Ghost in the Shell: SAC Anime Review
(攻殻機動隊) Ghost in the Shell STAND ALONE COMPLEX
(Koukaku Kidoutai) Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Mobile Armored Police Division Stand Alone Complex
US Release By
Sci-Fi, Action, Mecha
26 25-minute episodes
2002-10-01 - 2003-03-25
The ongoing adventures of section 9, an elite cyber-enhanced department of the Japanese police force of the future.
The 'Ghost in the Shell' movie was only the second anime I'd ever seen, and as such I was impressed as much by the 'newness' of it all as much as anything. It still holds up today, of course, but I must admit when I watched it again recently, I was surprised it had been chosen for an ongoing TV series. While it dealt very well with it's themes and was packed full of style, I felt it was less successful in updating the police procedural genre since the myriad gizmos and enhancements available to section 9 rendered traditional police work irrelevant. This in turn took a toll on the drama. So is this TV series capable of overcoming these flaws? Kind of.
The main problem with both the film and the series, for this reviewer at least, is the central protagonist; Major Motoko Kusanagi. As a human in only the loosest definition (i.e.--she has a ghost, but her body is completely synthetic) she certainly has bags of style and grace; but is essentially a vapid character, always trustworthy to do the right thing, and never one to ponder the subtleties or tragedies of the human condition. She's cool--but there is such a thing as being too cool. Her every plan is executed with rational, robotic precision, and even with the odds stacked against her, her inability to express fear or anxiety leeches many a sequence of its excitement.
The show compensates for this by foregrounding the more "human" characters of the piece: Bateau, Aramaki and Togusa, and their episodes are among the strongest the series has to offer. Less successful are the attempts to humanize the Tachicoma (robotic tanks that can be manually operated by section 9 or carry out instructions automatically using the onboard AI). Don't get me wrong, I like the Tachicoma. As comic assistants they add some much needed vim to otherwise dry action sequences, but there is one episode in particular where they deliver most of the lines and as they all speak in the same childish squawk, this began to grate.
The story--such as it is--fares a little better. Divided pretty equally between "Standalone" episodes (mini-films or vignettes) and "Complex" (part of the ongoing saga, in this case the hunt for the cyber-terrorist known as the laughing man), it seems the bases have been covered. It should be pointed out that I watched the whole series in a few chunks on region 0 DVDs. The subtitles were truly appalling. The script has been translated badly then broken up into random, grammatically incorrect lumps and hurled at the screen with gay abandon. The last few words a character says often appear only at the beginning of another character's dialogue--sometimes even in the next scene. This made it difficult to follow and as such I'll give the writers of the original story the benefit of the doubt, though at times I felt that it wasn't just the translation being willfully obtuse. Likewise, one would hope that more care has/will be taken with the region-specific translations, if not, knock a whole point of the final rating.
There is, thankfully, always something worth watching though. This really is a beautiful anime (even if it is mildly disappointing to find yourself back in modern-traditional territory after the mind-blowing hi-res opening sequence) and while there may be too many scenes in corridors and dark empty rooms, when the show really lets rip visually, there is little to touch it. Musically, it does the job. Again, the opening track is a killer, the closing one a bit cheesier, but still good though the incidental music is uninspiring.
The lasting impression this show leaves is that the writers and artists really know their science. Pains have clearly been taken to extrapolate from existing technological and medical practices a world where machines have made mankind more than human but still far from gods. I'm no wire-head but it certainly gives the assured impression of rock-solid technology, albeit far in advance of our own, and this is something few shows achieve.
As the title suggests, there is a ghost in here somewhere, but the trouble with ghosts is you don't always see them, if at all, and when it's not there you're just looking at a brilliant, beautiful artifice.
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Notes and Trivia
Although the Japanese title is technically "Koukaku Kidoutai: Stand Alone Complex" (roughly "Mobile Armored Police Division"), the English one is frequently used--it is the only title visible on the covers of the Japanese DVDs, for example. The PlayStation 2 game, however, uses the Japanese title. "Stand Alone Complex" is always written in English in either case.
US DVD Review
The official release US DVDs (not those discussed above) are available in both regular and special edition versions. The regular version features anamorphic widescreen video and Dolby 5.1 audio in both languages. Extras include a wide variety of interviews with the cast and production team (including composer Yoko Kanno on disc 2) and some animated shorts. The Special edition version adds a second disc and fancy case to each volume; the extra DVDs include the same feature with DTS 5.1 audio and bonus interviews. The special edition version of volume 1 also includes a soundtrack CD as part of the set, and volume 7 comes with a tin to hold the whole series.
It is violent, but rated 13-up by Bandai not for the content as much as the fact that younger kids simply won't 'get' it.
Violence: 3 - Some blunt violence.
Nudity: 1 - Little.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Little.
Language: 3 - Some rough language.