Stand Alone Complex

The Ghost in the Shell franchise surely is quite large; after finishing the two Mamoru Oshii films, I moved on to the 2002 anime series, Stand Alone Complex, which aired just two years before the premiere of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Also developed by Production I.G., this anime adaptation was directed by Kenji Kamiyama, whom of which also directed a little show called Higashi no Eden. Many American fans may have first been introduced to Stand Alone Complex when it aired on [adult swim] a few years back, and it apparently still gets a time slot every so often. Needless to say, Stand Alone Complex seems to be what people see first before being introduced to the rest of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, but does it live up to the legacy left behind by the original Ghost in the Shell film? Lets find out:

In the year 2030, a time in the future in which it is commonplace to see people with prosthetic bodies and cybernetic appendages, the elite special police unit Public Security Section 9, formed by Daisuke Aramaki and lead by Major Motoko Kusanagi, deals with cases of cyber warfare and technology-based terrorism. Stand Alone Complex follows various missions of Section 9, particularly of the controversial events surrounding the mysterious hacker and corporate-terrorist known as the Laughing Man.

My first and foremost criticism of Stand Alone Complex as an anime series is how much it acknowledges itself as a series, particularly with how episodic the series is. The episodes are divided into two categories: the “Stand Alone” episodes, which are, as the name implies, stand alone stories with nothing to do with the overarching plot presented by the “Complex” episodes, which follow the primary mystery behind the Laughing Man and ultimately serve as the bulk of the show. While the Stand Alone episodes are often very interesting on their own, they very quickly become nuisances when getting in the way and ignoring the Complex episodes. This causes the Complex episodes to seem almost secondary in nature, and the main plot is often forgotten completely. I, among many, would have much preferred the Complex episodes to have much more presence over the Stand Alone episodes.

The anime structure, however, allows for us to become a lot more familiar with the characters and the setting. The producers have a lot more time to fit in more material to expand upon this vast cybernetic world, which is much unlike the Oshii films which had cut a lot of material out in order to make it work in film format. In this aspect, Stand Alone Complex stays a lot truer to the original manga. It’s not nearly as dark or serious as the Oshii films, but it still carries the very heavy themes and has the time to introduce more to the mix. This detail might be a dividing point for the many fans of the original movies who preferred the darker style as opposed to the many anime tropes used in Stand Alone Complex.

Lastly, the anime structure allows it to have a more cartoony animation style, which goes along with the difference in style between Stand Alone Complex and Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. While the animation isn’t nearly as quality as Oshii’s films, the animation is still top tier and very appropriate for an animated series. I dig Major Kusanagi with stylized purple hair, and Chief Aramaki with crazy-flying, old-man hair.

The primary storyline—simply, the “Complex” episodes—is very intriguing and truly the most engaging aspect of Stand Alone Complex. The enigma of the Laughing Man created by the story truly suits what one would look for in the perfect antagonist for Section 9. The greatest part is the way the mystery is presented for the audience, which is very misleading and the result of digging in deeper leaves a dramatic, yet satisfying impression in the end, not to mention that the Laughing Man logo is simply iconic and quite haunting. (Coincidentally, the American voice actor for the Laughing Man is Steve Blum, who, unless I’m paranoid, seems to voice many of my favorite characters, including Spike Spiegal and Mugen; just a little tidbit)

And most importantly: Yoko Kanno! Yes, the legendary Yoko Kanno provides her musical talents to the Ghost in the Shell franchises in both Stand Alone Complex series, another soundtrack she is really well known for beyond Cowboy Bebop. As usual for Kanno, her music is very present in the series and can quickly become the most enjoyable part of the show at times. In this soundtrack she provides a large variety of different styles, ranging from her classic jazz, to electronic, classical, and even pleasant noise music. It’s easy to see that she doesn’t hold back this time, and it certainly alleviates the Ghost in the Shell experience. If I had to compare her to Kenji Kawai of the Oshii films, she would easy take the cake—this decision, however, isn’t as easy as comparing her to Yasushi Ishii for the two separate Darker Than Black soundtracks of The Black Contractor and Gemini of the Meteor (a contest that may or may not be a Geeks With Taste special in the upcoming future).

So, in conclusion, does Stand Alone Complex live up to the original Mamoru Oshii Ghost in the Shell film? Well, no. The plot of Stand Alone Complex is poorly delivered (not to be confused with poorly written, which it certainly is not) in thanks to the division of “Stand Alone” and “Complex” episodes, and cannot even attempt to come close to the philosophical level and overall impact Mamoru Oshii delivered. However, this comparison was flawed to begin with; Mamoru Oshii was doing his own thing with the Ghost in the Shell movies, which strayed from the manga plot greatly, whereas Stand Alone Complex is intended to be much more faithful to the manga. Obvious differences in style are expected, and in the end it comes down to preference, which I clearly prefer the Oshii films.

Other than this, though, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a great series. It certainly is the ideal anime adaptation for the manga, in terms of faithfulness and presentation. And, in a way, the episode division was necessary in order to expand the Ghost in the Shell universe. Overall, I give Stand Alone Complex an 8/10. The “Complex” episodes are very engaging and never disappointed me, and some of the “Stand Alone” episodes tickled me in a good way as well. The last few episodes, though, are truly the peak of the series and where I really got into the show, so you’ll have to sit tight for that. Stand Alone Complex is a great gateway anime to those getting into the science fiction genre of anime, and I recommend it as a much watch for all anime fans alike.

Well, that’s Stand Alone Complex down. Next hit: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig! Wish me luck!

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