Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society Review
Reportedly the most expensive anime made for television, with an estimated budget of 360 million yen, Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society - here on in SSS - is the latest adventure surrounding Section 9, which was originally designed as a two-part OAV and eventually favoured as a full length feature.
The story picks up two years after the events of the second series. Major Motoko Kusanagi has retired from Section 9, which has since employed a few more operatives, including a chap names Proto, along with Chief Aramaki having promoted Togusa to squad commander. Recently there has been a spate of directly related suicides involving special operatives once belonging to the Seok Republic, who had found asylum in Japan shortly after disbanding the group, which has been running in tandem with the disappearance of thousands of children across the nation. When Section 9 are called to a recent kidnapping carried out by a former colonel named Ka Gael, who has lost control of his senses, they learn of someone known only as “The Puppeteer” – right before Ka Gael blows his own brains out.
Shortly afterward Chief Aramaki asks Batou to try and work well under the orders of Togusa, whom Batou seems fine in accommodating, but initially he takes Section 9’s latest case by himself. When he encounters Kusanagi trying to steal something from a lab he begins to suspect that she has some part to play in the Puppeteer case. But just exactly what is Kusanagi up to? Can she really have ties to the kidnappings of all these children as well as the deaths of several men? Perhaps the answer lies with the mysterious Solid State Society, of which Section 9 is ordered to back away from? But what the hell is a Solid State Society anyway and what’s it got to do with the elderly?
While it’s not vital it certainly helps to have seen the previous series of Stand Alone Complex when approaching SSS; it already expects of course that the majority of those watching will already be well familiar with its setting and characters, while offering a perfectly fine stand alone narrative. If the viewer isn’t invested in characters like Kusanagi, Batou and Togusa then the impact of what they go through here is somewhat diminished; as we’ve witnessed in previous episodes Kusanagi finds herself placed in an inescapable situation, whereby logic dictates her actions, much to her often unspoken chagrin. As for Togusa – he finally takes that step toward safeguarding not only his future, but that of Section 9 as a whole, as we learn of his promotion to squad commander in light of Kusanagi’s absence, along with our insight into the burden placed upon his home life and his willingness to adapt to cyber prosthetics. Meanwhile Batou silently contemplates his position within Section 9 under a new leader, while having concerns over a woman he feels he may no longer be able to trust. The ramifications are huge, with every corner being tainted by uncertainties, internal conflicts and states of paranoia; the usual good ingredients then that naturally bring out the best in the series.
With SSS writer/director Kenji Kamiyama sticks to the series’ political nature by continuing to offer challenging and thought provoking storylines which mirror our own contemporary society. This time around he places his concerns on ageing populations, low birth rates and child abuse: a naturally cynical look at a world – or more specifically Japan – in which too few places have guaranteed counter-measures in place, or whereby an old-school government doesn’t quite see the need for a social overhaul just yet. The aforementioned issues serve to flesh out an unsurprisingly convoluted tale of government corruption and conspiracy as Section 9 seek to capture the elusive super-class hacker known as the “Puppeteer”. Kamiyama stays close to his series’ way of thinking with some incredibly intelligent writing, which ensures that the viewer’s brain is always ticking into overtime in order to keep up with the plot machinations, while interestingly enough he provides a nod to the original ’95 movie and to a lesser extent its follow-up: Innocence. While “The Puppeteer” seen here isn’t directly lifted from “The Puppet Master” of the first film, it certainly seems as if it’s working from a well drawn blueprint. Moreover its idealised philosophy concerning the net and future generations is echoed again through Kusanagi’s personal feelings, which in its own way brings us around full circle and foreshadows a perpetually bleak future.
