Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex: Volume 5 Review
One thing that’s been noticeable with this series so far is that its stand alone and complex episodes haven’t been too evenly separated. By no means has that been detrimental, but in some ways it tests the patience of those wanting to discover more about “The Laughing Man”. With volume 5 we’re again into heavy stand alone territory, with the final episode on the disc offering more in terms of complications. So Section 9 is once again called into action, and this time they even get to take a little overseas trip.
It’s time for Kusanagi, Batou and Togusa to take a back seat for the majority of these episodes, as section leader Aramaki takes centre stage. His first story - Angels’ Share - which kicks off the disc sees him travel to merry old England with Major Kusanagi. Here he is reacquainted with an “old friend” - a young woman in fact who is very special to him and had immigrated to the country several years ago. The personal storyline doesn’t last long however, as they’re taken hostage and forced into a situation that requires they work with the criminals in order to escape with their lives. It’s all very standard fare; serving only to display that Aramaki does have some kind of past, which has been largely ignored until now where it finally gets some light. Still, things end on a slightly unsatisfying note and details are kept fairly obscure, although a few little interesting moments occur that involve Section 9 going against jurisdiction. Lost Heritage improves dramatically when Section 9 are put in charge of looking after the Chinese vice foreign minister Jin, who has recently had several death threats from an unknown source. At the same time it’s the seventh anniversary of his old friend and war buddy, Tsujisaki’s death. Visiting Tsujisaki’s grave he runs into his friend’s daughter, Saori who expresses concerns toward her younger brother Yu. This sets up further interests of conflict, particularly when Aramaki once again defies jurisdiction, in order to take care of personal matters which he’s forever trying to teach his squad to avoid doing.
Captivated does well to offer some interesting ideas, but is hardly breaking any new ground within the series as it has already delivered far more tense kidnap situations in episodes like Section-9 and the disturbing Jungle Cruise. In addition, just last volume we had a semi-kidnap plotted Not Equal. It mentions, without delving too deeply the organ black market - reflected again in the earlier episode Missing Hearts - and it does bring up a few ethical questions; namely one which comes from Togusa when he asks just how much interest would the case gain if Assemblyman Shuzo Kanazaki’s daughter, Reiko wasn’t one of the kidnap victims. Internal politics and Russian espionage is thrown in to ensure a tightly paced episode that culminates in an explosive finale. The final episode, Re-View picks up “The Laughing Man” conspiracy and has Togusa go undercover once more to unravel a huge government cover up that involves the Ministry of Health trying to forcefully obtain valuable medical files. The Murai vaccine mentioned here interestingly enough heralds back to the earlier episode Lost Heritage, as a means of fighting against Cyberbrain Sclerosis, which Aramaki’s friend succumbed to seven years ago. Togusa gets closer to revealing some truths about the Sunflower Society; could it have some connection with “The Laughing Man”? His discoveries lead him to believe that there’s a strong connection to “Catcher in the Rye”, which becomes significant. Whatever the case Re-View ends on an uncertain and climactic note, which leaves us desperately in anticipation for the next episode. Something tells me it’ll work out alright, but still it’s tense.
There’s something about the series now that feels strange though. It’s perhaps my sustained disappointment in knowing that the Tachikoma units are with us only in spirit that leads me to express slight concern. Though it hasn’t greatly affected the flow of the series it has taken away some of its poignant charm. You won’t find much in the way of humour now that they’ve gone to Tachikoma Heaven, though you can view their exploits still at the end of each episode in the short “Tachikoma Days” segments. It’s a shame that in the end they became too integral to the series, to the point that they were threatening Section 9, and the writers did do a great job in dealing with their story; perhaps they shouldn’t have ended up making them so darn likeable in the first place.
That’s it for now; I find very little else to elaborate on. The series is still coasting along nicely, despite it being a little too repetitive in relation to earlier episodes, but it remains very strong throughout. The cliff-hanger alone ensures that at the very least we should be getting back into harder territory, so it will be interesting to see how things progress from here.
Volume 5 contains the following four episodes:
Kusanagi and Aramaki are attending a conference in England, after which Aramaki decides to visit a friend of his. It turns out that she is concerned there might be money laundering going on within her wine business, which involves the local mafia and she asks him for his help. Although jurisdiction does not permit, Aramaki’s hand is soon forced when a couple of thieves break in to steal some valuable wine. With the heavily armed police force close by it’s down to the Major to take charge.
