[Synopsis]: The second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex takes place two years after the resolution of the Laughing Man incident – After resolving a hostage crisis Section 9 becomes reinstated under a new Prime Minister however becomes involved with an enigmatic terrorist organization called the ‘Individual Eleven’. Between this new terrorist threat and the numerous refugees in Japan left over from the aftermath of the Third and Fourth World Wars who’s rebellious sentiments have been stirred by recent events, Japan has turned into a powder keg and as the story unfolds it becomes clear that some of those in power are manipulating both the government and the refugees towards an all out war. Kusanagi Motoko (Tanaka, Atsuko) and Section 9 aim to uncover the circumstances surrounding the Individual Eleven and resolve the tense relations with the refugees before the situation turns to outright bloodshed.
To speak firstly about the cast as a whole and to compare it’s composition and qualities to that of the first season – Section 9 remains, for the most part, unchanged and features all the familiar and iconic faces it had previously. One major difference I noted was Togusa’s involvement this time around was lessened considerably in comparison to his presence in the prior season where he acted as the driving force within the Laughing Man investigation and so those who enjoyed him and his family man dynamic will be disheartened to know that, while he is still around, he stands out about as much as Pazu or Borma. Chief Aramaki’s presence is also somewhat diminished this time around as the story focuses more on Motoko as well as the the antagonistic characters in the show such as Kazundo Gouda and Kuze Hideo. I think this change worked excellently for the show as the antagonist of the previous season was shrouded in mystery almost entirely throughout and so this more insightful and universal approach caused me to become more invested in the characters outside of Section 9.
Kusanagi Motoko remains the portrait of badass and intelligence she exemplified in the previous season however this season does investigate her character to a greater degree if only slightly. Some of her background story is revealed and while it ties in to the plot at hand Ghost in the Shell does not press this fact and rather allows it to exist without drawing attention to it which I found to be the most tactful method to represent this feature – this creates a situation where we know slightly more about the character however it causes no great impact to the story which is the case with a handful of other character investigations done throughout the season in the ‘stand alone- episodes. This season attempts to shed a bit more light on Motoko’s humanity in comparison to her usual cybernetic perfection however it’s hard to introduce believable flaws in such a character and so while we ultimately know more about her the viewer’s perception of her does not change in significant ways nor does this additional information factor heavily into the story.
The rest of the familiar cast is pretty much unchanged the previous installment – similar to the first season, Ghost in the Shell comes off fairly light in the character development department and opts to instead portray realistic and compelling characters that remain static while exploring their histories and backstories to better understand them as they are in lieu of any progression of their personality.
In the area of art and animation there are two things that come immediately to mind that contrast well with the first season – the first of which is the use of CGI. While the show still utilized it to create a handful of vehicles and occasional technological interfaces I found that it was slightly more sparse in this season and when it was used it blended in better than last time. This is not to say that the previous season used CG poorly and I would say that Ghost in the Shell used this technique fairly well given it’s world setting and that this season only showed an improvement in this.
Secondly, the character designs which would occasionally drop in quality in noticeable ways last season I think were far more consistent in their depiction this time around and while there are the occasional distant shots which lack the more intricate character details I think that the character designs were far better represented and executed this season which I feel is an important area of visual success in this category. Beyond those two things of note not much about the style or approach has changed since the first 26 episodes. The camera work is refreshing and interesting and the cyberpunk setting is expertly delivered.
The first and most important thing to talk about in respect to the story is the episode format used in this season. Whereas the previous season used two different episode types (Stand Alone in order to explore the world, concepts, and characters alongside Complex which focused on the progression of the main story) this season featured 3 different episode types: Dividual, Individual, and Dual. While it may seem that the ‘Individual’ episodes may take the place of the ‘Stand Alone’ episodes insofar as purpose this is actually the opposite of what they represent as they focus instead on the ‘Individual Eleven’ and on the main plot while the ‘Dividual’ episodes explored independent story-lines and self-contained plots. The dual episodes focus on the Cabinet Intelligence Service as well as the character of Kazundo Gouda and while they are differentiated from the ‘Individual’ episodes they are almost all relevant to the immediate plot. While the episodic structure of Ghost in the Shell is nothing new after the last season I would say that it is in this area where the greatest change in the story structure of the show takes place. In the first season the ‘Stand Alone’ episodes truly had next to nothing to do with the plot at hand and focused entirely on the stories they introduced however this changes in this season.
