Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was a title I never had a chance at seeing in its entirety during its run on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block and being on a Netflix subscription, I decided to rent the series throughout this month. And for a sci-fi action title, the series tackles a lot throughout its 26 episode run and impressed me heavily for the complexity of its storyline and looking into the future world that it takes place in.
But before I get to those, I want to compliment on the characters for this series. One of my biggest beefs with the movie adaptations of Ghost in the Shell was that the characters appeared to be lifeless and lacking in personality thus making it tough to relate to them. Here in Stand Alone Complex, the characters do display a decent amount of personality as Batou occasionally likes cracking jokes and getting short-fused at points during the series plus the Major is shown to be a little bit easygoing when not involved on missions and having her moments of anger as well. There is some fleshing-out of the major players of Section 9 where you get enough sense of how they adapt to their lives as cyborgs and their personal beliefs regarding situations that they face on and off missions. Of course with the series being more plot-driven and action-oriented, you shouldn't expect too much in the way of character exploration and development.
On the plot end, Stand Alone Complex is scattered up into two different types of episodes: "stand alone" and "complex". The "stand alone" episodes are episodic plots involving Section 9 taking up a case or dealing with matters around their headquarters. These episodes tend to focus around covering aspects to the characters or the world in which Stand Alone Complex takes place in, which I will get to in a little bit. The "complex" episodes explore the main storyline to the series, that being the Laughing Man case. This one proves to be quite the complicated little case to cover indeed as what starts off as a simple case of corruption within city police turns into a complex plot involving an infamous hacker and a grand-scale conspiracy connected to some rather powerful figures in political and economic circles. Like the "stand alone" episodes, the "complex" episodes are connected to the exploration of issues faced within the world of the series, as well as exploring corruption within politics and economics which is a hot-button topic within current events for our time as well. The "complex" episodes do build up to a suspenseful finale and ties up all loose ends concerning the political-economic conspiracy, the Laughing Man's identity and the fates of those within Section 9.
In terms of relating its elements to the cyberpunk genre, Stand Alone Complex does do well at giving its audience enough familiarity with the issues and new technologies used within its near-future setting while exploring its characters and developing its plots. Throughout both the "stand alone" and "complex" episodes, elements to the world of the series are explored in a future where the developments of cyberbrains and cyborgs create a blurring line over one's human identity. This is where the show's philosophical element comes in where heavily cyberized characters like Batou and Motoko often contemplate on how much of their humanity and original self is intact through the cyberization process. The series also explores the societal effect and new risks of cyberbrain use and having a cyborg body. There is talk on new diseases discovered from use of one's cyberbrain, the obvious risk of one's body being vulnerable to hackers if cyberized, cyborg bodies being illegally modified as use for prostitution or assassination and trying to recreate the very personality and identity of a cyberized individual's "ghost" (slang for a person's soul in the world of GITS) through cyborg copies. Focus is also given at points to the AI development of the Tachikoma units used for combat developing their own individuality and even having their own comical omake at the end of each episode to the series.
In terms of visuals, Stand Alone Complex is above average in its presentation for the time it was released. There is clearly plenty of effort put into getting as much detail into the scenery of New Port and the cyber world as possible featuring vivid and colorful settings. A mix of cel-shaded and CG animation is used for creating these environments and rendering vehicles, characters and robots into them which works almost seamlessly. Movements and action scenes were animated at a fluid pace, especially with Tachikomas and mechs in action. Yoko Kanno contributes her soundtrack composing talents to the series and as usual, her tracks do well at blending with many of the situations that take place onscreen.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex delivers quite well with both style and substance with its sci-fi action genre. It combines above average visual presentation of nearly-seamless blurring of CG and cel-shaded animation with two types of plotting styles that serve to explore the characters and world of the series, as well as the complex plot developments brought on from the Laughing Man case. Anyone who is into the sci-fi or cyberpunk genre should definitely check this series out as it has much more time to explore both plot and philosophical dilemmas for its time period than those two other movies. I look forward to wanting to check out 2nd GIG
sometime in the near future.