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

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Mania Grade: A+

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 16 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Manga Entertainment
  • MSRP: 24.98
  • 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 Vol. #03

By Luis Cruz     January 18, 2005
Release Date: November 23, 2004

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

What They Say
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!
Another solid outing from the crew of Section 9 is provided in the third volume of Stand Alone Complex.

The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track was used for my primary viewing session. From the opening theme to the ending theme, the track is rich and vibrant providing action throughout the entire soundstage. Whether it is the echoes of footsteps in the sewers or the staccato of gun fire, it resounds with crystal clarity from the speakers. There are no noticeable distortions, dropouts, or other problems. Music, dialogue, and action are balanced well and do not overshadow each other. It is a superb audio track that makes the title even more enjoyable.

Superb also describes the video transfer for this title; the colors are solid, deep, and lush. From dark alleyways to a sun-light highway, the world of Ghost in the Shell is highly detailed and stunning making for a visual feast. Cross coloration and other problems seem to be non-existent; this is a gorgeous transfer that immerses you in the story's world.

Japanese credits during the opening and ending are replaced with English equivalents. Subtitles are yellow for dialogue and green for the song translations; both are quite readable without taking away much from what is on the screen.

Another dark background is behind Kusanagi, who is wearing a brown battle suit. It does not quite catch the eye though and comes off a bit plain. The series title is at the bottom with the volume number in the upper right corner. On the back cover, the requisite screenshots, synopsis, and disc specifications are rendered with a mechanical feel. The insert is a bit disappointing by containing no chapter listings and only text that summarizes what the series is about.

The menus are rendered as the net interface the characters use; the main menu features a loop of the opening theme song with scenes from the episodes playing in the center of one of the menu controls. The menus are sharp and help immerse one in the world of the series. The main menu does have one minor flaw, as it does not use a consistent color for highlighting a selected menu item. It is a minor nuisance but does not detract much from a beautiful and functional set of menus.

Your extras are a trailer for the video game; an interview with the Akio Otsuka, voice actor for Batou; and an interview with the sound director, Kazuhiro Wakabayashi. Both interviews are superb with each man giving great insight into how they approach their respective jobs.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sometimes there is a perfect word or phrase that sums what draws someone to a particular series or story. When it comes to Stand Alone Complex, the phrase that explains my attraction to it is the cliché "The more things change, the more they stay the same." In the world of the series despite all the advancements in technology, none of it has significantly changed humanity; the world is stilled filled with the best and the worst of us. The imagery and stories of this world are visceral and make a connection, as it could easily be the world we see around us.

The volume opens up with Kusanagi entering a chat room devoted to the Laughing Man; the past and present events surrounding the mystery man are debated by several people, but only one seems to have a bearing on what might actually be going on. Kusanagi segregates him briefly from the chat and exchanges a sage piece of advice for a clue about the Laughing Man.

In what is the strongest episode of the volume and perhaps the series to date, "Jungle Cruise" is an homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A serial killer is skinning people alive and spreading video of the killings on the open markets. The CIA become involved as the killer is a former American Empire soldier Marco Amoretti. To further complicate matters, Batou takes the case personally to the point that Kusanagi orders Togusa to keep an eye on him.

We soon learn that Amoretti was a member of a CIA terror project in South America; when Batou was in the Rangers, he came across their handiwork in the jungle. Batou is determined to take down Amoretti permanently, something the CIA was counting on. The episode is very disturbing and violent, blending elements of Conrad's book with the imagery of Silence of the Lambs. While not an easy episode to watch, it leaves a lasting impression and provides more depth for Batou's character.

From this episode, we dive back into the Laughing Man story; Togusa goes undercover in a mental institution to investigate a recent hack attack against it. This is no ordinary institute; each member is a person who has embraced the cyber world to the point of losing touch with the world around them. What is more shocking is that the administrator of the institute is taking advantage of these people. Togusa is confronted by a seemingly endless corridor of people plugged into their computers building or tearing down security mazes.

Togusa's assignment goes quite wrong, but the audience is privy to the knowledge that one of the patients knows quite a bit about the Laughing Man and is an exceptionally skilled hacker. This episode is a great example of just how good the writing is for this series; there are a number of small touches that tie this episode back to previous ones.

The last episode begins with Batou's Tachikoma running off to explore the city on its own. It quickly runs into a small girl looking for her dog and is enlisted to help her in her search. The story is cute and touching but takes a bit of a philosophical detour near the end.

There is an odd balance to this series but one that works. In contrast to the stand-alone episodes, the complex episodes tend to move slowly and not develop the members of Section 9 much. The stand-alone episodes do the opposite; through action we are allowed to learn more about the cast's past and their personalities. But, it is almost like the complex episodes are not only developing a great mystery but also developing the Laughing Man character itself. While the style and tone differs between the two types, one thing remains constant; my whole attention is focused on the screen as an amazing series continues to play out.

In Summary:
More than just visually appealing, Stand Alone Complex provides a great combination of developing mysteries, self-contained plots, and character development. A number of images from this batch of episodes are going to stay with me for quite some time. The series continues to entertain me with each episode drawing me into the world and the characters in it. It may be set in the future, but it is still a world that any of us can relate to. That is a testament to the writers and is one of the main sources of enjoyment for me. A solid volume from start to finish, the world of Stand Alone Complex is something everyone should experience.

Japanese DD 5.1 Language,English DD 5.1 Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Panasonic RP-82, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and optical audio cable


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