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Some fourteen months after its US DVD debut, Manga Entertainment UK will bring us Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence on the 27th February 2006. An Anime feature that is rich in sound and visuals, here it also boasts a brand new English dub by the voice cast of the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Has it been worth the wait?

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Feature


”No matter how far a Jackass may travel it will never return as a horse.”

The year is 2032, and three years have passed since Major Motoko Kusanagi merged with the mysterious Puppet Master. Batou has not seen or heard from her since she walked from his apartment in a new and much younger body, and the government are still keen to track her down. After all, only her ghost was hers to keep—everything else belonged to them.

Togusa, the only member of Section Nine not to have stepped completely out of his human body into a cyborg shell (and someone originally hand-picked for the team by the Major precisely because of that fact) has been partnered with Batou in the investigation of a series of deaths linked to prototype Gynoids. These Gynoids are supposedly domestic robots, but more cases have been arising recently where the sacred Moral Code 3 has been broken. They are not supposed to inflict injury on any human in the pursuit of continued existence, but still it is happening.

The mystery deepens when Batou manages to keep one of the Gynoids intact (well, fairly intact), and closer inspection reveals that the robots are built to do more than chores, if you know what I mean (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more). A complex trail leads Section Nine to the Kojinkai, a Mafia-like organisation that is profiting from the creation and sale of the Gynoids. Nothing is as it seems, however, and Batou is getting too close for someone’s liking. A guardian angel from his past may be the edge that he needs to crack the case, but the perpetrator of the murders is someone nobody would suspect.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
I first saw this nearly eighteen months ago—in an afternoon that also included the underrated Steamboy—and if you ever get the chance to see this big then do it. If you have already seen it—and let’s face it, after this long you will have done if you were going to—then you’ll know where I’m coming from. The first viewing is one where the visual splendour will knock your socks off and the merging of 2D and 3D animation set a benchmark for others to follow. The latter is almost photo-realistic in places and even the tricks employed with the 2D characters brought something new to the table. I found myself getting slightly put off by the endless philosophising in the subtitles that I had to wade through, as it was taking my eyes away from what was on the rest of the screen.

Having avoided the US DVD release for fear of ending up with the annoying Hard of Hearing subtitles, my second viewing has only just come about with this review. I’m sure we’ll get the odd cry of ‘Blasphemy!’ after people read this next bit, so before I go on I’ll give you a quote from Mr. Oshii from one of the extras in this set...

”The idea of a true translation is an illusion.”

Which, ironically, is a translation itself, but that said he does go on to say that the important thing is the experience of the film, and the ideals of that differ from continent to continent. As long as the spirit of the piece is intact, he doesn’t see a problem.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
This is where I’ll step up and say that I welcomed the new English dub, precisely for the reasons outlined above. With a script written by the English (okay, American) voice of Batou, Richard Epcar (from Yurika Dennis’ translation) I got a chance to watch what was on screen and be able to pay attention to the plot. The main voice cast from the English dub of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex do a stand up job, although Richard Epcar is the only member of the English-speaking cast to have been involved in all of the Ghost in the Shell translations. The Japanese cast have a little more continuity, with Motoko, Batou, and Togusa staying with the same actors since 1995 (Aramaki is played by the same actor as in Ghost in the Shell, but someone else is involved in Stand Alone Complex). The choice, as they say, is yours, and I’ll admit that the philosophising isn’t as endless as it seemed that first time around. Still, it’s nice not to have to have the subtitles on.

The plot, strewn with the complexities of cyborg and human life as it is, is a relatively straightforward murder investigation—at least for the world portrayed here—and its style is similar to that of the alternate universe of Stand Alone Complex. Mr. Oshii also manages to reclaim the ideas that so obviously inspired The Matrix, even dropping the word ‘Matrix’ in there now and again,

Action-packed set pieces are not the highest order of the day, but the set-ups allow excuses for the animation to come to the forefront. The festival that showcases the bulk of the 3D eye-candy is a sequence that will stick in the mind, and the way it is accompanied by the opening music and no actual dialogue reminded me of Kusanagi’s canal journey in Ghost in the Shell—only more beautiful.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Musically, Kenji Kawai returns with a familiar soundtrack, but enough has been done to differentiate this from the original and there are plenty of departures from the main theme. Perhaps the most atmospheric of these departures is the ‘Music Box’—which was actually constructed as the sound just wasn’t right any other way—and it really adds to the confusion in the scenes that play out under it. One for a decent surround system.

