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"If Man realises technology is within reach, he achieves it. Like it's damn near instinctive."

Back in 1995, Masamune Shirow had already given the world Dominion Tank Police and Appleseed (a new movie of which was released last year). Then he brought us another vision of the future—Kôkaku kidôtai (a.k.a. Ghost in the Shell)—introducing a world where humans and cyborgs live in harmony with the technology around them.

In the same year, Mamoru Oshii released his own interpretation of the story onto cinema screens worldwide. Marrying traditional cel animation with state-of-the-art computer imagery (in those days anyway), the film was widely acclaimed and had a great influence on Manga translations that followed.

It has since given rise to a sequel movie (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) and a TV series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), but here we revisit the original film. Given a shiny new release on the back of the popularity of Innocence, has justice finally been done?

All hooked up
2029—Major Motoko Kusanagi and the other members of Section 9 are busy cleaning up the mess that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (also known as Section 6) keeps leaving behind. Diplomatic problems with the Republic of Gavel have left an ex-dictator on Hong Kong soil and the new regime demanding aid and the head of the former leader (figuratively speaking, at least).

To make matters worse, one of the Foreign Minister's interpreters has been 'Ghost-hacked', and Section 9 believe it to be an attempt to subvert the secret talks with the troublesome Republic.

You see, by 2029 the world is shared by normal, run-of-the-mill humans and advanced cyborgs. The technological advancement in transferring the memories into a cyborg body, or even just enhancing the human body, does, however, open up a new world of dangers. Much in the way a virus or trojan can infect a PC today, the synthetic components in the future are just as vulnerable, enabling people's entire lives to be rewritten with no hope of recovering the lost experiences. Their 'soul'—or 'ghost'—is damaged forever.

The one responsible for a recent spate of such crimes is known only as the Puppet Master, and the forces inside both Sections 6 and 9 are not having much success in tracking him/her/it down.

Major Motoko Kusanagi and Batou are both almost full cyborgs, with only their brains remaining organic, but the former’s intellect and wiles has attracted the attention of the Puppet Master.

When the fugitive is eventually tracked down, conspiracies within Section 6 connected with the mysterious 'Project 2501' leave Kusangi and Batou in a race against time to save an intelligence that has grown outside the confines of a host body.

This was the film that introduced me to Anime, although I've always been a bit of an animation addict. The style and grace of the characters is equally matched by the detail held in the world that Oshii created, and the depth of the story always leans towards the question "if a machine can create a soul, what is the importance of being human?"

Combine this with the use of computer effects to allow things to be done that 'pure' cel animation could only achieve with a massive amount of time and patience and the visual result makes the portrayal of this world all the more convincing.

Finishing off the ensemble is the sound. The effects are well done, and both the English and Japanese versions have a great voice cast, but what holds it all together is Kenji Kawai's score (I was glad to see that he was brought back for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence as well).

Batou, with one of the smaller weapons in his collection
If you liked The Matrix—or indeed The Animatrix—then you should have no problem getting into this. The Wachowski Brothers were no doubt inspired by this film, and there are similar themes explored, but if you like your sci-fi less cerebral then the action should also keep you occupied.

With the new edition allowing the film room to breathe by placing it alone on the dual-layer disc one—compared to everything being on the original release's single layer disc—there was some hope that the transfer would be exemplary. With an average bitrate of 8.5Mb/sec (the original managed a paltry 5.18Mb/sec) that hope was not diminished.

Unfortunately, while the audio has received a major boost, the video has been sourced from the same print as the original edition. Don't get me wrong, apart from some minor (and infrequent) marks on the print the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is a decent effort, but a little additional care would not have gone amiss.

Colour is superb throughout, with the reds on lights positively glowing without blooming, and the orange hues in the sky around the half hour mark equally as impressive.

Detail is also good, with even the teeth on a perp's coat zip perfectly visible. The attention paid by Oshii and his animators to the world that Kusanagi walks through is faithfully reproduced here. Still, on very close examination background imagery is not a sharp as that displayed on the 1998 effort—but you would have to freeze-frame your way through the entire film for it to bother you. The earlier version did have problems with an explosion shown around 18m30s though, and the extra bitrate here seems to fix it.

The layer change sits at 45m29s and is fairly well placed, but depending on your equipment it can clip the end off Togusa's vocal (more on that below). The subtitles—all-important for those who prefer the original track to what is actually a damn fine English dub—are thankfully easy to read as well.

Ghost In The Shell: Special Edition
With the original release only providing an English track in Dolby Digital 5.1—the Japanese track was 2.0—it was still a fine effort, even though the bitrate was kept down at 384Kbps. Clarity was good and the bass kicked in all the right places. But I always felt that it could have been better.

This new edition tries to redress the balance by providing English and Japanese tracks in both Dolby Digital 5.1EX and DTS ES 6.1 flavours, and to a point it is successful. The Dolby tracks are still kept at 384Kbps, but the clarity matches that of the original release—with the bonus that those without DTS capability can at last enjoy a proper Japanese presentation.

