly, it's not quite as outstanding on its own unlike some of her other scores. I can see that, but within the context of the show itself, I think Kanno did a great job.

In Summary:
Stand Alone Complex is a series that truly fills that craving need I have for a solid action series that's filled with adult characters. The straightforward serious nature of the characters and the "can-do" attitude gives it a great edge and simply plays out exactly how I want to see it. Solid and engaging stories mixed with technology, human nature and more all wrapped up in gorgeous animation and intriguing characters and settings. I don't think I could ask for more out of something like this.

Features
Japanese DD 5.1 Language,Japanese DTS 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English DTS 5.1,English Subtitles, Interview with director Kenji Kamiyama,Interview with Atsuko Tanaka (Japanese voice of Motoko)

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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