D-Mail Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex

Kerberos continues his series of reiews on the Ghost in the Shell anime franchise with the 2002 tv-series Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex
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    Original text: November 2014
    Editing and rewrites: June 2017

    Genre: Action, Crime, Cyberpunk

    Studio: Production I.G.

    Original year of release: 2002 – 2003

    Director: Kenji Kamiyama

    Writer: Kenji Kamiyama (series composition and principal scriptwriting)

    Number of episodes: 26

    Runtime per episode: 25 mins


    The Stand Alone Complex tv-series series is not a sequel to the film, but rather a complete reboot of it. It shares a similar premise and characters, but with a very different setting and a very different tone. It's still the "not so very distant" future where the earth is being populated by cyborgs. Motoko Kusanagi is still the main lead and it's still her job, and that of section 9, to hunt down cyber terrorists. That’s where the similarities end, however. Where the original Ghost in the Shell was a Blade Runner-esque neo-noir film that touched on various philosophical subjects, the TV-series is more like a police procedural with a cyberpunk twist to it.


    Much like its title would indicate, the show consists of standalone episodes and complex episodes. The stand-alone episodes see Section 9 investigating various cases, which usually involve cyberpunk elements, whereas the complex episodes deal with the show’s ongoing storyline. In this case, that story involves a super hacker known as The Puppetma...er I mean The Laughing man. However, you would be forgiven for mixing the two up as they are eerily similar in some ways. The Laughing Man case does get more original and interesting as it progresses. But the problem is that it doesn't really get going until the final seven episodes of the season. The rest of the season almost solely consists of standalone cases. These cases, unfortunately, aren’t exactly the most riveting to watch, especially if you’re even remotely familiar with the kind of western crime drama that this show tries very hard to emulate..


    This is a real shame too because it does so at the expense of the philosophical musings and noir-ish tone that made the original movie as great as it was. Instead, it focuses a lot more on action which will please some I suppose, but isn’t really what I’m looking for with most anime and especially not with Ghost in the Shell.

    The entire cast from the movie returns, though some changes are apparent in their characterization. Motoko is even more cold and distant than she was in the movie, while Batou is portrayed as more easy going. Togusa is pretty much the same but thankfully gets a lot more character development this time around.


    Visually this show is top notch. The character designs are all very detailed and realistic. The backgrounds are simply stunning, and so life-like, that you'd forget you're watching an anime. I was also really impressed by the mechanical designs in this show. With the biggest standout of all being the Tachikomas, the mini tanks used by Section 9 for some of their more risky operations. These things are a wonder to behold and that's even before they start talking. But the less said about that the better as that's a surprise I'll leave you to experience for yourself.

    As mentioned, Stand Alone Complex is very action-oriented and in that regard, it does not disappoint. It showcases some of the most spectacularly well-animated action sequences in anime since the original movie was released.

    The only exception to the show’s visual splendor is the opening, as unlike the rest of the show it’s entirely CG and not good looking CG either. It’s a real shame too, as the actual images portrayed in the opening are compelling and would’ve made for a terrific opening were it not for the shitty CG. Thankfully though, the opening is made a lot better by the show’s main theme "Inner Universe" performed by the recently deceased Russian singer Origa. The song is amazing and screams almost as much “this is Ghost in the Shell” as the score for the original movie did.

    The soundtrack for the show itself was composed by Yoko Kanno. For the uninitiated, this is the woman that gave us the divine Cowboy Bebop soundtrack. And like that the Stand Alone Complex soundtrack is great with some tracks that don't just fit the scene but add another layer to it.

    Due to this show being less nuanced and subtle with its dialogue than the movie, I suppose one could watch it in English. I have indeed heard a lot of good things about the dub. However, I already recommended watching the movie in Japanese and I also definitely recommend checking out the movie before watching the show. So I'll still say go with the Japanese dub for this one.


    As you might've gleaned by now I don’t really like this show very much. Part of this has to do with my love for the movie and how this is very much not like that at all. However, I also feel that given the dazzling amount of interesting thematic material that this universe and premise provides, they could’ve done so much more than the kind of generic crime procedural stories you find in most western TV-shows. On the other hand, it isn’t bad either. The standalone episodes are run of the mill, but entertaining and the complex episodes take forever to get going but end up being pretty good. Backed this up by terrific art, animation and a gorgeous soundtrack and the result is a show that is worth watching, if nothing else. Of course, there is always the chance they might do better on the second attempt. Although, you’ll have to stick around for my next review to find out whether or not they did.



    Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex has been licensed by Bandai Entertainment in the US and Manga Entertainment in the UK and made available on DVD in both regions. No streaming options are available at this point. Which sucks as it makes my rating kind of pointless but I still stick with it as I believe it is the right choice. So, here’s hoping some licenser will pick it up in the near future.

    Special thanks to @Kuze, @Shannon Apple and @Scruffie for editing and providing useful feedback
    tripplej likes this.


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  1. Kuze
    My childhood summed up by one exquisite bassline.