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Masamune Shirow created Ghost in the Shell over a decade ago now. Originally a (highly explicit) graphic novel, it concerned the operations of an elite covert security services department known as Section 9. Headed by the wise old Aramaki, the field unit consisted of team leader Major Motoko Kusanagi, her heavy arms backup Batou and a series of other operatives including Togusa, Ishikawa and Saito, along with a unit of robot droids called Tachikoma. Their missions were always clandestine, sometimes involving assassination and were noteworthy for their use of the ‘net as both an offensive and defensive weapon. You see, the ‘ghost in the shell’ of the title refers to the fact that many of the operatives (including the Major herself) are cybernetically augmented, and posits the question: how much of your human self can you discard before you lose your spirit, i.e. your ‘ghost’ and can indeed fully automated creations ever have a ghost?

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2 Volume 2
The original book consisted of several different tales about this Section 9 and the hazardous and complicated missions that they take on, but it was soon adapted into a groundbreaking feature-length anime which basically told one broad, all-encompassing story about Aramaki, Motoko, and the team. The movie is excellent and probably still stands out as the best Ghost in the Shell production, although it is not the most faithful adaptation (despite being the only one to at least attempt to retain some of Shirow’s rampant nudity—normally involving the Major herself). It also did not leave things very open for a series.

Feature


Due to the fact that the movie (and its visually opulent but Byzantine sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) did not use a great deal of the material from either Shirow’s first book or his own overly convoluted sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface, a TV series was commissioned to make better use of the wealth of source material. This series largely disregards the occurrences in the movie (or, at the very least, pre-dates them—although there would still be some significant continuity errors), instead setting up a framework for telling the ongoing and myriad adventures of Section 9.

The series is called Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex and the first reason for this title is simple—it consists of both standalone episodes and ‘complex’ episodes which form a part of a continuous story arc that runs the course of the entire season. The second meaning is referring to the concept that, since many characters in this universe are part-cyborg, those who remain fully human have a ‘standalone complex’ that they feel distinguishes them from the rest of civilisation. There are slightly more complex episodes than there are standalone ones (in the second season they are called individual, dividual and dual) and during the first seasons these mostly concerned a mysterious cyber-terrorist known only as the Laughing Man. Although the series ended with them solving the Laughing Man threat, it also left the Section disbanded and most of the characters out of action.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2 Volume 2
This second season (also known as 2nd Gig) sees the Section re-established, with all of the main team members intact, under the command of Chief Aramaki once again. We have already seen them take on a few cases, ostensibly defensive actions, and this second volume continues this theme of stories. The first episode of this collection has the Section babysitting the Prime Minister, a job that is generally not within their high-level operational ambit. Of course this means that things are much more complicated than they anticipated, with a new enemy arising whom they consider to be as dangerous as the Laughing Man. Although quite a slow-burning start and an episode which is left open-ended—as you would expect from one of the ‘Complex’ (Dividual) offerings—it does feature a great first encounter between Section 9 and this elusive enemy. Turning out to be more unstoppable ninja assassin than cyber terrorist, even armed only with a sword he proves to be one of the hardest opponents the Major or her team have ever come across. Expect more from this character.

The second episode seems like a basic murder investigation and, with the rest of the team still on security duty for the Prime Minister, it is up to Togusa to handle it by himself. What he uncovers, whilst trying to protect a beautiful woman, is a conspiracy involving the Government and a secret nuclear power plant which has been claiming the lives of unsuspecting workers. This all ties back to the Individual 11 and their major current terrorist activities. The other episodes on the disc also tie in to this story but bring back another familiar face, a special CIS operative who recruits Section 9 to escort him on a special delivery mission to some refugees but, - yes, you’ve guessed it—he has an agenda of his own. This agenda develops through episode three and four and this operative, Godha, turns out to be a very dangerous adversary as well.

This new season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex seems much darker and more sinister than the first, which is great news for fans of the series who were a bit overwhelmed by the overuse of the irritating Tachikoma robots in the first season (the ones with the silly voices). It carries on in the same line as the superb final run of episodes in the last season, having complicated plots with plenty of underlying conspiracies and usually giving you random bouts of tense, well-conceived action. The chase sequence involving Togusa and the witness he is trying to protest, as well as the superb first encounter for the Major and her new enemy are both events that fans will not want to miss out on.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2 Volume 2

Video


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is presented in a lovely 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The line detail is generally excellent, with characters looking well observed and clear at all times, although there is a little softness (it is difficult to discern whether or not this is intended), particularly during the longer shots—like the overall cityscape. There is no grain as such, but moderate hazing, perhaps to smooth out the animated look. The second season has a few differences from the first, with Motoko herself looking a little more developed (and also a little overdressed considering what we have generally come to expect from her). The settings are also often darker, with more night sequences, more shadowing and more gritty palettes, although there is still room for some lovely sunny shots.

Audio


If you want soundtracks, you’ve come to the right place. These Stand Alone Complex releases have more soundtracks than anything else I have come across—Dolby Digital 5.1 English or original Japanese, Dolby Digital 2.0 English or original Japanese, and DTS 5.1 English or Japanese. The first four variations are options on disc one, with the superior DTS options on disc two. Dialogue is presented clearly from the frontal array (and enunciated better on the Japanese version because the English vocal actors have to read the script cold, i.e. without having run through it first and without the presence of the other contributors) and all of the voices sound their normal selves, including the irritating Tachikomas, who are marginally less grating in the Japanese dub. There are plenty of effects to throw at you—particularly on these episodes—with raging gunfights, massive explosions, car ambushes, you name it. The six-speaker surround sound efforts also take note of the more subtle nuances, from guns being chambered to computer information scrolling across a screen, making full use of the medium. We also get an overpowering score, starting with the interesting if slightly odd new opening track (which is arguably not as good as that of the first season—but perhaps it will grow on me) but these episodes do use more orchestral efforts (almost Hitchcockian) to crank up the tension, whilst retaining the pervasive beat during the action sequences. Even when there is little going on, the mix broods menacingly in the background, reinforcing the fact that these second season is taking itself more seriously.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2 Volume 2

Extras


All we get are interviews with character designers Goto Takayuki and Nishio Tetsuya, who spend over twenty minutes talking about character design—interestingly relating a lot of the new characters to real actors and actresses they based them on. They discuss the Individual 11, and how they had to design each one of them, talk about the difficulty that they have in making some of the older characters look distinctive, as well as how they tried to stick to the format of the original material, and even the first season, but also changed a few things to show that this was a new season. They discuss the bad guy, Godha, and how much fun they had creating him, talking about the distinctive scarring across his face. We get a few clips from the final episodes, but also some original sketch designs and detailed examination of key characters.

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2 Volume 2

Overall


Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a superior piece of animated TV. Over the course of the first twenty-six episode series, we saw many twists and turns and significant character development, along with a strong story arc that concluded satisfactorily. This second season has started off great and continues solidly, with the new main threat arising—the Individual 11—and the episodes generally taking on a much darker nature. It looks very promising indeed. The video presentation is decent and the audio options are ludicrously numerous, but nonetheless superior. A few more extras would have been nice but fans of the series will want to pick this up anyway to fuel their collection. For newcomers, I strongly recommend you check out the first season (at least the last few episodes, although the box set is seriously good value for money) and then the first volume in this series, which will lead straight into this volume. Stand Alone Complex is well worth investing in.


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