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Case Number 07958

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Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig (Volume 1)

Bandai // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // November 3rd, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Adam Arseneau can always use more drive space.

The Charge

A new beginning, a new threat…

Opening Statement

If ever there was a DVD that needed no introduction for anime fans, here it is. Dubbed 2nd Gig, the second season of the massively popular and critically acclaimed anime series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is here. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig (Volume 1) features four new episodes from this highly anticipated series. What more do you need to know?

Facts of the Case

Section 9, the enigmatic high-mobility anti-crime government agency has been reformed following the disastrous set of political events that saw the elite organization disbanded. 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. In addition to the rising dissident movement of guerilla refugee fighters threatening the nation's stability, old political enemies of Section 9 still remain in positions of power, ready to strike out at those who stand in their way.

Though she is wary of Aramaki, the new prime minister recognizes the usefulness of having such a team at her disposal and reinstates Section 9 into action, albeit on a much shorter leash. Gone is much of the autonomy the Major and her teammates had grown so accustomed to, a fact made worse by a mysterious government agent named Gohda, who seems to have political power extending even beyond Aramaki!

The Evidence

When the first season of Stand Alone Complex inaugurated itself as one of the finest animes in recent memory, nobody was surprised. There was every expectation for it to do just that. But at the same time, it surprised many at exactly how good it ultimately turned out to be, and especially the method it went about this task. Most expected the show to carry on where the series of films left off: offering up a futuristic vision of a cybernetic world where the distinction between man and machine is a rapidly dissolving distinction. The show delivered accordingly, but after a few episodes, S.A.C. stretched a surprisingly strong set of legs. Viewers soon spiraled down into a well-constructed trap of Machiavellian complexity, a perfectly laid trap, something of a deft feint.

What emerged, a long-running arc chronicling the tale of a mysterious hacker known only as "The Laughing Man," became one of the finest mysteries ever set to animated cel. It took people by surprise, myself included. I fully expected a cool cybernetic ethical foray full of bloody bodies and perplexing questions about the definition of humanity, a la Ghost In The Shell, but instead, Stand Alone Complex went the stoic route, crafting a lighthearted and enigmatic detective story, a sophisticated jigsaw puzzle for adult minds, wrapping the existentialist questions around the central mystery. It knew how to plant its seeds and cultivate itself slowly, resisting early criticism towards the show for being slow-paced and dull.

Unlike the first season, which shied away from going into detail about the political nature of the world it inhabited, 2nd Gig seems to have no problem filling in the blanks left deliberately vague the first time through. If anything, it seems more than eager to fill us in. Already, in a mere four episodes, we have more of a political understanding of the massive influx of immigrants from Southern Asia and China, the growing refugee resistance guerrilla movement, and the social discontents sweeping across Japan than we received in the entire first season. Certainly, vague references were made in previous episodes to World Wars and resistance movements, but the show eschewed such factoids and focused on the matters at hand, of cultivating the mystery above all else. But if Volume One of 2nd Gig is any indication, it seems to lay out in no uncertain terms details that will have paramount importance this time through.

The four episodes included are:

• "Episode 1—Reembody"
Section 9, back from hiatus, stands impatiently on the sidelines while the local police try to defuse a hostage situation inside a Chinese embassy. The culprits, a group of refugee ideologues, demand the immediate halt of all Asian refugees into Japan, as well as the closure of the five residential refugee districts (or, more accurately, internment camps) across the country.

Normally, Section 9 would bust in and have the problem solved in a matter of minutes, but the group is waiting for clearance from the new Prime Minister, whom Aramaki is having a difficult time in persuading. Once the police botch the initial rescue, endangering the hostages, the Prime Minister agrees to reinstate Section 9…but only if they get all the hostages out alive, no exceptions!

"Reembody" is a solid start to an exciting new series, highlighting the new political obstacles standing in the way of Section 9, foreshadowing the social tensions that drive the series forward, reuniting the cast, and adding some "new" teammates. Not too complicated, with just the right amounts of action (and a noticeable increase in the level of violence we have come to expect from the series) make this episode a good beginning.
Grade: A-

• "Episode 2—Night Cruise"
Gino is a typical refugee in Japan, a lonely helicopter pilot working a tedious job. As his dissatisfaction with his life grows, he begins assassinating high-ranking government officials and political activists, sacrificing himself for the refugee cause. He finds himself captivated by a young idoru, a teenage vision of beauty and icy command, escorted by her mighty entourage, with striking purple hair. As he flies her about town, his plan unfolds slowly, deliberately, like the grinding gears of fate; soon, nobody will be safe…

Now this one is a mind mess. Even by the brain-bending standards of Ghost In The Shell, this is as weird as they get, a fragmented, disjointed introspective examination of the frustration of the average citizen in a utopian society that excludes by race. This episode is the best of the disc, if only because of how it hammers home how much 2nd Gig has changed from previous seasons. For the first time, we see genuinely dissatisfied, oppressed, and frustrated denizens of the futuristic Japan, not merely the idealistic and utopian future of skyrises and cybernetic implants. The examinations into what humanity means has been expanded out of the cybernetic upgrades and into the arena of nationality. This one will take a few viewings to sink in.
Grade: A+