Section 9 are called in to investigate a series of death threats that have been sent to the visiting Chinese Vice foreign minister Jin. At the same time, Aramaki is remembering the death of his friend Tsujisaki, and while attending his grave is met by Tsujisaki’s daughter, Saori. She informs Aramaki that lately her sixteen year old brother, Yu has started to act strangely; locking himself away in his room and adopting a similar personality to that of his father. She asks Aramaki if he can help her to find out what is going on with Yu, to which he refuses but when Section 9 get close to the person behind Jin’s death threats he is once again forces into making a serious and personal decision.
Assemblyman Shuzo Kanazaki’s daughter, Reiko is kidnapped by organ traffickers, led by former SVR operative (Russian Foreign intelligence) Cruzkowa. Approximately thirty young women are targeted for kidnappings and Section 9 must find them before they’re shipped off and harvested.
Togusa thinks he’s onto something when he realises that “The Laughing Man”’s logo features a quote from Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”. Deciding to investigate the possibility further he visit’s the Ministry of Health where he discovers that an important medical research file has been stolen, and the Ministry of Health want it back, even if it means using violent measures.
And now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for…
As per usual the series is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It’s one of those frustrating transfers that looks perfect at first glance but soon reveals some pesky flaws. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; digital banding shows and it’s no worse than previous volumes. As far as other standards go colours are splendid and detail is strong, but that’s about all this has going for it. If you recall my review for volume 1 I stated that the transfer exhibited some nasty pixelation and what looked to be macro blocking. Other volumes went by with minimal troubles in this area, though they were there upon looking back. This volume shows the same problems once more, along with mosquito noise and cross colourisation - another severe case of shoddy encoding:
By clicking over the picture below you will see a full sized grab from that scene, which highlights the glaringly poor transfer.
At least for the actual soundtrack I couldn’t pick out any faults. The series sounds justly dynamic this time around, with surrounds being optimised for some of the action sequences, rare as they are in this volume. Dialogue is well forwarded and is clear, but that’s it for praise.
Now here’s where both audio and visual lose additional points. In some bizarre twist of fate Manga have opted to use super-duper, ugly-wuggly subtitles. I cannot stress how annoying these are. If I could provide a shot of them I would do so, but my capture device doesn’t seem to be up to the task. The subtitles appear as stupidly large, rectangular captions that are black with white text over them. They remind me of the old VHS releases of foreign films that used to adopt this method. They’re very distracting here, blocking out faces on close up shots so that we can’t even see their mouths move. Pain-in-the-arse.
Note: Time seek is not available on the interviews this time, for some reason.
Interview with Kenzi Teraoka and Shinoau Tsuneki: Mechanical Designers
The interview begins with the designers explaining how they began, starting off with Tachikoma and incorporating its personality, which we’re told is far easier to do than designing objects without personality; such as home appliances etc. The design work is split up, with Teraoka working on mecha and Tsuneki taking on car designs. Although the show is set in 2030 the designers were told not to get too carried away, so they kept the look of the series very contemporary, building upon certain technologies slightly. They talk about researching which entailed visiting the Defense Force and attending naval reviews, finishing up by discussing how all of the designs feel as if they’re connected to the net in some way.
Interview with Koji Tanaka (Director of Photography) and Makoto Endo (3D Director)
Endo begins by telling us how the series was originally supposed to have around 40 special effects shots per episode, but it wound up using approximately 100. From here we learn about digital compositions and get to watch some 3D layout designs. We learn a little about the staff which is made up of eight people, each one working on a specific area: motion, modelling, crowd scenes, camera mapping, 3d backgrounds, Tachikoma etc. Endo then goes on to mention camera mapping and how it adds a third dimension to traditional hand-painted layouts; we then get to see a video showing how this effect works. When questioned about what was difficult we find that the Tachikomas were hard to get around, particularly when most shots required them to be grounded on all four legs. Lighting and working on backgrounds is then mentioned, followed by Tanaka who talks about fine tuning and working with the 3D CG section. He elaborates further by talking about the filtering process, dealing with last minute decisions and working on data sampling. He finishes up by mentioning how cels are matched up to the background artist’s work.
Ghost in the Shell Video Game Trailer (0.55)
A short trailer for the PS2 game which we’ve seen on previous releases.
Appearing on each episode’s own menu these are pointless character bios that basically just take us through the episodes that they appear in, and give us no additional insights.
This can be found on the DTS disc. Answer every question correctly for a sneak peak at the next volume’s opening episode.
Aside from missing Tachikoma I feel that the series is still a strong contender, though the episodes here are weaker than many of the others to date. Even so they prove to be very good and manage to open up - however briefly - some more character developments.
But if it’s not one thing with these releases it’s another, and it’s sad to see problems continually surfacing. Two volumes to go and Manga are clearly struggling to produce a solid release. They might be able to do it, but it might also be too late for that now.