Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex: Official Log 01 Review
Manga Entertainment has decided to complement Stand Alone Complex by releasing a compendium of facts on DVD, which takes us through the series’ epic production and provides us with some welcome insights into the television adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s masterpiece. Also included is a fantastic book, which I shall focus on later. As a word of warning I shall advise that anyone currently enjoying the series should save this disc until afterward, so as not to be disappointed by any spoilers. They will be on the disc, however I won’t be giving away any major plotline developments during this review, so if you’re curious about these bonus features then please read on, and if not then feel free to skip this entire review. With that said it’s time to break down the disc and see what’s available.
Highlight Flash (37.23)
The first feature on the disc is a visual encyclopaedia that covers various sections of the series; these are separated by chapters which total seven and can be played individually or as one piece. First up is the SAC Action File, which basically looks at how individual characters from the series use self-defence techniques to win over a difficult situation. The Arms File takes a quick look at the weapons utilized by Section 9, along with vehicles, while the Near Future Item File offers a glance at the world of espionage and how Section 9 often rely on the latest in technology to guide them through missions; this involves Thermoptic camouflage, dummy and attack barriers and encryption cracking. The Androids and Cyborgs File explains the way in which artificially created people can be used within society. For every good one however there is a bad one, and as we see Section 9 has faced more terrorist Android/Cyborgs than it would care to remember. Another Side File gets down to the series’ regular character studies. Here we’re shown some examples of character development over the course of this first series. Finally we have what is billed as a trailer, which plays clips from episodes 20-24 and lasts for just a couple of minutes. These files end with “To Be Continued”, signalling a second log which I presume will surface at the end of 2nd Gig’s run.
Accompanying these facts and figures is an assortment of clips from the series that serve as examples. In all honesty this isn’t much of a learning piece as it’s simply reiterating what we’ve already learned from watching the show, and it never really gets into the mechanics of how this technology actually works. This is an original Japanese production however, and it appears to be a simple introduction to those who might find themselves at odds with the world of Stand Alone Complex.
Interview Archives (32.39)
First things first, we have our obligatory introduction to the participants, through very short clips identifying them, before moving on with the big stuff. Director Kenji Kamiyama starts things off by telling us a little about how he followed established formulas and then used the internet as a basis for the series’ run. With this being in the forefront it helped to illustrate Stand Alone Complex’s world as being an extension of our current one. Audio Director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi then sees us into The World of Ghost in the Shell. Here we’re once again introduced to mechanical designers Kenzi Teraoka and Shinobu Tsuneki, along with lead actors Atsuko Tanaka, Kouichi Yamadera, Akio Ohtsuka and Osamu Saka. Each actor offers his/her personal thoughts about the characters they play, and we learn a little more than we did previously, with examples such as the revelation that Kusanagi is bisexual, relating to an episode in which her lady friend, Kurutan appeared (which just seemed to be a talking point originally as to her sexual preference and ambiguity).
Following on from this Wakabayashi fondly looks back at the recording sessions and informs us that it was quite a task to explain to the returning actors that their characters were now younger and therefore more energetic. Here the actors must get into their roles once more and develop an understanding for them and how their lives are affected by others. It’s clear from the input here that everyone has a wonderful working relationship with Wakabayashi, and that means the cast will even try his patience once in a while. When we go behind the scenes of the recording sessions via video footage we meet Sakiko Tamagawa as she talks about creating Tachikoma’s personality; we also learn that she plays Togusa’s wife, which was a rather secretive fact until now. The actors then discuss keeping up with the complex episodes involving “The Laughing Man” and mention how they deal with the copious amounts of dialogue, which is more prominent than the average anime series. A brief clip of Kamiyama at a 2002 press conference pretty much wraps things up.
The final part of this feature is a discussion on selected episodes. Each actor talks about a particularly memorable scene, while Wakabayashi and his team mention how they strived to try out new things in order to create a larger narrative or compliment it with unique visualisations.
If you managed to watch all of the extras from previous volumes you won’t find much else here, save for a few new pieces which are admittedly interesting if not brief. As a collection of bits and pieces from 2002/2003 it’s nice enough, managing to sum up production rather concisely.
9th Studio Digital Works (19.52)
At just 20-minutes in length this final feature on the disc offers a wealth of technical info in regards to the animation process. We’re taken to Studio I.G’s office, situated in Kokubunji Tokyo, where they have a really cool Tachikoma statue that I want for Christmas, but it’s a bit large, so the postage might be a lot. At the time of this recording the studio was just finishing up on episode 25 Barrage, and it’s here we get to see storyboards and colour sheets that are approaching their final phase. To take us through this process is colour pattern designer Yumiko Katayama. She tells us that the series was quite a large undertaking because it involved a lot of colour changes, depending on the time of day of any specific scene. In addition she and the animation team realised that the series was so colour dependent that they had to go for stronger contrasts in comparison to film, because this was being catered toward a television audience. Katayama shows us some cel data sheet comparisons and key animation sheets that depict exactly how colours are assigned and how the many different shades are applied.
