Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex review

    Ghost in the Shell was a seminal movie of cyberpunk as well as anime as a whole but I actually think it was inferior to the subsequent two season and one movie series which debuted afterward. Neither sequel nor reboot, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was entirely its own thing which explored the setting created for the manga in a surprisingly mature way.

    It's rare for any adapted work to qualify as not just good science fiction in its medium but good science fiction but Stand Alone Complex gets high marks all across the board. Indeed, if I had to pick one anime for sharing to the world about what it can achieve I'd probably pick this one. It's that good.

Motoko remains no. 1 on my favorite anime characters list.
    This isn't to say the anime is perfect, the work being a bit on the slow side at times and having some holdovers which don't always make sense (such as the Major's clothing), but these are minor flaws in the grand scheme of things. I dare say it was also an anime which actually improved with its second season and I didn't think it was possible given I really-really loved the first.

    The premise is much the same as the first with Major Motoko Kusanagi ("Jane Excalibur" for an equivalent name) being a cyborg soldier in the service of Public Security Section Nine, which is the secret cyber-crimes and anti-terrorism division of the Japanese government. The events of the movie have not happened yet, nor probably will, but focus on Motoko interacting with questions of how technology impacts society in smaller ways.

The Major contrasts with the earthier but still smart Batou.
    While the series is episodic, it has an overarching story called "The Laughing Man" case, which deals with a super-hacker possessing a JD Salinger motiff. In a clever homage to Catcher in the Rye, The Laughing Man's actions were meant to be a stinging indictment of society's corruption but ended up so ridiculously popular the social meaning was lost completely. Indeed, it is difficult to say who the actual Laughing Man was because he spawned so many imitators, copycats, and confusion about who he was as well as what he was doing.

    Indeed, the words Stand Alone Complex is a concept forwarded by this series and maybe even originated with it about an item with no actual origin point. It's a meme which mutates to the point everyone has an image in their head of it that never really existed in the first place. For example, the phrase, "Beam me up, Scotty" never actually happened in Star Trek but everyone knows it as symbolic of Star Trek. In this case, it is a freedom fighter/criminal who is simultaneously real as well as fictional (something which has happened in RL with the nonexistent individual Ned Ludd or, less threateningly, Anonymous). Heavy stuff for an anime meant for teenagers.

The Laughing Man is as intriguing as the Major. No small feat.
    At the risk of putting down the original movie, Stand Alone Complex works in large part because it makes fun of the more exotic themes of its forebearer. The motivations for the criminals in GITS:SAC are usually money, political position, favor trading, and other venal motivations.

    They also go with sex for as far as you can do in a PG-13 rated show. Indeed, one of the central themes of the season is the Laughing Man case is tied to medical fraud which resulted in a number of premature deaths unnoticed by the public at large. It's the kind of "boring" news which makes the satire of the Laughing Man all the more biting.

    In a very real way, Stand Alone Complex is a police procedural with the focus being on the various sorts of crimes and corrupt activities which can be gotten away with using future technology. These can range from the perverse (a man blowing up rare sex dolls so he'll have the only one left) to the not-so-different-from-today (a group of organ traffickers seeking to pay off their medical bills) to the bizarre (a man who resurrects himself as a tank).

The Major's outfit is ridiculous, though.
    Section Nine is draconian in a way which is more CIA than police but that isn't far from the truth given how technology has militarized the police in the USA. Hell, there's even an episode on illegal surveillance which was first broadcast in 2002 and feels prescient today.

    Of course, there's some areas where I disagree with the show's politics. Not the least being a general anti-American sentiment prevalent through the series which seems a touch hypocritical given the show's own sometimes authoritarian bias. Still, I like plenty of hard edged spy shows and this certainly qualifies as one. The show is also not unwilling to criticize it's own authoritarian bias as we see what happens when its government's ruthless unaccountability is turned against Section Nine.

    The voice acting in the American version is every bit as good as the Japanese but I'm sorry to say the Compilation Movie of GIT:SAC replaces Motoko's voice actress of Mary McGinnis as well as the others. While a perfectly fine OVA on its own and enjoyable, I have to say I prefer the Dub version over all others in the series. Motoko Kusanagi is a fine character but all of her supporting cast are also entertaining with special focus on Batou (Richard Epcar) and Aramaki (Grant George). The only characters I don't much care for are the Tachikomas, sentient tanks which sound like little girls which are less off-putting than they sound (not that such would be difficult).

I will say I can't stand the cutesy tanks. I'm sorry, but it's true.
    I feel like I could go on all day about this show and I really could. It's an evocative three-dimensional world which is recognizable as our own but wholly changed from the one we currently live in. I don't know if I believe we'll ever have something like full-body replacement cybernetics replacing the human form but the show makes a good case it would be possible as well as desirable. It would be horrifying to have your brain hacked from the outside but the benefits would be worth it to me.

    In conclusion, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex stands at the very top of cyberpunk storyetlling as well as science fiction in general. It's not going to be remembered as one of the all time classics but it is certainly someone who should be invited to their party's. They can hang around with the Matrix and other properties of the early 21st century.


1 comment:

  1. The Monster with 21 Faces case was also an inspiration. Of course that is also a case of real life supervillainy as well.