It’s almost impossible to exist inside modern anime fandom without feeling the over-bearing influence of Mamoru Oshii’s landmark feature ‘Ghost in the Shell’, a film cited by many as a genuine classic of contemporary science fiction, let alone Japanese animation.
Ghost in the Shell (the movie), while based inside the universe of Masamune Shirow’s ever popular manga (of same name), isolated several of the more light hearted elements of the original story and (in true Oshii style) presented a sober, philosophical opinion of our future.
‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ is intended to be a much more faithful retelling of Shirow’s work; borrowing his sense of humour and emotional tone as well as the labyrinth cyber-punk themes and vivid technology that made the original anime such a firm favourite. As a result, the likes of Major Motoko Kusanagi and Bateau, despite sharing many of the same Japanese voice actors (who have continued their fine work from Oshii’s film), come off feeling like completely different characters, each with their own individual sense of humour and personality quirks.
Stand Alone Complex is all about Public Peace: Section 9, an elite group of law enforcers who tackle much of the most important and complicated crimes in a modern world where the line between technology and humanity is becoming increasingly blurred.
Section 9 is run by Aramaki, a dedicated old man with a raw enthusiasm for his job. Major Motoko Kusanagi is his second in command; a preciously talented hacker and ‘hard as nails’ fighter – she tends to be at the forefront of almost everything Section 9 has planned. Kusanagi’s team includes the likes of Bateau (one of Kusanagi’s best friends – a rather jolly character with a vested interest in military technology) and Togusa (a thoughtful ex-police officer with a [Chris Waddle] mullet – the only member of Section 9 to not have been especially enhanced with cyborg technology; essentially, he is almost 100% old fashioned human).
This first volume of Stand Alone Complex introduces us to the everyday routines of the Section 9 team as we follow them around on a few of their exciting missions. Along the way we meet a deranged ‘Tachikoma’ (an advanced tank implanted with artificial intelligence) and get in on a few convoluted government conspiracies, while all the time becoming familiar with the various larger than life personalities that embody Section 9.
It’s good that at such an early stage of the series, the writers down at Production I.G have given us a chance to get to grips with the extremely layered world illustrated for us in Ghost in the Shell. The first three episodes are all self-contained, weaving their own little tales while also allowing us to become familiar with much of the modern technologies that dominate this vision of the future.
It’s great to see Section 9 in action and doing the typical kind of work that they would consider normal practice – as we see them joking between each other, the viewer develops an attachment and sense of relation to each of these strong individuals. Bateau is obviously a very relaxed figure who, on occasion, enjoys a good bit of physical contact, while Togusa, like many of us, lacks a hint of self confidence and doubts his marksmanship during the heat of conflict. It becomes genuinely fun to see them verbally sparring between each other; exchanging thoughts and philosophies, adding a sense of warmth and emotion to a story that in dominated by the reality of soulless machines.
The action scenes hit us at a break neck speed, pumping us with adrenaline as ‘the Major’ jumps from roof top to roof top. All of this is powered by (legendary anime soundtrack composer) Yoko Kanno’s fantastic score, dragging us head first into Shirow’s violent yet beautiful world.
If there is one mixed aspect about Stand Alone Complex, it is that the story can be a little too hard to follow at times. We are often sucked into a myriad of convoluted government conspiracies, and on occasion, the viewer is left desperately trying to keep up with the experts at Section 9 as they delve deeply into their investigations.
Ghost in the Shell has always had a strong sense of confidence in the intelligence of its audience, and it is quickly made apparent to us that the story intends to go deeper than the instant fan-service of Major Kusanagi’s tight fitting uniform.
It is disappointing then that such oft-complicated stories are compounded by Manga UK’s error-prone DVD release. The most basic of mistakes is a subtitle timing problem that dominates the first episode; with subtitles appearing either too fast or too late, this obviously adds unneeded pressure to an already hard to follow plot-line. Then consider some well known problems with audio quality and all in all, these are the type of basic errors that really take the shine off of what should be a stellar release for the UK. The picture quality is fantastic and the animation looks stunningly fluid, so it is a real shame then that other aspects of this release aren’t up to the same high standards.
But I can’t end this review on a negative note, and the strange little Tachikoma tanks certainly merit some special attention! Most would expect a talking tank to have a very manly, tobacco chomping voice but funnily enough, the Tachikoma’s all sound like wimpy little girls! Not only that, they are very excitable and have an inquizative, almost philosophical nature. Essentially, Tachikomas’ work as amusing little diversions from an otherwise very serious anime series and are so successfully weird that they become one of the most memorable aspects to take away from this outstanding first volume of Stand Alone Complex.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex #1 lives up to the massive level of expectation set by the original 1995 smash-hit film, and goes on to add personality and humour to a story previously dominated by lifeless technology. Each of the mini-stories are engaging and interesting, the characters feel more human than ever before, the animation from Production I.G is beautiful and Yoko Kanno’s musical talent is as strong as ever. If it weren’t for the problematic errors on Manga UK’s DVD, this would be an almost perfect release.
For fans of science fiction, you won’t get much better than Stand Alone Complex.