Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex: Volume 4 Review
The writers seem to be taking things steady now with relation to “The Laughing Man”, who is nowhere to be found on Volume 4, which means that we’re going stand alone once again. The Section 9 members are up to their ears in conspiracy and murder, and as they investigate several independent cases the Tachikoma units back at base begin to act very strangely. The divide between man and machine is about to be questioned and Section 9 will soon find themselves having to cover up their intents in order to shield their machines from a sad truth.
There will be occasional spoilers here.
Stand Alone Complex has reached a point where nothing is for certain now. Just when we think that things are nicely settled something always manages to shake the series up and leave us wondering where it’s going; more on this later though as we reach an important episode. To begin with this volume opens with a bang. When Kusanagi and company investigate a group of human evolutionists, thus stumbling on a cloning case they find themselves holed up in an abandoned tower. Things are quiet as they reach their target but by the half way point a series of stunning explosions and epic gun battles take place, as the major, along with Batou and Tachikoma try to escape from a band of guerrillas. The series has always impressed in terms of animation but this time it goes all out to provide a thrill seeking ride that feels like it belongs in any motion picture. The downside to the episode is that things are too predictable and by its mid point the twist is already figured out. Indeed Not Equal is a little sign posted but nevertheless it doesn’t fail to be entertaining and it juxtaposes itself nicely against the previous, sweeter episode, Escape From.
As a technological piece, Stand Alone Complex has often taken us behind the scenes, showing us some of the unique machinery and weapons that are littered through the city. Likewise we’ve seen how Section 9 utilise video comms and jacking. By episode 14, ¥€$ we see even more of this development. If anything we learn that Major Kusanagi is a great multi-tasker, being able to drive and watch videos in front of her face at the same time. But it’s the mechanical designs relating to several enemy characters that steal the show, as they’re are some of the most unique to hit the series. There’s a scene where we get to see a real classic moment that harks back to the original movie; exhibiting this fluidly animated transformation of sorts, in what is really too cool for words, but fun to see. Later the robot maids get cranky and there’s this wonderful sense of high-concept art. In summary = Robot maids are excellent.
The defining moments of this volume though are without a doubt those which lend themselves to character development. There is a sadness that permeates events here as we say goodbye to some of the series most lovable characters. The Tachikoma units have always been adorably inquisitive, but unfortunately for them their time has come. Major Kusanagi has been concerned about their behavioural patterns of late, it doesn’t help that Batou dotes on them when they should be treated merely as machines. Without question, Machines Désirantes is the best episode in this collection. When a sensory aid conflicts with Saito’s marksmanship abilities the question about technology and its relationship with man is presented. The Tachikomas’ have learned that when a piece of machinery fails it is scrapped; they determine then that if they might be considered a nuisance in the eyes of man then they too will be destroyed. This leads to a debate amongst the units, whereby they discuss what it is to be human - a theme so often touched upon, both here and in the film series. They begin to question existence and traditions that sees mankind distancing it from machines by not recreating them in their own likeness. If they were meant to think like man then why can’t they look as such? But if not, then does appearance really matter? And if the Tachikomas’ can think independently then what are they exactly? As their minds develop they are able to grow more cunning, and as a demonstration we see them actually going so far as too spy on those who command them. The Major knows them all too well however and lures them into a false sense of security. It then becomes heartbreaking to see the units gather together and be told that they’re going back to the lab, when in fact they’re being led like lambs to the slaughter.
There’s still always time to bring us some family insights. All we really know about Togusa is that he’s the only member of Section 9 who doesn’t have cybernetic implants. He’s a family man and we get to see this briefly during the second episode on disc. He has a wife and young child and lives in a serene household, which has always got to be a great environment for him to come home to after a hard day at work. In Android and I from Volume 1 we got to see the beginning of this for a brief moment, so it becomes nice to see that the writers find time to go back to his private life and see how he really lives. Likewise, Batou also has a family. It’s never delved into though, only mentioned during a brief transition. He too has a wife and a six-year-old son who we only see in a photograph. There’s no doubt that this will be further picked up, memories of a painful past perhaps. Batou had just come away from a personal case and already he’s into another one with Ag2O - signs that he’s of great interest to the writers.
Section 9 is called into action to rescue a young girl who had been kidnapped sixteen years ago by anti-cybernetic militants. When they arrive they find an elderly woman and a girl by her side. As an attack breaks out, Kusanagi and company find themselves stuck in a tight situation and let their guns do all the talking.
Section 9 goes undercover to crack a den of criminals plotting to wipe out several Japanese businesses. Things aren’t quite so straightforward when they soon discover an assassination attempt is to be made on a wealthy Japanese businessman. Arriving at his mansion they are greeted by cybernetic maids. Just what lies behind their innocent features?
Major Kusanagi’s concerns over the behaviour of the Tachikoma units’ forces her to discuss matters in private with Batou. Fearing that they might face deactivation the bots band together to try and come up with some way to get back into her good books, while trying to understand human relations.
