Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
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Ghost In The Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2007)
31st Aug 07
It has been two years since Motoko Kusanagi left Section 9. Togusa is now the new leader of the team, which considerably increased its appointed personnel, while Batou sulks because he missed the Major so. But when the expanded new Section 9 confronts a series of complicated incidents involving suicides, kidnappings and a weird secret society everyone becomes interested, even an old friend.
Those of you that are regulars to this site, and have a passing interest in anime, have probably read one of our previous Ghost in the Shell articles and are well aware of how highly we regard the franchise. In fact, usually the reviews take the same format, especially those most recent two that covered the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex spin off TV series. The start with some major gushing for the original movie - liberally using cliched phrases like 'ground-breaking' and 'pioneering' - before expressing the disappointment be had to belatedly give in to with the second film. And the reasons are always the same, mainly that Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence had too much straight CG as opposed to CG assisted animation, and also that it suffered massively from the absence of the franchise's key character, the iconic and very sexy Major Motoko Kusanagi, who shrugged off her mortal coil at the end of the first film to become one with an online entity.
Thank the maker then for Stand Alone Complex, which ditched all the trying aspects of the films (the over abundance of CG, the self-indulgent musical montages and this whole getting rid of the Major idea) and took the whole thing back to basics, rewriting the concept as a cutting edge (or pioneering, or ground-breaking) Sci-Fi action cop show but with a slightly deeper subtext examining the hi-tech, low-life themes of traditional cyberpunk literature, albeit updated for the 'net savvy generation.
Anyway, for those of you that don't know it will come as a great relief for you to hear that this, the third movie in the franchise, actually follows on from the Stand Alone Complex TV series, meaning what we're essentially getting here has all the fan-pleasing sensibilities of the TV show but with a feature film budget. And goddamnit if it's not just as good as it sounds.
It’s a few years on now since the last TV season and many things have changed down at Section 9. Major Motoko has left to presume what she calls “personal projects”, leaving Togusa to take charge while Batou sulks at the Major’s loss and only gets involved in investigations he wants to, which seems okay as they’ve now expanded to around 20 personnel so they can run several investigations simultaneously.
Their latest mission sees them investigating a group of strange suicides by members of the neighbouring Siak Republic, most of which were asylum seekers in Japan since the Siak Republic’s demise. But are they suicides, or are there more sinister moves afoot here? What of this super-hacker known as The Puppeteer, is he involved? What is the link between him and the rather bizarrely named Solid State Society? How does that connect with the spate of child abductions the city is facing? Batou it seems is the only one with any ideas to begin with, and these are based around an encounter between him and an old friend that makes him think the worst, as hard as that is to believe.
So, where does that leave the franchise? Is this the end, or perhaps the beginning of a new phase? Are the timeline conflicts between the film and the TV series resolved or left separate? And what the hell is a Stand Alone Complex anyway?
Well, the franchise has never been in better shape. Despite some interesting revelations along the way this movie ends open-ended and on a high note, meaning we can but hope for a third TV season. Admittedly we still don’t know where the TV series and first two films lie chronologically, if that’s possible without them contradicting each other, but it doesn’t really matter. Solid State Society looks and feels like the TV series, albeit with a touch more detail in the palette and a noticeable amount of extra investment in the many action sequences, which remind you of the depth and quality of the original movie. That can only be a good thing.
And no, two complete seasons and one movie later I still don’t understand what a Stand Alone Complex actually is, but with anime this good, who cares? I can’t recommend this sweet little slice of the future enough, but if you haven’t watched the TV series it’s a spin-off from you really should first. And you can pick up box sets of each for the amazingly cheap twenty quid mark online, so maybe you should do that too.