Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex DVD Review
In the near future cybernetic bodies have become commonplace. With the spread of cybernetic bodies the connection between man and internet has intensified and everyone is connected to the net directly through implants in their brains. Cybernetic body parts can be used to replace damaged organic body parts and make human life easier, but they can also be abused by illegal smugglers, soldiers and hackers. To prevent cyber-terrorism Public Security Section 9 – a secret organization within Japan’s Ministry of Home Affairs – has been created. Section 9 is led by the cunning bureaucrat Aramaki and the talented hacker Major Kusanagi. Together with the other members of section 9 they tackle hackers and terrorists who threaten the public using electronic and cyber warfare.
One day a member of Section 9 called Togusa receives a mysterious phone call from a former colleague in the police. Apparently he has found a lead that will help Section 9 uncover the Laughing Man – the most talented hacker who ever lived and the one held responsible for one of the biggest blackmailing incidents in history. Section 9 goes after the Laughing Man but soon discovers that this mysterious case is more lethal and complicated than they ever could have imagined.
In its core Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a police
procedural series with cyberpunk elements. Major Kusanagi and her crew use advanced machinery and their superior information gathering skills to deal with various cyber-crimes. Some cases require them to do extensive investigations while in others they are sent directly to confront the criminals. GITS:SAC prides itself on realism. Regardless of its futuristic setting all the cases, places and people are firmly believable. Section 9 handles cases in a plausible manner without relying on flashy powers or super-human tricks. That is not to say that GITS:SAC is a boring series. By combining a futurist world setting with believable cop drama GITS:SAC manages to be both entertaining and unique. Furthermore the reliance on cybernetic parts and the internet blurs the lines between the physical and digital worlds. This raises several fascinating questions. Questions like: can people still be considered humans despite moving from their physical bodies into cybernetic shells made of metal? And can robots with human appearance transcend their nature and acquire human-like souls?
The series centers on the members of Section 9. Section 9 includes very powerful frontal-assault members such as the hacker Major Kusanagi and the muscular Batou alongside more support-type members such as the intelligence specialist Ishikawa and the sniper Saito. Almost all Section 9 members make use of high-end cybernetic body parts. Major Kusanagi is a complete cyborg with her brain being her only organic part. On the other side of the equation Togusa – a former cop who was scouted by Section 9 – has no cybernetic body parts at all; a fact which limits his abilities on the battlefield compared to the rest. Section 9’s effective teamwork in solving cases makes it easy to learn more about their abilities and preferences. Despite their prostatic bodies and serious line of work most of the members are likable and iconic characters that you will care about. The majority of the characters are developed and have great individual depth. There are some exceptions though. Two members of Section 9 – Borma and Paz – lack in both individuality and background. They usually help in whatever they are told and rarely speak or share their opinions with the rest of the group. This is unfortunate because their lack of personality alienates them from the rest of the group and questions their relevance to the series.
The episodes in GITS:SAC are split into two categories: standalone episodes and Laughing Man episodes. Standalone episodes, as their names imply, feature individual cases that can be watched in any given order and are not connected to each other. The Laughing Man episodes form a continuous story arc about the Laughing Man case. These episodes are arguably the most rich and rewarding of the bunch. They are spread between the standalone episodes but should be watched in order to be understood correctly.
The crime cases in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex are well-conceived. They range from realistic cases of terrorism to more fictional cases about hacking and body switching. Cases wrap in a satisfying way and as a general rule each case is a bit more complex than it seems at first. GITS:SAC makes distinct use of political and economical references in its stories. This can add to the sophistication of the cases and make them more endearing. Unfortunately more than once these political and economical references serve as an irrelevant, even confusing, distraction instead. Some references are periodically used for padding in order to make a plain crime case appear more special. Episode 10 (Jungle Cruise) features a very simple serial killer incident, but the crew nonetheless spend half of their time babbling about electronic wiring, information management and political motives. There are several such episodes and it ultimately feels like the script writers didn’t believe their stories could be compelling without adding superficial technological references every other minute. Another problem with the political and economical references is that not all of them are conveyed effectively here. More than once Aramaki brief Section 9 on the fly, explaining in one sentence what crime was committed, where the crime took place, who was the victim and who is probably the criminal behind it. Understanding these briefings is the key to understanding what happens next in those episodes but the briefings are usually so convoluted that you will find yourself embarrassingly rewinding once or twice to hear them again, just to understand what the hell is happening. Unlike the original Ghost in the Shell manga, which featured political and scientific side notes that you could read at your leisure, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex does not give you sufficient time to digest the plot before executing it.
For this review I watched the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Complete Collection from Manga Entertainment. The collection comes on 7 DVDs stacked on each other using a swivel mechanism. The DVD menu is sleek and each DVD contains interviews with the Japanese cast as an added extras. There are interviews with the director, the script writers, the music staff and the voice actors. There are approximately 170 minutes of interviews here overall, guaranteeing that fans of the series will have a lot to sink their teeth into. Each episode in the series is followed by a short segment called Tachikoma Days. These present comical situations in which the Tachikoma (spider-like combat vehicles with artificial intelligence) make fun of everything around them. These generally are not very funny and bring the level of the series a bit down. I wish Manga Entertainment would have added these to the extra menu as optional videos because watching one of these whimsical segments after an intense or serious episode is a real turnoff.
The DVDs look great. GITS:SAC has some gorgeous environments and detailed character expressions. The only real issue with the visuals is that people in the distance often don’t have their faces drawn. The DVDs come with English and Japanese audio, both of which are available in Stereo and in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. The English subtitles included are excellent but unless you are Japanese I still recommend you watch this series in English. The English dub is on par with the Japanese one and since people talk nonstop the English dub allows you to watch the series without constantly looking at the lower part of the screen.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is not as deep or daring as the Ghost in the Shell movie. If you go in expecting deep questions about the nature of human beings and the existence of souls (which are called “ghosts” here) than you will be disappointed. although still far from being shallow it fails to be the sophisticated and intellectual series it could have been. However, GITS:SAC does a much better job than the movie in introducing the characters and in portraying a believable futuristic world for them to live in. It also has a solid story, good visuals, a strong musical score and likable characters, making it one of the best police procedural anime available on the market today.
- Appealing characters.
- The futuristic setting is realistic and believable.
- Some episodes have an unnecessarily convoluted plot.
- The Tachikoma Days segments are below the series’ standard.
Final Score: 7.5/10 (Good)
Product Information: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Complete Collection. Published by Manga Entertainment. Release Date: October 14, 2008.
Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a Premier DVX131 DVD player using an HDMI cable.
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