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In the shadows of giants
A region 2 DVD review of GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX, 2nd GIG, Vol. 1 by Rulke
 
"Human are nothing but the tread from which the dream of life is woven."
Kim – Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

 

Back in the late eighties the eccentric, strange and wonderful Akira first introduced to my brother and myself to Manga anime. It had an immediate impact on us and we were hooked, wanting to see as much of this amazing animation as possible. We started checking every week for the new batch of Manga titles to come in, looking through them and trying which to deciding which one to buy. My brother started to collect series like The Guyver, 3x3 Eyes and The Crying Freeman, which almost became an obsession. The good thing for me was I also got to cast my critical eye over these and viewed them for nothing; being a poor unemployed ex-student.

Manga started to release in the UK just about every anime series from Japan. These varied in quality and content, and they always had a cheap look, produced quickly for an ever-increasing niche market wanting the trademark violent content. One of the problems I always had was the dubbing of the voices, always over-the-top exaggerated Americans with the all the subtle acting skill of a dead (fill in blank), and with obvious translation issues, even adding Americanisms to the dialog. This didn't matter to most of the target audience, who watched these for the unusual animation and sometimes shocking sexual and violent content. Thankfully DVD came along and they started to produce titles with original language soundtracks and subtitles so we could see Manga productions close to the original form.

Ghost in the Shell followed about nine years after Akira as being one of the most talked about animes, thrusting the genre back on to the worldwide stage. Pulling on various influences from science fiction writing and films, Mamoru Oshii combined with his own unique vision of one possible future and created a very William Gibson-like world. with a majority of the humans having some sort of body enhancement connected to cyberspace. These range from implanted eyes for help with targeting, scanning and information about a human or cyborg, to prosthetic limbs that are faster and stronger than normal human ones. The most extreme is a constructed cybernetic organism total replacing the organic body leaving only a ghost of the human sprit inside a total artificial shell.

Following the success of the first film, Mamoru Oshii produced a sequel called Ghost in the shell 2: Innocence. This was released in 2004 to much critical acclaim and was even nominated at Cannes. The film explored the very existence of a human in this world he has created, how they are becoming more than the sum of their new parts and how the fabric of consciousness is changing.

Due to the success of the first Ghost in the Shell film, an anime spin off TV show was produced with high production values and engaging story lines called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This uses the framework set down in the first film and builds on a complex and political world, enabling the main characters to have their own story arcs and build up on running stories exploring this unique world.

The action focuses on the Section 9 Unit, consisting of Major Motoko (the leader), who is mostly a cyborg with human soul, Bateau, who has been enhanced to be stronger and faster due to his various implants, Detective Togusa, the only one who is still mostly human, and the Chief Aramaki who deals with the political side of the group and issues the commands and missions.

After the success of the first season and now with an avid fan base established, they released the start of the second season to an expectant audience, who were hoping the series would continue where it left off. At the end of last season Section 9 was disbanded by the conspiracy that plagued the last government, forcing a general election and a change in regime.

There are 4 episodes on these discs, they all open with a title sequence compiled of clips from the future upcoming shows, gelled together by a theme song, giving an intriguing glimpse into the world populated by these characters giving a brief insight to their lives.

In the first episode, Reembody, the remains of the Section 9 team are on a stake-out at a hostage situation in the Chinese embassy. The hostages are being held by a group called the Individual Eleven, a terrorist organization formed to go against the 13 million people fleeing to Japan from what was left over from World War 4 (the second Vietnam war). They have been and are still used as a cheap labour force to rebuild the country, and have been discarded into refugee designated areas and left to fend for themselves. Aramaki is trying to pull in political strings to get Section 9 reinstated, something that can only be achieved by a direct order from the newly elected prime Minster, but she demands the condition that not one of the hostages are harmed or killed. The team is half way through the mission before the local police stumble in and nearly fuck everything up, but still manage to complete their objective and rescue all the hostages.

As opening episode of this series it sets up the whole future confrontation of the refugee problem and shows the team setting up for the hostage situation. The major's iconic jump from the building in the first film is replicated almost shot for shot. Very postmodern. It is fast paced with decent action sequences, and we have a greater understanding what Section 9 is capable of.

Night Cruise, the second instalment on this disc, is about a dejected cyborg war veteran pilot who is employed to fly a personal helicopter for chairman of a large company. He has fantasies about killing the passenger he ferries around and saving a pleasure cyborg from harm. These violent daydreams become more frequent the closer it gets to the 25th of December, when he will reveal the truth of what the war was really about. We follow him through his delusions, how they are the unappreciated fighters of an unjust war that might have been just to keep the government in power (hey George, this sounds familiar).

