Bandai // 2004 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // May 19th, 2005
Crime is everywhere!
The "bad" news is that Ghost in the Shell -- Stand Alone Complex has reached a plateau and isn't growing much anymore. The good news is that plateau is very, very high, full of butt-kicking action, glossy animation, and enveloping surround sound. The stories are powered by humor, intrigue, and tension while the characters have come into their own. Stand Alone Complex may have plateaued, but if you stand on top of that plateau you'll be peering down from high above most anime titles.
Five volumes in, two things have become clear. Ghost in the Shell --
Stand Alone Complex is not for everyone; it is a police procedural laced
with a heavy overtone of cyber terrorism, which is going to cause many eyes to
glaze over. However, the people it works for find that it works exceedingly
(I'm still partial to the idea that Volume Four is the best entry point into the show. The creative team worked out the kinks enough to give potential viewers a good idea of the merits of the series, while not spoiling any ongoing plots.)
Volume Five highlights Chief Aramaki and, to a lesser extent, Togusa. The extra time favors both characters. If you'll recall, Volume Four highlighted Batou and the Tachikomas with great success. This modus operandi has a coinlike side effect. The character on the face of the coin looks really good, so good that he, she, or it appears to have taken over the series to become the main character. At different times, I've thought that Matoko, Togusa, and Batou had clearly emerged as the central character of the series. But soon, a new face is minted onto the coin, and the previous denizen of the limelight seems all but forgotten. This is the flip side of the coin: We come to identify so strongly with the star du jour that the absence of that character in the next volume is even more noticeable. I find myself irritated that Batou got such scant screen time in Volume Five. But I'm sure that feeling will pass with Volume Six, where I'll bemoan the lack of insight into Aramaki. This is ridiculous, of course, because I could just as easily comment on how many different characters have been fleshed out beautifully.
One character's lack of development continually irks me, however. Major Matoko is given respect from afar, and she does kick a lot of tail, but the piercing insights from Ghost in the Shell are nowhere to be seen. That movie made her one of the most powerful characters in anime history, an icon of the hard-hitting anime female. Stand Alone Complex has toyed with elements of her character, but those half-hearted efforts were dropped. I hope she will regain center stage soon.
One "character" I do not miss is the pesky Tachikomas. Finally, we get a volume completely free from these robotic vermin. I've been itching for their summary dismissal from day one, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is finally, blissfully free from their frantic glee.
While the characters have reached new depth, the extras have become routine. Volume Five gives us the ever-present Tachikomatic Days, which relegate the tanks where they belong: manic comic relief. The interview with the mechanical designers was not that interesting, though the second interview had a little more meat. Even though I wasn't captivated by these interviews, I appreciate what Bandai is doing with the series extras. By the time the extras are complete, we will have heard about the production from many angles, and we'll have a good idea of what it takes to make a series of this magnitude tick.
Those of you who were irritated by the absence of Laughing Man episodes will be on the edge of frustration by the time Volume Five wraps, but have no fear: Satisfaction is on the way. The discussions below contain episode-level spoilers.
* "Episode 17: Angel's Share"
This is one of the most enjoyable Stand Alone Complex episodes yet. Aramaki gets a few hours of personal time, which he uses to visit an attractive potential love interest in London.
It wouldn't be Stand Alone Complex is things didn't go south, though.
Aramaki and the lady are talking in the wine bank where she works (a nice touch,
extrapolating the value of rare organic libations in the future). Before the
hors d'oeuvres are even out of the fridge, the pair finds themselves in a
quandary. The specifics aren't important. What is important is our sneak peek
into Aramaki's resourcefulness, intelligence, and command of any situation.
Between the change of scenery to London, the wine, the ladies, and Aramaki's
time in the sun, I found myself enjoying a rare treat.
* "Episode 18: Lost Heritage"
"Lost Heritage" capitalizes on our newfound knowledge of Aramaki's personal code, but it is too soon for a repeat. The episode is a nondescript assassination plot dressed up by Stand Alone Complex's unique spin. This spin is enough to maintain interest for awhile, but after the conclusion I felt empty, as though I was missing something. Had the assassin been successful, this episode would have been better.
The most interesting aspect of "Lost Heritage" is the mind meld
and its implications for stored memories. Though the episode suffers from a
generic plot, touches like this give Stand Alone Complex an identifiable
* "Episode 19: Captivated"
If you enjoy James Bond novels and cyborg stories, "Captivated" is right up your alley. The antagonist is grated more depth than most cold-hearted slave traders enjoy. Her abilities are not fully explored, which is a minor letdown, but Section 9's teamwork is on full display.
In addition to a decent game of cat and mouse, the episode provides a
backbone of political strife. Aramaki again takes center stage, manipulating
politicians to assist his team in the field. The careful integration of politics
and police work gives "Captivated" a higher level of
* "Episode 20: Re-View"
There has been a seven-episode drought in the Laughing Man case, and just like that it takes center stage again. This division of Stand Alone and Complex episodes doesn't bother me like it does some people. The long span of inactivity seems realistic. In the real world, I imagine that large cases like the Laughing Man move in fits and spurts. We may want to see it resolved, but these things need a break in the case to move forward. I also enjoyed the unpredictable stretch of maddening suspense.
The break in the case is provided by Togusa and his tenacious musings. His undercover stint in the Elite Hacker Daycare Center sheds light on a minor puzzle of missing evidence. "Re-View" lulls us into complacency as we follow Togusa through a series of stultifying tasks: browsing library records, digging through boxes of documents, interviewing witnesses, et cetera. Just when you start to think that police work is not all fun and games, Togusa finds himself pinned down in a brutal gunfight. The outcome of this battle is critical to both the Laughing Man case and Section 9. Above all, the reasons behind the fight are deeply disturbing. The realistic blend of boredom, action, and intuitive police work makes "Re-View" a fitting episode to resume the Laughing Man case.
One scene struck me as particularly odd, though I can't complain about the
eye candy. Major Matoko discusses the case with Togusa. Are they in a conference
room, a car perhaps? No, they are on the rooftop of a skyscraper, with Matoko
standing on the edge in skimpy "about to cloak" gear. Her purple
Kevlar bustier gives guys a nice view of the valley, but it still seems odd. It
is as though Matoko is preparing to beat Togusa down. The implied violence, the
odd location, the three-dimensional pan over Matoko's substantial torso, and the
echoes of the opening scenes for both Ghost in the Shell and Stand
Alone Complex make for a singularly odd, erotically charged moment. Perhaps
I'm just missing something obvious; that happens a lot in Stand Alone
Volume Five has brought us to a crucial moment, one that will define the conclusion of the series. If you've invested yourself into Stand Alone Complex, it seems like a huge pot is about to boil over.
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 Mechanical Designers Kenzi Teraoka and Shinobu Tsuneki
* Interview with Director of Photography Koji Tanaka and 3D Director Makoto Endo
* Production IG
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict review of Volume One
* DVD Verdict review of Volume Two