Bandai // 2004 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // January 20th, 2005
Trouble at home and abroad!
Volume One of Ghost in the Shell -- Stand Alone Complex revealed impressive potential, even if it felt patchy in places and borrowed too heavily against the debt owed it by The Matrix. Volume Two delivered on that potential by crystallizing Stand Alone Complex's sexy blend of action, technology, and intrigue. In fact, Volume Two was so great that anime geeks worldwide canonized it, and began polishing its assured pedestal in the anime Hall of Fame.
Volume Three, unfortunately, grinds the flow to a trickle and brings reservations about Volume One surging back to the surface. The pace slows way down (with the animation following suit), the superlative action scenes are scant, and the buildup of simmering tension has been supplanted by vaguely menacing undercurrents lurking beneath frivolous plots. I'm not willing to take the series to task just yet; the writing in this series has already shown a sense of long-term focus and sophistication. A historical perspective might reveal that Volume Three was planting the seeds for truly twisted and dire events. Fans may someday look back on Volume Three as the calm before the storm. Nonetheless, my current feeling is disappointment, and my current suspicion is that the Ghost in the Shell -- Stand Alone Complex creative team stumbled. My worst fear is that they may be showing early signs of burnout.
That said, Volume Three is impressive when compared to most anime. The previous volumes set high technical standards, and Volume Three lives up to them. Although these four episodes are slower than the previous seven, we still get a high dose of eye candy and sonic complexity. The colors are vivid, the lines are crisp, and the characters seem organic. Volume Three will test the subtlety threshold of your audio setup, with low-level background sounds and whispered conversations. There is something strange with the surround speakers in Episode 10, as though the volume fluctuates inadvertently, but it passes quickly. Otherwise, Volume Three lives up to Ghost in the Shell -- Stand Alone Complex's early-established reputation for technical excellence.
Of the two real extras in this volume, one interview is dull and one is interesting. The dull one is a bloodless discussion of the sound editing. After seeing the thorough and enthusiastic treatise about the remix process on Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 3), I'm less impressed with this effort. Akio Otsuka makes up some ground with his introspective musings on playing Batou. Otsuka is charismatic, if a little blustery, but he gives Stand Alone Complex fans some deeply felt tidbits to ponder about Batou. The extras are not quite as gripping as Volume One's slate, but they are more than we see in most anime releases.
Of course, the most important elements are the episodes themselves, so let's get to them. As usual, the discussions below contain episode-level spoilers.
* "Episode 9 -- Chat! Chat! Chat!"
This one will probably be the sorest point for Stand Alone Complex fans. The entire episode is, literally, a chat room discussion about the Laughing Man. Laughing Man freaks, casual fans, and the simply curious gather around to discuss the finer points of the Laughing Man's ascension into the spotlight. Kusanagi drops in and asks pointed questions to find out who truly knows about the Laughing Man case.
"Chat! Chat! Chat!" can go one of two ways. It could strike you as
a glorified encapsulation episode, and thus become a skippable exercise in
tedium. There is a lot of surface evidence to support fan disappointment over
this action-free episode. Yet I prefer to think of it as a completely
understated suspense episode, where Kusanagi is putting her cyberbrain into
mortal peril to flush out the true perpetrator. Given that the bulk of the
episode is new footage, it seems like a lot of work to be a filler episode.
There are also subtle, yet vital, links to "Portraitz" that provide
the first hints of a break in the case. No matter which way it grabs you,
"Chat! Chat! Chat!" gets points for its completely believable approach
to chat rooms of the future. I hope that Volume Four validates this otherwise
plodding exercise in intrigue.
* "Episode 10 -- Jungle Cruise"
"Jungle Cruise" desperately wants to remind us of the heyday of Stand Alone Complex, and it nearly succeeds. The first half of the episode is a creepy serial killer riff with a military angle. Anime so often promises to deliver a creep-out experience and falls flat. "Jungle Cruise" actually creates gruesome tension and follows up with rare insights into Batou's history.
Somewhere along the way, "Jungle Cruise" morphs into an awkward
government conspiracy, and it tries to cast some doubt onto Batou's mental
stability. It could have gone another way, but I doubt many people will
be actually surprised by the episode's conclusion. Nonetheless, "Jungle
Cruise" represents the peak of pure action in Volume Three, so latch onto
what you can to get your Stand Alone Complex fix.
* "Episode 11 -- Portraitz"
"Portraitz" further supports my suspicion that the big break in the Laughing Man case will come from left field in subtle fashion. Let's be honest: How many of us were expecting the Laughing Man to be some sort of corporate or government operation? Or perhaps a singularly impressive piece of self-aware technology? "Portraitz" makes a convincing case that we've pegged this whole Laughing Man thing wrong. Whether that turns out to be true or not, I appreciate the plausible diversion and the change-up in tone.
Like "Chat! Chat! Chat!," "Portraitz" wins points for
verisimilitude. From the reaction of the kids in the autism ward to the tactics
employed by Section 9 to the reaction when Togusa is discovered, everything
seems realistic. At times like this Stand Alone Complex scares me because
I can see it coming true. With a decent mix of action, technology, and intrigue,
"Portraitz" reminded me why I was into this show in the first
* "Episode 12 -- Escape From"
Here's what I think they were trying to do with this episode. By having a super-powerful piece of self-aware military hardware running free about the city, encountering cute little girls and puppy dogs, Kamiyama and company were attempting a juxtaposition of fiery death and innocence. As the girl speaks to the AWOL Tachikoma and fondles its machine-gun barrel, we are supposed to fear for her life, expect an abrupt concussion of explosives and bullets. The writers would have us ponder the subtle horror of an independently acting tank and its ramifications.
The problem is that most of that anxiety and subtext will never occur to the viewer (even granted it was the intention in the first place). "Escape From" seems to be exactly what it is: a frivolous romp by a wayward tank. Particularly when placed into the slow context of the previous episodes, there isn't much excitement about a little girl looking for her lost puppy dog.
To make matters even more bizarre, the second half of the episode veers off
into a Star Trek-esque holodeck episode, where Major Matoko gets trapped
in a cybertheater. Don't get me wrong, the idea is somewhat interesting, but it
still makes "Escape From" seem like a poorly integrated mishmash of
two 15-minute ideas.
Ghost in the Shell -- Stand Alone Complex is an impressive series for its sophisticated integration of first-rate animation, tightly knit stories, and engaging conceptual themes. It would be unrealistic to expect the creative team to maintain that fine balance without a lapse. This volume was just that, but it wasn't a complete breakdown. There is still plenty of potential left in Stand Alone Complex, and I have tempered hopes for Volume Four.
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
* English (Signs Only)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Tachikomatic Days
* Interview with Sound Director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi
* Interview with Voice Actor Akio Otsuka (Batou)
* Video Game Preview
* Production IG
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict review of Volume One
* DVD Verdict review of Volume Two