Monday, December 2, 2019

Anime Monday - Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Yes!!!!! Thank you RNG! Man, last week there wasn't much I could say about the DMC anime, and now this week there's just TOO much! Of course I'll be holding myself back because of spoilers, and I'll also only be discussing Season 1 of this series in general. So yeah, let's get this started!


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of my personal all time favorites. I've watched it from start to finish many times, and I'm really excited about the upcoming 3rd season. That being said, it wasn't always this way for me. In fact there was a time where I had no idea what GITS was, and I was even advised to stay away from it. Yep, that's right. I was told NOT to watch it. (Thankfully I didn't listen). As to how I eventually did come to the series? That's a bit of a long story, and strangely what lead me to it wasn't even directly related to the series. In fact it was Nintendo Power that started it all.

One day back during my freshman year of high school I was dropped off at my house by my mom, and she went off to work. This is how most days were back then, but on this particular day my new copy of Nintendo Power had arrived in the mail. "Free promo inside!" Okay, maybe not the exact words, but it was something along those lines. Usually when you saw something like this in Nintendo Power it was typically a game soundtrack sample, poster, or something else similar; however this time that was not the case. Instead the issue came with the first episode of a brand new anime called "IGPX." Now I had heard of this from commercials on TV, but I wasn't able to watch the first episode, nor did I think I'd even have a chance to get into the series. With this issue of Nintendo Power though, all of that changed.

The thing about IGPX is, it was actually a joint project between Toonami and the animation studio Production I.G. To sum it up, it was a sci-fi series about giant robots racing and fighting at high speeds. It followed different teams as they shot to become the best out there, and overall it was actually pretty cool! But I'll admit it was strange hearing "Sora" (Haley Joel Osment) cuss, but whatever. I loved the show, and maybe one day I'll get the chance to talk about it more. That being said though, it was a very overlooked series, and when advertised on TV they made sure to point out it was by the team behind Ghost in the Shell SAC. And there it was, the first time I had seen the name.

After hearing about GITS I began asking friends about it. One told me he heard about the Laughing Man, while another mentioned the nudity briefly seen in a few episodes, and told me it was a stupid adult show. While that didn't actually turn me off, the fact I had no way to watch it did prevent me from looking into it further. That is until roughly a year later when I caught clips of it on YouTube, and the series began reruns on Adult Swim. All I can say is, it was amazing.

The Story of Ghosts:

Stand Alone Complex is not the original Ghost in the Shell story line. The original was a manga, and it was adapted into two anime movies. SAC is not directly connected to any of these original stories though, and instead is very much it's own thing. It takes the characters and settings already established, and then expands them into a full blown story line that was told across roughly 50 episodes, a movie, and even some novels. It's because of this that many fans consider Stand Alone Complex to be "the" Ghost in the Shell, while the rest of the series is simply it's roots. Of course that's not to say the original isn't worth checking out, but it's nowhere near the scale of SAC. (Although the first movie did inspire the entire Matrix franchise.)

Like in the original series and movies, SAC follows the story of a young woman named Motoko Kusanagi, also known as "the Major."  The Major is the leader of a special police force called "Section 9," which specializes in cyber crimes and terrorist attacks. Following the orders of their chief, a man named Daisuke Aramaki, the Major leads her team in a wide verity of investigations as they try to get to the bottom of something they call "The Laughing Man Incident." Each episode tends to be it's own self contained story, but once in awhile small pieces of the overall plot will fall into place. It's an interesting setup that keeps the viewers guessing from start to finish, but there's also a lot more to it than what meets the eye. Even after the answer is finally revealed, there's plenty for the viewers to think about, which makes rewatching the series just as fun as the first time through. It's rare for series to be able to pull this sorta thing off, but Ghost in the Shell manages to do it with flying colors. But that's only one small part of the show.

Not all Ghosts are Machines:

One area SAC really excels in is it's character development. Each member of Section 9 is unique, and has their own backstory and role to play throughout the series. The Major herself stands out because her body is fully mechanical. She was in a major accident when she was a little girl, and was the only surviving member of her family. Sadly she lost who she was that day, but maybe that's not completely true? There's a lot going on with this story line, especially when looking at the psychological side of things. Is the Major still human? Is she still herself, or is she nothing more than a ghost in a hollow shell? The series explores ideas like this with multiple characters, but it's the Major's story that really does stand out among all the others. Even the haunting opening (sung by the amazing, and sadly late, Yoko Kanno) helps set the tone and gives us a glimpse of what she's dealing with. Her losing control of her hand and crushing her favorite doll -- it's things like this that make you feel sorry for the Major, but also make you feel uneasy. It's a bit creepy at times, but it's disturbing touches like these that help you feel for the characters and make them unforgettable. And again, this is really only the Major we're talking about here.


