TBT Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | boxart
Title Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Produced By Yuuichirou Matsuya
Atsushi Sugita
Studio Production I.G.
Genre Cyberpunk, Sci-fi

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is quintessential Ghost in the Shell; a mesmerizing, thought-provoking exploration of humanity and its unceasing metamorphosis through conflict and crusade, from the individual level to the global, amidst a vivid backdrop of cyberpunk. It’s likewise the kind of anime experience that makes me love anime, for it’s relentless in its brilliance. Effortlessly immersive, compels one to imagine, and thoroughly entertaining, I regard Stand Alone Complex exemplary of what makes a work such as this truly exceptional. With its striking story, bold characters, gratifying animation, and amazing soundtrack, Stand Alone Complex is an achievement which continues to impress and outshine, even beyond the sci-fi and cyberpunk genres. And my most recent viewing only served to reaffirm my adoration and respect for such an exceptional series.

Major Motoko Kusanagi leads Public Security Section 9, a special operations team that investigates and neutralizes digital and real-world crimes. From digital theft and manipulation, to terroristic insurgency, corporate corruption, and even internal affairs, Section 9 is designed to expose and counter any threat on any level of the nation’s infrastructure. In this season, Kusanagi and Section 9 investigate a series of occurrences all having ties to an event labeled “The Laughing Man” incident. This particular incident involved a genius hacker-turned-activist kidnapping an owner of one of the largest nanotechnology companies in Japan. This hacktivist uncovered evidence of corporate manipulation, with possible links to several government officials, regarding the medical treatment of a rare, yet impairing disease onset by cyberization. His intent was to force a confession out of his hostage over live stream, hacking the cameras and the eyes of onlookers to protect his own identity with a Laughing icon over his face. This Laughing Man, having become a popular topic of online communities, would seemingly inspire copycats and similar grand-scale cases both over the net and in the real world. When Kusanagi and Section 9 investigate and connect the ensuing crimes and occurrences, a deeper story of buried secrets, espionage, and collusion on a national level begins to emerge, and the culpable parties show a willingness to do anything in their power to remain undisclosed.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | MCs 1

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has such great stories, and its ability to tell them is just as outstanding. The series is divided into two types of episodes; Stand Alone and Complex. Stand Alone episodes typically focus on a particular character or two and offer a more in-depth look, such as an event from a character’s past, exploring more of a character’s personality, or something more exclusive to a character, like relationships, individual viewpoints, opinions, or personal struggles. I can only praise the idea and execution of these Stand Alone episodes, as they’re such a fantastic way to develop its characters. We get to see personal opinions, thoughts, and problems that not only further flesh out these characters, but make them vastly more relatable. Although not every character has opportunity to shine, the main characters; Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa; all benefit from the opportunities the Stand Alone episodes provide.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | MCs 2

Staying with its characters a bit more, I want to point out just how strong the character development is in this series. These are the versions of the Ghost in the Shell cast that come to mind when I think of them. Kusanagi is a total badass in this series, as expected, yet we get to see so many more sides of her, too. She has a subtle sense of humor that adds just enough sarcasm and snark to her which perfectly complements her personality. She’s also much warmer and approachable as a person, aspects shown, to a degree, in the original manga, yet shine here, feeling totally natural and authentic. She shows care, flirtatiousness, even vulnerability, which all contribute to her appeal. I could go on and on about her. Furthermore, we get to see Togusa as more than a conversation partner, as we see so much more of his investigative skill, as well as how he conveys empathy and compassion, traits a good husband and father would have, through his thinking, efforts, and behaviors. And, we get to see Batou as so much more than a soldier. He’s definitely not the blunt tanker, nor the dull response giver he was in those films. He, too, demonstrates genuine feelings, has a willingness to show vulnerability, has his own sense of humor, and possesses and shares his own personal thoughts and opinions. Regarding them all, the depth and uniqueness of these main characters is just remarkable, and I’m so impressed that I believe they make for one of the most likable and memorable set of characters across all anime.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | MCs 3

