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It's an engaging, very well acted, and beautifully animated piece of anime history.
Review by Matthew Anderson
Animated Motion Picture
Company: Manga Entertainment
Running Time: 82 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, language, nudity, and Adult situations)
In 2029, Japan has reemerged as a world economic and political power. It's reach can be felt all over the world, especially in the realm of cybernetic technology and digital information. Consequently, this makes Japan the target of many forms of cyber terrorism and government espionage.
Section 9, the Department of Public Security, is tasked to deal with any threat to Japan or it's people. They are led by the well connected Aramaki, who has recruited members from various departments of law enforcement to create an elite team.
Handling the field work is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a elite cyborg commando. She and her fellow agents have been very busy dealing with defecting programmers, brain hackers, and government spies. These problems are nothing when compared to the problems caused by "The Puppet Master", an infamous hacker who is responsible for multiple acts of sabotage, espionage, and terrorism.
When "The Puppet Master" requests asylum, all hell breaks loose. Now Major Kusanagi must find out the truth about this "hacker" before she and her entire team are killed.
DVD VISION TEST
VIDEO: The video is excellent. There are no defects, artifacts, color bleeds or pixels. The motion is fluid, and the image is sharp and clear. It looks a hell of a lot better than the VHS release.
AUDIO: The English 5.1 is the better of the two audio tracks. It has an aggressive soundstage, with the voices in the center, and the sound effects and music coming from the back and the side.
The Japanese 2.0 is not very impressive. It's way too low, with very little directionality. It gets the job done, only if you turn up the volume.
EDITS: The Japanese credits at the end have been replaced with English titles. No other edits have been made.
EXTRAS: A pretty in depth (if not a little dated) look at the making of "Ghost In The Shell". There is also the English theatrical trailer, and a guide to the techno babble used in the movie. There are some Manga Entertainment related trailers, but they don't really count as extras.
STORY: Writer Kazanori Itoh once again tackles many of the themes presented in his other works. What makes a human? How do you tell the difference between what is real and what isn't? The pacing is pretty quick at first, but slows down towards the end. Like any Mamoru Oshii film, Itoh brings on the deep introspection and heavy handed social commentary.
ACTING: On the Japanese side, Atsuko Tanaka is the Major. Her voice is strong, almost like a drill sergeant. I know that I stand at attention when she speaks. Aiko Otsuka is as manly as you can get for Batou. You can't help but like Togusa's down to earth personality, thanks to Koichi Yamadera.
The English cast is noting to sneeze at either. While some complain that Mimi Woods is a little too bland in her delivery, I think her voice fits the Major perfectly. Richard Epcar (as George Richard) is perfect as the snide and arrogant Batou. Christopher Joyce's Togusa is much more relaxed, providing a nice balance for the stoic voice of Mimi Woods. My favorite is William Fredrick. He is exactly what I imagined Aramaki would sound like when reading the manga.
FAN SERVICE: Well, Motoko's thermoptic camouflage outfit is very much fan service, and we get to see her boobs and ass at one point. Most of the scenes in the movies are based upon incidents in the manga, making the whole thing fan service.
While it may not have done well in Japan, "Ghost In The Shell" became an instant classic here in the US. It's an engaging, very well acted, and beautifully animated piece of anime history. It's complex themes will also appeal to fans of cyberpunk and hard core Science Fiction fans.
With any ensemble, it takes many parts to make a whole. Starting off, you have the impressive work of Masumune Shiro, creator and writer of the manga. Avoiding the cliché of a gritty urban city like the one in "Bubblegum Crisis", Shiro presented a highly technological city, full of wide open spaces, and bright colors. He also tackled themes that we may be facing in the future; the rights of cybernetic beings, hacking into peoples minds via their cybernetic implants, can a machine have a soul, the list goes on and on.
Thanks to Shiro's very detailed world, Kazunori Itoh had very little trouble adapting the 346 page manga into a 88 minute movie. Many of the key points, including some of the dialogue, is taken right from the source material. Many hardcore fans consider the movie a more faithful adaptation than "Stand Alone Complex".
Usually, when Itoh writes a story, you will find Director Mamoru Oshii. The master of symbolism, "Ghost In The Shell" is chock full of striking visuals, moments of quiet introspection, and strange camera angles. Unlike the manga, Oshii's Newport City (patterned off of Hong Kong) is a dark, rundown, crowded place, adding to the dark tone of Itoh's script. He also knows how to provide raw action. The scenes of combat are not graceful at all, but down and dirty. For 88 minutes, you will be treated to a visual feast.
One thing that I feel that helped elevate "Ghost In The Shell" above other adaptations is the designs of the characters. Instead of going for a "comic book" look, Hiroyuki Okiura went for a realistic style. The biggest change is with the design of Motoko Kusanagi. Okiura eliminated the "cyber doll" look of the manga, and gave her a hard body which is more fitting to a special forces member. The rest of the cast gets upgraded as well; Batou gains more muscle, Togusa doesn't look like some smart ass, and Arimaki stops looking like a little troll.
Music is another key element of the success of "Ghost In the Shell". Kenji Kawai, another longtime Oshii collaborator, provides one of the most striking scores of his career. His minimalist use of guitars and powerful vocals provides a soulful counterpoint to the dark and damp world of Newport City. The opening theme is an amazing piece of work. Sung in ancient Japanese, it rivals the music that Shang Shang Typhoon did for "Spring and Chaos". In my book, Kenji Kawai is right up there with Yoko Kano, and Ryuichi Sakamoto (Wings of Honneamise) as one of the greatest composers in the anime world.
Perhaps the most important part of any animated feature is the voice acting. It doesn't matter if the voices or the animation comes first. A poor choice of casting can ruin the best of features. In the case of "Ghost In The Shell", both the Japanese and English casts are excellent. On the Japanese side, you have some all star talent with Atsuko Tanaka, Aiko Otsuka, and Koichi Yamadera. Because of their excellent work, they will forever be the voices of the Major, Batou, and Togusa. They even came back together to work on "Stand Alone Complex" as well as countless games. I don't think they would still be around if they sucked.
I have always found the English cast to be outstanding. True, they did have some rough spots, especially Mimi Woods during the long dialogue segments. Yet, I found her voice a perfect match for the Major. Like Atsuko Tanaka, she has that perfect "tough chick" voice, that makes you afraid of this particular woman. Richard Epcar will always be Batou, even though they made him audition for the role in "Stand Alone Complex". The cynical tone he gives Batou brings him closer to people like him, who have a rather skewed view of the world at large. The rest of the cast is excellent, but my favorite is William Fredrick as Aramaki. He is exactly what a boss should sound like. Authoritative, decisive, yet has an understanding of people. Still, when it's important, this little man won't put up with your crap.
When you put all the right elements together, you can create a masterpiece. Like Akira, "Ghost In The Shell" is will forever be a key point in anime history. Thanks to "Stand Alone Complex", the time is right to rediscover this anime classic. Perhaps, the renewed interest will help bring more Science Fiction fans into the anime fold.
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