Reviewed by: The Dave
Released by: Manga Entertainment UK
Age Rating: 15
Region: 2 - UK
Length: 624 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 5.1 Surround
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow and directed by Kenji Kamiyama, 'Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex' takes viewers to futuristic society where technology has saturated citizens' daily lives. Along with the new technology comes new types of crime that exploits it, but female cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team of police, Section 9, devote their lives to chasing criminals, both on land and in cyberspace. In these episodes, the team must figure out the secret behind a spate of android suicides, stop a far-reaching hacker conspiracy, solve a hostage situation, and much more!
Having missed this series when it was initially released on DVD due to the limitations of a final-year student budget, I was overjoyed to discover that the entire first season (or First Gig) had been released in an affordable boxset in time for Christmas. I would easily class this as my best purchase this year. If I were to buy this boxset next year, it would be my best purchase of that year too. It’s really that good.
It is hard to review this boxset without descending into geeky fandom, chucking superlatives around the page like mayonnaise at a food fight. I feel it is important to mention some of the negative points of this series, so that the focus can be shifted back to the overwhelming majority of positives that this series carries.
The Bad: Each episode (aside from episode 26) begins with a title sequence, which is a CG animation which I believe feels inherently out of place within the context of the series, and looks almost like a video game. The criticism of the opening titles appearance, however, is countered by the fantastic music created by Yoko Kanno. Not too much of a criticism, but GitS-SAC is soooooo good that I have to be extremely picky to find negative things to say about it.
The Good: The plot to Stand Alone Complex is extremely tight, and well...complex. The episodes are divided into two categories, which are the Stand Alone episodes, which do not directly tie into the series-long story arc, and the Complex episodes, which, although independently viewable, carry the plot forward towards its gripping conclusion. The characterisation within SAC is very strong, and by the end of the 26 episodes the viewer will genuinely care about the fate of the group. Whether this is a testament of the writers ability or the fantastic animation is unimportant, but it elevates the story above many of its peers.
Each member of Section 9 (who are the main characters in the series) is memorable, and I was impressed that none of them could be described as being stereotypical, which is often a possibility with a story concerning law enforcement officials. I feel I should mention at this point one of the elements of the story that particularly stood out for me, which were the Tachikomas, spider-like robotic tanks which have been built with high level artificial intelligence and a thirst for knowledge and experience, creating a bizarre synergy of awesome combative ability and an almost child-like innocence resulting in the viewer becoming quite attached to them as characters (no mean feat considering that they are machines). I genuinely wanted a Tachikoma having seen this series, to the point where I was begging my girlfriend to build me one, despite her lack of rudimentary engineering skills.
The music in Stand Alone Complex is absolutely brilliant. Performed by anime composer/instrumentalist Yoko Kanno, the eclectic mix of musical styles creates a unique atmosphere that permeates the series. The composer's work on this series is certainly on par with the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop, which she also created. The tone and atmosphere created by the music is significantly different to Kenji Kawai's work on the original films, but no less affecting.
The animation in SAC is excellent, and evolution in technique and technology from when the movie of Ghost in The Shell was released in 1995 is evident. Many of the animation techniques that were on display in Blood: The Last Vampire (also by Production IG) have been used to good effect here, and the animation somehow improves as the series progresses.
Many of the people who may have an interested in this series may be familiar with the films, which precede it. This series is set in a different continuity to the films, and the sombre atmosphere, which creates the serious tone in Oshii's work, is less evident here, where welcome moments of levity are common. A criticism of the film of Ghost in the Shell was that many of the philosophical elements regarding the definition of life and the condition of the human soul could be seen as being ham-fistedly shoehorned into the plot. In Stand Alone Complex, philosophy is still present within the plot, though it is woven through the story gracefully but with no less potency than in the film. Many of the ideas within SAC have led to introspection on rumination on my part, and the provocation of deep thought from what is essentially an action series is applaudable! I can quite comfortably say that Stand Alone Complex is superior to the films.
Closing Comments: It is a testament to the production teams ability that the only criticisms I can possibly think of are that the title sequence is a bit off, and that the series eventually ends, although I'm quite happy to say that both my concerns have been addressed as there is a second series being shown at the moment, which doesn't have a computer generated title sequence.
Buy it now. ^_^
Oh, and wait til after the credits of each episode to see a delightful Tachikoma-kun animation.