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Like everything else in "SAC", (the writing) is simply the best.
Stand Alone Complex Vol 2
Review by Matthew Anderson
26 Episode TV Series
Company: Bandai ent and Manga Entertainment
Running Time: 110 minutes (4 episodes)
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, language and Adult situations)
In the year 2030, Japan has once again emerged as a major 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 the country or it's people. They are led by the well connected Aramaki, who has recruited from various departments of law enforcement an elite team. Handling the field work is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg who commands a crack team of investigators and combat personnel. Dealing with everything from terrorists to organ theft, there is nothing Section 9 can't handle.
Because of the threat against the police commissioner by the mysterious Laughing Man, Section 9 has been assigned to prevent the assassination. Aramaki believes that it's a farce, designed to cover up the corruption in the police department. Motoko thinks that something else is going on, and she strikes out on her own to dig up dirt on "The Laughing Man".
Will Section 9 be able to stop the assassination of the commissioner before the deadline? Is the "Laughing Man" really involved, or is someone else pulling the strings? Most importantly, how do you fight a foe that could be anywhere, or anyone?
DVD VISION TEST
VIDEO: The DVD quality is excellent. On all three of our video systems, there was nary a pixel, color bleed, or wrinkle to be found. On our Samsung, I magnified it X3, and it still was flawless.
AUDIO: On all four audio tracks, the sound is sublime. The English 5.1 is the best of the four, and it will blow you to the back of the room. It has an aggressive soundstage, with even the tiniest sounds brought into sharp focus.
The Japanese 5.1 is just a miniscule drop from the English 5.1. The biggest change is the voices are a little lower, and there is more treble. Yoko Kanno's outstanding musical score sounds better with the Japanese track.
The English and Japanese 2.0 are pretty evenly matched. Not as aggressive as the 5.1 versions, the voices are stronger than on the 5.1.
EDITS: The CG opening is a modified clean open, with the original series title in place, and the ending is the clean close version.
EXTRAS: Sparse but interesting. We have interviews with Osamu Saka the voice of Aramaki and with composer extraordinaire Yoko Kanno.
STORY: Much more in tone with the manga than the movie, "Stand Alone Complex" can be best described as a cybernetic police procedural. Chief Writer and Director Kenji Kamiyama gives us an engrossing and gripping tale of a world not so different from our own. The characters are interesting, each with their own history, quirks, and talents.
ACTING: The cast on both ends are fantastic. The entire cast from the Japanese "Ghost in the Shell" movie returns for a third appearance, bringing their distinctive voices to a classic series.
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. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is a lot sexier than Motoko, but isn't as intimidating. Richard Epcar returns as the snide and arrogant Batou, which brings a smile of delight. Current "IT" guy Crispin Freeman does a great turn as Togusa, playing him a lot cooler than Cole from "Initial D". William Fredrick is Aramaki, make no bones about it. His commanding voice is exactly what the character calls for.
FAN SERVICE: Well, Motoko's streetwalker outfit is pretty much fan service, and we get to see her boobs and ass squished a lot. Visual references to both the movie and the manga are in abundance, along with plenty of ones from Blade Runner.
In the year 2030, the line separating man and machine has completely blurred. It is almost impossible to tell who is human, and who is cyborg. Because of this "fusion", human beings are just as susceptible to things like computer viruses, hacking, and rewriting just like any old computer. Everything you know, everyone you care about, could all be some elaborate fabrication that is so "real", you are not even aware everything is fake. Also, in a world flooded by information, what affect does this easy access have on ordinary citizens, so overloaded by cyber-junk that they start to believe in something that may not even exist?
This is just a brief dip into the existential theories presented in just the first two episodes of Ghost In The Shell "Stand Alone Complex" vol 2. Just like the "Puppet Master" in the first GITS movie, "The Laughing Man" appears to be of the same mold. Able to hack into peoples cyber brains, he can not only control what they say, he can even alter what they know. As Motoko, Bateau, Togusa, and the rest of Section 9 work trying to stop the inevitable assassination of the police commissioner, they learn that this adversary has some pretty nasty tricks up his sleeve.