So the formula is kept largely the same, with a tight reign held over proceedings and light amounts of action scattered here and there to spice it up, though in comparison to some of the series’ most intense moments there isn’t a great deal to sink your teeth into. Of course the series is well known for being different in a sense that it isn’t strictly action oriented, but when it does go down that path it can be quite astounding. With such a heavy political agenda SSS rarely finds the time to actually breath a little and bring us more in the way of those memorable moments, which might have been more welcoming for a single storyline. With the exception of Batou and Saito’s encounter with a sniper near the Tokyo Tower, and Kusanagi’s brief run-in with a crazed robot, it primarily sticks with the unfolding plot, which frankly does feel a little too convoluted for its own good from time to time, although certainly it offers one or two neat little twists along the way. But so far that’s typical of Kenji Kamiyama who has done this kind of thing before, as he attempts to kill a few more birds with one stone. Still, what we have here is another polished production maintaining the usual high standards of Production I.G, with the aesthetics of both series left largely intact, thus securing a great sense of continuity throughout. Let’s hope it won’t be too long before we see Stand Alone Complex enjoy another run on our screens.
Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society makes its UK debut as a two disc collector’s set, which comes encased in steel-book packaging. I presume there is meant to be a collectable booklet, given the holders inside the tin, but my review version came without any inserts.
Manga presents SSS in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, which is identical to how the series is brought to us. As with the previous releases we’re looking at a strikingly detailed and colourful transfer. Primarily the transfer is let down by slight compression artefacts during scenes involving fast paced cyber-hacking (which incidentally has marred previous releases), but for the most part it’s a clean looking affair, with only a spot of digital banding rearing its head as standard along with high-frequency edge enhancement.
This time Manga has decided to place six soundtracks on a single disc: 2.0, 5.1 Surround and DTS for both Japanese and English audio. Being that this feature isn’t heavily reliant on action there isn’t a great deal of use for, say, the subwoofer on the DTS offering, which is the track I chose to listen to. However when it is called upon it offers some nice bass which neatly punctuates the occasional chase sequence and loud thuds. On the whole separation is exceptionally good, with gunfire well scattered across front and rear channels, while there are additionally plenty of immersive sweeping effects and ambient noise. Yoko Kanno’s score is given equal precedence in enhancing several sequences, which makes this yet another lively and detailed soundtrack offering.
Optional English subtitles are included and they provide an excellent translation, free from grammatical errors and timing problems.
Disc one contains a running storyboard, which when selected appears in the bottom right of the screen. I’m not usually a great fan of watching these things, and I can’t say that the one here changes my mind any, but it’s there if you want it.
Disc two is where it’s at.
Anime + Car Design – Designing the Future Car (24.10) looks at the collaboration between Production I.G. and Nissan, kicking off at the 2006 press conference which was held to promote S.S.S.. Nissan actually built a concept car which can be seen in the feature film: the Sports Concept three-door hatchback, in addition to supplying designs for the Infinity Kuraza SUV. Over the course of its run time Nissan Motor Co. Product Chief Designer Takashi Nakajima talks us through the company wanting to work with I.G. in order to realise future concepts as not being too far from reality, while Prod. Design Manager Shunsuke Iijima goes on to discuss how anime has steadily influenced car design. S.S.S. Mechanical Designers Shinobu Tsuneki and Kenji Teraoka talk about the differences between real-world and anime designs, while 3D Director Makoto Endo explains the process of creating and animating a 3D model based upon Nissan’s data. In-between we see various stages of concept art, in addition to rendered concept footage and clips from the series as the participants involved manage to get across their intent of achieving utmost realism.
English Production interview (9.30) goes behind the scenes of putting together the series for a western audience. ADR Director Kevin Seymour provides his thoughts on the series and talks about the challenges in dubbing and translating the scripts as faithfully as possible, as well as dealing with complex plotting issues. He goes on to mention voice casting, which introduces us to Mary Elizabeth (Kusanagi) and Richard Epcar (Batou), both of whom inform us how they got the gig, along with mentioning how they feel about the characters and emotional subtext. ZRO Limit Productions’ Yutaka Maseba and Haruyo Kanesaku also offer their input, with Kanesaku elaborating on the film addressing social concerns in the hopes of reaching a young audience who might be prepared to think strongly about their future.
