Region: 2 - UK
Length: 108 minutes
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 5.1 Surround
Section 9's latest assignment sees the team confronted by a rash of mysterious suicides involving operatives of the disbanded Siak Republic, many of whom had sought asylum in Japan. They manage to track down Ka Gae-Ru, a former Siak Colonel who has taken a hostage in the hope of negotiating safe passage out of the country. Confronted by Section 9, a fearful Gae-Ru issues a cryptic warning that The Puppeteer is coming, before killing himself. Investigations suggest that The Puppeteer is an ultra-wizard hacker who is not only responsible for the recent spate of suicides but is also behind a series of child abductions. But who is the Puppeteer and what is the connection to the so-called Solid State Society? An unexpected encounter between Batou and Major Motoko leaves the former with his own theory, one that is almost impossible to comprehend.
The individual, the state and society. These are the three things that modern civilization must contend with. The individual is the most important part because it can exist without the other two. But the other two need the individual to function. Without the individual, both would cease to exist. But while both exert pressure on the individual to conform, it's not within the realms of possibility that the state and society wouldn't be in opposition to each other at some point. That is a central component of this, the OVA Solid State Society.
If you've never heard of Ghost In the Shell, I can't help you. It's only one of the most famous anime film and TV franchises chronicling the adventures of cyborg Major Mokoto Kusanagi and her teammates in Japanese extra-security department Section Nine. Its original manga by Shirow Masamune (before he went totally crazy) spawned an amazing film by Mamoru Oshii (before he became boring) that's still talked about in it's own right (its influence on Western filmmakers today cannot be overstated) which was followed by a boring sequel by Oshii (after he became boring) and most recently an electrically exciting fifty-two episode TV series (which we reviewed before) helmed by Kenji Kamiyama (before he became bored and went and made awesome shows like Eden of the East and Moribito) upon which this OVA takes its cues. Like I said, I can't help you.
Having only seen the first season of SAC (Stand Alone Complex), I was a little apprehensive about going into this. But happily, I can say there aren't really many spoilers for the TV series. It's been nearly two years since the Major resigned from Section Nine in the wake of the Individual Eleven case. Batou still works at the department but is listless and restless without Motoko. Junior teammate Togasa has been promoted to team leader in the Major's absence. He leads the team competently and decisively while Batou ignores meetings. When former Siak Republic (events chronicled in SAC) General Ka Gael kills himself after while being taken into custody at the airport, it triggers a reaction within his father (General Ka Rum) and his followers to follow suit. Or so the team thinks. Soon they realise this is just the tip of the political and social iceberg.
At its heart, SAC is a police procedural set slightly in the future. The cyber-brains, cyborgs, brain diving and robots are all just window dressing. The team solve crimes. For all their political usages as the clean up crew for the politicians. crime fighting is what they do. If this was the original films I was talking about you'd be hard pressed to see what I'm talking about. The beauty of someone like Kamiyama as director is that he might not tie up everything neatly but at least he doesn't insult you by requiring you know Voltaire and Descartes in order to understand what's happening between characters as they trade dialogue). Kamiyama has a bunch of highly trained, mature people with extraordinary talents dealing with problems that would tax the FBI on one of its best days. But the series and this OVA also show that while Section Nine has squad members whose talents and skills are important, equally as important is Section Chief Aramaki's maneuvering and circumventing of legal restrictions in order to secure the team's freedom of movement in procedures and politics. It's a wonderful synergy that shows the strengths of the series and a main reason as to why I keep coming back to the show.
