Review: Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2003)

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If you haven’t seen the Mamorou Oshii’s 1996 masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, then you can go and sit in the corner of anime class and face the wall. In a lot of ways, Ghost in the Shell was the heir to Otomo’s Akira. At times explosive action, at others a meditation on what it means to be human, Ghost in the Shell presented a fully realised world of rapidly advancing technology set against a backdrop of decaying urban environments.

You can be pleasantly surprised and then you can splendidly stunned. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (or SAC to save undue wear on my keyboard) shows an incredible care and attention to detail that one does not expect from a 26 part TV series.

SAC greets us like a familiar friend holding a fresh pot of coffee. In the opening scene, Major Kusanagi leaps off a building against a palette of muted purples, gun-metal greys and iridescent greens. There are plenty of other familiar faces: the wise-cracking Batou and the non-enhanced sharp-shooter Ishikawa. A number of new members round out the crew giving Section 9 a greater feeling of a fully functioning police squad.

Production values of SAC are truly outstanding. The animation is crisp and detailed with stack of action. Director Kenji Kamiyama who has previously worked in various roles on Jin-Roh, Blood: The Last Vampire and Roujin Z shows flourishes of brilliance with camera placement. From dynamic low angles to hand-held over the shoulder views to even dusting off Oshii’s favourite fish-eye lens.

Kamiyama’s previous writing credit was for Blood: the Last Vampire which is a bit like saying Ronald McDonald is a good chef. A visceral experience, the script of Blood was certainly its anemic link. The writing on the SAC is equal to, if not better than the visuals. Jam-packed into each twenty-two minute episode are dense plots but the stories never feel burdened by their complexity. It is as if Kamiyama has found a way to dilate time and then compress it in a Doctor Who, TARDIS-like fashion.

The early episodes focus on Ghost in the Shell’s core theme of the blurring boundaries between human and machine: a man who wants to live in a steel shell, female androids that are committing suicide. Section 9‘s investigations into these cases give the series a feeling of a police procedural. With members following different leads, Section 9 actually feels like a covert policing body. This extra detail only adds to the sense of immersive depth.

Which is not to say that SAC skimps on action. Section 9 must ‘defuse’ a hostage situation and the spider-tanks, the Tachikomas, pursue a prototype tank through suburban streets. Having re-introduced the Ghost in the Shell universe, the final episode of SAC introduces what appears to be a deeper conspiracy involving a corporate hacker and the illegal use of surveillance devices.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a keeper. With both quality plots and animation it steps out of the shadow of its older sibling by adding depth to an already breathing universe. Sorry, it may just be the nano-machines but I’ve got to run. My DVD player is calling.

Oh yeah. Hang around after the credits of each episode for the minimalist shorts featuring the helium-voiced Tachikomas ruminating on importance of verbal communication. It’s part philosophical discussion, part Three Stooges pratfall comedy.

9.5 shell casings out of 10.
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