In "Decoy", Aramaki is convinced that the police are behind the "threat", and he orders his men to proceed on that premise. At the same time, Motoko decides to look at things from an outside source, and comes up with some interesting facts on her own. She also knows that the commissioner's life is in even greater jeopardy than any of them realize. She decides to be there at "ground zero" as it were, and that's where things really take off. This episode is incredibly suspenseful, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. The tension was so tight, I had let out several expletives by the time the end credits started rolling.
The next episode "Meme" picks up steam, and for the next 20 minutes, you eyes are glued to the screen. Nothing is what it seems, as attackers appear at random, keeping The Major busy while Section 9 scrambles to provide some high-tech backup. Along with the action, several plot threads are started, most not being resolved until the end of the series. Thanks to the superb writing, and taught directing, "Meme" solidifies GITS as one of the greatest anime titles of all time.
While the mystery of the "Laughing Man" isn't quite over, the remaining two episodes are "Stand Alone" episodes. While the two may not have any direct relation to each other, both deal with the issues of cloning from different ends of the spectrum. It also addresses issues that many will face in the coming century. Things like "Is putting your mind in a cyborg body really the best choice for survival?" What part of your humanity do you give up in order to live a "healthy" life? There are many other questions, as well as some insight into the personal lives of the members of Section 9 to be found in these episodes.
Many site a scene in "Decoy" as definitive proof that Motoko is a lesbian. While she certainly is in the manga, I don't think "Decoy" is as conclusive as others think. Sure there are a few subtle, and not too subtle hints at her sexuality, but it can also be horny fan boys reading too much into it. Girls can hang together, wear next to nothing, and all it means that they are comfortable with each other. Then again, seeing two girls curled up with each other in a one bed apartment certainly would give credence to a hot lesbian lifestyle. Like so much of this series, it all depends on your interpretation.
The animation in these episodes superb, at times reaching movie level quality. The action sequences especially in "Meme" and "Idolater" are just breathtaking, both in their technical, and visceral thrills. Their blending of the CG and traditional elements is pure art, better than Gonzo Digimation in some cases. Production I.G. deserves every accolade they receive.
The acting is excellent, with major kudos to Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Atsuko Tanaka as the Major. The two of them have to carry most of the episodes contained in this volume, and they do a great job. I'm also pleased with the outstanding supporting cast. At no time did I find a flat reading, or uninspired delivery anywhere.
Once again, Yoko Kanno has created a diverse and appropriate soundtrack for "SAC". Her use of house, techno, and alternative rock fits the hip and stylish vibe of the series. The icing on the cake is the opening theme, "Inner Universe" sung by Russian performer Origa. Her haunting vocals combined with Yoko Kanno's pulsing beat is sublime. This is one anime soundtrack I must find.
Even with great animation, acting, and music, you still need good writing. Like everything else in "SAC", it is simply the best. Kenji Kamiyama made the right choice to treat the series as a police drama. Instead of getting bogged down in Oshii-esque existential discussions, he and the writing staff can concentrate on the characters and the situations. They are also masters at presenting the constant techno-speak in a way that even the casual watcher can understand, but enough to make you think. The true mark of good writing is that at no time do I find myself waiting for the show to end.
Manga and Bandai ent. have done the fans right by presenting GITS: Stand Alone Complex" in a excellent DVD. The video and audio is all top notch. The edits to the first two episodes may have some fans up in arms, but for me it's a non issue. They could have put in a little more extras, but the ones they did have were at least interesting.
The second volume of "Stand Alone Complex" is even better than the first. Full of suspense, action, brilliant writing, top notch animation, sublime voice acting, and the music of Yoko Kanno, you will find yourself diving even deeper into this world!
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