Batou goes undercover when Section 9 informs him that a retired boxer could be the source of several information leaks. The man in question is an old friend, which isn’t going to make Batou’s job easy.
The series continues to get the 2-disc treatment with episodes 13 to 16 repeated across both with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio plus extras on disc one, and DTS audio on disc two.
The series’ original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is preserved and presented anamorphically. I have very little to elaborate on for this release as it’s a damn fine looking transfer, bar a few more technical issues. It’s not all bad; in fact I’d say Volume 4 is about the best we’ve seen to date. The disc suffers from the same problems as before, just not quite so severe. Not Equal features a spot of pixelation/break up in the bottom right hand corner at 5:08, while Machines Désirantes suffers a similar problem at 14:25. They’re very fleeting moments that I could almost let pass, but in the end we shouldn’t have to put up with such problems. It should be stressed that the break up occurred on three standalone DVD players, while on my PC the disc played back perfectly which raises concern with me as to how well these discs are encoded. Digital banding is of course a factor we have to put up with and until I see how anime is handled on future technology then I see it as no posing threat. Aside from that, great stuff.
When we get on to sound there are a couple of issues that bother me again. For the most part things are great. The opening episode sounds stunning as the gun battle breaks out, but as usual this isn’t about the great use of surrounds but the glitches instead. At 8:06 during Machines Désirantes there is an approximately half a second drop out, followed by another one of equal length at 8:29. The English dub also exhibits drop outs. Not good fellas.
One other thing that concerns me is that we now have a new subtitle font which results in big, ugly text.. There was nothing wrong with old subs but for some reason we get great chunky ones here that appear too high up on the screen. To make matters worse they’re almost joined up, which doesn’t make them difficult to read but does make them look plain weird. For example the letter “i” looks like “l” and when the letters “r” and “n” are placed together they blend in. So words like “biometrics” and “burning” look very odd indeed. There are also more grammatical errors than usual, with the most obvious being “Where are go transfer to”? during the episode Ag2O.
Disc 1 :
Interview with Koichi Yamadera (Togusa) - 10:39
Koichi begins by talking about Togusa’s family life and his relationship with Section 9. He addresses that the character is the only one whose point of view in life is what we get to see onscreen, that only his home is shown and that he has a family. We move on to the “most interesting” aspects of the show, where Koichi says that even though it takes place in another time with new trends it is still a series about people and the audience can pick up on that aspect. The series’ use of technology is then brought up, where Koichi wonders just how soon it’ll be until we see similar kinds of achievements in reality. The cast had the luxury of being able to take their time in order to produce good results and this reflected well on everyone involved.
Interview with Tamagawa Sakiko (Tachikoma) - 9:52
Sakiko tells us that she got into the role of Tachikoma very easily. She was often asked to just stick to her own devices for the role, with little directorial input. She refers to her inner child who helped to get to the heart of Tachikoma, without her actually having to try to hard because of how natural it felt. We then get to see a little behind the scenes clip as she records her lines, and it’s brilliant to watch her voice the Tachikoma units with such a high pitch. Even without the post voice enhancements she sounds close to the final result. She then explains to us a little about the emotions portrayed which to her follow a set path and owe a lot to the atmosphere of the series. While actors often try to prepare for a role, Sakiko says that she found the role within herself and that from there the most important elements came about. She finishes up the interview with a few words about Tachikoma and how they complete Batou as a character.
“Ghost in the Shell” Video Game Trailer (0:55)
This is for the PS2 video game based upon Stand Alone Complex.
These can be found in each episode’s menu. Like previous volumes they contain character data specific to the particular volume. They are little more than episode breakdowns and are not very interesting.
Disc 2 :
Think you’re the ultimate series fan? Then put your knowledge to the test once more. By getting all ten questions right you will be treated to another sneak peek for the next episode on Volume 5. Get one wrong and its back to the start of the quiz, with no hints and some pretty difficult questions. Be sure to pay attention to each episode.
As Stand Alone Complex progresses I’m continually overwhelmed by the quality of each episode on offer. I’m beginning to think that this series can do nothing wrong, that is unless I state my disappointment at seeing the end of Tachikoma days. Might they return? It’s hard to believe they might not, it would be great if they come back but only time will tell. It just goes to show how seriously things are being taken. The episodes are well written, with the first being a little too predictable plot wise, but more than making up for it on the action front. Here’s hoping for another fine instalment.
As a note to Manga Entertainment:
Guys and gals, you’re distributing a superb series, one of the best in recent years at that. It’s a shame though to still see some technical errors that continue to drag down the overall quality. I hope that this is going to be seriously looked at in future but it’s looking a little late now with only a few volumes left to go. I don’t enjoy picking out faults on DVD releases, and it is unfortunate that this series in particular is a regular victim. There is a huge fan base for this series and by keeping this up many of those fans are starting to look elsewhere. It’s not that these volumes are unwatchable, with only a couple of little glitches, but even the slightest error is going to upset purists and I think that is worth considering. The fact that these discs play better on a PC is an issue, they should be better authored to maintain the proper standards on every DVD player.