Bandai // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 19th, 2006
The emerging threat.
Here we are, back again for Volume 2 in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig, and things are starting to heat up. Thinner on the laughs and heavier on the political intrigue, the second series in this popular anime is shaping up to be a slightly different animal than its predecessor, with Section 9 at the mercy of large and influential government organizations far above their reach.
In Volume 2, much seems familiar for Section 9 as its members begin to unravel seemingly unrelated events and acts of terrorism sympathetic to the refugee cause. Each act, either indirectly or directly, seems to be involved with a revolutionary liberation terrorist organization known as the Individual Eleven, a group based out of a historical reference to an assassination of a Japanese Prime Minister. Section 9 can find almost no evidence that such a group actually exists, yet isolated and unrelated events seem to end up emphasizing the name. Section 9 is forced, however reluctantly, to acknowledge the "stand alone complex" format of these issues bears more than a few uncomfortable similarities to their previous Laughing Man case...which puts them all at ill ease.
And what, if anything, does the mysterious Gohda and his organization have to do with the recent string of escalating sympathetic refugee acts of terrorism and violence? Suddenly, Section 9 is realizing they were only the big fish in a small pond. Now, the small pond has become the ocean...and they are nowhere near the biggest fish in the sea...
Compared to the first season, we find 2nd Gig playing its cards a little further from its chest, if such a thing could be possible. Already we see a tangled web of intricate political machinations, secretive nuclear reactors buried beneath war-torn cities, mysterious government agencies, and enigmatic terrorist organizations swirling about Section 9, all after only a handful of episodes. It was only near the end of the first series that we had any idea what was truly going on. There is trouble brewing in 2nd Gig, and the show seems keen to relish this notion. And you know just by seeing the scarred visage of Gohda's face on the front cover that his secretive organization will continue to play more of a role in future episodes.
The episodes included on the disc are:
"Episode 5 -- Inductance"
The newly elected Prime Minister makes her first visit to the refugee areas, and is presented with an elegant bouquet of flowers bearing a mysterious note...a death threat, to be more precise. Having Section 9 firmly in her back pocket, she enlists their protection to guard her during her duties. The Major and Batou are less than thrilled to be delegated to such banality, but the note bears a mysterious engraving that may end up being more interesting than Section 9 had imagined.
"Inductance" starts things off right, with a good blend of the political machinations and refugee political backdrop fueling the show, mixed in with some solid action (in the form of an assassin) and introducing the mysterious Individual Eleven, who may or may not be related to the strange events circulating the events in this season. It's solid all the way through.
"Episode 6 -- Excavation"
Togusa is fascinated by a dismembered cyborg that ends up passing through Section 9 for analysis, and is dispatched to a war-torn section of the country to investigate the source of the after-market upgrades. He soon discovers both the wife of the man, who is also searching for answers, and a mysterious set of circumstances leading to what could only be a cover-up of massive proportions. Descending into the bowls of the earth, Togusa soon uncovers a secret with powerful implications, quite literally; a government secret buried deep within a war-torn section of the city.
Like all Togusa-centered episodes, "Excavation" is a bit more thoughtful and a little less action-packed, though it still contains some gripping sequences involving some nasty sentry robots. I am careful to reveal no secrets in this one, but suffice it to say, the episode has a distinctive X-Files feeling to it, right down to mysterious spooks in black suits and government cover-ups. We get a bit of background about the social and economic structure of Japan post-war, where it seems suggested nuclear fallout laid waste to a sizable portion of the country, until some "magic" event cleaned up all the radiation.
"Episode 7 -- PU239"
Section 9 is called in to assist in a clandestine operation to smuggle plutonium rods out of a refugee section of the city, an event which needs to be done with extreme care and secrecy. There is fear that the shipment may be hijacked by terrorists, but worse, a fear the refugees will discover the dangerous payload they currently sit upon. Either way, the situation could be disastrous.
Then, to make matters worse, the scarred and leering Gohda is put in charge of the operation and given total control over Section 9...which does not sit well with Batou and the Major.
