Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #4 -

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Mania Grade: A-

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  • 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. #4

By Dani Moure     June 09, 2005
Release Date: June 01, 2005

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #4
© Manga UK

What They Say
A band of terrorists claims to have possession of a girl who was kidnapped some years ago. But when Section 9 is called in to resolve the situation, they realize that something is very wrong - the girl is the same age she was when she was kidnapped all those years ago!

Then, Section 9 is assigned to guard a very wealthy and reclusive businessman who has been targeted for assassination by an international crime syndicate. But if they can't even find him, how will they guard him?

Back at headquarters, the Major has become disturbed by the behaviour of the Tachikomas. Their AIs are developing too fast; she has doubts about their future usefulness. But Batou has other concerns as he goes undercover to spy on Zaitsev, a former Olympic silver medallist whom he admires. He wants his information to be wrong, for Zaitsev to be innocent. What will his operation reveal?

Episode comprise:
13. Not Equal
14. Yes
15. Machines Desirantes
16. Ag20

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!
Continuing along now at a steady pace, Manga serve up another helping of Stand Alone Complex.

With this latest disc, I switched between the two 5.1 tracks during each of the episodes, to try and give a bit of breadth for the review. Once again I noticed no dropouts or distortions of either of the 5.1 tracks, and a brief check of the 2.0 tracks displayed no problems. I wasn’t able to sample the DTS tracks which appear on disc 2 for this review. One striking thing about this show though is the excellent music (including the wonderful opening theme “Inner Universe” and the laid back ending “Lithium Flower”), and it sounds great with the directionality and effort put into the tracks here.

On the English dub front, I continued to be impressed with Animaze/ZRO Limit’s efforts, with particularly good performances from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Kusanagi) and Richard Epcar (Bateau) coming out on this disc as the actors have found their feet at this point.

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 during the episodes on this disc, 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 change font yet again for this disc, unfortunately it’s detrimental though after the good size used on the last disc. The subtitles here are really thick, like they’re all in bold, and often the letters look way too bunched up. I don’t understand why they changed the font from the last volume, but I hope they go back to it. Again the timing is a little odd in places, but it’s not terrible by any means and at this point I consider it more of a quirk of the series’ release than anything else. Also of note is that Manga fail to include the translated Japanese episode titles, which do appear on the US release (there are effectively two titles per episode, one is already in English and the other in Japanese).

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 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.

Two more interviews grace this disc, with Koichi Yamadera, the voice of Togusa, and Tamagawa Sakiko, the voice of Tachikoma making an appearance. Both talk about their various experiences on the show with their characters, in particular Yamadera discusses Togusa’s family side and how different he is to the other leads. Tamagawa on the other had discusses more how she tried to relate to Tachikoma, and we also get some very interesting behind the scenes glimpses from when she was recording her lines for the Tachikoma episode.

The character profiles and synopses can be useful though aren’t really essential. 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)
This volume of Stand Alone Complex is a little different to the last three, in that it’s the first of the discs so far to not feature any “complex” episodes. Those focus on the ongoing case of The Laughing Man, but here instead we get four “stand alone” stories. And while they’re very, very good (and certainly better than a whole lot out there), there’s just a slight something missing in my eyes from this batch of episodes in comparison to the rest of the series.

One look at the score for content should put that into perspective; on the whole the characters and storytelling ion such a rich world still shine through. But there’s just a little something missing from the stories here that was present in the previous volumes. The prime example would be the episode “Jungle Cruise” on the last disc. That episode was a masterfully crafted story, playing on several characters feelings and packing a huge emotional punch. As single episode stand-outs go in anime, it ranks up with the best of them. But here there’s nothing that packs quite the same “oomph”.

The episodes we get do explore some really interesting themes though, and while they don’t quite reach the heights of past episodes of this same series, they are still of a very high quality in and of themselves.

