Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Review & Characters – Feel it in Your Ghost


  • Episodes : 26
  • Genre : Sci-fi, Action, Crime, Cyberpunk
  • Airing Date : October 2002 – March 2003
  • Producers : Production I.G, Kodansha, Trilogy Future Studio, Bandai Entertainment, Tokuma Shoten

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Preview / Plot (No Spoilers)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you will at least have heard of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. The original 1995 film inspired The Matrix and has had an enormous influence on practically every Sci-fi anime (or movie for that matter) ever since.

Based on the manga The Ghost in the Shell from 1989, the series has spawned several spin-offs, and in this review we’re going to take a look at the critically acclaimed 2002 anime adaption, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It was directed by Kamiyama Kenji, which also worked on the iconic movies Jin-Roh and Patlabor, and also saw the participation of Masamune Shirow, the author of the original comic.

The series is set in a near future where technological advances have made it possible to replace parts of the brain and body, in order to enhance intellectual and physical performance. This is a world where the boundaries between technology and humanity are blurred – the “Ghost” in title of the series refers to the soul or consciousness, one of the few remaining things that (seemingly) separate humans from machines.

Due to such technological advances, cybercrime has become rampant, and proficient hackers can enter people’s minds to record or alter their memories, or to manipulate their actions. We follow the missions of Public Security Section 9, which is set up by the Japanese Ministry of Home Affairs to handle such issues. The team is lead by the series’ main character, Major Kusanagi Motoko, and the main storyline involves the team investigating a case on a hacker known as the Laughing Man.

Who does Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex cater to?

Obviously, Stand Alone Complex is a must-see for anyone that has seen the original movie, no matter if you loved it or found it too slow. Sci-fi fans in general are also sure to love this anime. It has more to it than just the nerdy-stuff though – even if you’re one of those persons that have a hard time suppressing a yawn when cyborgs or robots get mentioned, you might still enjoy the intricate plot and complex character design (more about that under).

What's so appealing about this piece of work.

As our generation surely knows, the convenience of technology comes at a price – it creates reliance, and eventually makes us vulnerable to those that know how to exploit it. GitS SAC has a lot of storylines relating to the dangers of technological advance, which makes it feel truly relevant.

Science fiction is a tricky genre in that it’s often more detail-oriented than for example fantasy – on the one hand the technical aspects of the story should be relatively probable; on the other hand, in order for the world to be believable you have to be able to relate to the characters and narrative that surrounds them.

This is one of the definitive strong points of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (and the series in general): it sucks you into it’s fascinating and realistic view of the future, but is not, like other certain “hard” science fiction, so hung up in the details that it forgets the plot and the people in it. In fact, the GitS world often just serves as a backdrop for the story, with the main focus being the characters.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Trailer

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Main Characters List

Kusanagi “Major” Motoko

Voice Actor :Sakamoto, Maaya

Anime often lacks deep, complex female main characters, which makes Motoko “Major” Kusanagi stand out from the crowd. Even though her outfit might make you think she’s nothing more than some love interest for one of the series’ male characters, this is absolutely not the case – she’s the definitive leader of the Section 9, and is superior to the other members, both physically and intellectually.

As her body almost almost entirely consists of cybernetic parts, she is the character that is the most affected by the “man or machine” question in the series. After the missions are finished, she is the one that is left contemplating the philosophical implications of whatever case they’ve completed. Her past is a mystery, which also gives her persona a mystical quality.

Batou

Voice Actor :Ootsuka, Akio

He’s somewhat simple-minded, quick-tempered, with a down-to-earth attitude and a sense of humour. Batou isn’t you typical buff, blond policeman though, as he often gets surprisingly emotionally affected by the different cases the team works with.

As a military veteran he is highly skilled fighter, and is the second in command at Section 9. Both his professional and personal philosophy is different to that of the Major – his casual attitude is a contrast to Major’s professionalism and authority, and his more practical world-view differs from Major’s contemplative approach. The dynamic between the two is one of the major elements which drive the narrative forward.


