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Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex -
2nd gig, volume 2
A region 2 DVD review by CNash

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Conmplex 2nd Gig, Volume 2 is released by Manga Entertainment on 13th March. My colleague Rulke reviewed the first volume earlier in the year; therefore, I won't go into too much detail on the overall story of the series, as I feel he's explained it well. You may also like to read Slarek's review of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence; it features the same characters and settings.

This volume starts to answer a lot of the questions posed about who or what the Individual Eleven are, their ideology, and whether or not the situation is the same as the "Laughing Man" incident covered in the first series of Stand Alone Complex. In addition, it continues the themes of political intrigue and in-fighting between the various departments of the Japanese government, especially in relation to the controversial Refugee situation that seems to be the focus of the Individual Eleven's terrorist activities.

Each of the four episodes featured in this volume deal with what seems to be an isolated terrorist incident, but subtle (or not-so-subtle) background clues point to all of the events being linked somehow to the Individual Eleven.

 In Inductance, the Prime Minister receives a death threat from the Individual Eleven, and Section Nine is assigned to protect her. However, the Prime Minister's annual visit to the temple puts her at risk from a prosthetic-bodied assassin.

Excavations puts Togusa on the trail of a dead man supposedly connected to terrorist activites. While investigating, he uncovers evidence of a mysterious government conspiracy – and realises that the dead man might just be an innocent victim.

Section Nine are called upon to escort supplies of plutonium in Pu239 – but what interest does the enigmatic government agent Goda have in both their operation and the search for the Individual Eleven?

And in Free Food, Batou and Togusa run surveillance on a suspected member of the Individual Eleven, not knowing that Section One is watching the same man. In the midst of conflicting information, is the suspect what he seems?

Each episode comes with a short featuring the three hyperactive, ultra-enthusiastic Tachikoma vehicles performing some strange activity and (more often than not) being chased offstage by a large enemy robot. The ending credits pay homage to the seminal arcade classic, Dig Dug, and the shorts overall serve to offset the gritty seriousness of the main show.

The animation differs slightly depending on what part of it you're looking at. In long shots, buildings (especially the ruined skyscrapers) are very detailed, while the design of the various vehicles (including the aforementioned Tachikomas) are excellent, making good use of CGI in some cases. The characters are drawn using mostly straight lines, with very few rounded edges. Like most animé series, SAC provides plenty of fanservice, often having Major Motoko's breasts in prominent view, though stopping short of gratuitous panty-shots – clothing for the Section Nine operatives is more sealed-in than flowing, sometimes owing much to The Matrix.

The English dub is, in my mind, not the best it could be. For starters, whoever wrote the dub has tried to fit far too much information and hyperbole into the character's speeches. I often heard the voice-actors Peter-Pipering their lines to try and lip-synch all of it, and as a consequence, it is hard to follow – coming across as monologues most of the time. The lines themselves are sometimes lacking in emotion.

In the music department, Yoko Kanno (of Cowboy Bebop fame) shows off her seemingly-endless versatility, providing track after track of pumping techno beats, mainly used for the action scenes. While this style of music doesn't really interest me – I far preferred her jazzy soundtracks for Bebop – it sets the scene well enough.

To me, the most unnerving part of Stand Alone Complex is not the political themes or the terrorist action sequences – it's the fact that replacing body parts with cybernetic implants has become commonplace and accepted as part of the characters' worldview. There are even people with bodies that are fully cybernetic, with only their brains remaining as "human". Although this is one of the major points of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, I still find myself asking if humanity will ever go so far down the road of prosthetics and cybernetics to wind up as dependant on technology as the Ghost characters are.

In conclusion, Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig strikes me as a series that tries to be as stand-alone as its title, but all too often places too much emphasis on the backstory of the Ghost in the Shell world – viewers are expected to have seen the first series and the movies in order to fully appreciate its complexity, and I feel that this is a detraction from what would otherwise be a solid politically-based animé series. The intricacies of the plot will no doubt go over the heads of some animé viewers; I wouldn't reccommend it to everyone.

sound and vision

16:9 and enhanced for widescreen TVs, the picture quality is, like the first volume, very good, with good colour reproduction and detail and no evidence of obvious comperssion artefacts or edge enhancement.

The sound options are Dolby 2.0 stereo, 5.1 surround and DTS, each in eithe Japanese or with the English dub. Once again the DTS dub is on the second disk. of the three, the DTS has the edge, having a little more punch than the 5.1, though both surround tracks use the rear speakers well for sound effects. Music always plays well and there is some effective LFE usage where appropriate.

extra features

Bonus features on the first disc are two interviews with character designers Takayuki Goto (12:17) and Tetsuya Nishio (9:29). These offer insights into the design process of the characters who are newly introduced to the series, such as the cybernetic Kuze – whose appearance was originally based upon actor Takeshi Kaneshiro.

The second disc has Manga's Art of Animé promotional video (2:10), a Coming Soon from Manga trailer (2:10) and trailers for Millennium Actress and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.

Like the first volume, and Innocence, Manga have chosen to present Volume 2 as a "special" two-disc edition, but haven't provided any real reason for doing so – all you get on the second disc are DTS audio versions of the same four episodes. As Slarek remarks in his review of Innocence, it smacks slightly of false advertising. 

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, 2nd. Gig, Vol. 1
Kôkaku kidôtai: Stand Alone Complex

Japan 2004
97 mins
Kenji Kamiyama

DVD details
region 2
16:9 anamorphic
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
Dolby stereo 2.0
English for the hearing impaired
Interviews with character designers
The Art of Anime featurette

release date
13 March 2006
review posted
26 February 2006

Related reviews
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, 2nd. Gig, Vol. 2
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

See all of CNash's reviews