Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Genre: Cyberpunk, Sci-Fi, Action
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: 2002 Masamune Shirow, Kenji Kamiyama, Production IG, Animax, Bandai Visual, Bandai Entertainment, Dentsu Inc., Kodansha, Manga Entertainment, Victor Entertainment


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Dulio Giovanni's Description:
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex follows the exploits of the Major Motoko Kusanagi and the enigmatic police unit known as Section 9, an elite cadre of soldiers, Advanced AI, hackers and super spies tasked with hunting down the world's deadliest cyber criminals and solving the most devious conspiracies.

(52 Episodes)

The best of the movie and more. >>> by Dulio Giovanni
A stunning (if rather much over due) follow-up to the phenomenal hit movie Ghost in the Shell, Stand Alone Complex delivers everything the movie had and raises the bar by a mile. Walking on the footsteps of its movie predecessor, the viewer is treated to cornucopia of stunning animation, cunning conspiracies, interesting characters and great soundtracks all of which seamlessly blend to create a breathtaking portrait of life within and beyond the machine.

GITS: SAC as stated above follows the day-to-day adventures of Section 9, it detaches itself completely from the events of the movie, which in this universe never occurred at all or at least not yet in effect functioning as a prologue to it and the second movie Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. The series is broken down into two kinds of episodes, the complex and the standalone. The former as the name betrays, illustrates the over arching plot of the series in which Section 9 is caught in a deadly multi-layered conspiracy of megalithic proportions involving government corruption, corporate interest and a hacker that is on par if not greater in skill than the preceding movie’s villain, the Puppet Master AI. Though this may sound cliché and formulaic, the story is anything but, as the twists and turns of this plot would make even Tom Clancy smile and the ending itself is a real shocker. A word to the wise, though this is not for the weak of mind or deprived of time, as the amount of information can overload the mind and missing a single complex episode can really hurt your understanding of the show.

While the complex episodes are what give this anime a reason for existing in the first place, it is the Standalone Episodes that are the real meat of the series. These are essentially one shot adventures and tirades tackling various issues of Section 9 and its individual members, serving to expound and develop the show’s main characters as well as thoroughly exploring several philosophical and ethical issues that would arise should we actually take to using cybernetics. It also more or less provides a brief pause from the over arching storyline’s endless and complex amount of details, instead telling a simpler and much more easily understood tale. Each episode gives the viewer an insightful glimpse into the eccentricities, histories and issues of each character, from Batou’s extreme hatred of the U.S.A, Togusa’s reluctance to use cybernetics to Chief Aramaki’s love life (yes, the cunning old monkey actually has a girl friend) and even the Tachikoma’s (AI Tanks) clumsy attempts at understanding the world from a human point of view.

The series maintains its old stable of well crafted and original main characters, Aramaki, Batou, Major Kusanagi and Togusa as well as their sidekicks Ishikawa and Saito (he did appear in the movie, albeit for only 3 seconds) then expands the roster with new characters such as Paz, Borma and the Tachikomas. Like the movie the series centers heavily on the four main characters, devoting several Standalone episodes into developing and humanizing them into well rounded characters with distinct personalities and quirks that could barely be felt let alone seen in the movie. The other characters Paz, Borma, Saito and Ishikawa mainly serve as technical back up for the quintet and are rarely given more than a hair’s breath of attention which may be quite frustrating as they are quite well made in their own right. The real show stealers however are the Tachikomas which are high tech tanks given cutting edge hive mind AI that allows them to learn and grow as would a human child. Part foil and part comedy relief their childish mindset, innate inquisitiveness and irresistibly cute voices provide a welcome contrast to the otherwise dour mood of most other characters aside from serving as the group’s high end ass kicking machines.

Storyline aside though, the first thing one notices in GITS: SAC would be its slick top notch art and animation. Studio I.G (the people behind the Linkin' Park music video, Breaking the Habit, as well as number of skits in the Animatrix) being the geniuses they are, cleverly blend copious amounts of computer generated models to traditional hand drawn art without making the CG overly obtrusive giving the viewer the effect of a full 3D world without sacrificing the variety and texture of colors found in 2D animation. On the subject of colors, however, the series departs from its predecessor’s gothic cell shaded look and instead switches to a more vibrant palette of brighter, more mainstream colors that were all but absent in the movie, which, contrary to those who oppose the switch, beautifully compliments the effort to humanize the characters, showing us that Section 9’s life is not just slogging though dark nights and jumping off monolithic skyscrapers. Each character and background is rendered and animated beautifully with a full range of smooth, near life-like motion akin to that of Cowboy Bebop, without sacrificing the level of detail even at the slightest.

The soundtrack, like the rest of the series, is one of the best ever -- both the intro Inner Universe (which is oddly enough sung in Russian) and the ending Lithium Flower (composed by the great Yokko Kanno) set the tone and mood of the series quite well. I am a little leery at the choice of vocalist, though. Scott Matthew, while he is perfect for Lithium Flower’s jazzy tune, his attempts at the other OSTs which generally share a depressed theme are much maligned by his attempts to simulate such a mood and instead give the impression that they were sunken by a drunk. Aside from that the lyrics are quite nice and soulful. BGMs are also well crafted and appropriate for most situations, lending more gravity to the atmosphere of every episode.

Overall GITS: SAC, as well as its follow up 2nd Gig, are arguably one of the best sci-fi anime to ever come into the market offering a nice break the dime a dozen crap we have been bombarded with for the past few years -- ever since Anime went the way of Magic the Gathering and became a world wide commercial phenomenon, a.k.a. a cash cow. While the show itself is great, its mature and deep content may put off those with lesser patience and an apparent lack of combat. This may not appeal to those of a more action/adventure leaning. Beyond that, the show is almost perfect as is.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 10; Story 9; Characters 9; Sounds 8

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