Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig review

    Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was a success both commercially as well as artistically. It didn't exactly elevate the medium but it was an intelligent thought provoking science-fiction series with a lot to say about both technology as well as society. Given it starred a bisexual cyborg swimsuit and trench coat wearing ninja, that's pretty impressive.

    However, the bane of all successful thought-provoking science fiction is the sequel. It can't ruin good science fiction but it tends to occupy headspace which would otherwise be full of pure joy. We can't think of The Matrix without The Matrix Revolutions, for example, and I'm visibly annoyed every time I remember The Lost Boys sequels exist.

S9 loses some of its invincibility this time around.
    GITS:SAC:2G is a season of television with very big shoes to fill. It needs to not only stand on its own but serve as a follow-up to what was generally regarded as amazing television. So, does it manage to live up to its predecessor. Yes, but there's a caveat that while I find the central plot superior to the original and more coherent, I also note there's some serious flaws with the climax of the season being a repeat of the original.

    The premise of 2nd Gig is Japan dealing with a refugee crisis from World War 3. They've let in large numbers of what I believe are meant to be Chinese and Koreans but have informally ghettoized them in a single island off the mainland. This is an unfortunately prescient piece of science fiction even as there will always be refugees and they'll almost certainly always be treated like garbage by the state they're living in.

Gouda is right. He does have a memorable face.
    The refugee crisis hits a breaking point when the Individual Eleven start appearing around society and attacking both refugees as well as those who are against them. Allegedly basing their actions on Japan's suicidal poet Yukio Mishima and his troublesome legacy, the Individual Eleven seem to have sprung up from nowhere simultaneously and are engaged in a guerilla war with no real goal or end in sight. Made during the height of the War on Terror, 2nd Gig subtly handles the frustrations of law enforcement dealing with an invisible enemy which doesn't require traditional organization to cause a breakdown in society.

    2nd Gig is always at its best when it's dealing with more human stories than the technology which makes them science-fiction. The best stories of this season are an adaptation of Taxi Driver minus the shoot-out at the end, a story of love turned into obsession, and a trial where the defense is more interested in indicting the officer than the circumstances of the case. The episodes are more tied to the main plot this time around than in the original Stand Alone Complex, though, and build up steadily to the end.
Kuze is a bit of a Gary Stu but as he's the antagonist, that's okay.
    Unlike the previous season which didn't really have a villain per se and rejected the concept with the Laughing Man (who was just a social activist turned meme), 2nd Gig has two primary antagonists. The first is Gouda, a deformed civil servant who is just shy of a Bond villain for quiet menace, and Kuze who is a cybernetic paragon equal to the Major.

    I have to say this is another area where 2nd Gig shines because both of these individuals feel like they could pose legitimate threats to Section Nine. Gouda is perhaps a little too over-the-top in his evil but the fact he is behaving in such a way out of a desire for fame is part of his backstory.

The Individual 11 - Terrorists Without a Cause.
    Unfortunately, as mentioned, events start resembling the exact same ones in the previous season with the government turning against Section Nine and them being slowly dismantled by a superior force. We also get more anti-American sentiment regarding the American Empire's attempts to take over Japan.

    This is alright, if the authors feel that way it's their prerogative, but Kuze's backstory has a great deal of similarity to certain World War 2 Imperial Japanese apologia which sours the pot a little. I could be misreading what's being said but the fact I was able to see it does make me suspicious. There's also the fact the show never really comes down and gives a strong opinion on the refugee issue, being vaguely for them when I think it might have been better to go full acceptance.

    In conclusion, 2nd Gig is an extremely intelligent and well-written season of cyberpunk sci-fi. However, it's not quite as enjoyable in some respects as the original season. It actually improves in many ways but the flaws are much deeper. Still, I recommend this to anyone who loves science-fiction and not just anime.


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