Tag Archives: Ghost in the Shell

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 – Very 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 – Very 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

Ghost in the Shell – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost in the Shell

 

Related: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (sequel)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (alternative series)

Similar: RahXephon

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

Akira

Psycho-Pass

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Action

Length: 1 hr. 23 min.

 

Positives:

  • Detailed, dirty world.
  • Moments of cerebral peace and introspection.
  • Cool tech.
  • Making of a Cyborg sequence and music.

Negatives:

  • Too short.

In the year 2029, the human world has become one with the cyber world through the field of cybernetics. An unaugmented human is the rarity. This merging of worlds has brought a new vulnerability to humans – brain-hacking – and a hacker known as the Puppet Master is taking full advantage. Enter Major Kusanagi and her Section 9 group of cybernetic cops to investigate.

Ghost in the Shell showed me it was something special within minutes. I am not referring to Kusanagi’s camouflage skin, which is awesome, but the ‘Making of a Cyborg’ segment where we see her creation into a being far beyond that which is human. The sequence takes us through every stage of the process from her metal and muscle frame to her synthetic skin. Coupled with the ethereal music, I felt a genuine sense of watching an artist bring something to life, the creative process made manifest, the layers upon layers that go into a single human. Magnificent.

Kusanagi was bred to be the ultimate entity of justice – skilled, focused, and with a seemingly single-minded life against crime. She isn’t sure of her origins, and seeing the Puppet Master’s ability to implant false realities into the brains of others – similar to Total Recall – has made her question the truth of her own thoughts. Though she is more machine than woman, she shows a curiosity for the world. The film’s acts are punctuated by these moments where Kusanagi roams the city streets and lets the music, the environment take over as she absorbs what she knows is concrete, what is real, what will forever be real in her cybernetic mind. The world may be dirty, but it is alive to her.

I went into this film for the action and the futuristic setting, but I came out fixated on the calmer moments and the relation between organic and cybernetic. The way the villain manipulated people was an engaging and terrifying possibility. A civilian illegally hacks his wife’s mind to find his daughter after his wife took her away in the divorce; in reality, the man was never married, doing the Puppet Master’s work by proxy without realising it, leading the police to dead ends. Great idea for a villain plot – I enjoy seeing villains who rely on something other than strength.

Aiding Kusanagi is her partner, Batou, also augmented with the latest tech – grafted sunglasses seem to be a staple of cyberpunk augmentation. It isn’t cyberpunk if no one has built-in sunglasses. Kusanagi’s purpose for living does make her a little too eager to dive into enemy territory and Batou must act as the voice of caution to remind her of her limits. Regardless of caution, he will always enter the fight with her once she has decided.

My only serious complaint with Ghost in the Shell is the short length. So much of the world and the story had room for exploration. I want to know more about Kusanagi, about her history, the history of cybernetics. How does the world cope with this technology? What laws have they enacted? Great worlds and characters always leave me asking for more – I guess that’s why Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a reality.

Art – Very High

Ghost in the Shell’s grimy, rainy, futuristic world is brought to life with detailed art and great animation. The ‘Making of a Cyborg’ is one of my favourite sequences in anime. The attention to the mechanics of the cyborgs and the tech is a delight.

Sound – Very High

The music is unusual, psychedelic, ethereal chants, and I love it. The fit with the setting and humanity themes is perfect. Ghost in the Shell is from the era of great dubs for films, so the choice is up to your preference. The Puppet Master in English sounds like The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded – probably where the Wachowskis got the voice, having admitted Ghost in the Shell’s influence on their films. 90s bleeps and bloops made me chuckle.

Story – High

Cybernetic police investigate a ‘ghost-hack,’ which allows control of people’s brains. An introspective film set in a grimy world of tech and blurred lines between human and machine. Needed to be longer.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t like cerebral sci-fi. Ghost in the Shell is a great film and Stand Alone Complex is there if you want to see more.

(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 DialogueFluid AnimationGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Phenomenal VillainStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None