Those wanting a GitS:SAC-type story of all of Section Nine kicking butt should know that out of all the members only Batou and Togusa get a decent amount of screen time, but that leaves the movie feeling streamlined. Shoehorning the rest in may have pushed the ninety-six minute runtime too far, and the cyborg/human partnership gives the story something else to work with. The world and story are complex enough that it will probably take a couple of viewings to pick up on the majority of the nuances, but the re-watch factor is quite good because of that. Well, that and everything else here.

Video


The film itself is a visual feast—actually, let’s not beat about the bush, there are places where what is on screen is stunning—and the transfers presented here on either disc do it justice. Both are the correct 1.85:1 ratio, anamorphically enhanced, and splitting up the audio tracks over the discs allows the picture more than enough room to breathe. The DTS disc offers a slightly higher average bit-rate at 8.9Mb/s than that found on disc 1 (8.16Mb/s), but both offer a very steady picture in terms of colour and detail.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
There’s heat haze, warped perspectives, and plenty of cloud and smoke on show, along with a nice fire around fifty three minutes in, and still nothing ever seems to cause a problem. The shade gradations at the start of the opening titles are visible, but that’s easy to forgive, and the only blocking you’ll see is when Batou is having a few vision problems—and that’s done on purpose!

The colour palette is similarly blessed, with tremendously deep blacks and every other colour vibrant without blooming, although there are purposeful places where the characters take on an ethereal glow. The festival sequence provides around four minutes of some of the best examples of blending CG and traditional animation you’ll see, and you won’t get it better portrayed on a disc this side of high-definition (in my humble opinion). The only thing that stops me from giving an outright ten is some minor edge enhancement—I’d give it nine point five if I could, but the nine will have to suffice.

Time for a complaint though—the layer change is placed identically on both discs, and therein lies the problem. There are plenty of places where a held shot or a fade to black could have been used, but this is mid-scene and depending on your player can even clip a bit of dialogue. Very shoddy, and remarkably similar to the way the change was placed on last year’s Ghost in the Shell: Special Edition. The subtitles are readable though, which is a bonus with the commentary for those that don’t understand Japanese, but sadly those who need it do not get an additional Hard of Hearing track. The feature subtitles do differ from the English dub and from those on the Hard of Hearing subtitle stream on the US disc. As mentioned earlier, however, the spirit of the film remains intact in both the audio and subtitle presentation.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
How does it stack up against the now ageing US effort? Well, where the UK discs keep a fairly tight and uniform rate for the duration, the US disc encoding is considerably more variable, averaging out at only 6.13Mb/s. That said you’ll be hard pushed to notice anything different between the two regions, even with the extra PAL resolution. To add another slight moan to the layer change one above, the US disc also provides translation subtitles for some of the on-screen text and off-screen chatter, whereas this does not (something I have noticed when comparing Manga UK’s Stand Alone Complex releases with the US ones).

Audio


I’ve already made my feelings known on the content of the audio tracks, but what about the quality? Starting off on disc one, you get Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo tracks for both English and Japanese languages. The Stereo tracks are given a decent 224Kb/s to play with and sound fine for what they are, but the Surround tracks are how the film deserves to be listened to. The English track is noticeably louder, but there is nothing missing in terms of elements no matter which language is your preference. From the inorganic sounds of the gulls to dog claws clacking on tiles and onto unexpected squelches everything is clear and well placed. Subwoofer action and bass is well represented, and the mixture of choir and drums in the opening titles illustrate the range well. However, the English track does have a little more ‘oomph’ behind it.