Contains Spoilers

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Review

The series is often (somewhat unfavourably) compared to the movies, which is a bit unfair – a feature film and a 24-minute episode anime are two fundamentally forms of media. It requires a certain amount of time to build up an atmosphere like that of the movie, which simply isn’t possible in a short anime episode.

Stand Alone Complex manages to reinvent the franchise, and is, rather than a sequel, a re-imagination of the original premise. While it keeps parts of the original philosophical approach, these elements are dimmed down in favour of action and crime related plot-lines. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, it is more a matter of taste and preference. I was initially a bit sceptical, but I eventually came to accept that it’s purpose isn’t to try and copy the movie, and the fact that SAC is different ultimately made me enjoy it even more.

The structure of the anime episodes is good, with a nice mix of Complex and Stand Alone episodes. Much like I prefer Mytharc over “Monster-of-the week” when it comes to X-files, I found the Complex episodes more engaging than the Stand Alone ones. That said, the latter helped explain and expand the Ghost in the Shell-universe, without getting too boring.

Though not anywhere near as interesting as the Puppet Master from the movie, the Laughing Man plot was fairly engaging, but the absolute highlight of the anime was the character development, and the aforementioned dynamics between the two main characters.

Both Major and Batou have undergone a change of personally, and although someone might say they’ve been dumbed down, this makes the characters more suited for the more light-hearted tone of SAC. Many have noted that their depiction in SAC is closer to that of the original manga, and this seems probable as Masamune Shirow was involved in the production of several episodes.

On the negative side, I found the series’ visuals a bit dull at times, much like other anime from the 00’s. The neo-noir feel would have worked much better if the color scheme was a bit darker, if some more work were put into the backgrounds, and if the cityscape were grittier. When it comes to the visuals, it clearly would have benefited from being a bit more faithful to the original movie.

One thing that does do a great job of establishing the mood, however, is the soundtrack – veteran anime composer Kanno Yoko delivers the goods, and the pumping drum and bass tracks with the occasional “spiritual” chants gives the episodes a definitive boost (but I usually skip the ridiculous closing track though).

1. Major and Batou

They represent two different approaches to coping with the times they live in, one is a quiet thinker, the other more practically-oriented, more “cop”-like character. The dynamics between the two drives the series forward, and even though their relationship is a bit ambiguous at times, it is never reduced to the co-worker romance cliche.

2. Cyberbrains

If I have to pick one of the most interesting technical elements of the show, it would be the cyberbrain: in GitS, implants allow people to connect to a common network, by attaching electronic components to the brainstem. This is both scary and fascinating, because it might actually become reality one day. The way we interact with other people has changed drastically over the past few years, and it’s not unthinkable that we’ll be able to transmit information directly between each other someday, without the use of a computer or a smartphone.

3. The GitS Universe in General

Just the fact that this anime is set in the Ghost in the Shell universe is reason enough to watch it. The franchise has one of the most well though-out, comprehensive stories of any anime out there, on par with the great sci-fi classics like Star Wars or Blade Runner.


I remember my first encounter with GitS – as a 10 year old I watched a music video for a song called “King of My Castle” by Wamdue Project, that consists entirely of scenes from the first movie. The clip of Major diving into a sea of building, of her floating up to the surface of a river, and that of the skin peeling of her newly made cybernetic body was forever burned into my retinas. At the time it evoked a curious mix of excitement, anxiety and sheer perplexity, and the funny thing is that GitS still has the exact same effect on me today.

Even though Stand Alone Complex isn’t as timeless, classic or iconic as the original movie (which it doesn’t claim to be anyway), it retains many of the same elements that made the original outstanding, and also manages to add some new fresh things into the mix – which is a great achievement in itself.

Magnus

Writer

Author: Magnus

Hello there, I’m Magnus (no relation to Vampire Hunter D villain Count Magnus Lee), and I hail from the cold, northern part of the European continent. I like music, anime, movies and literature (aka ‘anything remotely artsy’), and am currently living in Tokyo, attempting to slay the dragon that goes by the name of ‘Japanese’, as well as figuring out the meaning of life. Recently started podcasting: https://soundcloud.com/helpodcast

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