Judge Adam Arseneau can always use more drive space.
A new beginning, a new threat…
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!
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"
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.
• "Episode 2—Night Cruise"
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.
• "Episode 3—Cash Eye"
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.
• "Episode 4—Natural Enemy"
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
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.
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.
0100000 101100010011 100110110111…oh, forget it. Not guilty!
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