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Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex -
volume one | volume two

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Ghost In The Shell:
Stand Alone Complex - volume three

director: Kenji Kamiyama

96 minutes (15) 2002
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by John Percival
This excellent instalment of Ghost In The Shell series is a slight change from the earlier releases. Focusing less on The Laughing Man killer story arc, two of the four episodes in this volume feature self-contained stories. All of the episodes of this series so far have yet to disappoint with superb storylines and amazing animation. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is the premier anime series just as popular the cult film that spawned it.

The first episode Chat Chat Chat continues on the 'who is The Laughing Man' arc, but from a different perspective. Whilst Major Motoko Kusanagi and the rest of Section 9 are trying to uncover the identity of The Laughing Man, that same subject has become focus of much attention in Internet chat rooms. We start the episode in one chat room dedicated to discussing the killer, and as opposed to our current view of chat rooms on a screen with text rolling up, these are proper virtual reality environments where participants appear in human form. This allows for the more heated areas of discussion to be appropriately 'animated'. The use of the chat room is an interesting tool, for as well as diverting our attention away from the familiar faces, the characters here are new and this allows for ideas and conspiracies about The Laughing Man to be discussed in a way which would have seemed inappropriate coming from the members of Section 9. It is for this reason also that Major Motoko goes undercover to discover more information about the killer. Motoko's undercover disguise is somewhat of a joke, being a stern but sexy cyborg she appears in the chat room as a stern but sexy avatar, she has a different face and different clothes but in a room full of geeks she still stands out. This episode also provides an opportunity to re-visit the crimes of The Laughing Man and witness the cult of celebrity that has sprung up around him. In some respects he has as much cult status as a rock star.

The second episode in this volume is, Jungle Cruise where there is yet another serial killer on the loose and this one is nasty. This killer's particular trademark is kidnapping women and skinning them alive, removing the skin in a t-shirt pattern. Additionally the victims are forced to watch their own death as it slowly happens via a cybernetic link. This episode covers interesting ground, as it appears that tough cyborg Batou has crossed paths with this killer before, along time ago during the war. It was then that Batou first witnessed the skinned victims. Now with the killer appearing to be an American war criminal the CIA arrive to take charge of the situation. The involvement of the CIA and the criminal being American is a cause of obvious tension. Togusa and Batou tag along on the investigation but it is clear that the CIA is using Batou and the emotions caused by the memories to do their dirty work for them. This is a great episode and proves how this series shines regardless of pace. Compared with the cerebral nature of the previous episode, Jungle Cruise is pure emotion and adrenalin, It is amazingly how an animation can tackle a shocking subject like skinned victims and make it plausible without resorting to graphic scenes, there is a great use of tension from the initial scenes of the murder to Batou hunting down the murderer and the final conclusion.

The next episode Portraitz shows how even the modern marvels of technology cannot escape human frailties. An investigation into a serious Laughing Man hack has led Togusa to go undercover into a government institution for children suffering from a condition called 'Cyberbrain Closed Shell Syndrome', this is like a cybernetic autism. Togusa discovers that many of the children are mentally shut off from the outside world but they display a 'Rain Main' like talent in the cyberworld and the government exploits their talents to create 'Barrier Mazes' to protect systems and profit. This leads Togusa into danger from those exploiting but also incredibly close to the Laughing Man, from whose effects even the most human Section 9 officer is not immune. This is yet again a change of pace from the previous episode but it provides a more touching side, putting a human face on the effect of technology and showing a more human face to the Laughing Man.

The final episode is more of an oddity and features mainly around one of the small Tatchikoma robot tanks assist Section 9 on their adventures. These blue spider tanks have an advanced artificial intelligence and incredibly cute personalities. This particular Tachikoma is Batou's favourite and as such he treats it to natural oil as opposed to the usual synthetic stuff. This different oil has an unusual effect on the robots circuits and it heads off for a stroll through the big city. Along the way it comes across a little girl, Miki, who is looking for her lost dog called Locky. The Tachikoma and the girl strike up a friendship and they both look for the dog. It soon transpires that the girl's dog is in fact dead and she looks for the dog so that her parents do not see her so sad. This provides the Tachikoma some hard lessons in human values. Of course the Major is not best pleased with the robot's excursion.

This release is another well-received addition to the amazing series. The set blends incredibly deep and probing stories with action and tension. The stories are very carefully thought out and amazingly animated; the marrying of computer art and traditional techniques is both seamless and striking. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex goes from strength to strength.

As with the previously releases this two disc set has the episodes repeated on both discs with different soundtracks including Japanese and English in 2.0, 5.1 and DTS. Additionally the extras include character profiles and interviews with Akio Ohtsuka (Japanese voice for Batou) and sound guy Wakabayashi Kazuhrio. There is also a quiz, which leads to a preview of the next episodes and a trailer of the PS2 video game.
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