Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost in the Shell STAND ALONE COMPLEX

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG (sequel – included in review)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (further sequel movie)

Ghost in the Shell (movie – alternate story)

Similar: Psycho-Pass

Ergo Proxy

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Crime Science Fiction Action

Length: 26 episodes (season 1), 26 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • Engaging themes and philosophic questions.
  • Some of the most creative villains in crime fiction.
  • The music and acting.
  • High effort put into creating a believable future.

Negatives:

  • Tachikoma episodes.
  • Occasional pacing issues.

Having seen and loved the Ghost in the Shell movie, I couldn’t wait to begin the series Stand Alone Complex. My first impression was one of disappointment, however, for the style and tone from the film was nowhere to be found. Gone was the gritty, used future, replaced by a clean and polished Japan. Gone was Major Kusanagi’s introspective quality that enamoured me to the film – a brighter tone took its place, matching the shiny Japan. Though once I got over this disappointment, I found myself highly engaged in Stand Alone Complex’s sci-fi driven crimes.

SAC is a separate take on the Ghost in the Shell universe. The characters and concepts are similar overall, but you need to let go of any pre-conceived perceptions about the world and characters – Section 9 agent Bato is a lot more cheerful, for example, offsetting Kusanagi’s endless solemnity. We still follow Public Security Section 9, specialists in counter cyberterrorism, as they deal with a variety of unusual high-tech crimes.

Straight off, you should know this is a crime serial. If you don’t enjoy crimes dramas (not talking about garbage like CSI) then Stand Alone Complex won’t be for you. While it does bring an interesting twist with sci-fi, it’s still a crime serial through and through. If you do enjoy crime, then you are in for a great series that explores police procedure in a realistic future of advanced AI and cybernetics.

SAC has two distinctive episode types, noted during each title sequence: “Stand Alone” episodes, which are (obviously) stand-alone stories lasting an episode each, and “Complex” episodes that follow the main plot. One could watch just the Complex episodes without missing plot. However, the Stand Alone episodes delve into the characters and explore philosophical topics more than the main arc, so they are definitely worth watching.

Even then, SAC is at its best during the main story. The first season focuses on Kusanagi and her team’s efforts to catch The Laughing Man (name based on J.D. Salinger’s short story of the same name), a ‘hacktivist’ fighting against government corruption. He has the ability to hack everyone’s brain chips (more common than smart phones in the future) to cover his face with a smiley face logo; wherever he goes, and even on camera, all anyone sees of his face is this smiley. Only those unchipped – the poor, basically – can see his true face. What an excellent villain. He’s creative in execution, morally grey in actions, and thoroughly engaging throughout. 2nd GIG is similarly creative, though I like The Laughing Man best.

Smaller crimes for the Stand Alone episodes tend to target a philosophical concept, though always with a sci-fi slant (hacking, cyborgs, the digital space, etc.), which succeeds to mixed results. One notable episode early on explores the validity of androids to be seen as human. At what stage of artificial intelligence would we consider them human, if ever? What if a human has a deep connection with a robot, does that give ‘humanity’ to the machine? These episodes don’t lend to a binge watch ‘just one more’ feeling, but are engaging in their own right.

The Stand Alone episodes fail when they focus on spider tanks called Tachikoma, AI like hyperactive children. See, these Tachikoma, being young AI with the ability to learn (hence the child-like personalities), tend to gather around the cyber campfire to engage in long-winded philosophical discussions. Rather than show these conundrums through actions, as seen in other episodes, their philosophy is told to us to the point of boredom. The discussions weren’t even interesting. Add in those squeaky voices and it can become unbearable. Tachikoma are best taken in small doses.

In the end, while Stand Alone Complex wasn’t quite what I wanted after the film, I loved its philosophy, commentary on political correctness with cyborgs (“We say ‘mechanically enhanced’ – cyborg is racist!”), conmen taking the victim route of “racism” for financial gain, and real world parallels with radical refugee insurgents and terrorism. Stand Alone Complex left me with plenty to think about.

Art – High

A sharp, clean style renders SAC nicely. The CG for the vehicles isn’t bad, if noticeable, though the full CG opening looks strange.

Sound – Very High

Same psychedelic, ethereal music from the movie, for the most part. Yoko Kanno, of course – explains the great quality. Great script and acting. The dub team did an excellent job in creating a natural translation, so either language works.

Story – High

A cyber police unit battles criminals of a high-tech nature, most notably The Laughing Man. SAC is a crime serial in a realistic science fiction world implemented to great results. Heavy on philosophy.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must if you enjoyed the movie – start with the movie to see if you like the themes tackled. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a great anime void of almost all anime tropes. An easy recommendation unless crime serials aren’t for you.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Engaging DialogueGreat MusicPhenomenal VillainStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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