Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 21st 2005
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Major Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9 continue their cybercrime investigations in the age of AI, tackling individual cases while delving further into the mystery of the Laughing Man. Kusanagi pops into a Laughing Man chatroom to see what the Internet is saying about this criminal phenomenon, whether it be rumors or facts. On the stand-alone side of things, a soldier from Batou's military days re-emerges as a serial killer and drags Section 9 into foreign affairs, and then Togusa has an odd encounter as he investigates a database hack at an institution for damaged-cyberbrain patients. The disc closes out with a touching episode about a Tachikoma tank gone loose, who inadvertently finds a cyberbrain containing a filmmaker's last attempt to reach an audience.
After introducing the world of Ghost in the Shell and setting the plot in motion, the third volume of Stand Alone Complex now goes for some strong emotional hits. Few will forget the chilling "Jungle Cruise" episode, where we learn about Batou's past as a military ranger and watch a murder investigation turn into a personal battle. On the other end of the scale, "Escape From" is a lighthearted departure from the usual tone of the series, but who can resist the charm of a grade-schooler befriending a Tachikoma? And of course, none of this would be a Ghost in the Shell production without excellent animation and music throughout.
At its core, Stand Alone Complex is still just a cop show, but its high-tech setting makes it a cop show where you can't solve mysteries via present-day methods. The series demands a solid understanding of how machines, humans, and the Internet relate in the year 2030, but the results of this intellectual investment are often rewarding. The trickiest part to navigate may be the "Chat! Chat! Chat!" episode, not because of technological jargon, but because it's so heavy on dialogue. Feel free to rewind as needed on this one, because it's one big infodump about the Laughing Man case (and that's why they call it the "complex" part of the series). Luckily, the remaining episodes are all primarily stand-alones, making them easier to follow. This volume is rather light on action sequences—"Jungle Cruise" and "Portraitz" are the only episodes where anyone brings out a gun—but the introspective, laid-back tone makes it even more engaging than a series stuffed with overblown action sequences.
Except for that one formalist experiment ("Let's stick Motoko in a chatroom lol!") on the DVD, each episode features a closer look at one of the characters from Section 9. "Jungle Cruise" is the best of the lot, revealing a darker side to Batou and giving an extra dimension to the gravelly-voiced, wisecracking tough guy. Togusa's undercover work at the institution lets us look at the future through the eyes of Section 9's only flesh-and-blood member, seeing the mind-boggling results of an entire generation that has grown up "wired." Even "Escape From," with a Tachikoma as its main character, achieves emotional weight by introducing a little girl searching for her lost dog. Together they learn about the qualities of humans and machines, and the result is adorable yet profound.
Production I.G's work on the visuals is crisp and fluid as always, with realistic character designs that avoid the "anime style" shortcuts of lesser shows (the best part is that older people actually look like older people). Because this volume is light on action, the animators don't get much of a chance to show off, but they take every opportunity they can—just check out Togusa getting clocked in the head in "Portraitz." Even backgrounds become works of art, as in the visibly cold and clinical hallways of the cyberbrain patients' institution, or the glowingly rendered sunset when Tachikoma and friend get to a hilltop park. Computer effects are also presented with great care—little things like net-diving sequences and monitor displays have a unique, intricate quality that represents the future in a believable way.
Naturally, nothing says "Stand Alone Complex" like the music of Yoko Kanno, and her musical talents continue to be in full force on this volume. A wide range of styles and timbres set the mood from scene to scene, whether it be a pained adagio as Batou chases his quarry or a quirky children's tune as the Tachikoma goes on a joyride. What may disappoint fans is that the music is less intrusive than usual—it's fun to hear those elegant Kanno melodies stand out, but this time she does a fine job of blending it into the anime, which in the end is the true aim of background music.
Also pleasant to the ears is the dub provided by Animaze studios through Bandai and Manga Entertainment. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn continues to play the role of lead character Matoko Kusanagi confidently, while Richard Epcar is in full command of Batou's voice whether he's spouting a one-liner or screaming with rage. Even the one-time characters in "Chat! Chat! Chat!" provide an amusing caricature of what the Internet might sound like. Although the DVD lacks art galleries among the extras (which would probably be awesome to look at), it includes interviews with Akio Otsuka, the Japanese voice actor for Batou, and sound director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi. And of course, the "Tachikoma Days" shorts after each episode are a cute, irreverent counterpoint to the series—even if their sense of humor isn't for everyone.
Badass cyborg women, speculative computer science, and talking tanks might not be for everyone, but if you want to know what quality anime looks like, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a prime example. Volume 3 makes a few narrative missteps, but it still delivers stronger story and more emotional punch than the average anime can in 26 episodes. With the show also currently running on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block, there are hardly any excuses to miss it. Look to the year 2030 and make sure to check out one of the best anime titles currently being released.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Continues the high standards of the series, with individual characters getting a chance to shine
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