Judge Adam Arseneau has ten individual fingers and eleven toes. Wait, ten. Forget that last part.
A new beginning, a new threat…minus about nine hours of running time.
Similar to its companion, Ghost in the Shell: Laughing Man, Ghost in the Shell: Individual Eleven is the penultimate cash grab—a compilation disc editing down an entire season of anime into a single standalone feature. For anyone who missed out on Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig, the second season of the hit anime series Stand Alone Complex this two-and-a-half hour OAV gives a nice crash course in a down-and-dirty delivery method, cramming maximum plot into a minuscule package. Individual Eleven works exceptionally well for the uninitiated, sacrificing depth and subtlety in favor of shearing off and refunding multiple hours of your life…but is this title a waste of time for those already "in the know?"
To briefly recap the concept behind the series: in the near future, technology has progressed to the point to allow human beings to upgrade their bodies with cybernetic replacement parts. Those who go so far as to replace their entire body with machine parts become "ghosts in the shell," machines with a spark of humanity and spirit within. The line between humanity and technology, already blurred, has become irrecoverably fused by the advent of such technology and the progression of the Internet, which now transmits directly into the brain of citizens. The flow of information pulses like the lifeblood of society, and for those skilled enough to navigate its currents, the world can be theirs.
In the second season of Stand Alone Complex, Section 9, the enigmatic high-mobility anti-crime government agency has been reformed following the disastrous sequence of events in the previous season. The country now has a new prime minister and the Laughing Man case has been solved, but all is far from well in Japan. After years of welcoming scores of Asian immigrants to form a cheap labor force to rebuild Japan after the devastating war, racial tensions have reached an all-time high, and the rapidly increasing population has begun speaking out for more civil rights. Old political enemies of Section 9 still remain in positions of power, ready to strike out at those who stand in their way, and a new threat has emerged: the enigmatic Individual Eleven, which may or may not be a terrorist organization, a computer virus, or a political manifesto. In fact, it may be all of the above.
Being one of the aforementioned few who exchanged their time in favor of watching (and reviewing) 2nd Gig, I feel conflicted passing judgment on such an abortive take on the subject. On the one hand, 2nd Gig has a much faster, octane-fueled storyline than its predecessor season, resplendent in a villain who gets involved in action sequences, explosions, and all manner of troublemaking. The story is tight, full of political intrigue and drama; to be perfectly honest, it makes for a hell of a standalone film. On the other hand, the show was pretty effin' fantastic in its original incarnation! Taking material away makes for a smooth presentation, but intimately one lacking in substance and depth—we lose the majority of the subplots, some of the political backdrop, and so on. It's like 2nd Gig with half the calories.
Still, one cannot deny the best moments in 2nd Gig do occur in the Individual Eleven story arc, not the stand alone one-shot episodes that got left on the editing room floor. Big helicopter fights, nuclear bombs, knife fights, conspiracies, political treachery, sabotage, spying, and all manner of dramatic devices—fortunately, much of this material makes the cut so to speak here in Ghost In The Shell: Individual Eleven and is preserved relatively intact. A few sequences have been slightly re-worked and re-arranged to assist in creating a smoother flow, but nothing too obvious.
And really, what is left is awfully good. Even in this compressed state, 2nd Gig is a fantastic show from start to finish. We expand the universe into social and political realms with impressive clarity and detail, especially in this second season where we really get deep into the future's notion of social equity and justice. Cybernetic science fiction, high-energy action, hard-boiled detective pulp fiction, and political betrayal combine to create a head-scratching narrative that goes off like a gasoline canister in your brain. In terms of how much quality anime series can get in production design, animation style and quality, and complex narrative weaving and story writing, nothing beats Stand Alone Complex. It is miles away from its competition, creating a fully-realized universe laden with technological possibilities and pitfalls, raising existential questions about how transparent our definitions are for life and humanity. For a more in-depth take, feel free to read up on the individual volume reviews.
In terms of reference quality, 2nd Gig on DVD came intimidating close—razor-sharp detail, luscious black levels, wonderful color saturation, and a crystal-clean transfer…oh my. Impressively, Individual Eleven suffers no noticeable degradation being crammed onto a single DVD (the second disc is reserved for the extras, what little there are) preserving the experience quite well. No doubt some compression has crept in here and there—it would have to, considering how much material is here, surround tracks and all—but it eluded all attempts to discover it. When your source material is this perfect, you can get away with a lot.
As for audio, we get a DTS English track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track in Japanese, as well as 2.0 tracks for both languages—a nice selection, but again we get shafted on the native language track. As with The Laughing Man, Manga opted to abandon voiceover team Animaze INC in favor of The Ocean Group, resulting in a radically different English dub experience than the previously released episodes available on DVD. The new performance is not quite as good as the old one was, but it holds up to scrutiny. I grew rather attached to the old voice actors in these roles (especially Batou) but newcomers won't notice a thing amiss. The surround tracks are very similar in presentation, with clear dialogue, aggressive bass response and expansive use of rear channels, environmental noises and transitions. Like the video, the audio is near-reference quality—anime never looked and sounded better.
In terms of supplementary features, the only noticeable inclusion is "2nd Gig Individual Eleven Archive," a poorly-named 30-minute interview with writer/director Kenji Kamiyama conducted by Atsuko Sanaka, the voice actress who plays Major Kusangi. A solid feature recorded primarily for this release, it goes into great detail on exactly how the storyline was compressed down into this compilation and the steps and priorities involved in re-editing.
The only other extra, of course, is the "Tachikomatic Days" feature featuring the antics of the crazy childlike tanks included on all Stand Alone Complex DVD releases, for better or worse. You either love 'em or you hate 'em. This particular feature, available in both English and Japanese 5.1 Surround is a cute one, and looks to have also been created especially for this set. Total running time is like three minutes, so it's over before you get a chance to get too annoyed.
Ghost in the Shell: Laughing Man worked as a one-shot for people looking to get into the show in a fast, affordable way without having to drop a week of viewing time and a few hundred dollars on individual discs (those anime titles are expensive, as you well know). Such a title appeals entirely to newcomers to the series, offering nothing but a re-editing and re-hashing of existing material for existing fans. Ghost in the Shell: Individual Eleven does the exact same thing again, except for the second season of Stand Alone Complex. The danger is that now, with two versions on the market, one could easily compromise on these "slim" edits, watch both seasons in this fashion and eschew the proper versions altogether. Inconceivable!
In my previous review of the Laughing Man edit I praised the title for successfully truncating a kick-ass anime series down into bite-sized form, ready for the consumption of the uninitiated. Now, having to go through the same trauma again for 2nd Gig, having spent so much time and energy watching, reviewing, and appreciating the series, I feel dirty. I wash with soap and water, and the dirt…the dirt doesn't come off! To cut a solid nine hours out from a show this good, sew it back together, and sell it anew is just so traumatic. Sure, the remaining Frankenstein-esque monster gets most of it right, but it just feels wrong a second time, like a stranger touching me in the no-no place. You know; the place my bathing suit covers.
There is good value here, admittedly, but to anyone who would actually prefer this set and the aforementioned edited Laughing Man set, you are selling yourself short—not in terms of dollars or time spent, but in quality. Having had the time to reflect, it is the opinion of the court that you do yourself a disservice taking the easy way out. Suck it up, get the full set, and love every second of it.
Ultimately, the court would rather see this DVD end up in your hot little hands than not. It may stab our anime-loving heart like a frosty icicle to admit, but enough quality remains here in Ghost in the Shell: Individual Eleven to make it worthwhile over the alternative of nothing at all. Not completely innocent, but not guilty.
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