Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
In the near future society is super saturated with technology. It is a society in which artificial intelligence is more than an artifact of the imagination, users plug directly into the internet, and cybernetically enhanced agents police the activities of those who are plugged in. It is the officers of Section 9, typically under the direction of "Major" Kusanagi Motoko, that uphold the rule of law on the information highway here. And it is here that the Major and the agents of Section 9 get inevitably drawn into the tangle of events surrounding the Laughing Man case, a cyber-crime case in which not all is as it seems.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (abbreviated as GITS: SAC for the duration of this review) is something of a mixed package. This is most likely a consequence of its structure. Half of GITS: SAC is spent exploring the Laughing Man case, a mysterious occurrence of cyber-crime that remains unsolved to date. The other half is simply a collection of self-contained one-shot stories. During the Laughing Man arc this show embodies much of the intrigue and intelligence of its theatrical predecessor (the plotlines of GITS: SAC and the GITS film are unrelated). However, during the self-contained arcs, the results range from fair to just plain boring.
The first thing any raving otaku is bound to notice about GITS: SAC is that the character designs here are a bit different than those of the film version. Apparently this is because the designs of SAC more closely resemble the designs of the GITS manga, by Shirow Masamune, than do the movie of the same name. The net effect is almost indiscernible with the exception of Major Kusanagi whom, with fresh purple hair and darker yet warmer eyes, is now much easier to get attached to. Additionally, because of the less imposing time constraints of a TV series, the cast of GITS: SAC is more fully fleshed out. Here Kusanagi no longer feels so cold and mechanical. The viewer is also treated to a more in-depth view of some of the side characters such as Batou, Togusa, and Section 9 head Aramaki Daisuke. Overall the characterization in SAC is considerably improved over the GITS film.
Despite great strides of growth in character development, the animation of GITS: SAC is fairly easily surpassed by its cinema antecedent. But it is my supposition that as much should be expected. In many ways the GITS film upped the ante for eye-candy to astonishing levels. That said, the animation of SAC is meritorious, even if it doesn't quite scale the bar set before it. In fact, it contains some of the least artificial looking CGI work (as opposed to cell-based animation) that I have seen since CGI became the norm in the anime industry. Equally impressive are the renderings of a future super-endowed with technology. The set pieces are all quite believably futuristic. In terms of animation quality, this title does admirably.
As far as the musical backdrop goes for SAC goes I have just two words: Yoko Kanno. Essentially the music is very sweet and always fitting. To find failing in the soundscape of this title is to find dysfunction in your ability to hear altogether.
In spite of the accolades I have laid upon GITS: SAC so far, my primary grievance with the series is in the most vital area, its plotting. Or rather I should say half of its plotting. To put it frankly, I don't much care for the vast multitude of one-shot storylines that are strewn haphazardly throughout the series. Though I suppose these arcs do functionally expand the viewer's perception of the SAC universe and the characters within, some of these self-contained episodes are really freakin' boring. Granted, some of the one-shots are entertaining (particularly the episode in which the Tachikomas contemplate life), but they do more harm than good as they foul-up the pacing of the main arc of SAC. It is jarring to be fully immersed in a continuing plotline only to be snatched away for a couple episodes and be bored to tears. As a matter of fact I nearly gave up the series twice for just this reason. But if you can angle your way through these pacing saddle-points, the Laughing Man portion of the plotline is your reward. It is thus far very engaging, being both smart and complex. I will say that if you really didn't like the plotting of the GITS movie that you aren't likely to find favor with GITS: SAC. Though the stories of the two are distinct with respect to one another, the essence of the two are not dissimilar. The action, being a bit sporadic, offsets even the pacing of the Laughing Man arc a tad, while the talkativeness of the players will hamper down the plotting considerably for at least some viewers, though I myself was not dejected even slightly by these aberrations. Spotty pacing notwithstanding, the narrative of GITS: SACis eminently immersive.
There is a good deal in GITS: SAC that viewers could potentially find fault with. If I were to rate this title based strictly upon its self-contained segments I would give it no more than three stars. However, its better half is a worthwhile venture and handedly makes up for the less captivating morsels. Though not groundbreaking, GITS: SAC is unusually intelligent and challenging, a treat for an adroit audience.
If you enjoyed the GITS movie then you will enjoy this title about as much. — Derrick L Tucker
Recommended Audience: Complex, graphic, and somewhat violent at times, this series is not one to be watched by young children. Appropriate for those sixteen years old and up.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (22/26)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex © 2002 Shirow Masamune / Production IG / Kodansha
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