Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was one of the top anime shows of the mid-2000s, but how does it hold up today, over a decade later? Not to badly, as it turns out! Yes I was one of the people who spent nearly £100 on the 11 Blu-Ray boxset of the complete 50+ episode series and films (well, film really, I won’t be bothering to watch the OVAs that just recap the series…), so let’s take a look at the first 13, which are more stand alone than… erm, complex, I guess.
The world in 2030 is a very different place, full of cyborg enhancements, robots and other futuristic technology. In order to deal with the increasingly odd and difficult cases that can crop up, Public Security Section 9 was established, and with the exception of the odd Laughing Man Incident from a few years ago, most cases are handled professionally by the group…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
Blurry, low-quality picture of the cast… It’s really hard to find good video footage or pictures of this show, despite its popularity…
Major Makoto Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka / Mary McGlynn) – Often called only by her rank, The Major is a full cyborg who is respected for her ability in tactics and combat. Though her past in not known to even herself, she concentrates on the job at hand, rather than looking backwards…
Batou (Akio Otsuka / Richard Epcar) – A former army ranger and third in command behind the Major and Lt. Col. Aramaki. He has cybernetic eyes, arms and legs to better help him in combat situations, and also has a sense of humour about himself, despite appearances.
Togusa (Kouichi Yamadera / Chrispin Freeman) – A former police officer who is the only member of Section 9 to not have any cybernetic enhancements. He still carries his old six-chambered revolver with him, despite better technology being available.
Lt. Col. Daisuke Aramaki (Osamu Saka / William Knight) – Aramaki is in charge of Section 9 and although he’s all business and quite strict, he is also very protective of his team.
Ishikawa (Yutaka Nakano / Michael McCarty) – Ishikawa is the lead investigator and technology expert in Section 9. Although he is rarely on the field, his tactics and expert hacking skills are often vital for successful missions.
Saito (Toru Okawa / Dave Wittenburg) – Saito is the sniper of Section 9. His left arm and eye are the only parts of him that are cybernetic, allowing him to hold heavy sniper cannons and aim with incredible accuracy, respectively.
Borma (Taro Yamaguchi / Dean Wein) – Borma is an expert with explosives and bomb disposal, as well as technological viruses. He can also lend a hand on the field, using heavy weaponry if needed.
The Tachikoma (Sakiko Tamagawa / Melissa Fahn and others) – Spider-like robots that help Section 9 with their missions. Their generic A.I. is beginning to evolve…
The Laughing Man – An old case from a few years ago, where a man who only ever appeared with a logo hiding his face, stole countless amounts of money from big corporations before vanishing from the public eye… at least until now.
The first appearance of the Laughing Man
The main thing that stands the test of time with GITS: SAC are the Section 9 characters and how much of a fun mix they are. The Major is very much all-business, but has a few moments where she drops the façade and plays a little with her fellow team members, Batou is the joker of the bunch, except for a few personal cases, and Togusa is often the straight man to Batou or a more light-hearted man to the Major’s straight… er, girl act. The boss is the boss, just giving out orders from behind a desk (right now anyway) but he fills the role well. The rest of the team are fine as well, when they appear. It makes most of the episodes fun to watch despite some more wonky stand alone stories.
