Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #5 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: B
  • 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: 1.78:1 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. #5

By Dani Moure     August 19, 2005
Release Date: August 15, 2005


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. #5
© Manga UK


What They Say
On a visit to London for a conference, Aramaki drops by to visit an old friend who wants to ask a favour. But they find themselves taken hostage by a couple of thieves, and a crooked police officer doesn't want any survivors. Then, Aramaki attends the funeral of an old war buddy, and learns of the disturbing behaviour of his deceased friend's son. Later, Section 9 is assigned the task of protecting the Chinese Foreign Minister from being assassinated. How are the two cases related?

Section 9's next case is a rash of mass-kidnappings. Rumour has it that a crime syndicate is harvesting organs and selling them on the black market. This case will put them up against an operative who is Motoko's equal.

Togusa, meanwhile, is on the trail of the Laughing Man again, and this time, his investigations lead him towards a leading micromachine corporation and an NGO called the Sunflower Society. But things are about to take a deadly turn...

The Review!
Another disc of one of the best series being released arrives, and it’s a bit of a corker.

Audio:

For this disc I watched the first two episodes with the Japanese 5.1 track, and the second two with the English 5.1 track for a bit of variety. I noticed no dropouts or distortions of either of the 5.1 tracks, and a brief check of the 2.0 tracks displayed no problem either. The music continues to come across very well indeed, and the effort put into the various sound mixes really pays off.

On the English dub front, I continued to be impressed with Animaze/ZRO Limit’s efforts, with excellent performances from William Knight (Aramaki) and Crispin Freeman (Togusa) on these episodes.

Video:
In general, the video looks fantastic. 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. It is, however, marred by a glitch in the second episode at 18.30, in which the video breaks up for about a second during a scene transition. While it’s the only occurrence I noticed on this disc during playback, it’s definitely not good that these kinds of things are still happening.

The subtitles change yet again for this disc, and I am really beginning to wonder what on earth is going on over at Manga to warrant a change in subtitles on every disc. Unfortunately, on this disc they hit their worst, as now they’re back to the nicely sized font (in white), but appear over black strips which are the same length as the line of subtitles. It’s absolutely ridiculous and needless to cover such a portion of the screen even more than regular subtitles would, and marred my enjoyment of the disc a little while I watched the episodes in Japanese.

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).

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

Menu:
The menus are now my second least favourite aspect of the release behind the subtitles, and to be fair they have started to grow on me. 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:
There are two more interviews on this disc. The first is with two mechanical designers, Kenzi Teraoka and Shinoau Tsuneki. They discuss how they came up with their designs, in much the same way as Koji Tanaka and Makoto Endo, Director of Photography and 3D Director respectively, discuss their work on the show. I am really enjoying these interview segments, as it’s nice to see some in-depth thoughts on what went in to creating such a richly detailed show as this.

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)
After the last disc presented us with entirely “stand alone” episodes, the first three episodes continue that trend before the fourth and final episode on the disc returns to the case of the Laughing Man and “complex” episodes, launching us in to what will become the finale of this first season of the show.

And good the stories are, too. While I won’t beat around the bush and say that the series still suffers a little in my eyes from trying to live up to itself, in that the dizzy heights of volume three’s episodes haven’t quite been reached again, the episodes are still very, very good in their own right and better than most things out there. The characters and world presented in Stand Alone Complex are so rich and detailed that it’s easy to just get lost in watching it.

The first episode on this volume has us changing pace as we move to London, where Aramaki and Kusanagi are attending an anti-terrorism conference. Aramaki decides to meet up with an old friend, who administers a wine fund that has just been taken over by a gang of criminals. She asks for Aramaki’s help, but he’s reluctant to use his connections for personal reasons, until a couple of thieves take the two of them hostage during a robbery.

As always, the strength of this episode is in its characters. Here, we see a couple of different sides to Aramaki that really help flesh out his character a great deal. His interaction with Seymour are really nice in how he shows his caring side with her, and yet tries to keep his professional life separate, which is clearly something he takes great pride in. But his actions when acting as a hostage really show off his intelligence and it’s easy to see how he got where he is today. He thinks on his feet and creates a situation in which he can easily outclass his captors.

The Aramaki show continues to a degree in the second episode on this disc, as he’s thrust to the fore again when a Korean Foreign Minister comes to visit Japan to honour those who died in a war. At the same time, Aramaki visits the grave of an old friend called Tsujisaki, where he runs in to Tsujisaki’s daughter. She talks of how her brother Yuu has recently been acting strange and inherited some of their father’s traits since his death. When an assassination plot rears its ugly head, the leading suspect becomes Yuu himself.

Again in this episode we see a few sides to Aramaki’s character, but more than that we also get a fair share of action too. The plot is quite predictable in that it’s easy to see Yuu’s involvement and where it’s going from early on, yet the story plays out intelligently and the show is so well-written that it doesn’t really matter. Right to the end I was intrigued as to how the episode would climax and when it did, I wasn’t disappointed.

The next episode follows a plot in which the Prime Minister’s daughter is kidnapped by an organ smuggling gang led by an ex-Russian operative. The search for the kidnapped girl uncovers a deeper case of political corruption and sees Kusanagi face off against the Russian. For me, this was the weakest episode on the disc (though I still enjoyed it). The fight with Kusanagi was good to see, and the plot well-told, but it was the final episode on the disc that really raised the bar back up.

“Re-view” returns us to the case of the Laughing Man once again, starting with Togusa reviewing the case, as a list of patients treated by the Murai vaccine has disappeared from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Togusa investigates and is eventually led to a group called the Sunflower Society (whose logo bears a striking resemblance to the symbol used by the Laughing Man). When he infiltrates the Society to get information he discovers that the list of patients contains the names of some very prominent figures, including a government official. He realises that a government cover-up may have taken place as the vaccine was rejected in favour of nano-technology, but the question remains of how the Laughing Man is involved.

It would be unfair to go into too much detail about the story of this episode so as not to spoil it, but it’s a completely compelling one to watch as the mystery unravels and the story is thrust towards a shocker of an ending that turns into one heck of a cliffhanger. Much like a couple of earlier episodes, initially it’s hard to see the Laughing Man connection, but given the quality of the writing on the series I have complete faith that everything will tie together as the series draws to its close. Seeing small things along the way, such as the logo of the Sunflower Society, and the janitor’s connection to the Laughing Man only make me more eager to see how this case will conclude. And that ending will make the wait for the next disc all the more unbearable!

In Summary:
Stand Alone Complex is not only one of the best series around at the moment, it’s also one of the most consistent. The quality of writing is fantastic throughout, keeping even the more conventional stories interesting and entertaining. The ongoing Laughing Man case continues to be completely riveting story that I’m just itching to see the conclusion of. This really is one of the finest series around and deserves everyone’s attention.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Interview with Kenzi Teraoka and Shinoau Tsuneki (Mechanical Designers),Interview with Koji Tanaka (Director of Photography) and Makoto Endo (3D 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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