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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Trilogy Box PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Monday, 07 July 2008 16:00
Ghost in the Shell: SAC TrilogyAs of there weren't enough Ghost in the Shell releases to keep track of, here comes another one - a box set containing the Laughing Man, Individual Eleven and Solid State Society OVAs. As good as this series is, is there really anyone left who still hasn't got these..!?

Let's do this the easy way and cover each title that's included here individually. Starting at the beginning...

The Laughing Man
Togusa receives a late-night 'phonecall from an old colleague, Yamaguchi, who's been working on a special investigation into what's become known as the "Laughing Man Incident", the largest ever case of corporate blackmail. His inquiries have uncovered some unusual activities by the investigation's senior officers, and he's looking for Togusa's advice on what to do next - but on the way to meet him, he's killed in a road accident. When Togusa learns of the "accident", he's convinced the timing was a little too convenient, and takes his concerns to Aramaki, who allows him some time to try and figure out what happened.

In the meantime, the Laughing Man has reappeared, and seems to be targeting those connected with the investigation. With the special investigation team having failed to uncover who the Laughing Man was or is, Section 9 are called in to work with the police to uncover his identity. Aramaki's got his own idea of what's going on, though: that the Laughing Man's reappearance is a setup by the police themselves to draw attention away from the scandal surrounding their improper use of surveillance devices, one of the issues that Yamaguchi had been so concerned about. Trying to uncover enough evidence to prove that theory, S9 launch a surveillance operation of their own, and it's not long before the Major discovers Aramaki may be onto something - but while the Special Investigation Unit does appear to have been up to something, there's also evidence that someone else is working behind the scenes - and with them apparently having the ability to hack directly into peoples' cyberbrains, no-one can be trusted...

AramakiRaid

The Laughing Man takes the original Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex TV series, removes anything not related to the show's main Laughing Man arc, then edits the remainder down some more to create this 2½ -hour-long movie. That's a long movie, for a start, and perhaps this edit's biggest problem – with this sort of edit, there's a fine line between removing too much to get the running time down, and leaving the movie too long to watch comfortably in one sitting. The Laughing Man ends up too long – every scene you need to make sense of the story is here, but it's really something I thought would work best split across two sittings, especially as some of the talkative plot-exposition scenes can be very dry going.

That's as close as you'll get to a real criticism out of me, though. The adventures of Major Kusanagi and her team are rightly held in high regard in anime fandom - Stand Alone Complex is one of the few series that fully lives up to the hype that comes with it – and this movie has all the elements that made the TV series as enjoyable as it was. It's beautifully-animated, the action scenes are fast and detailed, the political scheming that underlies the story is complex but understandable, and the core cast – the Major, Batou, Aramaki and Togusa get most of the focus here – are a believeable and varied bunch that are very easy to connect with.

HackTarget

The Individual Eleven
Individual Eleven is a re-edit of the 2nd Gig TV series, dealing with the attempts by the shadowy Goda (from the Cabinet Intelligence Office) to use man-on-a-mission Kuze to create the conditions necessary to overthrow the Japanese government. If that sounds horribly complex, don't worry - it's not, and it's definitely easier to follow than the first season's Laughing Man story. It does get off to a slow start, as the Individual Eleven set about creating publicity for themselves without it ever being explained what they're after, but once events start to pick up speed it soon becomes a gripping story.

There are two sides to the tale: on one side is Kuze, who has a certain set of beliefs that he's come to after a life that's been far from easy. Having been trapped in an artificial body since childhood and having experienced the horror of war at first hand, he's well acquainted with the unhappier side of life and has come to the decision that the 'net offers a way out of human misery. He's also an incredibly charismatic personality, which has led to him becoming almost an icon, or de facto leader, amongst the refugee community without ever really trying to gain the position - although having such a large following in place both makes it easier for him to achieve his aims, and brings him to the attention of the authorities that much more quickly.

Unreliable allyTurning point

On the other side is Goda, the public face of a conspiracy that could see Japan's Prime Minister overthrown and the country fall into martial law, if his backers get their way. The sheer number of refugees in the country has created a lot of tension, with certain groups within the government believing that the Prime Minister's policies are creating more problems than they're solving - their plan is to create a situation that will allow them to wipe out the refugee communities, solving one problem in a quick but drastic way, while replacing the Prime Minister to ensure that the situation can't occur again.

