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



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A/F
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Manga UK
  • MSRP: £19.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 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. #1

By Dani Moure     October 11, 2004
Release Date: September 27, 2004


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


What They Say
The television series based on Masamune Shirow's Manga and Mamoru Oshii's highly influental film, 'Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex' takes viewers to futuristic society where technology has saturated citizens' daily lives. Along with the new technology comes new types of crime that exploits it, but female cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team of police, Section 9, devote their lives to chasing criminals, both on land and in cyberspace.

In these first four episodes, Section 9 will be called in to resolve a murder before it turns into an international incident, hunt down a runaway state-of-the-art killing machine and solve the mystery of a defective android. A high level conspiracy involving a mysterious computer hacker will lead them to their most challenging and dangerous case yet!

Episodes comprise:
1. Section 9
2. Testation
3. Android And I
4. Intercepter

An incredible roster of creative staff have been assembled for this project. Backed by the biggest budget ever for an animated TV series, composer Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne, Macross Plus, Earth Girl Arjuna), director Kenji Kamiyama (Blood: The Last Vampire, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade) and the talented crew of Production I.G. (Ghost In The Shell: Innocence, Kill Bill) have joined together to create the ultimate anime series!

The Review!
Given the status of the original Ghost in the Shell movie in the west, it was always a given that the TV series would make it over to these shores. Sadly though, the release is not without its problems.

Audio:
Having listened to the Japanese track in the past, and immensely enjoying the performances from the entire cast, I opted to listen to the English track for review purposes. The dub, by fan favourites Animaze/ZRO Limit, is excellent, with particularly promising performances from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Kusanagi), Richard Epcar (Bateau) and Crispin Freeman (Togusa) at this early stage in the series. In listening to the 5.1 track, I noticed no dropouts or distortions, and it provides some great directionality, especially during the action sequences; it's a wholly immersive track. Spot-checking the Japanese 5.1 track I noticed no dropouts or distortions either, so in this regard the audio is excellent.

Manga also go the extra mile and for no extra cost (unlike the US release) provide the English and Japanese tracks in DTS on the second disc. While I have a very limited DTS setup, in spot-checking both tracks I noticed no problems with either language, and this is a great turnout for home theatre buffs.

So where's the big problem? Well, it's in the two stereo tracks. While I had no problems with my player in down-mixing the 5.1 tracks, some players may do and so those people would normally switch to the stereo track, both of which are messed up here. The English stereo track is severely clipped and phase inverted, while the Japanese stereo track is apparently virtually mono. It's a crying shame and is also why the audio has two grades above. Hopefully Manga will provide a fix for this.

Video:
The video looks fantastic here. Benefiting from a transfer direct from high-definition masters, there are no PAL conversion problems that other series face, and the result is a gorgeous widescreen transfer. I noticed no artifacting at all, with the colours looking vibrant like most digital shows do. It's easily one of the best video transfers you're likely to see for some time.

The subtitles are in a decently sized white font, though it's a bit thin and on occasion can be a little unclear.

Packaging:
Packaged in a slipcase, the outer sleeve is modelled after other releases, though done slightly differently. It shows part of the keepcase cover art behind a pattern, which was cut out for the US release but instead is simulated for the US release. The show's logo and volume number appear in the bottom right. The back of the slipcover features a synopsis of the show, along with a list of the extensive special features and an episode listing. All around are screenshots from the show, with an information box at the bottom of the cover. The keepcase (a single sized version with a disc-sized page for the second disc) cover features artwork of Motoko falling from the top of a building, with the show's logo at the top as well as an episode listing and volume number. It's a really nice cover that would stand out really well if it was facing out on a shelf. The back cover includes the same information as the front cover but in a different layout, with difference screenshots and a set of credits.

Menu:
The menus, I have to say, are my least favourite aspect of the release. Manga have tried to do something different that fits in the show, but it's not something I particularly like. After a brief introduction the main menu appears, looking interesting with a computer-chip style layout. The menu options are annoyingly named, and while it's obvious what "Run Program X" means, it's a little frustrating that there's no "Play" function to jump straight into the show, and that the Extras and Language menus are annoyingly named ("Explore Components" and "Execute Subroutines" respectively). The main menu has the opening theme playing over it. Those two sub-menus each have different sound effects, are different in style and have bits of motion in the background. Each of the "Run Program" sub-menus acts as a launch for each of the episodes. Each has the option to play the episode, "View Source Code" (read an episode synopsis) or "Character Profiles" (which are the same on each sub-menu). It's a little odd, and also annoying that there's no scene selection menu. This kind of bizarre naming, while I appreciate that the producers are just trying to be creative, is something that annoys me. But in the overall package it really isn't all that bothersome.

Extras:
The most interesting extras are the two interviews; one with Director Kenji Kamiyama and one with Atsuko Tanaka, the Japanese voice of Motoko. Both interviews are very interesting in their own right and it's great to hear their thoughts on the series at this early stage, The character profiles and synopses can be useful, though the image gallery is pretty disappointing. Overall though, it's definitely a worthwhile selection with the interviews.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Ghost in the Shell movie is remembered in the UK in much the same way as Akira, in that it's a film that reached to a far wider audience than most anime, and became a cult hit within its own right. It's aired on several different TV stations, had a limited theatrical release and two DVD releases (one of which was plagued with problems, which is rather amusing looking back on it in light of this disc) which were a great success. The film also garnered its fair share of critical acclaim. When the TV series was announced, it was always likely that a UK distributor would pick up the rights to Stand Alone Complex based on the selling power of the name alone. And here we are, just a few months on from the US release, with the first disc released by Manga Entertainment (who co-release the series with Bandai in the US).

