Over the course of its first season, Stand Alone Complex proved that it was adept with intrigue and involved storylines, but often to the detriment of any extensive character development. So far, 2nd Gig has gone some way towards rectifying this, with the third volume in particular demonstrating the strengths of a more balanced approach.
The first order of business, however, is to attend to the main storyline, with a so-called “dual episode” in which Togusa and Batou must track down a group of suicide bombers, whilst Motoko attempts a daring computer infiltration that could reveal the truth behind the Individual Eleven. Whilst this offers a solid opening to the volume, it suffers from Ghost in the Shell’s trademark weakness- lengthy exposition sequences included to give the impression that the series is a lot deeper and more intelligent than it actually is.
Fortunately, the next two episodes are the highlight of the disc, offering up a pair of standalone stories that provide some interesting character insights whilst fleshing out both the past and present of the series’ key players. The first of these relies on the tried-and-tested courtroom drama format, placing Togusa under the spotlight after he tries to save a woman from a cyborg attacker, whilst the latter tale sees Motoko stumble upon a mysterious shop where past memories are stored. Finally, the volume is rounded off by an episode that picks up some threads from the preceding volume, featuring the return of the Prime Minister’s would-be assassin, and yet more clues about the Individual Eleven.
Despite its predilection for the unnecessarily obscure and long-winded, Stand Alone Complex nonetheless manages to touch on a number of issues that are relevant to contemporary society. Terrorists, suicide bombers, and the influx of refugees are all obvious suspects, but even Togusa’s trial draws a striking parallel with the modern “compensation culture’ where sometimes, doing the right thing can lead to the victim being portrayed as the aggressor, and vice versa. Together with more futuristic concepts, such as downloading memories or hacking into someone’s brain to control what they can see and hear, the series offers an interesting mix of ideas that should provide some food for thought.
Visually, the animation remains on top form; the action is always fast and fluid, with only the obvious CG elements such as vehicles appearing clunky and poorly integrated. As to be expected, Yoko Kanno’s score is always a joy to listen to, featuring a range of simple yet striking arrangements that enhance the viewing experience but also stand firm when listened to away from the context of the series.
Although Stand Alone Complex sells itself on the basis of its complex ideas and futuristic settings, this volume demonstrates that the series is at its best when it invests some time in character development as well. By engaging our interests on a more human level, what could have been a rather cryptic and dry set of episodes becomes something altogether more absorbing and thought-provoking- in fact, this may well be the strongest entry in the series so far.