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

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Manga Entertainment
  • MSRP: 24.95
  • Running time: 110
  • 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. #1

By luis     July 27, 2004
Release Date: July 27, 2004

The Review!
With a popular manga series and film behind in its past, can Ghost in the Shell survive the transition to a television series? The answer is a resounding "yes!"

The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track was used for my primary viewing session. One word sums this track up... superb. From the opening theme to the ending theme, the track is rich and vibrant providing action throughout the entire soundstage. Whether it is the sound of a flying helicopter or the staccato of machine 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. There is a Japanese stereo track, but with such a will-mixed, powerful 5.1 track, it seems unnecessary.

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.

Against a dark, stormy background stands Kusanagi, guns drawn, atop her tachikoma. It is a dark and moody front cover that captures the style and tone of the series quite well; it is an eye-catching, striking piece of artwork. 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 only text that summarizes what the series is about; there are no chapter listings making the insert a bit redundant.

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 textless version of the opening and ending themes, an interview with the director Kenji Kamiyama, and an interview with Kusanagi's voice actress Atsuko Tanaka. Both interviews run roughly eleven minutes and represent my favorite sort of extra. It is always enjoyable to get a peek behind the camera and learn how a show came together creatively. The director's interview stands out a bit more, as he explains the creative process behind translating something that already had a manga and movie version released. The insights he gives to the development and creative process for the series are fascinating.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In the near future of 2030, mankind has begun to enhance themselves with prosthetic bodies and cybernetic implants; not everyone is pleased with these scientific advancements leading to a rise in terrorist activities. And there are always those who wish to use new technology for their own evil purposes. The members of Section 9 are responsible for tracking down and arresting these criminals. Section 9 is a group of talented individuals, some enhanced by cybernetics and some not. Section 9 wields considerable power in the politics of Japan as evidenced in the very first episode.

A group of politicians are trapped inside a restaurant by some berserk geisha robots; the military and police are fighting for control of the situation, when Aramaki the head of Section 9 steps into the picture. Both the police and military immediately defer to Aramaki and relinquish control of the situation to his team. Kusanagi and her comrades quickly and efficiently mop up the robots and rescue the hostages, but the real work is yet to come.

The team must use their skills to track down why the indicant occurred and what the goal of the saboteurs was. The mystery is solved by the end of the episode; the next two stories follow the same pattern. A tank goes out of control and heads toward the city, and the team must find a way to stop it. The next story revolves around the mysterious "suicides" of a certain type of android; the cause appears to be a carefully crafted virus, the author of which the team is tasked with finding. As the volume ends, the last episode introduces a longer story revolving around the mysterious Laughing Man. Laughing Man is a highly skilled vigilante hacker out to expose government corruption.

From the above synopses, the stories sound like straightforward detective material, but they truly deserve the "complex" portion of the series title. While the main thrust of the plots is solving a mystery through good detective work, it is the subtle character interaction and technological themes that makes this series special. Section 9 is highly regarded by the various military and civilian forces even to the point of awe; this is due to their efficiency in solving just about any crime that comes there way.

One can see why they are efficient by the natural feel to their movements. They operate as a highly trained machine; each person knows what their job is and falls into it without hesitation or question. The individual parts combine to form a deadly whole. They are a tight-knit family, and there camaraderie extends into every aspect of their lives. Even in the midst of battle, they trade quips and barbs, as if they are brothers and sisters. When one is down, they are there to offer support and advice, as Kusanagi did for Togusa after the geisha job.

The dialogue between the team is the highlight of the stories; it is well-written and subtle, providing insight into the character's mind without resorting to long-winded narrative. It is the characters that draw you into the story more so than the actual plot; one would think this would not work well, but the writers and the artwork make it a compelling reality.

The technological aspects of the show are also brilliantly written; rather than being set in a world where cybernetics and other advanced technologies are an accepted reality, it is a burgeoning field that has its advocates and its detractors. Section 9's tachikomas reflect the youth of the field; despite being state of the art tanks with advanced, sentient AI systems, they behave like young children exploring the world around them for the first time. They are a cute, light-hearted touch that keeps the series from becoming too dark and heavy.

The world of Ghost in the Shell is trying to find a moral compass for the use of this technology; it clearly can be used to benefit mankind as well as cause great harm to it. This ambiguity gives the series a sense of realism and credibility; it is left to the viewer to decide if the cybernetic enhancements detract from a person's humanity much like the general populace of the world.

There is plenty of action in the series to balance out the subtleties of the plot, and the animation and music help play a strong part in it. The ever popular Yoko Kanno does a fantastic job and creates a hauntingly beautiful opening theme and an ending theme that captures the nature of Kusanagi and her team quite well.

The animation is rich and detailed making the city and its surroundings a supporting character itself. I am not sure though that I care for the CGI opening; while it is stunning and well produced, it feels too much like the opening of a video game and does not quite capture the essence of what makes this series great. Also, I miss the original character design for Kusanagi. She is now a bit more full figured than her film version; she loses the lithe body that made her appearance more machine-like. Now, she appears more human which fits with the tone of the series; still, I miss the graceful marionette appearance she once had. However, these are minor quibbles with an otherwise great series.

In Summary:
Stand Alone Complex had a lot to live up to; the manga and the film have been a staple of fandom for years and have garnered its share of accolades and fans. The television series proves a worthy successor to both; on the surface, it is an action filled, exciting detective drama. But scratch beyond the surface, and it has well-written dialogue that fleshes out the world and the characters that live in it. Animation, music, plot, and dialogue all weave together into a visual, aural, and mental delight. There is currently no large story arc and no central villain, but the series does not need either to be effective. It is about how the Section 9 team relate to each other and the world around them. Smart yet full of action, this title can appeal to fans on multiple levels and will introduce a new generation of fans to Shriow's talent.

Review Equipment
Mitsubishi 27" TV, Pioneer DVL-919, Sony STR-DE915 DD receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers, generic S-Video and audio cable


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