I know that I’ve said this many times already, but Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Not including the not as good, but still pretty great 2nd Gig. (That is sir not appearing in this post.) It feels like a meeting of so many great things came to make this anime what it is. Kenji Kamiyama was at his peak, Yoko Kanno was on board, Production I.G. was at what I call their own personal peak though everything they make is still polished to a high level, and it just looks so good and works so well. I cannot be objective with this post at all because I really find almost zero flaws with this show. The English dub is also amazing, guys. It just hits.
The way that I am going to discuss this series is just try to do it with my viewpoint of this series. I mean, this is my favorite series right? That already pushes how hard my bias, so I can’t be negative on it at all. The smallest criticisms I have for it are the fact that the side characters: Saito, Pauzu, Ichikawa, and Borma of section nine do not get the attention they deserve and try to get some attention given to them in 2nd Gig. The narrative or episodes in Stand Alone Complex are so tightly wound that it just does everything right. They do have personalities, but that’s about it. With that, let’s get into the details of the Stand Alone Complex finally.
The World and Characters of Stand Alone Complex
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex takes place in the near future of 2030 in Niihama City of the Niihama Prefecture of Japan. This is the world of the future where there was a World War 3 and 4 already. The United States has been split into three with the American Empire, a more Soviet friendly United State exists, and then the last remainder of what was the United State, while the Soviet Union is still around. A full future where people can have cyber technology placed in their heads to connect to the internet with cyber brains and people can become fully prosthetic by being turned into cyborgs if they have the money. That is where the world just begins there. Transcendence comes at a price
This series follows the special Investigation Public Security Section Nine led by the cool and very intelligent old man, Shinji Aramaki. The power Trio of this series is the Major Makoto Kusanagi, who has a mysterious background in this series but is clearly the woman who does a fantastic job of leading Section Nine, the former ranger Batou who is the big guy and likes to use brute force, and the only mostly normal human Togusa who has a family and used to be a cop. The dynamic between these three is amazing and part of the reason why Stand Alone Complex works. Chief Aramaki and the Major also have great interactions. Such great chemistry throughout it.
None of these characters change at all. This isn’t a series about character development, but of people moving, living, and working in this world to help keep it safe. What makes this series have a forward momentum is getting to know these characters more and the world a bit more too. It works very well because this world has a lot of things to uncover in it. Togusa is possibly the main character of the series because he is the weaker human who does a lot of solo investigation work sometimes. He has a lot of tension around him because he is intelligent and very good at his job, but Togusa is the most fragile character out of the bunch.
Some Major Themes and Stand Alone Episodes
This all sets the stage of one factor of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Since Niihama City is from the point of view of a special investigation unit, we see this world from underneath its surface. We don’t just see the public view of this cyberized world, we see how it affects people. It is the more dystopian view of this world. That and the criminal underworld of different political figures refusing to come into contact with their children being kidnapped. Or we see kids fall in love with a certain model of a robot that can’t express love or a cyber brain being attached to a gigantic tank and we don’t know why it’s going where it’s going because it can’t talk.
Which is yet another theme or idea behind Stand Alone Complex, what you see is not what you get. Someone bigger on the exterior will probably not be who they could be. Anyone can be strong, anyone can be anyone they want to be. A gigantic tank could have a person with the softest personality that you will ever see because they just want to see their parents. A person could have their entire personality locked away into a suitcase and you would never know. Or a think tank that Section Nine uses, the Tachikoma’s, could be like children who slowly gain intelligence and personalities over the course of the series. It truly inhabits what it means to have a transcendent and cyberized world with flaws and all.
Man, I haven’t even gotten into the major plot of Stand Alone Complex yet and this post is just on its eighth paragraph. I just have so much that I want to say about it. But Stand Alone Complex is mostly composed of stand alone episodes. It is very Cowboy Bebop like in format, but focused on Niihama city itself so you learn more about the city and the people living in it. It feels a lot more fleshed out because of it. A lot of episodes are police procedural style episodes, but they are really good ones because you get to learn more about our cast and see how lively and complex this show’s world is. Plus, you get to see our characters be really good at their jobs of investigating and keeping the public safe.
The Laughing Man
It’s such incredible work that you can see why the main plot of the series with the mysterious Laughing Man can thrive in the way that it does. Yes, I’m finally discussing some bit of the main plot here. This series was produced in 2002 and the people behind this series guess correctly on what a meme is by giving us how people live and are influenced by the mysterious hacker and possible anti hero, the Laughing man. His symbol is everywhere online and so many people just want to be him or think they could be him. People completely misunderstand why he came out, only that he is cool and this just captures the internet culture of today. He’s a living meme.
Or is he? The idea of the Laughing exists and there is a character named the Laughing Man who is exceptionally good at hacking, but even he admits in the end he possibly isn’t the original either. That means that the deception and the mystery behind the Laughing Man worked. People are not focused on the actual scandal that the Laughing Man is hiding everything over. He’s a distraction by the long standing conspiracy which is profiting off of a lot of complex and interesting issues. Issues that are at the very heart of Stand Alone Complex itself considering that this is a cyberized world and people’s cyber brains.
So that is all well and good because it is and it’s very interesting, but the thing pushing it over the top is the fact that the scandal in place is so strong and knows how to keep itself alive. While we know that Section Nine is exceptionally skilled at what they do, so is the enemy. It really is like a detective story and a chess game on top of it. A wonderful piece of political Thriller Fiction that I haven’t seen any other anime series ever match. The same people couldn’t even do it with 2nd Gig and that is a great show too. It is all that pinnacle of these very well trained and educated adults facing the hard underbelly of the Ghost in the Shell world.
Wrapping This Post Up
To finish off a lot of the good things I have to say is that for a series from 2002 and 2003, it still looks pretty good. Wonderful world structure with so many interesting locations around the city that we will soon recognize. I also love the world of character designs too. You can get a sense of a character’s personality just by looking at them. The Major refusing to wear pants correctly is fanservice, but it’s a part of her personality too. The CG behind the Tachikomas is something that I can admit looks decent even if a bit off here and there now. There is some traditional animation and cg animation on them and it never feels too jarring for me at least. It’s smartly made.
There are also a lot of sitting scenes but also some really good and well crafted choreographed fight scenes from shoot outs to just great hand to hand combat. It has all sorts of great combat styles in it that are so cool. Just having properly squad based combat shoot out scenes are cool. Or just the episode of the Major fighting against the mysterious cyborgs that show up and seeing her interact. Or Batou just boxing a broken down ol’ boxer. Just a lot of them that are very well articulated and animated. For all the scenes of these characters sitting down and talking to each other that is needed to make the show work, there are a lot of cool scenes in it that make up for each case.
This is my favorite anime series. I’ve said that in the beginning and I am saying something about it now too. I really don’t know how to end this post then to just say that it has everything that I look for in an anime series. It’s even a bit of a mecha series from time to time as well. This was the series that must have informed a lot of personality and the way I think when I originally watched it on Adult swim a long time ago. I’ve seen it four or five times now and it blows me away every single time I watch this series. Is it unfair to compare every other series to this one? Shouldn’t it be Gundam? Well, Turn A Gundam is number two for me if you wanted to know.
Favorite series are just inherently unfair anyway. That’s just how everything works after all.
Such a timeless series. While I haven’t had a chance to finish it, the episodes that I have watched are phenomenal. Great review, Scott!
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Thanks. I hope you get around to finishing it at some point.
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