Coming back to the Stand Alone episodes, these episodes also provide further opportunities to explore the issues, themes, and possible conflicts outside of the main storyline that may yet arise and exist in the everyday of this world. The more philosophical themes Ghost in the Shell is known for are present, such as ghosts, or souls, and their roles within a cyberized world. Artificial intelligence, individuality, and questions of what constitutes life are recurring themes as well, especially through the Tachikoma tanks and their various discussions and escapades. Additional topics include the unequal availability of cyberization to individuals, and the mental and emotional tolls on young patients requiring major body modification and prosthetics. Even the impacts cyberization has on peripheral aspects of society like sport, leisure, or organized crime are examined. It all serves to develop and explore this world and the results are engagingly immersive and thought-provoking. Overall, with the wealth of character development, backstory, and world building, the Stand Alone episodes are a pleasure to watch and raise the experience to a masterful level.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | Tachikoma

Using the Tachikomas as a means to discuss AI, individuality, and life is wonderfully clever

Then there are the Complex episodes which introduce and develop The Laughing Man plotline. Throughout these episodes, a web is weaved connecting the many facets of a major conspiracy, from the aspects of the original Laughing Man event, to the subsequent crimes, sabotage, and copycat activities, as well as the investigative aspects into the guilty parties’ attempted defamations and cover-ups. And as more revelations are made and the truths become clearer, the attempts to prevent further truths from coming out are ramped up, making for a storyline that remains intense and captivating throughout.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | Kusanagi 1

This is the version of Kusanagi I like most: funny, caring, and still a badass

The efforts are praiseworthy, for the main storyline is striking and detailed, and it does an excellent job of taking its viewers through its multi-faceted web. We are offered a variety of perspectives through the cast of investigators like Kusanagi and Togusa, as well as opposing characters, and those that are seemingly benign at first. We also see limited glimpses, perhaps intentionally, of the perspectives of the victims whose voices have been actively and tragically silenced. And in true Ghost in the Shell fashion, there is plenty told through the many action scenes, whether it’s an attempted assassination, planned civil unrest, or the many hostilities that can only be solved through munitions and brawling.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | aesthetics 1

It wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell without the fight scenes

Although framed within a futuristic world, the ideas conveyed, the actions taken, and the consequential victims, damages, and follow-up conflicts are all very relatable. It’s actually quite easy to see many of these very proceedings as possibilities in real life, making their employment and development in this story all the more impactful. We see it in our every day the entitled actions of the powerful; in business, in politics; and we witness, too, the corollary oppression upon its victims. The main cast also reacts with the same anger, disappointment, and moments of helplessness as we may in similar situations, adding to their appeal all the more. The Complex episodes, with their deep relate-able stories, make for an uncommonly exceptional effort, one that continues to impress me every time I watch.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | Kusanagi 2

The one criticism I would offer regarding the main story is that, yes, it’s complex, in that finer details and more intricate connections tying together all of the mysteries, crimes, and wrongdoers may be missed during a first viewing. There’s a lot happening within each episode and subtler details like tips or musings said in passing are bound to be missed or simply forgotten. For a story so detailed, this tendency of over-subtlety doesn’t do it any favors. The worst it does, though, is it may seem like how connections are made and how later events play out do so in a rough or abrupt manner, as if the buildup to said discoveries or events was thin. Having said that, it’s not an immersion-breaking issue by any means, nor will it greatly impact viewers’ overall understanding of subsequent events. And with this being the only notable issue with its story, I can confidently say that this season of Stand Alone Complex remains an absolute joy to watch.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | investigations

Equally as impressive as its story, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex possesses a truly outstanding aesthetic effort. Perhaps both the strongest, as well as my personal favorite, aspect is the musical score for this season. Yoko Kanno’s talents are on full display with her composition of this dynamic, atmospheric soundtrack. Each piece of music has genuine feeling to them, lending their impressions to developing events and to the emotions and moods felt by the characters they’re paired with. The results are simply incredible, as the moods and depth added by the music to those character moments or to those particular scenes always make for even more memorable of an impact. Kanno, Tim Jensen, Origa, all that contributed to the musical score of Stand Alone Complex have earned every bit of praise they receive.