The actual story for Solid State Society, I'm not really going into here because I want you to enjoy it as I did, unhindered by a review's blow by blow account. I'll focus instead on the characters and how they've changed since last they were on screen. The Major is still sexy as ever but I've always had a soft spot for her. The events of the last season of SAC have left her working outside of S9, freelancing for hire or for the government all the while taking on cases that her former team could never deal with. At the same time, she continues searching for answers to questions all her own. This case involving the Solid State has her pushed to her limits as she's dealing with a group or person who exists both inside and outside the system simultaneously. No crises of existence this time round for the Major, here she's trying to simply stop innocent people from getting hurt. It's refreshing after the angst of Oshii's entries. Batou is in love with the Major. Either that or he's in love with the certainty of her. Without her, sure he's a good cop but now there's no real need for him to be all he can be. He only takes cases that he thinks will draw out the Major and those that don't, he doesn't take them. I always knew from the original manga run, that he and Motoko were a duo but after separation, the Major functions fine on her own. Batou does not, typical bloke. But when they're reunited properly in the film, he comes alive and the big lug shows why he's the Major's backup, why he's so skilled and why he's such a great asset to S9. And I didn't see a bassett hound in sight. The most surprising character is Togasa. He's in every film and TV version of GITS but this is the first time I've ever seen as Togasa and not faceless Lieutenant Number 12. I knew he had a wife and children but this is the first time I cared about them. As Togasa starts investigating children being used as weapons by General Ka Rum in a terrorist plot, he starts to realise that the terrorists are the least contentious issue at stake and when he investigates near his home, I started to get a bad feeling about it. Again, Kamiyama as writer/director got me to care about a character I've known about for years like he was brand new. The rest of Section Nine, yeah they're pretty badass but, other than data sifter Ishikawa or ace sniper Saito, not really important and don't get much screen time.
The film's main ethical centre is really about the nature of the state versus society . How much should the state's needs be allowed to subvert the needs of a society? In Solid State Society's case, the most interesting idea is how would the state, represented by the government and Section Nine, ordered in a hierarchical structure, deal with a rhizome, or non-hierarchical structure, represented by the Solid State? While the Solid State is in some part made up unconsciously by the government, the government can't be a part of the Solid State, for reasons I cannot explain here. It's really fascinating watching a rigid group like the state trying to defeat a formless, amorphous group like the Solid State and how it made me think about the individual and how much power he or she can have over the state or society. In our modern world of Jasmine revolutions, Anonymous, Occupy: this and Yes, We Can's, the ideas permuted by Solid State Society are relevant, timely and on target. God know we need more shows like it. In the end, the movie gives little in the way of clues, and littler still by way of answers. By the end, I could tell you what the Solid State was but not the fundamental answer of what it represents. I have my theories but I'll keep them to myself, if you all don't mind.
I could not finish the main thrust of my review without mentioning the beautiful score by Japanese anime and film composer, Yoko Kanno. From the opening theme to the individual tracks, it simply is a perfect score and shows an artist at the top of her craft. If nothing else, like a few other Japanese anime composers, she represents the best of them. The blu ray for this OVA, put out by Manga Entertainment UK, is top notch and, while it isn't demo material, looks good and sounds better. The extras dig into the behind the scenes of the movie and give me answers as to how the movie was made but more importantly, not what it's about.
Casts are important, more important if your material is exposition heavy (Funimation, take note) and Zro Limit Productions keeps the English cast from SAC together. While Mary Elizabeth McGlynn isn't the original voice of the Major (the original movie's dub had Mimi Woods in the role), she IS the Major and I cannot imagine another person in the role. For such an analytical character as the Major, Mary gives her an authority and a warmth that most leads don't get in anime. Richard Epcar has voiced Batou, barring one time, in every single on screen English appearance of GITS and his gruff but competent Batou shines through as always. William Fredrick Knight likewise continues to play Chief Aramaki as the definition of world weary wisdom and guile but he's great all the same. Lest I forget, Crispin Freeman as Togasa does an excellent job. And if you thought I only liked the English cast, wrong! Atsuko Tanaka continues her sultry take on the Major and remains the only Japanese female seiyu voice I'd happily be in a relationship with. Akio Ohtsuka as Batou is similar to Tanaka in that I've been hearing him in the role for over fifteen years now (Yikes, has it been THAT long?). He never gets tiring. SAC might be an anomaly in anime in that it is the only, THE ONLY series or movie I could recommend someone watch in either language and not miss a thing. The English cast are that good.
Ultimately, you don't have to watch Solid State Society to enjoy the rest of SAC. But Sweet Christmas, when was the last time you watched an anime that was this smart, thrilling, incisive, expertly made, intelligently written and respectful of its audience? For that matter, when have I? Can't say personally, but you owe it to yourself to watch this. If you respect yourself as an intelligent human being, this is a movie you should see.