Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 7th 2005
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
There's more 21st-century crime solving in store for Section 9, Japan's high-tech police force, and this time even section leader Aramaki gets caught in the fray. An investigation of Mafia activity in London goes awry when Aramaki is taken hostage, and it's up to Major Kusanagi to track him down while he outsmarts his own captors. Aramaki is at the center of things again when Section 9 is called to prevent an assassination, and the prime suspect is a young man whose father served in the military alongside Aramaki himself. After that, it's another game of political favors as the daughter of a former prime minister gets kidnapped, and then Togusa digs into the Laughing Man case as he stumbles upon some intriguing medical information. It seems that the mysterious suspect might have something to do with cyberbrain patients after all...
If you've ever wanted to get inside the head of Aramaki, the pointy-haired mastermind who runs Section 9, then this is the DVD for you. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex continues in stand-alone mode for three more episodes, with the Chief taking center stage. Aramaki's problem-solving techniques may be challenging, but for those who like going on an intellectual ride, it's as exciting as any of the action scenes in the show. Watch out for the fourth episode on this disc, though, because the return to the Laughing Man plotline ends on a cliffhanger that will leave you in desperate need of Volume 6.
Episode 17 of Stand Alone Complex spins a new variation on the cop-show formula: what if the department head fell victim to a crime? That's exactly what happens when Aramaki is unexpectedly held hostage. His cool, logical approach to defusing the situation is fascinating to watch—especially when his captors botch things up and he has to help them out. When Motoko Kusanagi goes in search of him, it's even more fun as she plays "What would Aramaki do?" The assassination episode is more conventional, exploring another side of what happens when electronically stored memories run amok, and the kidnapping of the minister's daughter is basically a filler story. Episode 20 is a rather dense return to the Laughing Man case, with lots of exposition that doesn't seem to lead anywhere, but the end of the episode is a surefire hook for hanging on to this plotline. As usual, it's not really the action that drives this show, but the suspense leading up to it and the brainwork that gets things going.
Those looking for emotional impact and character development won't find much in this volume, though. Its focus on top-notch sleuthing and Aramaki's clever tactics leave little room for matters of the heart. Even lead characters like Kusanagi and Batou simply serve as agents, hunting down the criminal suspects that are the true focus of each stand-alone episode. However, Togusa takes charge in Episode 20, and the scenes with his family—who haven't had much screen time until now—help to develop our sympathy for the one guy in Section 9 who's more human than cyborg. This series also seems a bit colder ever since the Tachikomas got sent back to the lab for repairs; there just isn't the same spark without the chirpy blue tanks. Let's hope they make a comeback in the final six episodes.
Production I.G doesn't get much of a chance to show off their color palette this time around, with building interiors and gloomy conditions being the main setting. Although there are some eye-catching scenes like the nighttime car chase in Episode 19, the artwork comes out slightly duller than in previous installments of the series. The animation is as smooth and crisp as ever, with carefully rendered characters as well, but the emphasis on dialogue and snooping around means that action scenes are a rarity. When they do happen, the camera angles and perspectives bring out plenty of energy; Togusa's gunfight in Episode 20 is a strong example of how well-orchestrated action can be full of life even when placed against dark, gloomy backgrounds.
Yoko Kanno's music score matches the mood shift in this volume of Stand Alone Complex, going for more subtle orchestration and avoiding vocal songs in the background. There's a bit too much reliance on strings, and some of the tracks are clearly being recycled from earlier use, but it still helps to build the suspense the drives most of the show. Kanno even lays off the electro-rock beats, using them only occasionally, and the result is a score that's quieter but still evocative.
As always, the English dub of Stand Alone Complex is a prime example of voice acting done right, and William Knight's moment in the spotlight as Aramaki proves that sounding like an old man doesn't have to be comically exaggerated. However, some of the secondary characters disrupt the quality, particularly the bank president's stiff performance in Episode 17. Meanwhile, the extras on this disc are a goldmine for animation nerds—the interview with photography and 3-D directors Koji Tanaka and Makoto Endo is a remarkable insight into the digital animation process. (Who needs cels anyway? Everything's done on computers these days!) The mechanical designers also talk about their role in the show, explaining how props like guns, cars and even cell phones must strike a careful balance between present-day technology and Masamune Shirow's vision of the future.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex continues to be the series of choice for intelligent, high-quality anime. Volume 5 takes a more low-key approach, limiting the amount of flashy effects and action scenes, but the masterful detective work and reasoning of Aramaki is a highlight in itself. With the Laughing Man saga beginning to enter its final stages, and storylines that are worth the mental challenge, this is one DVD that belongs on your shelf—right there with the previous four volumes.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Some outstanding sleuthing with Aramaki in the spotlight, and things get back on track with the Laughing Man case.
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