Remember that one post I wrote about a while ago how I don’t have a favorite series? I could have been lying about that fact. Most likely lying to myself to be a little fairer towards other series. Looking through that post about, all those thought processes toward not building a list of my favorite shows still stands. For example, I’ve watched Chihayafuru and Natsume’s Book of Friends this year and those series are definitely going to be amongst my list of favorite series that I would recommend to anyone. The thing here is that there has always been a series that I’ve compared everything to. I think I am going to stop beating myself around the bush here. It’s Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I feel like many of you were expecting a Gundam series. Close, but Stand Alone Complex is nearly perfect to me. It has everything I want to see in an anime series and more. My most recent OWLS post has helped me realize this.
(Just to let you guys know, this post will not be spoiler free at all.)
Before I dig into the specifics of this series, maybe some added context is needed here. I mean, what is the point of talking about a series if all parties involved don’t know what the hell I am talking about. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a cyberpunk series centered around a group of former military cyborgs and a normal ex policeman named Togusa called Section 9 under their leader named Aramaki. The two cyborgs that you really need to know are Motoko Kusanagi who is the Major and Batou, the ex cyrborg special forces member, but everyone is a specialist in something. Section 9 are experts in cyber warfare in everything way possible. That could be actual warfare that require stealth missions to anti hacking methods. The main case of the first season was centered this mysterious hacker called The Laughing Man while Second Gig is first centered around a mystery group called the Individual Eleven at first and becomes a political case centered around immigration afterward. Really solid stuff that I love.
I think the best part of this series is that nothing is exactly as you would expect it to be. Especially arc conclusions. I feel like some people would consider that to be pretentious, but I think everything is earned here. If Ghost in the Shell was a standard anime, the Laughing Man case would just be resolved after he is caught. The ending result is far more complicated than that and that’s why I love. Especially with the build up from multiple incidents that show this case is just a run of the mill case. There are plenty of political things behind it. I will say that the second season is more straight forward with the plot then the first, which is sort of a detriment, but it’s still just as interesting and has larger implications to it all. The villain has an obvious villain face, but he is incredibly interesting and plays the political game in wonderful ways that makes him extra devious. That and the other added craziness in this story. Just as interesting as part one in my eyes.
To add more to this aspect, let’s talk about Ghost in the Shell’s world building. In story structure, it’s very similar to Cowboy Bebop. You know, some story episodes with everything else being one offs to explore the anime’s world more. The difference between the two is that Stand Alone Complex takes place in a city while Cowboy Bebop takes place around a universe. This thing feels more natural towards Ghost in the Shell, because it’s in a more central area instead of exploring little bits and pieces of an entire solar system. It means you know the city Stand Alone Complex takes place in and you can possibly live and breathe in it. Section 9’s cases not only explore the political complexities involved in the city, but the cities underworld as well. Also, considered that this series explores cyberization and cyborgs, we see all the effects it has on society. You know, your brain diseases AND certain fetishes that people acquire from the whole thing. Like holy crap, what other series takes its world building to that level in fifty episodes? Mobile Suit Gundam’s Universal Century needed tons of series to explore its universe as completely and Legend of the Galactic Heroes has 110 episodes that it needed to accomplish all of it.
Should we talk about the visuals and the audio aspects of this show? I honestly don’t think that I have to, because a lot of quick google and youtube searches will give anyone a good feel for what this show has to offer. Still, everything about this show is amazing. This series came from the early 2000’s, but every single visual aspect about Stand Alone Complex could easily fit into whatever is produced today. The characters designs are great, everything about the background art is great, the animation is out of this world, and everything else. Should I also mention the soundtrack is made by Yoko Kanno? Do I have to say how amazing the music is now, because Yoko Kanno is an instant mark of quality to me. The less obvious thing that NO ONE ever talks about is the English dub. It’s perfect. Every single voice fits their characters with a solid voice cast of Crispin Freeman, Mary Elizabeth McGlyn, and Richard Epcar amongst other people. You don’t see an all-star voice cast like that very often anymore, so this is the stuff of legends to me. I love every single one of them.
I know that I have been gushing about this show as much as possible, but it does have a weakness. It’s characters. As big as section nine is, the show only focuses on Chief Aramaki, Batou, Togusa, Major Kusanagi, and the Tachikomas. You know, those small spider tank things that Section 9 rides around on? They have the voices of children and are completely adorable to me. The other members do have an episode to flesh them out a little more, but it’s never enough for me really. Still, there is a lot of interesting dynamics between the well-established characters to make everything work for me. Togusa and Batou has an interesting repertoire considering that they are exact opposites of each other and tackle cases better because of it. The Major and Batou also have fun interactions with each other. Chief Aramaki is the leader, so you see how hard he pushes his workers and his own back story. I should also mention that the major’s sexuality is explored as well. Just fun stuff all around really. Oh yeah, the Tachikomas. Those are more interesting when discussing the show’s A.I. element I think.
Speaking of A.I. stories, those are some of my favorite kind of stories in science fiction. Here we are with that sense of exploration all over the place combined with what conceptualizing what makes a person a person. In their full cyborg bodies, Major Kusanagi and Batou still carry some of their human traits with them. Our major finds a cyborg body that is able to wear her keepsake wrist watch and Batou still uses work out equipment or some reason. Things they don’t need as a cyborg, but it reminds them of their humanity. Then we go over the Tachikomas. You know, those adorable spider tanks that have the voice of kids? If there is a real sense of exploration of humanity, it’s with them. First, they are spider tanks that say some quirky things to define who they are and then they only get smarter. They start asking for souvenirs from the Major’s travels and eventually start philosophizing about their existence and existence itself. Quite a jump, don’t you think? Yeah, and the series addresses that. Nobody knows what is going on with them, not even their creator. Yet, these “children” are some of the most dedicated soldiers in the Section Nine force and they deserve all the respect they can get. Maybe they are annoying to some, but I love them.
While I can admit that this show isn’t flawless, despite all the things I’ve said and haven’t said in this post, I can’t help but admit that Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is my favorite anime. I don’t think I can hide that anymore. I do admit that the series is more involved than a lot of anime series and requires a little leg work from the viewer, but the result is more than worth it here. Call Stand Alone Complex pretentious if you want to, but I can’t see it that way in my eyes. To me, the best sort of media always requires some audience participation too because it means that the entertainment is not mindless. Great characters caught up in action spectacle is something that I adore, but that show will get an additional bonus from me if that show also is exploring some heavy themes along the side of all of that good material. That is Stand Alone Complex to me and I love it to death and back.