Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

[Synopsis]: In the year 2030 cyborgs as well as the use of prosthetic bodies are common and humanity has become integrated in ways it has never been before. In this technological world, Section 9, a secretive special-ops force, works to solve various crimes. Headed by Chief Aramaki Daisuke (Saka, Osamu) and Major Kusanagi Motoko (Tanaka, Atsuko) the team investigates a variety of cases as well as the mysterious Laughing Man incident involving a renowned hacker of formidable skill and possible government corruption. The show invests itself in a myriad of different cases throughout and divides the episodes that focus on the Laughing Man incident (Complex) and those that focus on more self-contained stories (Stand Alone).

[Characters]:

I think there are two important elements of the character cast of Ghost in the Shell that deserve to be talked about here. Firstly, that they all have quite good chemistry with one another and that their relationships and exchanges are some of the most believable interactions I’ve seen. Simultaneously, the show is fairly shallow when it comes to character development. This is not an intrinsically bad thing however the way in which the team plays off of each other is static and it can lead to some wanted insight and development that just doesn’t take place in this season of the show. That being said, the cast is still appealing and I found the dialogue of the show to be highly immersive in respects to the setting.

The show has a pretty large cast of characters and even Section 9 itself has more than a handful of recurring members however there are a few that stick out that are worth discussing, the first of which being Kusanagi, Motoko. She falls most comfortably into the archetype of ‘badass’ and of all of the characters in the show probably has the most hinted about her past as well as her personality while staying fairly distant. I felt that this surface-level insight into the character was somewhat marring however Mokoto herself was compelling enough of a character that this didn’t detract entirely and the show works just fine without investing its time into the backstories or natures of it’s characters. While I enjoy her as a character she also came off as a little too flawless for my tastes and so I felt her lack of faults at face-value, in the same way that the show failed to investigate or develop her, was somewhat of a drawback.

Batou, the second in command beneath Kusanagi, exhibits a tough persona however also possesses a levity that I found rare in the cast in both his dialogue with the team and his interactions with the Tachikoma. Relatively little insight is given into his character however I would say that he receives the most insight concerning his past as well as some development in the Stand Alone episodes.

Togusa is the most human and the most relatable out of the members of Section 9 in my opinion and this is characterized in his actions as well as his lack of prosthetics and anachronistic load-out. For the most part he serves as our leading investigator when concerning the Complex episodes and the Laughing Man case which I felt made the primary plot feel distinct within the universe and gave him a strong purpose within the cast. He also is one of the few recipients of something akin to character development within the show.

[Art/Animation]:

While the art and animation did not blow me away in any particular way I feel that they did triumph in a couple of notable ways. The setting of the show was expertly represented and conveyed and anyone familiar with Sci-Fi will feel right at home between the headquarters of Section 9 and the streets of Niihama. The character designs occasionally became pretty relaxed however never in any ways that detracted heavily from the scene nor at a time where it would matter however in terms of animation, the characters and fight choreography were quite pleasing and natural. I think the art and animation of Ghost in the Shell was for the most part another case of ‘they did what they needed to’ while avoiding to both overly impress or displease though I do think it was enjoyable for the reasons listed.

[Story]:

The first thing to address when concerning the story I think is the choice to divide up the episodes between those that focus on the primary plot and those that instead focus on mostly self-contained procedural stories. I didn’t mind the presence of the ‘non-plot’ episodes myself however I think it is important to note for prospective viewers that the show does not spend the entirety of it’s 26 episode run following the primary plot and instead opts to explore the world and the implications of the technology present within it.

My opinion of the Stand Alone episodes is that a good many of them were enjoyable and some did the job I thought they should do in that they gave us some level of character insight concerning the main cast however at the same time these insights were fairly shallow and non-consequential to the Complex episodes which seemed to happen independently of whatever transpired in the Stand Alone episodes. The show had a bit of a slow start in that it lead with a few of these episodes to set the tone however I think this was the right move and the plot showing up around episode 4 worked well enough for the pacing of the show.

In regards to the show’s overall pacing, I think the balance struck between Stand Alone episodes and Complex was acceptable but not outstanding – there is a long streak of Stand Alone episodes in the latter half of the show before it begins to focus solely on the Complex side of things and while this allows Ghost in the Shell to wrap up in the best way possible it also somewhat deprives the viewer of any plot for a fair amount of time. Lastly,almost every Stand Alone episode is interesting either by means of some philosophy expressed within it, it’s brief narrative, or it’s slight character exploration however the few that lack these things ended up feeling a tad more like filler within the scope of the whole show and I felt were responsible for slowing things down a bit between Complex episodes.

Fortunately the Stand Alone episodes never feel like they interrupt the Complex story-line as that portion of the show arrived at acceptable breakpoints for the story to focus elsewhere for a time without leaving the viewer gasping for more immediately. The Complex plot line was definitely the most interesting narrative aspect of the show in my opinion however, to say a few words about it’s ending, Ghost in the Shell seemed to steadily get more interesting as the show progressed and then resolved itself without ever quite feeling like an explosive climax of action however the end was pleasurable none the less. What I mean to get at is that instead of ramping in both action and pacing the show chooses to resolve itself rather than build into an epic finale which I feel is an important thing to note for those who live for those big moments at the end of the show (not that there aren’t some).

[Music]:

While I myself was not impressed with the soundtrack behind Ghost in the Shell I think it worked perfectly well for the show and my own disinterest in it is due to my own preferences as opposed to any fault of the music itself. One positive thing I can say is that the range and variety of music present in the show was quite impressive and gave the universe a unique feel in comparison to something with a more simplistic yet successful approach like Psycho-Pass or other similar Sci-Fi shows. I also have to give a quick nod of the head to the insert songs present in the soundtrack as I felt a few of them were highly enjoyable and added further diversity to the music of the show.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]:

This first season of Ghost in the Shell was fun in that it offered a good blend of action alongside the show’s mystery and philosophical endeavors which allowed it to appeal in a variety of ways especially to those who weren’t concerned with or didn’t understand some of the messages the show tried to express. I wish there was more characterization as the cast felt compelling enough that I wanted to know more about them, where they were coming from, and why they behaved the way they did however the show left me a bit high and dry in that regard.

Rating: 7

I gave Ghost in the Shell a 7 because it provided interesting mysteries, a fantastic Sci-Fi setting and aesthetic, and a believable cast of characters with strong chemistry between one another. What held the show back from rising any higher was it’s lackluster concern for what I thought were great characters and its inability to blow me away in the art or music departments. I think the show is highly worth a watch and the second season will hopefully compensate for whatever the first found lacking.

[Recommendations]:

I would recommend the show to any fans of Sci-Fi as Ghost in the Shell is an acknowledged staple within the genre and practically a must-watch when concerning homages and subsequent references after it’s creation. Outside of these more obvious reasons, the show sports pretty good action scenes with good choreography and so I can see picking it up for this reason. Lastly, any fans of procedural crime shows or mysteries would enjoy Ghost in the Shell as even the Stand Alone episodes usually operate on these ideas and they thematically makeup a good deal of the show’s tone and story.

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