The TV series takes place in an alternate universe to the movie, and apparently follows Shirow Masamune's vision depicted in the original manga a little more closely. This concept allows more freedom with the story, with a certain major character appearing who wouldn't have if it was a sequel series. The basic concepts are the same though; we still have Section 9, headed up with Major Kusanagi, Batou, Aramaki and several of the other characters. The series is structured in an unusual way, with it being made up of a several "stand alone" and several "complex" episodes.

Stand alone stories follow a certain case or event through from beginning to end, and the first three episodes on the disc are of this format. The final episode on the disc is a complex episode, which begins the case of the Laughing Man, which will be continue throughout all the complex episodes of the first season.

Episode 1 throws you in at the deep end in a way, with little in the way of character introductions near the beginning. Instead, we're left to pick things up as we go, which thankfully isn't too difficult (though it's also where prior knowledge of the film would come in handy). This opening story begins with a beautiful action sequence before moving into the main plot, which sees Section 9 being called in to resolve a hostage crisis at a Geisha house. But a simple mission is complicated by the presence of an undercover military agent who was investigating a government minister for links to a top-secret government document called the Ichinose Report. The episode features some great visuals and explosive action sequences, but is a relatively straightforward introduction to the Stand Alone Complex world.

The second episode has Section 9 chasing a rogue Tachikoma tank that is wreaking havoc around the city, and is a step up from the introductory episode. It's still filled with plenty of action, but the story is infused with a bit more emotion, and it builds up to quite a dramatic climax, and allows for some nice exploration of the characters. While not quite as good, the third episode is nonetheless another enjoyable outing, in which several obsolete androids commit suicide. When Section 9 get involved they find links to a computer virus and a hacker who seems to have an unruly obsession with an android of his own.

While the stand alone stories are really enjoyable, and give plenty of opportunity for the creative team to show some extra depth for the characters, it's the complex episode that really hooked me, and left me drooling for more. This story sees one of Togusa's detective friends killed while working on something related to the case of The Laughing Man, which was an incident of industrial espionage in which the perpetrators were never caught. He left Togusa some evidence before he died, which Togusa manages to unravel and he takes the case to Aramaki. Section 9 investigate, and uncover links to a Dutch corporation's cybernetic surveillance devices and a possible plot within the government.

This episode really comes at the perfect time in the story, as the first three episodes give us a chance to familiarise ourselves with the overall story, setting and the characters. With that out the way, this one can focus solely on introducing the case of The Laughing Man, and the writers take full advantage of this. It moves along at a slower pace than the previous episodes, as you'd probably expect, with less action as the focus here is mostly on story and the slow build up of the case that will span the entire first season, but it works exceptionally well and really left me eager to see where the story will go from here.

The characters in the series are all very strong, and it looks like there'll be plenty of room over the course of the series for them to develop nicely, as the format of the stand alone episodes really allows the writers the opportunity to flesh out their personalities and the nuances in individual cases and stories, while the complex episodes can focus more on the story. The pigeonholing of episodes in this way is definitely a concept that could have proved the series' biggest failing, but it looks from this opening selection like it will work in the show's favour.

Something that's blindingly obvious from even just looking at a few clips of the episodes is that the animation is some of the most gorgeous you'll ever see in a TV series. Stand Alone Complex is apparently the most expensive series ever produced and it's easy to see why, as every penny has gone towards ensuring each frame is as detailed and each movement is as fluid as possible. The character designs stick to Shirow Masamune's vision, and as such are obviously very similar to those of the film. During the four episodes on the disc I didn't spot a single moment where the characters didn't look perfect. This show is so visually rich that it's just stunning.

Another factor that was widely discussed amongst fans was the music, and while my love of Yoko Kanno's scores may leave me a little biased, I found the music in the series sublime. It's often unusual, which the amazing Russian-English hybrid opening sets the scene perfectly for, but it fits the mood well and always seemed appropriate to my ears. The soundtrack is certainly one that I'd recommend was added to anyone's collection.

Amusingly (and quite unfortunately), the curse of the franchise rears its ugly head again, because this disc has a few problems with the subtitles as well as the significant problem with the stereo tracks mentioned in the audio portion of the review. During the first episode, the subtitle timing is completely messed up. After the first few lines of the opening theme, they slip behind and the lag remains for several minutes. It then changes and the subtitles are in front of the dialogue, until just after the half-way mark when they get mostly on the right track, though are still ever so slightly faster than they should be. It's a crying shame, and while it doesn't affect the other three episodes on the disc, it's a huge disappointment after the problems which have plagued the US release of the show, and hopefully Manga will provide a quick fix for these problems (which, as of this writing, they haven't).

In Summary:
Stand Alone Complex is a series with appeal that could stretch far beyond the regular anime fan-base. With its futuristic, cyberpunk setting, high production values, and the name recognition of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, its just begging viewers to take a look. But beyond that it has the meat to back it up, with an interesting cast of characters and involving stories with endless possibilities. Stand Alone Complex is one of the best series I've seen all year, and could be the breakout hit that the UK anime world has been crying out for.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Interview with Director Kenji Kamiyama,Interview with Atsuko Tanaka (Voice of Motoko Kusanagi),Episode Profiles,Character Profiles,Image Gallery

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

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