This is Taxi Driver, Ghost in the Shell style, even recreating the iconic mirror scene through to rescuing the pleasure cyborg. There are many references to the Vietnam War from a veteran's point of view, including the integration of these ex-soldiers back into mainstream society, the way he has been treated upon his returning from the war and the lack of understanding of the traumas of war, which still plague his existence. This episode is structured differently from the first – we are following the main protagonist all of the time, sharing his thoughts and fears and the building of his delusional state, with only two of the main characters, Major and Bateau, on the fringes of the story. Exploring the world through the eyes of potential killer is a refreshing change from the usual narrative structure (Section 9 goes in to solve a problem and completes mission) and gives a greater understanding of the background of the world he lives in.

In Cash Eye a thief calling itself The Cash Eye breaks into a well-off government official's office to steal the money stored there, intentionally setting off the alarm after the break-in and leaving a calling card for the cat burglar's next visit. It is Section 9's job to catch this cat burglar during an upcoming party. All is not what it seems when they arrive at the event, during which the thief turns up as promised.

This episode is trying to be a light-hearted, drawing on slight influences from The Pink Panther (the thief breaking in and leaving a calling card). It shows the government official to be a complete sleazebag, which unfortunately is rammed down our throats, first through his leering at the major in her party dress, then the obvious sexual banter between the two and the inference to his sexual promiscuity. This suffers from the usual Manga obsession with one particular part of the female anatomy, the breasts. I know they are pandering to some audience expectations, but it has always annoyed me and sometimes gets in the way of the narrative.

The last of the episodes on this disc called Natural Enemy. A pilot dies during a training exercise and the AI takes over, goes nuts and starts commandeering other unmanned helicopters from bases all over Japan, congregating over a refugee district, turning feelings in the district against the government. Section 9 is called in to resolve this situation under the command of a CIS agent who directly represents the Chief Cabinet Secretary. Again drawing on the back-story, it introduces a new character (Goda), who looks like he might be recurring throughout this season, and could be the bad guy, or at least a high level lackey for the power behind throne.

There is an interesting political back-story that runs through three of episodes (Reembody, Night Cruise, Natural Enemy) that is clearly going to be the main story arc that will run throughout the series involving Japan's non-acceptance of Asian immigrants using refugee status, the growing unrest festering in the broken cities where they live and the hostility towards this section of society from the nationalist government and the population at large. I can't help but be a bit worried if this is a refection of the views and altitudes of the audience and writers on their current society.

Like the second film it combines traditional cell animation with computer generated ones. Unlike the animation from both films, the quality of the animation itself is somewhat lacking. The exception to this is the background artwork, which while not on the same par as the films is still good enough to enhance the look of this world.

sound and vision

The discs are of high picture quality with little or no artefacting visible. Clean bright colours and clear detailing visible throughout. Both are presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen.

There is an odd thing with these discs. The first contains the dubbed English and Japanese languages tracks in 5.1 with subtitles in English (hearing impaired only) with the two interviews stated below. The second contains exactly the same but with DTS and no interviews.

The sound is great on both editions, but with DTS just edging it for me because of the greater separation and slightly crisper sound.

extra features

Disc 1 has an Interview with the director of this series that conducted in Japanese, subtitled in English and really boring, giving no information on how the series was made, just going on about what will be happening in these episodes, acting as a vocal synopsis of each of the stories on the disc.

There is also an Interview with the art director and conceptual artist, in Japanese with English subtitles. This is much more interesting, with clips for upcoming episodes, and explanations of ideas and information on the construction of the series.

summary

This series owes a lot to the success of both of the Ghost in the Shell films, which are a must-see for anyone. The makers have tried to draw on the rich and intriguing world created by Mamoru Oshii and infuse the episodes with the same spirit. Unfortunately this is an unsuccessful excursion into his universe that misses an opportunity to increase our appreciation of his construct. It is ultimately just a tie-in to make money for a company that doesn't need it and target a market place already overflowing with cheap, mass-produced and largely unoriginal anime series.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, 2nd. Gig, Vol. 1

Japan 2004
97 mins
director
Kamiyama Kenji

DVD details
region 2
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with director
Interview with art director and conceptual artist
Trailers
distributor
Manga
release date
Out now
review posted
23 January 2006

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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence