Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
(voices - English version)
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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2005)
8th Mar 06
Section 9 tackle cyber-crimes in a near future Tokyo.
In 1995, Mamuro Oshii bought Masamune Shirowís acclaimed manga Ghost in the Shell to the big screen and raised a few eyebrows in the process. Continuing the pioneering efforts of integrating 3D CGI into traditional 2D animation and backdrops seamlessly that heíd been developing throughout the Patlabor series, Ghost in the Shell turned out visually stunning which, coupled with the superbly appropriate soundtrack, provided a truly wonderful audio-visual experience. But the movieís strengths donít just lie there; this is a story set in not to unfamiliar sounding future, a future where wi-fi out of the box cyber brain augmentation is common place and e-brain hacking, as itís called, is a big problem. As is ghosting, or rather the perpetuation of consciousness from flesh to hard storage, and what that does to the soul. And in that case, what makes that different from an artificial intelligence, and similarly at what point can an artificially created intelligence declare itself sentient and therefore claim the right of life like a normal human being? Itís pretty engaging stuff, and tackled from the prospective of Section 9, an unofficial crime prevention team who deal with sensitive political situations, lead by the charismatic, and quite beautiful, Major Kusanagi. Their adventures hit these future shock issues head on, via a fair amount of beautifully animated carnage, culminating with a rather surprisingly downbeat ending which simultaneously creates a new anime icon, and then snatches her away from us before the credits have even rolled.
Which leaves Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Realising that without the Major there really is no Ghost in the Shell, the Stand Alone Complex team take one step back and choose instead to retell the story as opposed to continuing it. The characters and plot lines are now developed slowly from the ground up, with concepts and story arcs floating in and out of episodes, while the episodes themselves are usually fast paced, techno-crime investigations. The villain from the movies - The Puppet Master - has been ditched too in favour of a much more mysterious figure known as The Laughing Man, who is tangled in to a political conspiracy that stretches deep in to the roots of the Japanese government. He reoccurs throughout the series over roughly half the episodes, which makes for interesting viewing as sometimes actions that characters take in other episodes have repercussions to his story, particularly when you get in to the last few nail-biting shows.
Now while the animation is a lot simpler and obviously cheaper than both movies, thatís not to say it doesnít deserve merit, and this is mainly again in the use of combining traditional animation with CGI. Brilliantly realised in the first movie but perhaps overdone in the second, SAC gets the balance spot on. With less detailed drawings (letís be fair) it appears that the artists had much less problems blurring the line between drawn and CG animation. If you stick to a certain style and cell shade just about everything, CG blends very easily and very cheaply, making what looks on paper like a cost cutting exercise turn into a bonus when it comes to animating action.
And thatís the good news. SAC takes the concepts and themes with it from the films, but does away with the long protracted calm before the storm moments the film has, and instead concentrates on moving the plot along with plenty of action and fast paced dialogue. The Major, Batou, Togusa and all spend a lot of time jumping into cars, chasing down leads, pulling out guns and shooting at big ass tanks and cyborg bad guys and what have. Meanwhile in the background, the actual plot is developing, the Laughing Man is getting ever closer, and horrible realisation dawns on you that youíve only got a few episodes left to unravel all the mighty plot twists that are thrown at you constantly. How will it all end? Will the Laughing Man come out on top? Who is the Laughing Man anyway?
Suffice is to say, all will be revealed. The series is cleverly bound by its 25 episodes meaning by the end youíre thoroughly satisfied. In fact, there isnít very much wrong with SAC by any means. From the stunning opening credits accompanied by a beautiful opening theme (all the soundtrack in SAC is exceptional actually) to the suitably punk tune over the credits ending, each is a worthy addition to the series. I only have one niggle actually, which Iíve left it to the end of this article intentionally, and thatís the Majorís dress sense. Despite heading up a crack cyber-crime squad, she spends the majority of the episodes wearing a high leg, low cut metallic leotard, hold-up stockings and a tiny leather jacket. And the camera too has no qualms about lingering a little too long when she, say, mounts a bike or something. That pink leotard tends too ride up, if you know what I mean. Do you know what I mean? I think you know what I mean.
But if you can ignore that small detail, any lover of action packed, thought provoking manga should own this box set. And at less than £30 for 10 hours, itís incredible value money too. Thank you Manga UK, and I hope to God they give a similar treatment to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. I for one canít wait.
Versions Available individually over 7 volumes, or as an excellent value for money box set.