Other characters of the series have just as much depth. One character in particular is a man named Togusa. While the other characters in Section 9 are augmented or in full cyber bodies like the Major, Togusa is fully human. He does not believe it's right to mutilate your own body to gain advantages, and he has no plans to do so unless it's against his will. The one exception he made was the cyber brain implant so he could connect with others over a network, but it's more of a necessity in this world rather than a standard augment. That being said, he's limited compared to what other members of his group can do, and his choice of equipment is also considered "old school." In a world of sci-fi he seems like he doesn't fit in, but that doesn't mean he's any less of a cop. In fact he's one of the best Section 9 has to offer.

What's so interesting about Togusa's character is the fact that he's normal. If he gets shot he'll die, if his arm breaks there's no replacing it, and his Mateba Autorevolver provides a touch of our real world to the series. He also has a wife and daughter at home, and has much more to lose if things go wrong. He's also a bit more of a detective compared to other members of the team, and often gets sent on jobs more fitting of his skills. He's a great contrast to everyone else on the team, and a character who most viewers can relate to.


As for the rest of the team... Well, their stories do very. Some characters do get full episodes focusing on them and their past, while others are only seen developing in the here and now. Each one of them is interesting though, and it's always great to see just how they evolve as the series goes on. Of course just like with the major different issues are touched upon, and often we see even the modified characters trying to hang onto their humanity. Batou for example buys gym equipment and works out all the time, despite having a robotic body that will never change. The Major herself chooses to remain in a woman's body, despite male bodies typically being created stronger. And Saito -- well, let's leave that for an article about 2nd Gig. Sadly there isn't time in the first season to cover everyone, but they did an amazing job with what time they had. Oh and let's not forget the tachikoma units. These spider shaped tanks add comedy to an otherwise serious world, and they too question their existence. They aren't human, and their souls weren't created by God... So, what are they? Are they even truly alive? And then there's The Laughing Man...

I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes:

That quote from The Catcher in the Rye. It's fitting.

As I mentioned before, SAC does follow an episodic format with most of it's cases, and it covers a wide verity of crimes. However The Laughing Man is the main focus of season 1, and it's something that gets brought up time and time again. Even when you don't expect him to be related to an episode, there is sometimes a hint hidden somewhere as to what is really going on. Overall it's a pretty cool mystery, and something that helps drive the series forward. Sadly I can't go into too much here due to spoilers, but I can say that the character will leave a lasting impression.

What makes The Laughing Man and his so called "incident" so interesting is that there's a lot people don't know about it. The original crime happened years before the start of SAC, and occurred during a news report. On a seemingly normal day a man wearing a hood held a man at gun point, and tried to force him to say something on live TV. The man refused however, and during the struggle he knocked the criminal's hood off "revealing" his face. This is when the world was first introduced to the now iconic "Laughing Man" logo with the famous quote "I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes" circling around it. The moment his hood came off, the man hacked the TV network and every camera in the area, and covered his identity up with this symbol. At this point The Laughing Man then took off running, "never" to be seen again. After the crime happened police sketch artists came in to ask witnesses what the man looked like, but strangely every description came out the same. Instead of a man's face, all they could describe was the symbol.

Near the start of SAC The Laughing Man finally returns, and this time he's committing a series of new crimes. This is what leads Section 9 to finally investigate the case, but things aren't quite that simple. What The Laughing Man did then still remains a mystery, while his new crimes seem to be related to something else. Or are they? Where are the connections, and exactly how do they connect? Needless to say, just like everything else in SAC, the answer isn't so black and white.

Should You Watch It:

YES! I really shouldn't need to say more. While the animation is a little dated, and crime dramas might not be for everyone, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is something everyone should at least give a shot. Even if your not a fan of anime, you shouldn't let that stop you from seeing this story. The characters, the themes, the setting, and everything else about it deserves your time. I really can't stress that more than enough. There's so much to GITS that entire papers can be written covering it's themes and ideas. Even the one off cases the characters have to solve are so much more than meets the eye, with questions being asked that are anything but easy to answer. What is right? What is wrong? Who should decide? Is it really okay to force your views on others? What is it that lead these people to where they are now? So many of the series' "villains' fall within this gray area, and often you won't know how to feel about them because of this. Especially some of the things brought up in 2nd Gig... But again, that's not what we're talking about here. This is whether or not you should check out season 1, and that answer is a definite yes. Seriously, go watch it.


Where to Watch:

I seriously hate saying this, but at this time your only option is to buy the series on DVD or Bluray. However Netflix currently has the rights to produce and release a 3rd season, so it's only a matter of time before season 1, 2nd Gig, and even the movie gets released. It was previously available on Hulu, but was removed shortly after Netflix acquired it. But even so, it's a series worth owning. Check it out when you get the chance.

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