When we get to the 3D section Makoto Endo (3D Director) also informs us of the difficult nature of the series, first of all by telling us that the team are working at film resolution, which means that everything takes longer to render. Because the technology was always developing for each episode the animators decided to try and create far more ambitious CG shots; in the end this jumped from a proposed 40 CG shots to 100, due to every vehicle being CG rendered, with Tachikoma naturally following, along with various other hardware. Mechanical Animation Director Nobuhiko Genma illustrates the benefits of working on a series as opposed to a movie, mainly because the time constraints aren’t as constricting, therefore allowing the team to revise techniques and preview scenes in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to just a few years ago. While this viewer didn’t notice, Genma does point out that early episode models featured more prominent polygon lines, whereas later on they perfected the technology which allowed CG animators to achieve far rounder and well defined images which up to this point were only possible via traditional, hand-drawn methods. Eiji Inomoto, responsible for rendering the Tachikoma units explains in brief how he shifted their weight from time to time; While they needed to appear well grounded they also had to be considerably agile, and this was something that was always on the animator’s mind, as was the desire to create more human-like movements for them.
Director of Photography Koji Tanaka talks about setting the tone and presents us with a visual example on one of the studio’s expensive looking computers. He takes us through composite effects, which merge background and foreground elements seamlessly. Finally Production I.G. Producer Yuichiro Matsuka talks about the experimental aspects of the series, from CG characters being used to show off large scale scenes to overcoming several hurdles along the way.
Well blow me down if this isn’t a pretty package. Manga Entertainment has outdone itself with this little release, and I say little because this set is strictly limited to 1000 copies! This doesn’t always mean the end as on occasion things like this are prone to re-prints, but I won’t just assume on this occasion. If you’re interested in purchasing this then do it now to avoid disappointment while most major online retailers are still stocking it.
Due to the nature of the features on display here the transfer varies. For the most part it looks nice enough as it goes from showing clips of the series (non-anamorphic) to studio interviews and behind the scenes footage. There’s a spot of Edge Enhancement and aliasing throughout, and a little pixelation but nothing that would distract from what’s on offer.
For sound we get a standard Japanese audio track which is free from any problems, along with, optional, well timed yellow subtitles.
Note: You will notice that I have not rated the film, for reasons being that this is primarily an extras piece.
So when you’ve finished getting through the main disc you can turn your attention to this incredibly detailed, 150-page colour and B&W, glossy booklet. Actually in order to even get to the disc you have to remove the book’s transparent sleeve. Inside the book you’ll find a nice introduction, followed by an interview with screenwriter Dai Saito and commentaries on the theatrical release and TV series. These cover Shirow’s original manga, movie media guide, soundtrack guide and game guides. Rounding off the front contents is an interview with executive producer Mitsuhisa Ishikawa. (page 4-14)
The next part of the book (page 17-28) looks at the main characters. These cover certain attributes, such as operation track records, personality and action stats. From here we get to the middle bulk of the book (page 30-80) which focuses on every episode from the first series. The episodes are broken down and given plenty of coverage (about four pages each), which provides a wonderful amount of detail on characters, weapons, armour and machines for that given episode. Most of these guides are also accompanied by comments from their particular unit directors. This story section wraps up with Tachikomatic Growth Report.
Pages 81-112 is made up of various designs and staff interviews, beginning with character designer Hajime Shimomura who takes through his stages of character development. His commentary on each aspect is accompanied by original drawings that depict poses and facial expressions. Next up are some rarely seen early character tests, with Batou looking very different as he sports different locks of hair. Kusanagi’s costume tests follow (75 in all, scaled down, 2 pages). Mechanical designers Kenji Teraoka and Sinobu Tsuneki are interviewed next which has them explain their approach to the series, followed by designs and detailed descriptions for firearms, vehicles, Tachikoma and small articles. Next up we have background artist Hiroshi Kato taking us through his beautiful designs as he lists the driving forces behind them, complete with a few pages of detailed sketch work. Animation directors Takayuki Goto and Yusuke Takeda talk a little about dedicating themselves to such a huge project and keeping a polished consistency throughout, before the final piece with sound director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi who talks about casting for the series and maintaining consistency with sound, dialogue etc.
The back contents comprise of pages 114-145. This starts off with an impressive essay by Anime Gear Geek, Stapa Saito before moving on to the Year 2003 GitS Lifestyle Catalogue. This looks at the cool gadgets that are seen throughout the series and compares similar items that we can pick up today, such as wearable computers (which I didn’t know about before this), wristwatch computer, USB memory watches and PHS terminals. This goes on to explore mobile services, again providing comparisons, as well as encryption security, robots, Artificial Intelligence and virtual communities, like Habbo Hotel – good lord. The last pages include a DVD guide for the Japanese market, translation notes, operation track records reprints and staff credits.
The first official log certainly highlights the intense amount of work put into the series. A lot of people don’t quite realise just how much effort goes into a series like this and how many different attributes need to be poured into it. Of course Stand Alone Complex is one of the most intricate anime productions to date, pushing technology farther than it has been previously for a full length anime series. Studio I.G. comes across as a very tight production company which relies on a 100% dedicated team, who compliment each other and the different departments so that a perfect product can be delivered; what’s more they have fun in the process.
Manga Entertainment has likewise delivered a gorgeous package which deserves to be picked up now by fans of the series. Not only does the disc collect some interesting stuff (even if there is a fair amount of repetition in comparison to the series volumes) and provide solid enough A/V but the booklet supplied is lovely and well worth a few hours reading.