Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 1
Tanks for the memories
Emru Townsend · July 24, 2004 | If you're a fan of comics, science fiction or animation, you owe it to yourself to read the manga of Shirow Masamune. Not only does he have a knack for creating semi-plausible future worlds, he's a stellar designer (he clearly spends a lot of time making things seem believable) and superb at composing dynamic action scenes. He also loves to dive into the politics, philosophies and psychologies of the worlds he creates.

The anime based on his works have been hit and miss, the best to date being Ghost in the Shell, directed by the always-interesting Mamoru Oshii. Ghost in the Shell followed Section 9, an elite law enforcement unit that specializes in crimes involving cyborgs, androids and the technologies that make them tick. There are two recent follow-ups to that cult favourite; Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (also directed by Oshii), which DreamWorks is releasing later this year, and the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Each episode of Stand Alone Complex is like a bite-size Shirow manga: some kind of conflict comes from a clash between the human and the technological, and Section 9 becomes involved. The result is a mix of high-concept SF, detective and military genres. These episodes clearly take place before the first Ghost in the Shell, as Major Kusanagi is here, free of any of the doubts that would later plague her. (In a sense, that hinders rather than helps Stand Alone Complex. Because we never spend any time in her head, Kusanagi feels more like a generic, albeit high-tech, supercop. I'm hoping that as the series progresses, we begin to see some of these doubts beginning to creep in.)

Stand Alone Complex has more of the Shirow touch than Ghost in the Shell did—it even has more of his goofy humour, especially in the short gag sequences featuring the bug-like artificially intelligent mini-tanks at the end of each episode. I also like how each episode is driven by the conflict between such a technology-rich society and the unpredictable humans that live in it.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 1
Manga Entertainment, 2004
Originally released in 2002
Directed by Kenji Kamiyama

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But as good as Stand Alone Complex is, it has the misfortune of following the first Ghost in the Shell movie. Oshii's dreamlike, introspective atmosphere set in Shirow's universe made for a movie that was, at times, simultaneously haunting and kinetic. The first four episodes of Stand Alone Complex simply don't measure up to that. It's a tall order, but if the succeeding volumes can get out of Oshii's shadow, this will be one hell of a series.

What's Good: Well thought-out science fiction about blending humans and technology sometimes gets downright creepy.

What's Bad: Why does Major Kusanagi, the most no-nonsense (and incidentally the only female) field operative, always wear so little clothing?

DVD Features: Anamorphic widescreen; director and voice actor interviews; English subtitles.
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