The first episode has Section 9 on the hunt again, this time attempting to track down a girl called Tokra Eka, the heir Tokra Electronics empire… who was originally kidnapped sixteen years ago. While Section 9 has done some prior infiltration, their photos reveal that the Tokra hasn’t aged a bit in the years she’s been gone. It’s all a little bit too odd, and it’s left to Kusanagi, Batou and Togusa to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Though this episode was enjoyable enough, for me it wasn’t the best start to the disc, and it all goes back to there being that little something missing here. The story itself was enjoyable enough if a bit by the books, but it didn’t really raise too many interesting questions, which is definitely unusual for this series (indeed, the later episodes on the disc do), and nothing really had too much impact on the characters. It made the episode feel a little detached for me, and it felt more like the sort of episode you should see right at the start of a series, not half way through. At this point we’re familiar with the characters and quite honestly, I’d prefer something juicier.

Following that outing we open with Kusanagi, Togusa and Batou storming in on a team of bank robbers looking to get at several large corporations in Japan. While they capture the thieves (one of whom ends up being an android), they discover that the person behind it all is a Chinese investor who is out for revenge. This leads them to a filthy rich Japanese man who is one of the targets, and with a woman from the Japanese Mafia involved, protecting the reclusive man becomes a race against time.

In a similar way to the last episode, this one wasn’t quite as great as the episodes that we’ve generally come to expect in the series. What it does have going a bit more for it though, is how they tied in knowledge of Kanemoto to Togusa and his family, and how it all related back to his family-oriented nature by the end of the episodes. The story itself was quite intriguing, and I liked how Fem was incorporated into goings on, but again it lacked a deep tie in to one of the characters, and that’s something that is really noticeable at this stage of the series..

The disc’s third episode is a strange one, and follows a day in the life of the Tachikomas. They have gradually been becoming more and more aware of their existence, with their AIs expanding rapidly. It all leads to them questioning everything, reading books and even asking about religion and higher powers. While Batou isn’t really concerned, the Major most certainly is, but even then the Tachikomas take it upon themselves to try and impress her and get her on their side.

What makes the episode strange, and yet really interesting at the same time, is just how much focus is given to the robots. Kusanagi and Batou make small appearances,
and everyone else has nothing more than a bit part. But as usual it poses interesting questions about the use of AIs and what exactly would you do if an AI starts to go beyond what it was programmed to because it was programmed to be so intelligent. The Tachikomas are just learning more and more from experience, and hearing them get jealous over Batou, talking about religion and other life things, and then plotting to get Kusanagi on their side is surreal and yet thought-provoking at the same time. It’s an odd episode because my immediate reaction was that it’s a good episode but not great, but the more I think about it the better it comes across.

The final episode follows Batou as he’s given a mission to scope out a man who’s suspected of being a spy. The man is an old boxer, and someone that Batou has admired for a long time, causing him some interesting problems in how he approaches the investigation. He decides to visit the man’s training gym, and gets close to both him and his wife. But it all starts to go pear-shaped as he begins to uncover the truth, and has gotten a little too close to his suspect.

And this is exactly the sort of episode that I’ve come to expect more from Stand Alone Complex. This mission clearly had a great impact on Batou as his feelings were torn between how he felt about Zaitsev and his duty to Section 9. Things were complicated even further thanks to what had been decided regarding the Tachikomas’ personalities, and it gave the series its heart back. I really found myself understanding why Batou was torn between how he felt about things, and it made his decisions more real and gave them far more impact, and for me that’s what the series is all about. The stories are first rate but the characters are even more so, and when they come together as they do in this episode it’s a hugely rewarding experience.

While it might sound like I was on a bit of a downer for this disc, that’s really not the case. Despite my comments, the first two episodes here were still good, they just seemed to be lacking the special ingredients that makes Stand Alone Complex such a special series. Things get more than back on track with the other two episodes though, as they really get the characters involved and get inside their heads (yes, I include the Tachikomas in that statement), while at the same time the stories are as top-class and provocative as we’ve come to expect from the series.

In Summary:
Though it may not have a stream of stand-out episodes like the last disc, you’d be hard-pressed to find a series that manages success in that regard, and there are a couple of really juicy episodes here. If you’ve been enjoying the series this far, it’s a real no-brainer, and the series as a whole still gets my highest recommendation. It really is one of the best shows currently being released here.

Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Interview with Koichi Yamadera (Togusa),Interview with Sakiko Tamagawa (Tachikoma),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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