Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #2 -

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Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: A/D
  • 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: 1.78:1 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. #2

By Dani Moure     February 22, 2005
Release Date: February 21, 2005

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #2
© Manga UK

What They Say
The television series based on Masamune Shirow's Manga and Mamoru Oshii's highly influential 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.

Episodes comprise:

5. Decoy
6. Meme
7. Idolater
8. Missing Hearts

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!
And so after a lengthy wait, Ghost in the Shell returns to stores with this second volume, but are the problems from first volume replicated here?

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 introduced some problems though. There are a few dropouts in sound at various points, which becomes a bit frustrating. In spot-checking the other tracks, though, it didn't seem to affect the English tracks or the Japanese 2.0 track, which is at least something. It's very disappointing to see such problems on this disc though, considering the time it's been since the release of the first volume and hence the amount of advance warning they had to give these discs a thorough quality check given the problems of that volume.

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, especially when italicised during songs. Thankfully the timing issues that plagued the first volume are also gone (outside of the opening theme for the first episode, which is slightly mistimed in parts).

No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

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.

Again we get two interesting interviews; one with Osamu Saka, the Japanese voice of Aramaki, and one with Yoko Kanno, the acclaimed music producer. Both interviews are very interesting in their own right and it's great to hear their thoughts on the series. Bizarrely, the audio was muffled for the interviews on the disc on my main Pioneer player, though they played fine on PowerDVD on my PC.

The character profiles and synopses can be useful, though they're not particularly well written and contain a number of spelling mistakes, though the image gallery is pretty disappointing. The second disc also has a quiz, which is an interesting (if superfluous) feature. Overall though, it's definitely a worthwhile selection with the interviews.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It's fair to say that, while excellent in terms of content, the release of the first volume of Stand Alone Complex was a bit botched in the technical department, with some pretty poor audio problems. So after a massive five month break, Manga (care of Anchor Bay) return with the second volume, which you would expect to be fine. And for the most part it is, but there are still technical problems, which is very unfortunate.

But it's the content that reigns supreme in this series, and with the writing being as good as it is, there's plenty to get excited about. The first two episodes are both "complex" episodes, so continue the ongoing investigations in the case of The Laughing Man. We get plenty more to sink our teeth into, and you can come up with all kinds of wild theories from the content here.

In the first episode, Chief Aramaki tells Section 9 that he believes the resurfacing of the criminal calling himself the Laughing Man is all a farce staged by the Metropolitan Police, and gets Batou and Togusa to trail the chief suspect in the case of the Laughing Man, a man named Nanao=A. They watch him from a nearby building but he doesn't give any indication of being about to commit a crime. Meanwhile, after doing a bit of background investigating on the case, Kusanagi goes to watch over the Superintendent General, a suspected target.

"Decoy" is a bit more relaxed in tone than the previous episodes in the series, essentially containing a fair amount of setup and exposition that is quite crucial to understanding the Laughing Man case. While it means that the pace is a bit slower than the norm, it's good to get a grip on the pieces of the puzzle that make up this case, and it does build towards the end very well. It's surprisingly gripping in a lot of ways, and by the end of the episode I was firmly eager to find out where this case is going.

The second episode follows on from the first, with security at the Superintendent General's engagement running around trying to find out who has been infected by a cyberbrain contamination virus, and thus likely to try and kill him. The Major and her team intercept the infected man, but the virus starts to manifest and soon there are several people after his life. Togusa and Batou then reach the true residence of Nanao, but by the time they get there he's already been killed by a mysterious man who says it's enough that the authorities suspect he's the Laughing Man. Section 9 begin to interrogate all those arrested, but frustratingly they all claim to be the real Laughing Man.

This is another episode that contains a few interesting revelations, as more clues in the case are uncovered. Again, outside of the scenes near the beginning of the episode where Kusanagi and crew fight to find the people infected by the virus, it moves quite slowly with several people being interrogated and falsely claiming to be the true Laughing Man. With several twists and turns of the dramatic kind, this episode only serves to make the case all the more engaging, which is a very promising thing considering it will be spread out across the course of the first season.

The remaining two episodes are each "stand alone" episodes, featuring a single story based around the characters of Section 9. The first centres around man called Marcelo Jarti, a revolutionist leader who has reportedly been assassinated. But Kusanagi recalls how he apparently kept himself alive for so long by using body doubles, leading them to investigate his death. Another enjoyable episode, "Idolater" gives us a chance to see the crew in action again, with a bit more time for reflection on the part of Kusanagi, Batou and Togusa in particular.

The final episode has Kusanagi visiting a hospital at the request of a Nurse there who she knows. She tells the Major about an eight-year-old girl who had a heart transplant recently that saved her life. But when the parents of the child who donated the organ were traced, they said they never gave permission for the organ to be transplanted, opening up a can of worms involving a business of stealing organs to sell on. Again, this is a gripping story, in particular for what it brings out in the Major, as things start to get personal.

The big strengths of the series continue to be the excellent writing and wonderful cast of characters. The stories manage to have quite a lot of depth and be really interesting, while showing different facets to the characters and giving us more insight into their personalities. The stand alone and complex episode structure continues to work really well, as it gives the creative team the opportunity to flesh out the characters, often by focusing an episode around them, and also giving us an ongoing story arc to really get involved in with a complex (pardon the pun) case that needs solving.

What continues to be heavily evident is the outstanding production quality of the show itself. The series is reportedly one of the most expensive in history and it's blindingly obvious why. The animation is some of the most gorgeous you'll ever see in a television series, with each frame containing plenty of detail and the movements of all the characters being very fluid. This show is so visually rich that it's just stunning. Working in tandem with the visual quality is aural excellence, with Yoko Kanno's excellent score being both inventive and fitting with the show at the same time. One of the biggest shames about this series' UK release is that we'll probably never get to lay our hands on the soundtracks to the series.

In what will quickly become a farce if it continues though, the audio dropouts on the Japanese track at times here are pretty unforgivable. With five months to get it right and learn from their mistakes on the first volume, Manga have still managed to put out a disc with some stupid audio problems. Thankfully though, the show is still very watchable as the dropouts are isolated and only last a very short amount of time. Still, some fixes to these issues wouldn't go amiss now they've made a similar mistake again. I guess we should be thankful that the subtitles made it out OK this time.

In Summary:
Aside from the disappointing technical issues holding this release back in a couple of areas, this is a great disc. The series itself builds on the momentum gained in the first four episodes and delivers some excellent content. The arc-related "complex" episodes continue to be exciting with their twists and turns, really keeping the interest in the story up. The "stand alone" episodes fair just as well though, as they're all interesting in their own right at this point, especially in some of the interesting themes they explore. Despite the audio problems (which thankfully don't effect every track), I find it hard not to recommend this series. With high production values and the futuristic setting, this is exactly the kind of series that has the potential to do well in the UK market. Add in the name recognition of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and Manga are surely onto a winner. Give it a spin; you'd be hard-pressed not to enjoy it.

Japanese Language (2.0, 5.1, DTS),English Language (2.0, 5.1, DTS),English Subtitles,Interview with Osamu Saka (Voice of Aramaki),Interview with Yoko Kanno (Music),Episode Profiles,Character Profiles,Quiz

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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