Seasoned Spirits – "Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig" Vol 7
And hereby ends the second season of the animated “Ghost in the Shell” with the DVD release of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG Volume 7 – and complex is an appropriate word for those who have not been following the current story arc. I heartily recommend for those in such circumstances to give up on this review right now and go away. Play with your toys or something.
To the more consistent show followers that we have left, you will have to indulge me as I do retain the journalistic spirit and offer some background information for all those non “Ghost in the Shell” followers who should at this moment be playing with their toys – or something. So those who have been watching the series or collecting it on DVD – prepare to be patronized with a small bundle of data you’ll already know.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is spawned from the excellent and righteously successful comic book by Masamune Shirow. It delves into a nearish future landscape where machine and soul – or “Ghost” – collide to ambiguous proportions.
The stories themselves follow a special police group unit headed by Major Kusanagi who work to protect their country from internal or external threats. Quite often – as in this season story arc – the threat can be both.
Volume 07 of Stand Alone Complex contains the last three episodes of the second season. This is an immediate disappointment, since the previous volumes have had a mighty four episodes to munch on. It’s a pity there aren’t some more DVD features to make up for this slight cut in running time.
The three episodes – “Nuclear Power,” “This Side of Justice” and “Endless GIG” – all come together to bring the season storyline to a close. While this is essential to the season’s ongoing primary arc, I personally find these arc driven episodes a little less interesting than the more “stand alone” ones. Since all three episodes are pretty much a direct continuation of the same story line, we will look at them more or less as a whole rather than individually.
As the plots of Gohda against the plight of the refugees finally comes to an epic confrontation, the hunt for Kuze brings the terrorist face to face with Major Kusanagi. It’s certainly gratifying to see the chase come to a close being it has felt a little drawn out over the past few episodes. That said, the final encounter between the Major and Kuze in “This Sides of Justice” is one of the DVD’s highlight; offering a little further background to Kuze and in a DVD that quite simply has a great deal of things exploding, whizzing helicopters and threats of nuclear destruction, it’s a much needed bit of character.
The problem I had with this DVD is that the epic nature of the climatic storyline dwarfs much of the subtleties within the show’s concept, since they are suffocated by much of the run of the mill explosions and gritted teeth. This may appeal to the more action orientated fan, but is a little disappointing to those who enjoy the more human attributes of the Ghost in the Shell universe.
The Tachikomas relevance to this story cannot be underplayed, and beyond their importance to the plot, their inclusion within the story construct certainly helps lighten a very serious narrative. The cut back to the group and the mix of dialogue and verbal character helps give the tone a little more color.
Of the three episodes, “Endless GIG” is probably the strongest of the group. The finale itself is very touching, with the emotional impact of the resolution underplayed significantly. This was a brave and respectful tactic given that too many TV shows indulge in their dramatic resolutions to draw the audience in; often relying on the emotional “song” as a crutch and thereby ignoring the needs to play serious attention to the story dyanmics itself. The epilogue is also well handled. With all relevant plot lines tied up, the final scene plays as a gentle reminder of how the story of Ghost in the Shell all started.
One should be careful not to underplay some of the good in the middle act, “The Sides of Justice.” While I did not find the episode quite as well crafted as “Endless GIG,” it contains a hefty bit of welcome exposition regarding Kuze that sets up the resolving emotional factors for the final episode. Both “Nuclear Power” and “The Sides of Justice” suffer from a great deal of action filler, with the former episode having very little emotional draw to it at all.
The “Tachikoma Days” epilogues are a little bit of fun. “Tachiko-Man” is an enjoyable successful homage to a certain American wall-crawling character, and the final epilogue in “Endless GIG” has an amusing relevance to the story in hand. “Tachikoma Days” remain an enjoyable break from the show’s seriousness and a reminder of the humor of the original book that I sometimes find lacking in the series.
The soundtrack is great throughout. A mix of the standard electro-beat beats with the occasional delve into some more natural instruments and ambience. “Nuclear Power” has a lovely little bit of tap to punctuate a piece of tension and the outro music to the final act of “Endless GIG” punctuates the season on a real aural high.
Visually, I found this volume a little variable. On occasions, the animation seems a little stiff. The initial political meeting in “Nuclear Power” was as static as any old Hanna-Barbara cartoon and some of the computer generated action isn’t really as seamless as one would like. Despite this some of the visual direction and animation are really on the nail, spicing up some of the more mechanical action scenes. Overall, I would say that the good outweighs the bad, though “Nuclear Power” visually suffers the worst of the three.
As mentioned earlier, I have to point out the DVD itself is a little sparse. A little more forgivable in DVDs with four episodes, but for those with just three, it feels you are missing a chunk of the disk. That said, there are some interesting bits of character analysis from the usual collective of voice artists and production crew that in some way makes up for any bulk of features. The trailer is also included. One couldn’t help wishing for a little more, given this is the final season disk and there being one less episode than usual. The DVD presentation is akin to the rest of the volumes – good, though not mind blowing.
Overall, I enjoyed the end to this story though I did find the conspiracies of this arc a little tiring. I guess it’s a genre that is hard pushed to find new avenues – even with the advantages of cyberspace and cyborg bodies. In the end, a conspiracy is a conspiracy and no niche frills can really make up for that. You either dig conspiracies or you don’t – end of story.
That said, Kuze has been a fascinating character; one of the few terrorists I’ve seen depicted in fiction that manages to raise the bar in terms of motivations and profile. Ghost in the Shell has always had an underlying theme of isolation; how a society with more communication and less physical barriers than our own can actually become more confined; more alone. There is not a character yet who depicts this very issue better than Kuze (though the Major does a damn good job – and that is an issue the finale certainly addresses). The very question of human isolation, the “ghost” and what separates the machines from man are pivotal to this final conclusion even if they are somewhat tucked away.
So not a bad finale, though a little run-of-the-mill in places. The DVD offers a thought out resolution and a well plotted epilogue to the events of the second season. It’s just a pity that the scale of the drama suffocates some of the subtleties of the characters it plays. Overall, a watchable slice of futuristic mayhem and intrigue with such genuinely interesting outcomes marred by an uneven mix of action and philosophy. Not a bad end, but I must confess, I hoped for a little more out of such a solid series.