In between the two are the Major and Section 9, who start off reluctantly co-operating with Goda before realising what's going on and trying to find a way to prevent a massacre. In this cut-down form, the show runs through a number of set-piece confrontations as Section 9 work out what Goda is planning, and try to find a way to gain the support of Kuze in averting disaster - not easy as Kuze is not trusting of any connected with the government. It's only when a past connection between Kuze and the Major becomes apparent that they start working together - by which point they've left it dangerously late. Sadly the story from 2nd Gig that went into the background of their connection has been completely removed from this version - a real shame as it was a genuinely moving piece.

Talking optionsTrapped

There really is very little that's not to like about this movie. If 2nd Gig had a failing, it's that its pacing wasn't as tight as it could have been, but that failing has been largely corrected with this release. Events follow a natural flow that's easy to keep track of, so that come the last half-hour or so everything begins to fall into place, leaving nothing there that will outright surprise you or leave you wondering just what happened. If there's anything to criticise, it's that The Individual Eleven suffers from the same flaw as The Laughing Man in being 45 minutes or so too long to be comfortably watched in one sitting - it's a good two-and-a-half hours long - but there's really nothing else that could have been cut from 2nd Gig to make it shorter. As it is there are already a few scenes I would have liked to have seen retained that didn't make it.

Solid State Society
When a man involved in a terrorist plot hands himself over to Section 9, it results in the team becoming involved in an operation to prevent the attack that he was involved in. Colonel Ka Gael (formerly of the Saek Republic, but now living under asylum in Japan) and his son were implicated in the plot - Gael committed suicide when faced with arrest by S9, his son is under house arrest, and a number of other Saek Republic military men have apparently committed suicide in support of Colonel Ka. Gael's last words were a cryptic warning about the approach of "the Puppeteer" - S9's investigations suggest that The Puppeteer is a highly-skilled hacker who is not only responsible for the recent spate of suicides but is also behind a series of child abductions. But who is the Puppeteer and what is his connection to the so-called Solid State Society?

From the shadowsVictim?

Things have changed within S9 since the end of 2nd Gig - with the Major gone, doing her own thing, Togusa has filled her role as commander (and has finally had to accept some artificial systems as a result), while S9 itself is a much bigger unit than it used to be. Aramaki is still in overall charge, though, and as ever spends as much time dealing with the political effects of the team's actions as he does with the operational. It soon becomes clear that the "suicides" were actually assassinations, set up to look like suicides to cover the tracks of those involved, but the expanding S9 investigation has trouble tracking down the culprits. What leads they have point to the "Solid State Society", but even then there's little evidence as to who or what that is - and it's a conundrum that Togusa and his team will have to solve if they're to resolve the original killings.

Solid State Society may be feature-length, but unlike the Ghost in the Shell movies it sticks to reasonably-understandable storylines and action, and doesn't try to blind you with literary knowledge and philosophising. That's definitely a good thing - the movies (particularly Innocence had an awful habit of boring me to the point where I didn't want to continue, but that fortunately isn't an issue here. Where SSS maybe does fall down is in trying to be too complex for its own good, in places - the terrorist angle at the beginning of the show gives you the impression that the story's going to go in one direction, that's then replaced by another issue, before you're finally lead onto a third line of investigation that turns out to be the "correct" one. You need to be paying very close attention to the story, otherwise that progression and how it plays out could be more than a little confusing.

Tachikoma actionAftermath

Visually, it's as impressive as you'd expect a feature-length Ghost in the Shell title to be - missing the drop-dead gorgeous set scenes of Innocence, perhaps, but then it hasn't had a theatrical budget lavished on it. This was one of the first titles I watched on my new HDTV, using a PS3 to upscale the image to 1080p (the best HD picture format), and it truly did look the part, even though it's not a true HD title. High production values have always been something GitS has been particularly noted for, and that hasn't changed here.

Taken as a whole, there's very little to criticise about this release - all three titles included are solid pieces of work, with high production values and good stories. Pacing in the re-edits of the two TV series could be a bit tighter, but that's probably about it. The real question is, is there anyone left to buy them? If you're looking for a taster of the Stand Alone Complex world, save yourself a few pounds and buy one of the re-edit discs separately - if you like what you see, you'll be wanting to but the full TV series anyway. If you've already bought into the franchise, there's nothing new here other that re-recorded soundtracks for the two re-edit discs - but if you wanted them, you'd have bought the discs already, right?

In theory, I have to mark this disc highly as the content on it is hard to beat - not quite 5-star material as the removal of so much material from Laughing Man and Individual Eleven makes them a bit harder to follow, but pretty damn close. If you're also one of the very few people who enjoy anime but haven't seen any Ghost in the Shell yet, then you could do a lot worse than to pick up this release - but after a constant stream of releases going back several years now, I really can't see that there are too many of you left...

Rating - ****

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