A great episode, "PU239" advances the plot and dynamic between Gohda's organization and Section 9, develops his character a bit, as well as foreshadows some incredibly bad implications that reveal themselves in the next episode in terms of the refugee crisis in Japan. We get action, drama, you name it. Gohda is the star of this one though, as we finally get to spend some time with him as a character...and the way which he manipulates and steers situations casually and with minimum effort is downright disconcerting.
"Episode 8 -- Fake Food"
Section 9 sits down and goes over every strange, unexplained incident or act of violence sympathetic to the refugee political cause in the last few months that could be tied to the mysterious Individual Eleven group, and make a startling discovery: a single man appears in the footage of each.
Section 9 leaps in to action to apprehend the man, who works at a Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant, but events have been put into motion far beyond the scope of one department. At the same time that a news reporter gets wind of the Individual Eleven story and releases the information on television, another government agency has descended on the restaurant, looking to apprehend their own suspect...
"Fake Food" is Stand Alone Complex at its finest: intellectual ruminations mixed with espionage and action in equal parts awesomeness. Not the most exciting of episodes, but it feels almost like a lynchpin in terms of future plot developments, for we finally begin to see how perilous a position Section 9 is in, and how much influence Gohda's shadowy organization holds. A truly ominous and distressing way to end off Volume 2, because waiting for the next disc is absolutely agonizing.
Despite all the intrigue developing on a geopolitical level in the series, with the growing refugee crisis, political wheeling and dealing, and secretive government agencies, one thing Stand Alone Complex never forgets to address is the intellectual complexities of living in a modernized mechanical society, such as cyborg food, for example, created for the sole purpose of satiating the inescapable need to trigger memories based on food stimulation. Humans who have upgraded their bodies, like Batou, have no need for food in the traditional sense, but are unable to escape the pitfalls of their own human subconscious. There is no reason to include this kind of detail in a tense political thriller, but it is the time devoted to these tiny details that makes Stand Alone Complex and the entire Ghost in the Shell canon so fascinating and magnetic.
What does it mean to be human when a person has no organic components left? How is such a person deemed more "human" than a refugee from another country, trapped behind barricades and barbed wire? When the barrier between humanity and information degrades, is there such thing as an individual idea? The "stand alone complex" paradox plaguing Section 9, for example, is like a replicating virus, a phenomenon spreading throughout the social and technical framework of the society without any clear beginning or singularity point. Can such a thing ever be stopped, let alone understood? That a series can find the time to address such complex issues and still dole out some of the most badass cyberpunk action and intense battle sequences you will ever see blows the mind. Suffice it to say, I cannot wait for Volume 3.
Just like the previous disc, the sound and video presentation is nothing short of magnificent, a clarity and fidelity unsurpassed by any anime DVD I have ever seen. The transfer, mastered from the original high-definition source, is virtually flawless, vibrant in color tone, lush in black-level depth and contrast, free from all blemishes, visual defects, or digital distortions.
The audio presentation is simply fantastic, and the surround tracks make excellent use of the rear channels to create an immersive and deep auditory experience. Even the stereo presentations have deep bass response, clear dialogue, and crystal clarity, making this one of the best overall anime presentations I have ever seen. I am not a dub fan out of principal, but Stand Alone Complex admittedly has a pretty decent English-language presentation and the quality of the voice acting is reasonably good. The subtitles are quite excellent, although very, very yellow. The short "Tachikomatic Days" featurettes still precede each episode, and they're actually pretty cute this time out, if you can stand their childlike chirping. Me, I like the think tanks, and I'm glad to see their continual development and maturity throughout the show.
The only downside to this DVD is the extra material took quite a hit in Volume 2. The only special features are two interviews with Character Designers Takayuki Goto and Tetsuya Nishio, collectively totaling about 20 minutes, which is a far cry shorter from Volume 1's offering. Perhaps after the extra run of materials in the first season, the show is simply running out of people to interview and stories to tell? I certainly hope not. The excellent extra material was an important part in making these DVDs so top-notch and separating them from their anime counterparts.
Two discs in and the series is on a roll. I literally cannot wait for the next installment. If you have checked out Volume 1 of 2nd Gig, there is absolutely no reason to stop now.
A hundred times not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2006 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 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)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Two Interviews with Character Designers Takayuki Goto and Tetsuya Nishio
* DVD Verdict review of Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig (Volume 1)