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"Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society (UK Edition)": A Solid Gas

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has been on my list of series to see for a while now. I’d watched the first theatrical movie and generally enjoyed it but found it a bit rushed, so the idea of a full TV show to better explore these characters and concepts certainly piqued my interest. Of course this means that going into the feature length OVA sequel Solid State Society I was going in partially blind.

ImageIt’s been two years since the end of the TV series. Major Motoko Kusanagi has retired from her role in the anti-cyber terrorism force Section 9 and the organization has continued on without her. Investigating the mass suicides of a foreign terrorist group, Section 9 hits onto something even more complex and puzzling. As they research the spiraling web that is the mystery of the ‘Solid State Society’ the organization is faced with an equally troubling revelation: Motoko may be the mastermind of the entire plot.

Even going into this without having seen the TV show, I found the story flowed pretty well and was easy to grasp. I’ll admit that even a partial prior experience such as I’ve had with the movie will help (heck, an early scene of Motoko seems to be a direct visual homage to how she was introduced in that) but events are smoothly presented, maybe even with more sense than said movie.

Obviously, being a sequel means there are some continuing plot threads intended for returning viewers, most prominently involving the new Section 9 field leader Togusa, whose promotion is clearly drawing on previous events and character development. I’m impressed how the feature manages to strike a firm balance between rewarding returning long time fans and inviting relative novices to jump on. That’s rarely an easy goal to achieve.

The plot itself plays out as a good old fashioned mystery in a mildly futuristic setting. What begins as a fairly routine hunt for a terrorist cell becomes an investigation of a much larger conspiracy with cases of child abduction and government ties. Whilst I obviously don’t want to spoil too much, things play out at an even pace and the chain of leads that emerges are unique enough to keep viewers on their toes without spiraling into the outlandish and far fetched. Although the element of cyborgs and the evolved world wide web plays an important part to the story, this is a good compelling thriller that mostly could work even if the creators had chosen to set it in the modern day with contemporary trappings in place of the futuristic ones.

ImageOf course a key part of any mystery story is the investigators, those that choose to make the pursuit of law enforcement their lives. Batou, who in the absence of Motoko steps up into the lead role, carries a believable world weariness for a man who holds ideals but ones forged in the fire of the reality of his profession. He’s the kind of guy whose abilities are thought highly of and has been doing the job too long to quit, but has lost the chance of ever officially rising higher. This provides a nice counterpoint to Togusa, who is obviously a more career-minded family man trying to keep Batou in line by his position, which is perhaps higher than his actual experience. The two characters neatly converge on the issue of Motoko’s actual role in the case, with neither wanting her to be the perpetrator but wrestling with their sworn duty should this be the case.

This of course means that Motoko herself is fairly mysterious. We get a few early scenes that establish she is running her own agenda and wishes to remain independent, but it’s not until the finale that she really becomes a consistent player.

Being released on Blu-ray, the production really shines visually. OVAs often benefit from higher budgets then TV outings, and Blu-ray releases really help illustrate that fact. A year or so ago there seemed to be concerns that Blu-ray releases of Japanese titles in the UK simply wasn’t economically feasible, so I’m very glad to see that this seems to be being addressed with each passing month.

A wealth of extras is included. Usually anime releases usually come up short in this department with a standard of production art and trailers. Solid State Society instead offers some very interesting featurettes which plunge headfirst into the creative design decisions for the feature. The first of these is actually pretty helpful for newcomers such as myself, as it explains the political and technological state of the story whilst analysing the plot and offering insight from the staff on things like how they chose to age the characters and the subtle work they put into giving certain elements designs which hinted at an importance without outright spoiling it. I ate this stuff up.

ImageTwo other featurettes look at the work that was done alongside Nissan, adapting two concept cars and the building of a one-of-a-kind Tachikoma robot. These are both really interesting and informative, taking a deep look at how the world of fiction can impact the world of reality. The Tachikomas get a further chance to shine in an animated comedy short which explores their relationship with their successors introduced in the main story.

Admittedly the American produced extras are pretty disappointing, amounting to limited talking head interviews with some of the dub actors and the president of Production I.G. The latter in particular suffers for, by its own admission, being from 2007 and asking questions about things such as the chances of more episodes. Five years is a long time.

As a fan of steampunk/cyberpunk fiction, I give Solid State Society a hearty recommendation. Whilst aspirational tales of humanity’s far future are great food for the soul, stories set just that odd ’30 minutes in the future’ just seem to speak more loudly. This is a high quality release of a high quality production.

Ghost in the Shell: SAC Solid State Society OVA (UK Edition) is available through Amazon.co.uk.

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