Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Tagged: TV

Japanese animated tv series (2002-2005). Based on the Manga by Masamune Shirow. Production I.G. Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama. Voice cast includes Akio Ohtsuka, Osamu Saka, Sakiko Tamagawa, Atsuko Tanaka and Kōichi Yamadera. 52 25-minute episodes. Colour.

This Anime continues the story of Section 9, the Japanese Government's counter-terrorism and cyber- intelligence taskforce, after the events of the film Ghost in the Shell (1995); the first season is set in 2030, the second in 2032. The central character is Section 9's second-in-command, Major Motoko Kusanagi (Tanaka), a Cyborg who takes charge of operations in the field. Her boss is the elderly but formidable Daisuke Aramaki (Saka). Other members include Batou (Ohtsuka), another cyborg, whose hard-bitten exterior hides a sentimental soul, and Togusa (Yamadera), who – unlike the rest of the team – has only a few cybernetic implants and a family.

Also prominent are Section 9's Tachikomas (Tamagawa), blue spider tanks (see Robots). In season one there is growing concern about their erratic behaviour: most are sent back to the laboratory to be disassembled. We learn they are becoming AIs and developing individuality, enthusiastically discussing philosophy and the nature of Intelligence – one referring to Flowers for Algernon (April 1959 F&SF; exp 1966) by Daniel Keyes. It is only at the season's end that their sentience is recognized. However, in season two they have been reassembled and returned to Section 9.

Each season focuses on a threat caused by an ambitious politician or senior bureaucrat – little faith is shown in the political establishment (see Politics), the private sector (see Economics) or the military. Season one's Laughing Man story arc involves government and corporate corruption: though taken as a whole it is satisfactory, the resolution is an anti-climax. Episodes dealing with the main plot are interlaced with one-off episodes: their brevity – half the length of traditional cop shows (see Crime and Punishment) – means that, though often diverting, they can feel rushed. There are also numerous references to J D Salinger.

Season two's Individual Eleven story arc is concerned with attempts to manipulate Japan's refugee crisis, an aftermath of the previous decade's world War. Though this engagement with social (see Sociology) and political issues is interesting, the story itself sags at times; it's not helped by one-off episodes focusing on Section 9's secondary characters, who can be a little cardboard. However, the finale – wherein the villain takes some bad advice – is a notable improvement on the previous season's.

Both seasons are enjoyable, often exciting, Cyberpunk thrillers which engage with philosophy (see Metaphysics), Technology and society. The nature of memory and experience is a recurring theme of the show: the government and the powerful manipulate the media; most people have implants, if not full cyborgization, allowing their Perceptions to be altered (including Memory Edits); nearly all information is stored on Computers, which can be changed. Consequently an important part of Section 9's work is digging down into the data to find the truth: this is combined with military operations, so the action often alternates between hacking and violence. The series' flaws include stories being stretched out (each season is twenty-six episodes); backstory communicated by conversational Infodumps; the Major's scanty attire (see Fan Service); and a shortage of other female characters, though season two has a woman Japanese Prime Minister. The age of the source material perhaps explains Togusa's mullet.

A sequel was Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (2006), a made-for-television film set in 2034. [SP]

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