The vocal mixing is different between the Japanese and English tracks though, and surprisingly it is the latter that gives a better feeling of the surroundings with halls and rooms getting just enough echo to provide some presence. It is worth noting that the US version does seem to have a better (or maybe just louder) Japanese 5.1 track than the one presented here.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Disc two houses the English and Japanese DTS tracks, and the same comments can be applied here as for the Dolby Digital tracks, except that there is just a little more clarity in the high end and the overall recording level is lower. The Dolby Digital vocals are left sounding a bit harsher when compared to the DTS, but there isn’t much else between the two sound formats and anyone should be happy with the sound on either disc. The only question I have is why is neither option in 6.1 when there are discs out there with DTS-ES, even if that is only for the Japanese version?

Extras


There are a few extras spread over the set, and the first disc plays host to a couple of items that will be familiar to owners of the US disc. First up is a commentary with director Mamoru Oshii and animation director Toshihiko Nishikubo. Speaking in their native Japanese, optional English subtitles are provided, as is plenty of insight into the making of the film. The track is not without humour and this is a good-natured run through the evolution of the movie. Moments including Oshii’s ire at someone commenting on how the opening looks like a Björk video and a discussion on how some liked the original colour of the dog’s arse, along with mentions of character design and location scouting, make this a good accompaniment to the film.

The only other extra on disc one is the ‘Making of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence’ featurette (16m00s, DD2.0 Japanese, 4:3, optional English subtitles). This is a quick look through the three-year making of the film, including pencil sketches, demos of the animation of scenes at their various stages, music design, and input from the Japanese voice cast as they get to grips with what the new story holds for them. If anything this could do with being longer, but what is here is concentrated and interesting information.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Onto disc two, and this is where Manga get to boast an exclusive—an interview with Mamoru Oshii (23m44s, non-anamorphic 1.77:1, DD2.0 Japanese, burnt-in English subtitles). Posed a series of captioned questions, Mr. Oshii gets to utter forth his feelings on dubbing, why—unlike Stand Alone Complex—Innocence focuses more on story than action, and how he feels that interaction with non-human life is as important as life itself. There are plenty of other titbits here, including a surprising affection for Alien3. As a discussion of the film and his own ideals this is a very nice inclusion and shows a man very aware of what he was trying to achieve.

The rest, however, is all pretty unimpressive. We get a Sneak Peak at episode five of GitS:SAC – 2nd Gig (5m00s, DD2.0 English, Anamorphic 1.85:1, no subtitles) which manages to not show anything that could be considered an attention grabber in what is actually just the first five minutes of the episode—and that includes the opening titles. There is also the Full-length Japanese Trailer for our main feature, which is visually and conceptually fine, but the lack of English subtitles for the DD2.0 Japanese soundtrack during the 5m31s runtime is a little unforgivable.

Finally, we get a set of trailers for other Manga fare— Karas (1m31s), Millenium Actress (1m06s), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – 2nd Gig (1m31s), Streetfighter Alpha: Generations (1m45s), and a quick flash for a few other titles in their catalogue in Manga: Art of Anime (2m10s). And that is that.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Overall


I’ve been waiting for this release for a long time, and for my money the visual and aural presentation is top notch, although the DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX tracks available in other regions didn’t make it. However, while it is good that the extras from the US disc have been carried across to this edition and the exclusive interview with Mamoru Oshii is a worthwhile inclusion, the depth of the film itself demands a little more than what we get here.

Of course, the addition of the English dub and the DTS tracks would have been reason to buy this (for me, anyway)—and that we get a decent cover just seals the deal. Just FYI—the cover shown is actually a slipcase, with different art for the Amaray case—but don’t worry, it’s not the US art but more or less the shot at the bottom of this page. There is also an eight-page insert with accompanying notes by Jonathan Clements who, the IMDb reveals, did an Anime/J-Pop show for the UK SciFi channel back in 2002 (which I vaguely remember, but mostly for the female presenter of the show). The disc menus are animated and neatly done, featuring the chapter selections available in the sub menu (examples of these are also in our news item on the release). All in all the presentation is excellent and fits in well with the film—the US disc on the other hand seemed a little rushed and is poor in comparison.

As for a final word on the film, I missed the Major, but the joy of fifty two episodes worth of Gits: SAC makes up for that, and this remains an intelligent and, if you’ll forgive me for repeating myself, stunning sequel to the excellent original.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
To view a number of clips from the DVD, simply click the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4.


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