Making of a Tachikoma Robot (17.06) is one of the most fascinating pieces on the disc, and one which personally interests me as I’ve been following the developer involved for some time. Also taking place at the 2006 Ginza press conference we get a look into the development of a real Tachikoma, which was used in promoting S.S.S. Its creator, Tomotaka Takahashi, who runs his company Robo Garage from the Kyoto University campus, begins by telling us his motivation in wanting to become a robot creator as he looks toward a future where robots and man can co-exist – much like the Astro Boy manga which inspired him. We’re given quite a lot of information here regarding his work, not only the Tachikoma but also some of his other beautiful creations. We learn of the SHIN-Walk technology which was developed by Takahashi and allows for Bipedal locomotion which makes his creations move and act like no other. Takahashi’s intent is to bridge the gap by understanding aesthetic and mechanical aspects of design, and clearly we see that in every one of his creations. Eventually he gets on to the Tachikoma discussion, and from there we get a good idea of the production process, from deciding upon a final size and building a skeleton, to putting together a structurally supportive outer shell which gives the Tachikoma its recognisable look. He touches upon getting over hurdles, such as tricky joints and displaced weight, while also mentioning that it’s the first time he’s had to incorporate a voice into one of his robots. We also see computer footage of the planning stages and hear his final thoughts about the whole learning experience. Overall the Tachikoma is a remarkable piece of engineering, which perfectly mimics its animated counterpart and makes me wish I had one in my house.
The Mitsuhisa Ishikawa Interview (8.42) sees the Production I.G. founder discussing how the series came about around 2000, while plans were underway for a Ghost in the Shell series, movie and video game. He informs us why Kenji Kamiyama was chosen to direct Stand Alone Complex and what he feels he’s been able to bring to the series that Shirow and Oshii haven’t. He talks about how S.S.S. subsequently came about, along with his hopes in meeting audience expectations, his admiration for Yoko Kanno’s score and his opinions on animation bringing social problems to the attention of its audience. Finally he mentions that there may be a new series on the horizon, depending on whether or not the company can recoup enough money and that fans lap it up big time. Best we can hope for really.
Uchikomatic Days (4.46) is familiar to anyone who stuck around post credits on every episode of Stand Alone Complex. These cute little skits, formerly known as “Tachikoma Days”, allow the quirky Tachikoma to ramble on a bit and have fun. Here we’re told the tale of the ugly duckling – Uchikoman, who is raised by a mother Tachikoma and her surrounding children who alienate it for being different. A nice little message about acceptance backs the pleasantly animated short, which culminates in a bit of an oddball song.
The World work file (30.29) simply serves as a primer into the world of Stand Alone Complex. It lets us into what the series is about and where it takes place and it also provides character profiles and info on Section 9. There’s plenty of terminology detailing cyber brains, hacking, prosthetic bodies, optic camo and weapons, mobile terminals, virtual experience mazes and ghost whispering amongst several others, which certainly helps to get the viewer easily acquainted if they’re approaching the series fresh. In addition to this we have various input from Production I.G.’s staff, such as the mechanical and 3D cyberspace designers, art director, composer Yoko Kanno and of course director Kenji Kamiyama. And so we hear of a few things that have already been covered in some of the other extras like concept art belonging to characters, robots and cars, along with some comments on the future way of thinking.
Finally we have an English Trailer (1.54) and a Japanese Trailer (2.50) to round off the bonus disc.
Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society proves to be another strong entry into the world of Masamune Shirow’s epic Ghost in the Shell; a cerebrally challenging production that’ll certainly please the fans out there by delivering a little more character growth, while facing some of the harsh realities that trouble us today.
Manga’s UK R2 presentation is pretty much up there with their releases of the second series, which leaves potential punters safe in the knowledge that they have very little to worry about.
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
9 out of 10
8 out of 10