It was with hot anticipation that I started watching Stand Alone Complex #2. Time had distorted my rose-tinted memories of the grandiose first volume, leaving me desperate for another hit of near perfect cyber punk. And as the alluring DVD menus loaded up and Yoko Kanno’s familiar score broke the silence, I felt relieved, almost at home again. “This is why I watch anime” I assured myself, stupefied, as Origa’s other worldly opening theme blasted tidal waves of sound in every direction.
Overly dramatic opening paragraphs or not, I really love this show.
Just like its famous theatrical predecessor, Stand Alone Complex presents us with a worryingly realistic vision of the future. The concept of cyber brains and their ultimate abuse isn’t so far off the mark when you stop to consider how computer technology, and especially the Internet, has developed over the past decade. This is a large part of what makes Stand Alone Complex so compelling for me, that connection it has with reality. Much of this series, including the Laughing Man case, is as much a prediction of the way things are going to go for humanity as an engrossing fictional story.
We last left Major Kusanagi and her crew battling against an infamous hacker known as ‘the Laughing Man’. This volume kicks off with us being thrown straight back into the thick of this case, watching as Kusanagi, Batou and Togusa go through their investigative motions and try work out who is behind all these threats, hackings and in some instances, murder. It all points to one man, Nanao; a computer programmer with a history of political activism and a grudge against Serano (the corporation previously threatened by the Laughing Man).
As the situation escalates, Public Peace: Section 9 find themselves in the middle of a vicious riot at a Serano press conference. Brain-hacked psychos claiming to be the Laughing Man start appearing everywhere; apparently a computer virus is travelling through the crowd, infecting certain people and forcing them to attack Serano employees.
Luckily for them, Kusanagi and others are on hand to lend some physical support; and suddenly, the action is turned up a notch as the Major back flips through corridors and the previously cloaked Tachikoma tanks swing down from neighbouring roof tops.
If you hadn’t already been enamoured by Stand Alone Complex’s animation, these heart-fluttering moments will surely cause you to rethink. The fluid, jaw dropping combat scenes, especially those involving carefully choreographed fist fights, had me enthralled.
That said, a large chunk of my enjoyment of these exciting moments also has to be attributed to Yoko Kanno’s great score. By combining orchestral strings and computerized beats and synths, she has created a very cold, industrial themed collection of music that successfully fills any gaps left open by the complex narrative- exciting us at times of action, hinting at a bigger story behind Section 9 and helping to illustrate the more human, unseen sides of these personalities.
To my great pleasure, her score is generously used throughout all of the episodes on this volume.
This first Laughing Man arc ends with a tour-de-force of threatening body language from Section 9’s veteran leader, Aramaki. Sparks fly from his wispy demeanour as he visits the Serano chairman, warning him that this deadly game has but started. Such is Aramaki’s imposing presence; merely a strong passing glance from the man is enough to tell you that he means business.
Given you can learn so much about these characters from just quick facial expressions, it should come as no surprise that this show lives up to it’s name of being complex. Watching Stand Alone Complex subtitled is like simultaneously attempting to read a Stephen Hawking novel and decipher a Vincent van Gogh painting.
The nature of this show is that it tackles futuristic crimes involving the convoluted inner workings of governments and organisations- not exactly easy going and it does take a while to get to grips with the fast pace of these episodes.
The strong characterization is a big reason why I was able to overcome such issues though. The main characters and their interactions with each other form the backbone of what makes this show so memorable. Major Kusanagi is still as mysterious as ever, but we are able to learn a lot more about the different sides of her personality when she is casually interacting with Batou and Togusa. This volume also sees development for Aramaki too- someone who despite his determined, hard faced appearance, has a great rapport with the people working under him- his time alone with Kusanagi is especially interesting, hinting at a much more protective, father-daughter relationship.
Stand Alone Complex #2 establishes this show as one of the finest new anime of recent years. It is hardcore science fiction, beautifully animated and wonderfully scored by Yoko Kanno.