Along with a strong sound score, Stand Alone Complex features a voicing effort of which I can easily give my highest praise toward, and this praise is for both the Japanese and English voice casts. When I think of how these characters sound, these are the voices that come to mind, and it’s not simply because these actors have been used in other Ghost in the Shell media. No, these voice actors do a remarkable job of capturing these characters’ personalities and conveying their emotions. Whether it’s Atsuko Tanaka or Mary McGlynn, Kusanagi sounds authentic. Her consoling, her joking, her rage; Kusanagi is brought alive with unmatched genuineness. And the efforts put in for Togusa, Batou, and the others across both languages are similarly commendable. So whether you choose to watch with the original Japanese voices or the English dub, the experience will be equally satisfying.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | Kusanagi 3

The emotions of these characters genuinely comes through on every level

Lastly, Stand Alone Complex’s visual production is adequate overall, as it has both its brilliance and less flattering attributes. For the most part, the presentation of characters and backdrops, as well as the animation quality are all excellent. The details that went into each character’s design are distinguishing and exemplary. Similarly to how these characters act and sound, these are the versions that I visualize when thinking of them. As for the world, each environment is detailed and expressive, perfectly fitting and adding further style and mood to the events playing within them. From the clean, advanced aesthetics of Section 9’s headquarters and similar locales, to the grim, dark, and weathered stylings of places forgotten or used illicitly, the backdrops have been designed with palpable care and skill. And with that level of detail, I find myself most impressed with the contrast of backgrounds, further instilling the feel that this a vast and varied world shaped by its spectrum of advancement and opportunity. As for the animation, it’s impressive overall, channeling the sheer energy of combat, the stress and tenseness of covert movements, or instilling the calmness of a night’s drive or a walking conversation. And, it’s smooth throughout without ever an awkward moment. As a whole, when at their best, the visuals are excellent, which only makes me wish this level of excellence had been consistent.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | aesthetics 4

Quality dips aside, the tones and moods of scenes remain well intact

This brings me to the visual flaws, which mainly pertain to dips in artistic and production quality. Throughout the series, there are these noticeable drops in the level of detail of the characters. Facial creases, shadowing, and other finer details will be absent, making the characters look strange and leave impressions of shoddiness. A similar issue, though not as frequent, there are moments when the positioning of facial features, such as eye placement, looks a bit off. Fortunately, these are always temporary, mostly during conversations or combat, and are quickly corrected or moved on from as the scene changes focus. An even rarer issue, yet one I did notice, there are also seldom transparency issues, in which the background will bleed through the edges of the characters. They’re another minor issue, but again, one which demonstrates this inconsistency in quality. Taken as whole, the visuals are more than satisfactory, yet as a fan, of course I would have loved to have seen a production closer to perfect.

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex | aesthetics 2

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex never fails to impress me, persisting as one of the most remarkable and profound series I’ve experienced. It continues to offer an imaginative and fresh vision of the future as it proposes and delves into themes and ideas that intrigue and ignite our imaginations. Its story is deep and thrilling, its cast captivating and vivid, and with the creators’ willingness to explore an array of possibilities, the experience overall is acutely immersive and entertaining. An easy recommendation for fans of cyberpunk, I would also recommend it to anyone who seeks an anime with spades of story and character development, and with good doses of action throughout. I have and I shall continue to adore and respect the accomplishment that is Stand Alone Complex, and I will always look forward to my next viewing of this amazing series.

 

About Drew D.

Drew has been an avid gamer most of his life, favoring single-player campaigns. For him, a worthwhile game is one that immerses you; it envelops you and draws out an array of emotions that produce those memorable moments we live for as gamers.


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