Episodes 4 – 6, 9 and 11 are the start of the Laughing Man case, the main story arc of the season. The first three episodes do a good job of getting across the threat and its odd nature, including several scenes with people’s minds being hacked, making them say and do things against their will. I still like how the hacker makes it so his logo appears over his face, or others, because of how people see things through digital screens / eyes in this world. Togusa’s old buddy from the police force is killed by his own higher ups, adding some internal intrigue to the mix, and I still love the twist with Episode 11, where Togusa tries to draw a picture of the boy who he saw in a “social welfare facility” but ends up drawing the Laughing Man logo instead, without knowing. Again, in the world where most people’s brains are hooked up to computers and mainframes, the idea that someone’s own mind could be hacked is a scary one, and they play well with the idea here. Episode 9 is the exception, but I’ll get to that in The Bad…
As for the stand alone episodes, the standout (and indeed the standout episode in general for these first 13 episodes) is Episode 10, “A Perfect Day for a Jungle Cruise – JUNGLE CRUISE”, to use the annoying naming convention. It sees a serial killer from America called Marco Amoretti taking innocent women and flaying them alive and leaving them to die. Batou recognises this as the work of an old CIA group from the war he fought in, saying the Americans did it to sow terror in the opposing side, and this turns out to be the case. Amoretti was apart of this sick war tactic and now he’s continuing to do it out of a warped sense that it’s his “duty”, though in reality he hopes someone will kill him and put a stop to his actions. This is also what the US government want as well, they were counting on former ranger Batou to go crazy and kill him, thus tying up a lose end to a part of history they wished to forget. Batou nearly complies, but manages to just arrest him in the end, much to the Americans’ dismay. It’s not only just a really good episode in general, but it shows a more serious side to Batou, and it works really well.
Episode 2, where the team deal with a runaway special-type of tank that ended up being controlled by the scanned-mind of one of the people who worked on it, was good. The man just wanted to “get revenge” on his parents for not allowing him to use synthetic body parts to cure him and make him live longer because it was against their religion. It was good both due to the story, and plenty of action with the Section 9 pilotable robots the Tachikoma, who are annoying more often that not but work well here.
Episode 7, which has Section 9 deal with a revolutionary flying into town and his meetings with a local yakuza-like gang, is another good one. It’s fun purely because of the plot twist, that the revolutionary in question, Marcelo Jarti, is already dead, he hasn’t survived six assassination attempts, instead the Yakuza have been creating duplicates of him to keep up his appearance in his home country of Jenoma and continue their dealings with the people who still look up to him.
Other episodes like Episode 3, with a man falling in love with his android, leading him to go on a same-android-model killing spree to make her unique, Episode 8, where some rich medical students try to steal and sell cybernetic parts on the cheap, and Episode 13, which sees the team deal with the mystery of a girl who was kidnapped by an anti-cybernetics group due to her father being a cybernetics CEO a good few years ago, and how she suddenly reappears, are also great examples of the cyberpunk storytelling the series can pull off so well.
The Major, as deadly in the wardrobe department as she is with a gun, or something…? (I was trying to be clever, but I think I failed.)
Two things that I don’t remember disliking the first time round spring to mind this time while watching. Firstly the Major’s outfit… it’s just lingerie with a leather jacket on, like literally. It looks so stupid through these older eyes now, even though I didn’t really think about it back then. Secondly the Tachikoma are annoying as hell. No matter the dub or original Japanese audio, they have annoying voices and Episode 12, which over half of its runtime was a “cute” side story with a Tachikoma wondering around town with a little girl was… not very good.
Episode 9, despite being apart of the Laughing Man arc, is pretty dull. The whole episode takes place in a chat room, and while some of the dialogue and questions some chat room members come up with is interesting, a lot of it isn’t, and it isn’t helped by the mostly static room being the only scenery to look at.
Funnily enough, Episode 1 is among the least interesting of the bunch. It’s not bad, just not all that, well, interesting, beyond the robot geishas taking people hostage scene, which is still a classic. Still, only two episodes appearing in the Bad is still an impressive ratio for a batch of 13!
Oh and while the CG in the actual show isn’t too bad given the age, the opening footage is… ugh, not good, particularly the Major. Why they thought a CG intro would be good I have no idea… Well, actually it’s probably because it’s all “futuristic” and fits with the cybernetic world of the show, but still… It’s ugly.
Batou, during “happier times” as a ranger.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex may not have the detailed, thought-provoking (and trend-setting) nature of the classic film, but as a then-weekly TV series it uses the world of GITS to tell a good long-form story, and pepper it with some fun, and in some cases great, stand alone stories. I’m happy to report that beyond an embarrassing choice of lead character attire, the show hasn’t aged a bit!