What I was looking forward to, though, was a storming DTS audio experience. Kenji Kawai's haunting soundtrack is showcased even better here, with the clarity a notch above its DD cousins. Rear action and separation across the soundstage are just that little bit better as well.

Now the downside (and I've had this happen on a review copy of a film before, but not a retail copy). The DTS track appears to be missing the subwoofer track, in effect making it DTS 6.0-not-very-ES! The bass is fine on both the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, but the omission from the DTS is downright annoying.

To flesh out the audio options, plain, old Dolby Digital Stereo dubs are also provided in German, French, Italian and Spanish. The lack of multi-channel enhancement really does bring the experience down, but given that the only subtitles provided are English ones, those without an understanding of English or Japanese are stuck with them.

Just to quickly go back to the layer change issue mentioned in the video section. Togusa's vocal right at the end of chapter nine does seem awfully clipped even on the single layer version—probably an effect of the English dub trying to fit in with the pace of the Japanese version—but my main player made the effect even worse when changing layers. Not a major gripe, but a gripe all the same.

I can't say how much difference the EX enhancement makes on the English Dolby Digital track, but that alone would not be enough to warrant 'double-dipping' for me. The addition of a 5.1 EX Japanese track might sway some, as this is a definite improvement over the 1998 2.0 track, but the omission of the LFE bit in the DTS tracks is just unforgivable.

Bad day at the office
With disc 1 filled with the film and audio tracks, all of the additional material appears on the second disc. Unfortunately, even with the extra room offered there isn't that much here that is different from the age-old single disc release.

Production Report (26m40s, 4:3) is the same ‘Making of’ featurette that was included on the original disc. Featuring input from the cast and crew, it is fairly in depth and takes in all aspects of the film from the animation to the sound design. The narration is in English, and burnt-in English subtitles are provided for the Japanese language parts.

Digital Works (29m30s, 4:3) is a new Japanese language featurette—with optional English subtitles—that delves a bit deeper into the technical world of the animation. Great detail is given about the processes involved, and even how lessons learnt from the original movie have helped the evolution of GitS: SAC, but for some it may just be a little too geeky. Having said that, that's probably the target audience catered for. On-screen translations are provided for the Japanese text.

Character Dossiers is a set of seven static information screens, one for each of the main characters—Kusanagi, Batou, Ishikawa, Aramaki, Nakamura, Togusa, and the Puppet Master. Similar, if not identical to those that appeared on the original disc, the screen design has changed to fit in with the new menus. The text, however, is a little too small—even on a 32" widescreen set.

Creator Biography is more static text, this time a short two-page summary of Masamune Shirow's career. Director Biography does the same for Mamoru Oshii, but extends to three pages. Both of these have again been swiped almost word-for-word from the original release.

Ghost in the Shell Trailers provides us with a taste of the original marketing, as well as showing us the more recent additions to the GitS world. The trailers for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (1m12s), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (1m19s) and Ghost in the Shell (3m00s) are a nice addition, but the lack of anamorphic enhancement and only stereo sound is a let down.

Manga Video Previews (18m03) takes us away from the 'Features' and into the 'Extras' section. This is a set of fourteen trailers for various Manga releases.

Manga DVD Catalogue is a similar idea, but is a list of forty titles in Manga's repertoire. Selecting any of these will bring up cover scans and a very brief synopsis.

Finally, Weblinks shows you the URL's for the Manga, Production IG and GitS: SAC sites.

None of these really makes this edition much more special than the original release, and that had a lot more in the way of text-based screens to read through which have been omitted here. The two featurettes at a combined hour are packed with info and much better than a lot of the fluff promotional pieces you get on some discs. However, like the audio and video I'm left wanting more—but that could be because I'm a big fan of the film.

Ghost In The Shell: Special Edition
Ghost in the Shell has certainly not lost its charm for me, even over multiple viewings. I hold the sequel in high regard as well—especially visually—and halfway through Stand Alone Complex I have been equally as impressed. The three 'worlds' of movies, TV and Manga are all subtly different, but the spirit behind them remains much the same.

With this set, I was so looking forward to a major improvement over the original disc, and perhaps that has left me a little more disappointed than most. The features aren't anything to write home about, but at least the video isn't any worse than the 1998 release.

The menus have been nicely redesigned, the new packaging is quite cool (a silver digipak with a transparent sleeve showcasing the original cover art), and you get a postcard and double-sided A3 'Special Edition' poster. But that doesn't make up for the woeful mistake in the DTS sound mastering. I may be being a little harsh with the sound and overall scores, but for something that was originally dubbed the 'Sonic Edition' if you miss out a major part of the sonics then I think I'm justified in dropping a couple of points.

If the sound 'glitch' is an isolated occurrence, or it has been fixed since the original pressing, then I would not hesitate in recommending that you pick this one up. Otherwise you may want to wait until that is sorted out to get your hands on a superb piece of Anime.