Original Run: October 1, 2002 - October 1, 2003 Number of Episodes: 26 Genre: Action, Military, Science Fiction Based on the Series Created By: Masamune Shirow
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Reader discretion is advised.***
The not so distant future is a time of computer systems and cybernetics. Society is near fully interconnected, and one skilled hacker can cause more destruction and mayhem than an entire army. However, be it in the physical world or the digital, every war needs soldiers to fight it. Manning the front lines against terrorism and other high crimes is the elite task force known only as Section 9.
Section 9’s specialty is covert operations, and often, their targets never have any idea what hit them. Leading this ultimate team is Major Motoko Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka). Like most of her squad, Motoko’s body is made of the most high-tech robotics money can buy, and her last shred of humanity is her mind.
But what Motoko and Section 9 lack in flesh and blood, they make up for with a never-give-up tenacity that ensures that all their missions will be completed.
Let’s get this out of the way at the start. I enjoyed the movie – Ghost in the Shell (1995) – more than I did Stand Alone Complex. That said, this series was still a ton of fun.
A word of warning, if you go into Stand Alone Complex thinking it will be a sequel or an extension of the movie, you will be wrong on all accounts. This was its own story, its own world, and the only thing this show shared with the movie was its name and the names of some of the main characters. Then, assuming you are aware of the differences before starting, the drastic shift in tone and atmosphere is a bit jarring.
Out of a sense of acknowledgment, here are a few of the realities of Stand Alone Complex that caught me off guard:
- This show had decent TV animation, but it was nothing compared to the film.
- Stand Alone Complex, although by no means a comedy, was much more lighthearted.
- Some of the character’s personalities were near opposite to what they were in Ghost in the Shell.
None of these points is a complaint; I would probably be saying something similar had I watch the series before the movie. The only thing I am getting at is that Stand Alone Complex does take some getting used to if the movie has been your only exposure to this franchise. But once you do get used to it, you will notice that despite the different packaging, many of the aspects that made the original Ghost in the Shell great were present and thriving within Stand Alone Complex.
For starters, Section 9 felt more like a cohesive team in this series than they ever did in Ghost in the Shell. A rather impressive feat given how the movie did a pretty damn good job at doing precisely that. What Stand Alone Complex did was expand the roles of those we met in the film, as well as add several new faces to round off the group. These fresh additions weren’t much in the way of memorability (often I would forget they were even around), but the familiar cast was given much more care and development.
Specifically, I thought the direction this series took Batou and Togusa (voiced respectively by Akio Ootsuka and Kouichi Yamadera) did them well. Stand Alone Complex took full advantage that it wasn’t a movie and, therefore, wasn’t boxed by the time constraints of one. As a result, both Batou and Togusa had much more robust personalities that had clearly been molded by their past experiences. They were not members of an elite task force in name only. They could hold their own, be the hero, and at no point were either of them filling up the time until a far more powerful ally appeared to save them. Occasionally, they were that more powerful ally.
I can’t say I automatically hate a show when one character is carrying the entire weight of a team. However, I have always found it a tad disillusioning when a team does exist, which is described as the best of the best, and yet, a lone member has to babysit their supposed equals. Batou and Togusa may have been the most blatant examples of Stand Alone Complex not falling into that hole, but honestly, the same sentiment was shared by the entirety of Section 9.
Be that as it may, Motoko was the undisputed leader of the group.
It is impossible to distinguish which version of Motoko was better, the film’s or the series’. After all, Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko wouldn’t have worked in Stand Alone Complex, and vice-versa. Can you imagine following the movie’s Major with her detached attitude and existentially critical outlook towards herself for twenty-six episodes? That worked in the film because it needed to be more focused and centralized, but it would have been too much for a full-length series.
As a result, it made sense why Stand Alone Complex’s Matoko was the way she was. She was much more open to joking around with her comrades, and her sense of humor was much more apparent compared to the nonexistent nature of her movie counterpart’s. And though Stand Alone Complex’s Matoko was less tense, she was still the utter badass she was in the film, if not more so because we were able to see her tackle a much wider variety of missions and enemies.
Considering all that, I wouldn’t say the characters were my favorite part of this series. That credit goes to this show’s presentation.
The main plotline may have centered on discovering the identity of the mysterious Laughing Man, but there would be long stretches when this series never even brought up this story. Stand Alone Complex reminded me of how Cowboy Bebop was mostly a collection of one-shot adventures that focused more on establishing its characters’ personalities. And also like Bebop (although, perhaps not to the same extent), Stand Alone Complex’s more contained narratives were as well-written, well-paced, and highly enjoyable as the main story.
But like I said up at the top, I did enjoy Ghost in the Shell more than I did Stand Alone Complex, and there are reasons for that.
I want to talk about this next point, not as a negative, but more as an unfortunate observation. Stand Alone Complex’s CGI visuals have not aged well. So that means they are now on par, if not slightly better, than most of the CGI I see coming out in 2019. For its time, this series didn’t look bad; some of the things it did would have been, comparatively, impressive in their day. But the reason why these visuals worked nearly twenty years ago and not now is because it was twenty years ago. There have been exceptions, but anime hasn’t quite grasped the power CGI can do when done competently.
Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.
As for what didn’t work in Stand Alone Complex, well, to this show’s credit, it was quite solid through and through. I mean, yeah, I can’t really tell what the hell went on during the resolution of the Laughing Man arc, but there weren’t many irritating things to this series.
Sadly, “weren’t many” isn’t the same as “zero.”
The Tachikoma robots (voiced by Sakiko Tamagawa) were obnoxious. Of all the shows I thought might attempt a cutesy sidekick character, Stand Alone Complex wasn’t even in consideration. When an episode was dedicated solely to the Tachikoma robots – and there was more than one – that was the only time I felt myself checking out of this series.
Also, I hated Motoko’s character design. Actually, no scratch that. I hated half of Motoko’s character design. From the waist up, she looked like the epic super soldier who could kick all the ass. She had the demeanor of someone who knew how to take charge when in a crisis and of someone who instilled unshakeable respect in the people who followed her. Plus, Motoko had the fantastic advantage of being voiced by the insanely talented Ms. Atsuko Tanaka, who also voiced the Major in Ghost in the Shell.
Motoko’s character was not the problem, and she is one of the best anime protagonists I have ever come across.
My question is: Why did she never wear pants? Why was she always in a strange one-piece swimsuit with her butt sticking out? It was a good thing Motoko was a strong character and had an outstanding actress to play her because otherwise, it would have been impossible to take her and this show seriously if she was only around to be eye candy.
Do I believe these “issues” will be addressed in Stand Alone Complex’s sequel, Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG? I certainly hope so, but I am not holding my breath. However, if 2nd GIG retains the same great characters and story, then I can overlook these points.
Thoroughly satisfying, and then some. That is the best way I can think to describe this series.
This show took the time to explore its characters and tell stories that were both gripping as well as fun as all hell. For those people who like the original movie, be warned that this is its own beast. Nevertheless, this is a perfect companion piece that explores a different side of the world the film gave us.
I cannot wait to see what is coming next.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has earned a recommendation.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Ghost in the Shell? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and and be sure to come back December 9th as Ghost in the Shell Month continues with Anime Eiga Review: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.