The ‘Dividual’ episodes do stray somewhat from the plot and some do commit fully to their independent stories however a great deal of them (and this includes the Dual episodes as well) come about at least within the context of the overarching story and often will reveal relevant information to the main plot despite being focused elsewhere. The gravity of this information is somewhat diminished because of the nature of the episodes and their impact is not felt nearly as much as a true ‘Indivudal’ episode however the end product of this approach is that the whole of this season’s 26 episodes feel far more continuous and referential to each other in comparison to the stand alone nature of the first season’s episodic format. I think this worked extremely well for the show and I found it to be a more enjoyable approach as, instead of exploring the world, the more independent stories explored the implications and context of the refugees and the characters which gave the story and the plot a considerably more fleshed out feeling as it approached its climactic finale.
In regards to the story itself I myself found this season just as compelling as the prior if not more so. The show’s heightened interest in it’s characters helped dismiss one of my qualms about the first season in it’s lack of character development and insight. We get a couple of background stories concerning the members of Section 9 it helps characters like Saito and Pazu stand out a bit better once we get to know them a bit better. While it is not in the style of Ghost in the Shell to present a ‘Big Bad’ at the end of the road for Section 9 to confront this season does present a couple of concrete, antagonistic personalities which I felt was different in nature from the Laughing Man who, while technically a singular person, was explored more vaguely as an abstract product of a stand alone complex. I liked this somewhat more traditional approach and the additional insight into the antagonists’ motives and plans made them feel more compelling as characters in their own right. Lastly, the culmination of the story is delivered in a similar manner to that of season 1 in that the ‘Individual’ and ‘Dual’ episodes come in quick succession at the end in order to maintain momentum and the actual content of the finale I found to be cumulative and exciting.
Not much of note changes in this department between the two seasons and those that enjoyed the music of the first installment will no doubt enjoy the music of this season as well. The few things I can make note of are that it felt like there may have been fewer insert songs in this season than in the last and that, when it came time to play up the action of the moment or the severity of the event, this season brought out the big guns and I felt that it did a better job of presenting a successful marriage of music and action than the first season. This not to disregard Ghost in the Shell‘s earlier utilization if it’s soundtrack but rather impress upon the greater success exhibited in this second season.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
To express my sentiments in a complete manner, I think that the second season of Ghost in the Shell both lived up to the good points of its predecessor and, in my opinion, ultimately came off as more enjoyable and exciting. My reasons for the latter sentiment are rooted in the various art improvements of this season, it’s interesting plot and more connected episodic structure as well as the small insights into the characters we receive. I feel like these reasons are quite contestable as the plot came off as slightly more traditional in nature than the first season and some people may have preferred to value the characters at a greater distance than what I would desire however I feel this season still exhibited what made the first season enjoyable.
I gave Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG a 7 because of its compelling cast of characters, interesting plot, and it’s cumulative finale. What stops the show from rising any higher in my opinion is firstly the lack of character insight which is a problem I had with the first season. This was somewhat offset by the nuggets of information we received about Mokoto and the members of Section 9 this season however as a viewer I almost always desire to see the characters fully fleshed out and explored so that I can understand them and their actions more completely however this want does not agree with the style of Ghost in the Shell which in all technicality is my own shortcoming and not a true negative aspect of the show but some of my reasoning none the less. This is not to be confused a lack of character development – I think that the show works well without featuring notable character development however greater insight into why the way each character was the way they were I feel would have gone a long way given that many of the characters were already enjoyable.
I would most obviously recommend the show to anyone who has seen the first season of the show as well as any fan of Sci-Fi for the same reasons I would recommend the prior season – It’s a staple within the genre and delivers its premise and setting extremely well. There is plenty of action throughout this season of the show however It’s not at the forefront of the show’s agenda and so it may not be there every episode like it might be for something that fully exhibits that genre tag. The plot is fairly intricate and has a handful of revelations and so the story is pretty compelling in this way and I would recommend the show for this reason.