Bandai // 2004 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // September 1st, 2005
Is this the end of Section 9?
Sometimes the last act of an anime series devolves into a surreal mess that has little bearing on the previous episodes. The animation takes a dive, the writers run out of steam, and (wink, wink) "dead" characters come out of the woodwork to save people at the last minute. Oh, yeah, everyone sprouts tentacles too.
Fortunately, that didn't happen to Stand Alone Complex (well, for the most part anyway). The animation is, if anything, smoother and more dramatic in these last few episodes. The soundtrack seems to have found another gear. The adrenaline spike and the sheer gripping tension of it all wash over you like a shower of ice water. The ending of Stand Alone Complex is sheer spectacle and mayhem.
As these last few episodes unfold, you might notice some kludgy writing, or last-minute revelations that move the story, or even outright ruses meant to mislead you. But you probably won't care, because your ass is being kicked through the wall. The episode discussions below are filled with spoilers, particularly the last one:
* "Episode 24 -- Annihilation"
The title says it all. "Annihilation" is about one thing: the attempt to kill or capture every member of Section 9. This is what you'd call a dark turn of events.
The episode is like several chase scenes occurring simultaneously, wrapped up in a larger chase scene. Our thrill comes in seeing how the consummate professionals of Section 9 respond to being threatened (by a last-minute enemy: an elite group of super-soldiers I don't recall seeing before now). There are contingencies, fallbacks, and failsafes galore, but they've been deeply compromised. It will take every shred of their ability to merely stay alive. This assault and visceral response give Stand Alone Complex a sense of mortality it has never had before. Unlike when Togusa or Matoko were "mortally" wounded in the past but we all knew they'd pull through, the waters are murkier now. There is no guarantee that any of them will survive, except for the characters that show up in Ghost in the Shell. I was even doubting some of them would make it, and that's a testament to the level of unbearable tension achieved in this episode.
"Annihilation" is a worthy beginning to the trilogy of episodes
that will close one of the best titles in modern anime. By the time this episode
wraps, we are sure of only one thing: The next episode is going to be even
* "Episode 25 -- Barrage"
Truly describing "Barrage" would require words that we tend to avoid in reviews at DVD Verdict. I was literally rooted to the spot as this episode played out. Unbeknownst to me, my wife and son wanted to go out for ice cream. He toddled in and accidentally saw Batou's head getting shot clean off his body, and started whimpering. My wife took him away and frowned, and tried to tell me something over the sounds of gunfire -- but all I could muster was a vague shooing motion with my hands. Yes, I am a bad parent. Yes, this episode is that good.
"Barrage" is like "Annihilation" except that most of Section 9 is incarcerated or presumed dead. This leaves a tighter focus, which intensifies the action around the few players who are left. Certain forgotten team members make heartbreaking sacrifices to save others. Batou goes on a dangerous mission just to retrieve something dear to Matoko (a watch that I hadn't noticed before now, and it seemed to come out of nowhere). Chief Aramaki makes deals that cost him millions in equipment and tarnishes Section 9's reputation, merely to save the lives of his team. The common thread here is sacrifice for one another to maintain the integrity of the team.
The action scenes in "Barrage" are exceptional. They are loud, fluid, and rooted in a good story. Somehow, the Stand Alone Complex team manages to weave in a philosophical subtext too. Even more, they squeeze in a few intimate scenes that reinforce the idea that Batou has an unrequited love for Matoko. I was sure they were going to kiss, and felt my heart race a bit. Romance in Ghost in the Shell?
"Barrage" ends the same way it begins, in a flurry of intense
action. It leaves things so irredeemably disheveled that all hope is lost. It is
a dark ending, but electrifying all the same. At least Stand Alone
Complex is going out with a bang...
* "Episode 26 -- Stand Alone Complex"
Out with a bang, huh? Not so fast.
The problem isn't "Annihilation" or "Barrage." Those episodes were thrilling, even though they had to manufacture some last-minute subplots to kick things off properly. It was a little annoying, but livable because it served the whole. Those two episodes left things in a real mess.
"Stand Alone Complex" doesn't ignore that mess, precisely, but it breezes past the cleanup. Technically, there are explanations for how people got out of things, but they aren't satisfactory. Intellectually I see the setup and know that the resolution has internal validity, but emotionally I feel like the victim of sleight of hand, the witness to a whitewashing op. It's all too neat. It was all part of Aramaki's plan. Everyone is one big happy family.
I'd prefer that the steam generated by "Annihilation" and "Barrage" had blown a noticeable hole in Section 9, left some mark. The characters in Stand Alone Complex aren't all in the movie, so their unfortunate demise would be tragic but reasonable. It simply doesn't stand to reason that an entire unit caught unawares by an assault of heavily armed experts would emerge unscathed, and that Aramaki would have planned so far in advance for every contingency.
Nonetheless, "Stand Alone Complex" gives us closure on a doozy of a story, one with innumerable subplots and shades. If it had to gloss over some elements in the process, so be it. I won't deny that the happy ending left me warm in spite of my annoyance.
The last scene morphs into a reasonable facsimile of the opening of Ghost
in the Shell, which is a neat connection of the ends of the circle. It both
allies itself with the movie and highlights the differences. This is the sort of
multilayered meaning the Stand Alone Complex team has given us all along,
and it is a fitting end.
In another nod to closing the circle, we again hear from director Kenji Kamiyama in the disc's sole extra (unless you count Tachikomatic Days, which run with the episodes). He explains some of the decisions he made, the rules he enforced with his team, and his understanding of the characters. We even get to see footage of an actual writing session. This is perhaps the most intimate behind-the-scenes peek out of the whole series of interviews.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was a taut series with compelling characters. The animation, sound design, writing, and action were top-notch. Now that it has ended, I look back and see a long road of memorable scenes. This was a remarkable achievement in anime that I suspect will stand the test of time. Word on the street is that Ghost in the Shell: 2nd Gig is just as good, so the ride may not be over yet.
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: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Tachikomatic Days
* Interview with Director Kenji Kamiyama
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict review of Volume One
* DVD Verdict review of Volume Six