Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #3 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • 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. #3

By Dani Moure     April 24, 2005
Release Date: April 25, 2005


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #3
© Manga UK


What They Say
Convinced that the cyber terrorist known only as the Laughing Man has resurfaced, Section 9 accelerates their investigations. Major Kusanagi goes into a virtual chat room devoted to the Laughing Man and has an unusual encounter. But the people there, and the views they express, are they simply fantasy, or is there truth? Problems from the rest of the world intrude as well. A serial killer has turned up who skins his victims alive in the unique pattern of a t-shirt. Section 9 must discover the identity of this killer before he claims his next victim. Togusa, meanwhile, goes undercover at an institution for sufferers of closed cyberbrain syndrome, but he finds more than he expects, including a clue in the Laughing Man case. And then, one of the Tachikomas has decided to go out for a joyride, and befriends a little girl who is looking for her lost dog...

Episodes comprise:
9. Chat! Chat! Chat!
10. Jungle Cause
11. Portraitz
12. Escape From

The Review!
With a much shorter wait than the gap between the first two volumes, the Mi>Ghost in the Shell TV series returns with a cracking set of episodes.

Audio:
This time around, I opted for the Japanese 5.1 track for review purposes. Thankfully, there were no dropouts or distortions this time around. The mix is really immersive with some great directionality. The opening song, “Inner Universe” (a big favourite of mine) comes across really well in particular. I checked out the stereo track for the last episode and noticed no problems there, and a quick spot-check of the DTS track revealed no problems either.

On the English front, I only had a chance to quickly spot-check all three of the tracks while writing up the review, and I noticed no problems here either. The dub, by Animaze/ZRO Limit, is excellent though, with particularly good performances from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Kusanagi), Richard Epcar (Bateau) and Crispin Freeman (Togusa) at this point.

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 nicely sized white font, and thankfully they are thicker this time round. Though the timing isn’t a massive problem, sometimes it can be a bit odd with subtitles slightly late after characters start talking. It looks like a stylistic choice from whoever timed them though, rather than an error.

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

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 no way of watching all the episodes straight through), 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:
Two more interviews grace this disc, with Akio Otsuka, the voice of Batou, and Kazuhiro Wakabayashi, the sound director. We get a few glimpses behind the scenes in the recording studio with the other actors during Otsuka’s interview, as well as plenty of discussion of his thoughts on Batou. The feature on Wakabayashi discusses his role in the show, while he talks about how he approaches it. For fans, both interviews are really good extras.

The character profiles and synopses can be useful, although interestingly the synopses have now been dropped to a couple of paragraphs at most (rather than the in-depth recap they were before). The second disc again has a quiz, which is an interesting (if superfluous) feature, much like the game trailer that is also on the first disc. Overall though, it's definitely a worthwhile selection with the interviews.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having now found their feet from a technical standpoint, finally we can focus on the content with the third release of Stand Alone Complex. It’s a good thing too, because the content on this disc is excellent from the get-go. In fact, I’d rate one of the episodes on this disc as the best of the series so far. With the changes under Anchor Bay now complete, we also finally get on to something of a regular schedule with this disc coming two months after the last.

The first episode on the disc is a return to the “complex” episodes, dealing with the case of The Laughing Man. Interestingly this one takes a slightly different approach, as we join a group of people in a chat room (which has virtual representations of each participant sitting round the table, as well as an audience). Here, they all discuss events surrounding The Laughing Man since the incident five years ago. They cover topics like whether or not this Laughing Man is the same person, how he’s managed to create a fan base all over the net, and pretty much every mystery that this case has. Several participants present new evidence, but there’s always someone watching...

Granted, it sounds a bit rubbish when written down, but this episode is surprisingly captivating. While there’s little of Section 9 to see here (and what little there is you won’t necessarily know it straight away), the writers manage to keep the episode completely captivating, even though it’s just a bunch of people sitting around talking. While some may be crucial and some not, the evidence presented about the case is thought-provoking and it’s almost as if it’s a bunch of fans discussing the storyline as the show aired.

The second episode steals the disc though, and is my favourite of the show so far. Section 9 are investigating a serial murderer, which sounds normal enough until you find out that his murder method of choice is skinning the upper half of his victim’s bodies while they’re still alive. What’s worse is that he’s started to record them doing it, and even playing it back to some of the victims before they die. While the team try to find their suspect, they have the CIA breathing down their necks, as the Americans want the man back. These events open old wounds for Batou, as he is confronted by a brutal occasion from his past.

While this episode verges on disgusting at times, in part it’s the brutality of the events that are taking place that makes it so enthralling to watch. There’s one moment in particular where Togusa is watching one of the murders played back, and has to jump out of the car and throw up, and I found myself almost having the same reaction. It’s not what you see, but the combination of the sound effects and what is left to your imagination that really has a huge impact.

The reaction this sort of episode invokes would make for an interesting episode in itself, but when you add in some fantastic characterisation for Batou this is a real winner. He is forced to come to terms with what happened in the past, and confront the killer himself knowing what he has done, and you can see the conflict inside of him. It’s a real tour-de-force for Batou, and really provides a great insight into his personality.

Next up, we have another “complex” episode, but this one’s even more different in that had it not been for a couple of references (and the title card telling you), you might not even realise it. Togusa is forced to go undercover in a government facility for treating “cyberbrain closed shell syndrome”, and finds that many of its patients are children. Strangely, they all await the arrival of someone called “Chief”, which leads him on a search to find out more.

It’s intriguing watching this episode unfold as it goes in several different directions and doesn’t really tie in fully to The Laughing Man until close to the end. But when it does it’s another episode that really gets you thinking about the case, and that’s the biggest hook. The ongoing story is one of the most interesting you’ll find, and even episodes like this one, that initially don’t seem to hold many clues, end up making you think and keep it in the back of your mind.

The final episode on the disc is a bit of light relief from the intensity of the rest of the disc, as Batou’s Tachikoma, the one that he uses all the time and keeps in shape, goes AWOL. It befriends a young girl who’s lost her dog, and tries to help her find it. There’s also an interesting experience in store for Major Kusanagi.

This is a complete change of pace but works well, especially with where it comes on the disc. The adventures of Tachikoma and the young girl are hilarious (just witness Tachikoma’s reaction to finding out the dog he picks up wasn’t hers), although the switch to the Major and her watching the movie and getting emotional is in complete contrast. It still works though, and gives us a bit more of a glimpse at Kusanagi’s character in a set of episodes that are quite lacking in Major action.

In Summary:
This is a great disc in terms of content, and thankfully it looks like things are back on track from a technical standpoint. With such a rich world to draw upon, the creators of Stand Alone Complex have crafted a show that manages to engage in almost anything it does. From internet chat room take offs to gruesome murder mysteries, the storytelling on the show is top notch and the cast of characters all have a fair amount of depth to them. This is one of the best series currently being released in the UK, and I have absolutely no qualms in recommending it to anyone.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),•English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Interview with Akio Otsuka (Voice of Batou),Interview with Kazuhiro Wakabayashi (Sound Director),Video Game Trailer,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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