Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
(From Derrick's review:)
In the near future society is super saturated with technology. It is a society in which artificial intelligence is more than an artifact of the imagination, users plug directly into the internet, and cybernetically enhanced agents police the activities of those who are plugged in. It is the officers of Section 9, typically under the direction of "Major" Kusanagi Motoko, that uphold the rule of law on the information highway here. And it is here that the Major and the agents of Section 9 get inevitably drawn into the tangle of events surrounding the Laughing Man case, a cyber-crime case in which not all is as it seems.
The second interpretation of Shirow Masamune's original manga in an animated form, Kenji Kamiyama's political thriller TV-series, Stand-Alone Complex, is a very interesting and competent take on the Ghost in the Shell universe.
For one thing, it has all the wonderful plot devices your common-everyday anime fan (such as myself) needs in order to have his or her attention held: Flashy production values! Cool technology! Hot Babes! Cute tank-like robot things contemplating individuality as a means to convey how the systematic improvement of AI is blurring the definite line between man and man-made machine!
One is probably led to wonder: what more does a show possibly need in order to be warranted as an outstanding one?
Well, for starters, it would be the plot, its interpretation and how the director builds his messages around it; Kamiyama does an admirable job in this regard.
First off, Kamiyama's direction is incredibly intelligent in its execution. From the logical cohesion of his planning and action sequences to the vast amount of detail and polish in his scripts and political intrigue; as a whole, there really aren't too many stones left unturned here.
Pay attention to how coordinated crowd's movements are and how the media is just as annoying as it is in real life; it's all very impressive.
The best part of this is that it is all expressed in a pleasantly understated manner not commonly seen in mainstream anime; what's more is that the accumulation of all these subtleties makes for a very pleasing atmosphere of seldom-rivaled realism and sophistication.
In contrast though, while Kamiyama is indeed a very competent director and has this certain edge for expressing a lot of the characteristic nuances that make the members of society seen in the show feel more human, I'd have to say that Stand-Alone Complex doesn't seem to have the same emotional resonance as works from other directors of the same caliber such as Hayao Miyazaki or Masayuki Kojima (Or even considerably less sophisticated directors like Junichi Sato, Toshiyuki Tsuru or Akitaro Daichi).
Also, a lot of the ideas that arise in Stand-Alone Complex aren't nearly as thought-provoking as what Oshii conveyed in Innocence; when you put these two interpretations of Ghost in the Shell together side-by-side, as harsh as this sounds, much of Kamiyama's speculative ideas are only mildly interesting in comparison. And while it could be that it was communicated all too silently in Stand-Alone Complex, Satoshi Kon's take on mass-hysteria in Paranoia Agent actually made more sense, regardless of its ambiguity. Not only that, but it was more creative as well (given the exaggeration and all).
Those minor issues aside, Kamiyama successfully builds a wonderfully complex plot and message centering around fulfilling a sense of justice in a world that is filled to the brim with the paradox of cutting-edge technology and economic inequality. As corrupt as everything might seem, and whether it be born of rational logic or not, there are those few who stand out and will not sit idly by only to watch all the injustice in the world continue on as if it isn't really happening; this is what Kenji Kamiyama's Ghost in the Shell is all about.
Kamiyama tends to take the approach of having the characters of Section Nine face a constant vexation as their enemies are clearly in front of them, yet they are unable to use immense police powers to get the job done mainly because of all the restrictions they have to adhere to in their line of work.
Unlike Kenshiro, from Fist of the North Star, who is able to deal out the justice of the North Star as he sees fit (by blowing people's heads up on impulse), Aramaki and his crew can't just do whatever they want to in order to pursue the ever-fleeting ideal that is justice; it should be as easy as walking up to the guilty party and capping a bullet in his white-collar ass, but it isn't. This is mainly because of all the red tape and politics that makes everything such a huge pain. Sometimes, these barriers are even turned against Section Nine by the very enemies they wish to persecute.
Essentially, it's artificially complicated law procedures and affairs of the state in an artificially enhanced world.
Overall, Kamiyama's perception of the future feels like the world has diminished into a place where things (like justice) get done in an unnecessarily long manner even with all the various improvements in technology that gives us the tools needed in order to make the execution of our duties easier and more timely; I remember being at Burger King once with my cousin and a few other friends in Las Vegas, and for some ungodly reason, it took several whole minutes for them to get our orders ready; what's worse is that they still put vegetables and stuff in my burger even though I had asked them not to earlier.
Yes, apparently we as a society are that inefficient even now.
My minor problems with the "fast" in fast-food aside, here we are once again: my analysis of the quality of the English dub. The job was outsourced to Animaze over in LA with Kevin Seymour in the position of ADR director.
I have some quibbles.
First of all, some of the delivery could be better. Sometimes, a line would be delivered in a manner that didn't really make any sense to me; the flow has this feeling of incoherence to it, but, during moments of passive listening, this is masked by the incredibly dense script that Seymour has to deal with. Upon critical analysis though, these problems with delivery are certainly there.
One can argue that the script is hard to work with given a show of this nature, but the fact is, that isn't a very good excuse and these issues shouldn't really be here when it comes down to it, regardless of how meticulous the script is. The best dubs make it work.
The acting shines the most, it seems, when the actors don't have to synch with lip-flaps. For example, William Knight had a long set of lines during the 4th episode where Aramaki discusses the hypothetical origins of the Laughing Man; his delivery during the sequence was noticeably more detailed as opposed to his normal onscreen delivery. Conversely, The Tachikomas (played by multiple actresses) were consistently great thanks to the advantage of not having to deal with the aforementioned lip-flaps.
My main problem with the acting can probably be found in the general female performances; not only does it seem like they're unmotivated, but they don't have a whole lot of range in their voices that distinguishes them from each other. The casting and directing on this end of things feels like it was haphazardly done as there were little to no memorable female performances in the series (I loved Michelle Ruff as Miki though, she was extra cute). Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is pretty neat as the major, but for some reason, she tends to talk in this weird ascending tone from time to time that just throws me off.
The male-side of acting fares better, the only real problem being is that their projection should've been more aggressive during some scenes and that some of the voices they used seemed forced outside of the regular range they would normally deliver with.
All in all, my reaction to this dub is somewhat surprising considering how impressed I was with Kevin Seymour's new Akira dub. He really should've spent more time with this show polishing the rough-edges out since there is a lot of room for improvement. I mean, it's an okay dub, but I'm a bit dismayed by the fact that it only seems to be top-tier mainly because of the sheer density to be found in the script. If I really had to praise something though, it would be the amazing walla (crowd noise) work, which is as thoroughly done as the series it belongs to.
In closing, what Kamiyama seems to be saying with his take on Ghost in the Shell is that justice, regardless of how aimless the journey might seem, will always surely prevail in the end, one way or another. And it'll be up to Aramaki and his Section Nine crew to ensure that this happens; all the while maintaining the anonymity of a monk secluded in the distant mountains.
At the end of the day though, if there was one provocative and enigmatic question about the future that should be explored more in detail, it would most likely have to be: I wonder if I'll be able to surf for porn on the internet inside my head one day when we all have computers integrated into our brains?
Deduct one star if you find painstaking complexity to be annoying or snobby or if you dislike the tedium of watching realistic conversations about political maneuvers between various people. — Dominic Laeno
Recommended Audience: Complex, graphic, and somewhat violent at times, this series is not one to be watched by young children. Appropriate for those sixteen years old and up.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex © 2002 Shirow Masamune / Production IG / Kodansha
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