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Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig - volume one

voice cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Osamu Saka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, and Yutaka Nakano

director: Kenji Kamayama

97 minutes (15) 2005
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex: Second Gig - volume one seems less like a title and more like the first half of a racing form or, possibly, a line of dialogue from something written by Chris Morris. However, to be fair, this anime actually has a reason for its complicated name. This DVD is the first volume of the second series of the TV spinoff from Mamoro Oshii's Ghost In The Shell film based upon Shirow Masamune's manga of the same name.

At the end of the first series (which has been released in a fantastic boxset), the team of cyborg anti-terrorist experts known as Section 9 had been disavowed by their government and forced to go into hiding. The first episode of the second series sees the team posed ready to intervene in a hostage situation in an embassy. This scene echoes a similar early episode from the first season (as well as the famous shot from the film where a character disappears as she falls from the side of a building) and introduces on of the new series' big plot arcs, namely the fact that the Japanese government has been taking in asylum seekers from the rest of Asia following a war and that the sheer weight of numbers and the cost involved is forcing some right-wing terrorist groups out of the woodwork.

The second episode is a change of pace from the action of the first. Reflective and non-linear in its narrative structure, the episode borrows ideas and images from Scorsese's Taxi Driver in its depiction of a mentally-ill war veteran slowly driven to the edge by the nature of the society he lives in. While this episode functions beautifully as a character study of a psychopath, it also serves to highlight the social and political problems affecting the world of the series.

The third episode is more light-hearted and again winks at another series, this time the 1980s' female cat-burgling anime Cat's Eyes, by having Section 9 perform a heist. Full of lovely acrobatic sequences and a twisty-turny plot, this episode still manages to darken the tone of the series by setting the heist at a party where rich men parade around with their android sex slaves.

The final episode of this volume introduces the character Ghoda. A mysterious agent for Special Intelligence, he recruits Section 9 into helping him resolve the strange case of a rogue military helicopter where nothing is what it seems. This episode boasts some fantastic Tachikoma-based action sequences but also seems to serve the series' wider plots by hinting at government conspiracies involving the asylum seekers.

Sold in a beautiful two-disc DVD case, this volume of GITS - SAC seems to suggest that the second series might be even better than the first. The intelligence, plotting, direction and boldness are still there but the series also seems to have become a lot darker than during its first outing. Visually, the first series boasted bright and sunny colour schemes with little blood despite the violence. However, right from the starting credits, 2nd Gig looks a lot darker. The pastel clothes have been replaced by black coats and earthy tones, the action sequences now feature fountains of blood and four episodes in the series has already dealt with mental illness, prostitution and xenophobia.

While it is early days yet, this volume suggests that there has been no drop-off in the quality of the writing or the art. Fiercely intelligent and beautifully made, Stand Alone Complex is still at the absolute top of the pile when it comes to TV anime.

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