Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex: Volume 6 Review
Although the previous volume of the series still provided some solid entertainment it did take a back seat in regards to the whole mystery surrounding “The Laughing Man”. Well now it’s time to get downright dirty as volume 6 presents three of the series’ most intricate episodes, revealing in the process some very clear motives and untangling government cover ups. Section 9 finds itself investigating several prominent figures, while a war of cyberbrain hacking is being waged between the famous hacker and a medical company accused of lying to their patients.
Unsurprisingly volume 6 picks up immediately after the major cliff-hanger that took place in Re-View. Avoiding spoilers then it soon moves on to its primary goal which is to uncover the often mentioned “Laughing Man” and get to the heart of his main prerogative. And so we get real complex as these connected episodes shower us with further insights into the various organisations that have surfaced throughout the series. As far as details go things are quite astonishing, with the writers having maintained a superb level of consistency throughout; things that we might have discarded suddenly come back as several odds and ends slowly begin to tie up and come together. It’s because of such attention to detail in these episodes that Stand Alone Complex remains so captivating, which isn’t something that I can always report; there hasn’t been any unnecessary padding, but genuinely compelling storylines. For the most part this volume is a deadly serious affair, first and foremost because the Tachikoma are no longer with us (save for the end skits), and secondly because it drastically highlights the flaws within each member of section 9…
…And it’s here where each of them deals with their own issues once more. Aramaki lets his guard down when he’s called to a scene by someone who has claimed to have been in contact with his long lost brother. This brings about danger for the chief, who luckily has a responsible team by his side. Moving on there’s a great sense of pride and humility that comes from Batou; this time around he becomes a victim of “The Laughing Man” and has to deal with the embarrassment of having his eyes hacked, which naturally is all too personal for him. In a slightly different manner Kusanagi’s vulnerability when she’s not in total control of a situation proves to be an almost dangerous one. Incidentally Kusanagi’s run in with an armoured assailant in the volume’s first episode Eraser is highly reminiscent of the final act, belonging to the original motion picture. Seeing it replicated and tweaked on the small screen is enthralling; the animation is gorgeous and the final ten minutes when we see Kusanagi get deeply personal provides the series with its most hair raising finale so far. Despite this volume containing only three episodes you’re guaranteed yet another marvellous entry into the series, which sets up the 7th and final volume perfectly.
Volume 6 contains the following. As a word of warning though I advise those who don’t want anything spoiled too much to scroll down to the DVD portion of the review:
Togusa narrowly managed to survive through his ordeal in episode 20 and now finds himself safe in a hospital bed, with Batou keeping an eye on him. In order for Section 9 to investigate the incident they must retrieve the last sixteen hours of his memory. They discover that the Drug Evaluation Council is somehow involved, prompting Kusanagi to pay a visit to its former chief, Hisashi Imakarusu, while Section chief Araki heads over to the DEA and concludes that its chief, Niimi is hiding something. Soon afterward Imakurausu’s ties to “The Laughing Man” become evident, when he disappears.
Confident that he has enough evidence to see Niimi lose his position at the DEA, Araki heads on over once more to bring him in for questioning. While he’s away Kusanagi is getting a new body, after being thrown around by a mean piece of kit, but things aren’t about to go smoothly for her. As Section 9’s investigation deepens they unknowingly endanger themselves, which leaves Batou to find Aramaki in time and Kusanagi to make an unlikely decision when confronted by “The Laughing Man”.
Section 9 receives a heavy blow when all known leads suddenly become useless. Their last resort is Serano Genomics, which proves to be a frustrating challenge for them when their famous enemy beats them to the punch.
The series is presented in its usual anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Colours are vibrant and detail is often wonderful, much like the previous volumes, but I’m afraid that once more I have to point out the flaws from here on in. There’s some slight blocking once more, though nowhere near as prominent as the previous volume was and the picture breaks up at least three times by my count, which is always annoying. But while the first two episodes are generally acceptable the third is quite atrocious. Being an NTSC to PAL conversion means that a few little niggles will creep in, but that fact is rarely mentioned because its all too common with anime releases, so the reader should always take it as a given. In this instance the worst example of such a thing can be seen all too clearly. Being very cinematic in approach, Stand Alone Complex often uses interesting camera work, including lengthy panning shots. In fact there are probably more so here than usual, and this creates a very large problem; panning shots are horrendous, leaving the episode to judder on more than one occasion. I’ve never been heavily distracted by such a thing in the past, but this was seriously getting close to hampering my enjoyment. Aliasing is also a little more prominent and worse still several shots give off an incredibly soft look (in comparison to normal), such as this one:
For sound I can reiterate much of what I’ve said in the past about this release. The DTS is fantastic here, with the 5.1 mixes being highly effective themselves. But let’s dwell on the bad parts. Once again we’re getting silly sound drop outs. This seems to affect the DTS and 5.1 Japanese tracks and I counted two occasions of this. The real annoyance though comes in the form of a nasty pop around the 8:15 mark on the second episode. When you play these episodes loudly and utilise the surrounds you can imagine the kind of jump you’d get when suddenly something so offensive hits your senses. It’s really not on and it was a major distraction for this reviewer who thought his system was about to explode.
As for subtitles, Manga has done away with the awful box style from the previous volume. All is not forgiven though; the subtitles are poorly timed. Although it’s not hugely distracting they do tend to be a little too slow in appearing, and manage to run over to the next seen from time to time.
As with previous volumes we’re treated to some nice interviews. This time around we have a screenwriter’s special, consisting of two interviews of approximately 10-minutes in length each (no time seek again). We’re introduced first of all to Fujisaku Junichi, Terado Nobutoshi and Sakurai Yoshiki. These fellows talk about how various movies influenced certain storylines, along with how they go about tightening up storylines to fit the show’s run time, research ideas and development. The second interview features Sato Dai and Suga Shotaro and these two talk about their training camp script meeting, script creation process and structuring. A trailer for the video game and character profiles are also accessed from the first disc. Disc 2 features another quiz, which gives you access to a preview of the next episode, providing you answer all of the questions correctly.
Stand Alone Complex
has yet to show signs of faltering; it continues to build up the tension and add more layers to its vast storytelling. With things coming together I expect an explosive final volume.
It’s a shame once more that Manga still isn’t doing enough to ensure that we get quality releases, despite my repeated concerns. Granted, while I don’t expect them to listen to me they could at least oversee quality control checks. It seems as though they have taken onboard previous comments about the awful subtitles situation, but as far as other glitches go these have once again slipped by, and in this case have proven to be highly distracting.