• "Episode 3—Cash Eye"
After being robbed by a mysterious android thief named "Cash Eye," who leaves a calling card promising future robberies, a well-off government official converts all his assets to cash and locks them in the basement of his illustrious estate. Pulling some political strings, he brings Section 9 in to act as security guards to protect his fortune, who set up operations around the compound, planning on heading the thief off at the pass. Unfortunately for the government official, the Major bears an uncanny resemblance to the mysterious thief…

The lighthearted episode of the bunch, "Cash Eye" sets a nice loose tone for the slightly more comedic episodes this season. Totally irrelevant in the context of the show, it is fun to watch the plot unwind slowly and see the subterfuge play itself out.
Grade: B+

• "Episode 4—Natural Enemy"
After a routine training exercise simulating live combat against refugee insurgents, a set of high-tech helicopters suddenly veers off course, heading into residential districts. The craft are designed to automatically return to base whenever the pilot is rendered unconscious, but for some reason, the helicopters circle over a refugee area, attacking anything that gets too close. Section 9 arrives and formulates a plan to take the helicopters down, before casualties begin to mount, but receives interference from a mysterious government agent named Gohda, who seems to have some mysterious authority over Section 9…

Some excellent action sequences make this episode a keeper; as well as the ceremonious re-introduction of the Tachikomas, who stand off against their natural enemies: anti-tank aircrafts. Again, we see the refugee political backdrop, as well as the introduction of Gohda, a character who may carry some weight in future episodes, if judged only by the tone of his entrance in "Natural Enemy."
Grade: A-

I apologize for continually referring back to the previous season, but I make the assumption that a) nobody will be watching 2nd Gig without having seen Stand Alone Complex, and b) people want to know exactly what has changed and/or stayed the same in the second season. The previous season's Laughing Man arc, while not exactly lighthearted, had a certain whimsical quality, an old-fashioned gumshoe story guided by intellectual curiosity and ethereal fascination, wrapped up with existential musings. In comparison, assuming the refugee struggle becomes the next plot arc, 2nd Gig has a steely determination and toughness, as if the world has suddenly become more dangerous and more realistic. The tongue-in-cheek humor that made the show clever and endearing is still present, but the atmosphere feels more violent, more urban and dystopic, as if no longer afraid to address the social problems of the future. In addition to the glitzy skylines of the technological elite, we are now allowed to see the burned-down war-ravaged refugee zones. It is a far harsher, Blade Runner-esque vision of the future this time through.

This shift, albeit slight, no doubt stems from the "management change" around Production IG. The original series arc was sketched out by creator Masamune Shirow, but the second season has been taken over by S.A.C. series director Kenji Kamiyama, bringing a different visionary talent to the helm. The new season has a stronger emphasis on style and conflict, it seems, and, from what I have heard from people who have seen 2nd Gig to completion, this intensity keeps rising. It is hard to see where this season will take us, no more than we could see where Stand Alone Complex ultimately led us, but I definitely feel encouraged.

For an anime series, the production values on this DVD are nothing short of exceptional. The animation style and computer animation appear to have been further refined since the first season, and the transfer, mastered directly from high-definition source material, is as close to perfection as you would ever want to get. Any closer to reality, and it would disconcert the hell out of you. The audio options floweth over, featuring two Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks and two Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks (one in English, one in Japanese for each). They all sound marvelous…simply marvelous.

Extras are on par with the previous season, which I am inclined to mark higher than I normally would, since anime DVD titles rarely have any to speak of. Once again included are the short "Tachikomatic Days" featurettes following each episode, which I cannot help find charming in an utterly irrelevant and pointless way. In addition, Volume One contains two interviews, one with director Kenji Kamiyama, and one with art director Yusuke Takeda and conceptual artist Hiroshi Kato. These are particularly insightful as they allude to the themes and development decisions undertaken in the second season.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The first volume of any anime series, regardless of how good you think it may end up being, are problematic; you end up assuming a great deal. I have heard marvelous things about the second incarnation Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and I have also heard things that are…less flattering. Truth be told, I want to wait and experience the show as it unfolds, spoiler-free. The first season has such a satisfying payoff that it made the endless enigmatic endings and the seemingly pointless episodes more than worth the trouble.

If I learned anything from Season One, it is that patience is a virtue. I can wait.

Closing Statement

Anyone who made it through the first season of Stand Alone Complex no doubt has already picked up 2nd Gig (Volume One), but for all those who sit on the fence, rest assured…the good keeps on getting better. If the purpose of this disc was to whet my appetite for the coming adventures of Section 9, then consider me starved.

The Verdict

0100000 101100010011 100110110111…oh, forget it. Not guilty!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 99
Audio: 97
Extras: 65
Acting: 85
Story: 95
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile

Studio: Bandai
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Anime
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• "Tachikomatic Days"
• Textless Opening
• Interview with Director Kenji Kamiyama
• Interview with Art Director Yusuke Takeda and Conceptual Artist Hiroshi Kato
• Trailers








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