Judge Adam Arseneau is running out of clever blurbs to introduce this long-running anime series. Luckily, he just thought of one.
A new beginning, a new threat…
Volume Five of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig is a make-or-break volume. Having strung its audience along for sixteen episodes, the show needs to get on with things and start laying the smackdown on the cerebral cortexes of its viewers.
So does it make, or break? Read on.
Facts of the Case
Having abandoned his "Individual Eleven" mantle, the terrorist Kuze is rapidly becoming a Che Guevara-type figure for the refugee movement, an anti-hero for a "peace at any price" movement, putting the entire society at odds with the government. Much to the alarm of Section 9, the masses seem to be on the breaking point, inches away from a full-scale governmental overthrow.
As protesters rapidly convert themselves into militia, Section 9 tries frantically to pinpoint Kuze's locations, as well as understand the man's motives. Why is he doing this? How did a member of a terrorist organization like the Individual Eleven suddenly manifest into a leader of the masses? And where have Gohda and the mysterious CIS been during all this? Are they working with Section 9 or against them?
As Kuze's ambitions unfold, Section 9's members realize with horror exactly what Kuze's true target is. The stakes rapidly grow larger…
In my previous reviews of 2nd Gig, I credited the series for being a sophisticated, well-written anime and a worthy sequel for the original Stand Alone Complex season. While reminiscing about the previous four volumes in my mind, I realized that I was beginning to grow impatient with the show's pacing, anxious for something more substantial to develop. Suspense and slow development is one thing, but where was the show taking us? Meticulous care was taken to introduce an enigmatic group known as the Individual Eleven and the mysterious government agent named Gohda over a long string of episodes, only to have the wizard throw back the curtain to reveal…nothing? A lone individual by the name of Kuze who may have used the group for his own purposes?
I admit that I started to get worried. Things were becoming aimless and ambiguous—even more than the acceptable levels already established for the series. Luckily, then Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig (Volume 5) showed up.
The last two volumes have been relatively slow-paced, but in Volume 5, the action comes fast and furious in hyperactive bursts of jaw-dropping spectacle and, in the style of the series, is often over in the blink of an eye. But, oh, what an awesome few seconds it is. The balance of the show is stoically professional, languid in its pacing, and primarily dialogue driven, but when the bullets fly, 2nd Gig offers some serious animation intensity unrivaled by any of its contemporaries.
Four episodes are included on this disc:
• "Episode 17—Red Data":
One particularly illuminating scene involves the Major studiously interrogating a young refugee, curious how he managed to synchronize his thoughts with Kuze without actually having a cyberbrain. Bemused, the individual replies that he simply talked to the man and listened to his words. By her reaction, the Major had clearly not expected such a low-tech explanation. As the protagonist, we certainly consider the Major a sympathetic character, but when faced with a genuine human being, we get the cold-water shock of exactly how artificial and robotic the Major has become.
• "Episode 18—Trans Parent":
Angels Feathers is a full prosthetic who only targets international summits, inflicting massive damage to government organizations. The Major keeps her mind on the job, but Batou's surliness begins to get the best of him on what he considers a sub-par assignment.
There isn't much to "Trans Parent" beyond the look at yet another location in the world—Germany—and how the country has fared in the future. A sentimental, almost sappy episode, only Batou's barely-restrained aggression keeps the episode on target.
• "Episode 19—Chain Reaction":
When the Major manages to hack into Kuze's cyberbrain, she is met with an unpleasant surprise. His psyche repels the Major's advances in a form of self-defense that Section 9 does not understand, but the Major does manage to discern Kuze's location before she succumbs…
A nice, tense episode, the mystery behind Kuze deepens, as he exhibits strange abilities that seem to dwarf even the Major in cyberspace. And what's the deal with Gohda's creepy alien-looking henchmen? As protesters rapidly convert into militia, the intensity begins to ratchet itself up noticeably and, for the first time, we see the emotionless, controlled façade of the Major crack somewhat. Tense and plot-developing, this is an excellent episode.
• "Episode 20—Fabricate Fog":
Kuze has unleashed a devious virus throughout the financial world, rounding off fractions of pennies into a slush account and amassing millions of dollars. With his war chest overflowing, Kuze hopes to obtain a weapon to allow him to elevate the refugees into an independent nation, globally recognized through the threat of force.
All I will say about "Fabricate Fog" is that it ends on one heck of a cliffhanger. Fantastic, action-packed, dramatic, and utterly surreal, especially when you realize exactly what Kuze has up his sleeves. As a full cyborg, Kuze became an underground legend to the refugee class, heightening the class issues involved in replacing one's body parts with cybernetic parts, further dividing the culture between the "haves" and the "have-nots…" This dividing line is threatening to tear asunder.
I am purposely vague about this episode, because it should be a surprise. Of course, if you've been watching along with me, you already saw it coming.
Bandai was kind enough to send a copy of the special edition of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig (Volume 5) for us to dig into, which contains the single-disc release plus some extra goodies. Packaged in an absurdly large and flimsy cardboard box, the contents reveal two small figurines: Togusa in action pose with his revolver and a smarmy looking all-black Tachikoma. The DVD case itself is a handsome, brushed aluminum tin with a flimsy transparent window showing the disc contents. Opening the tin reveals two nearly identical discs stacked atop each other; a copy of the normal single disc release of Volume 5 and a DTS audio version exclusive to the Special Editions. Save for the DTS track, the episodic content on this second disc is identical to the regular version.
The transfer is a digital masterpiece of fidelity, color reproduction, and detail, as close to a perfect-looking anime as you could hope to see. The 5.1 audio tracks are absolutely sublime; rich in tone, deep in bass, fantastically detailed, and making awesome use of the rear environmental channels. In this volume, I particularly enjoyed the lazy, Cowboy Bebop influenced jazzy slide guitar riffs in the score.
Though the normal 5.1 presentation is magnificent in every way, the second disc contains the DTS presentation, which ups the ante ever so slightly—even more so if your equipment is of high caliber—giving a clearer, more defined sonic presentation. Also, a louder one!
Extras get progressively thin as the show works its way through, but Volume Five still managed to dig out some cast interviews with director Kenji Kamiyama, Atsuko Tanaka (Mokoto), Akiko Ohtsuka (Batou), Koichi Yamadera (Togusa), and Taro Yamaguchi (Borma). I am happy to see the extra features keep rolling, but I get the impression the material is thinning out somewhat. Here's hoping the last volume still has the same impact.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fantastic as the DTS audio and stylish as the packaging is, it is hard to justify the steep price difference for these special editions. Let's be realistic here: for an extra $25, all you really get are two small plastic figures and a metal case. Sure, the DTS track is admittedly quite sublime, but equally so the native 5.1 track. The differences between the two simply do not justify the increase price. You can have the 5.1 for half the price of the collector's set and be perfectly happy.
Only the nitpicking obsessive anime fans and serious bit-head audiophiles need apply for these special editions; the standard versions will do quite nicely for everyone else and save you some nice change in the process.
Unless, of course, you want the toys. It's okay. You can admit it.
To call the events of this disc "interesting" would be an understatement, but only if you considered atomic bombs to be a statement. Like a snowball down a hill, the momentum in Volume 5 gradually builds into feverish intensity, the disc ending on such a satisfying cliffhanger as to cause madness in its fans. How cruel of them. Action-packed, well-written, dramatic, and detailed, this is the most satisfying volume of 2nd Gig thus far.
My only regret now is that I have one awesome stylish metal case sitting beside four other plain, bland, boring 2nd Gig cases. Just kidding.
Bring on the next volume, you jerks.
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