Science Fiction has come a long way from stories involving the unknown reaches of space by the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to stories that draw social implications of our own society from famed authors George Orwell and Phillip K. Dick. There is little doubt that anime productions have tackled a lot beneath the limits of the genre ranging from Space Opera to Cyberpunk. One series that is often considered one of the most popular in the anime Sci-fi genre is Ghost in the Shell. After the success of the movie, directed by celebrated director Mamoru Oshii, we now have Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex but this time without Mamoru Oshii involved with the production. Considering how well Oshii directed Ghost in the Shell, people were skeptical on whether Stand Alone Complex could best out the movie in terms of quality storytelling and animation. Long story short, it did on almost every aspect perfectly.
The way the story sets up isn’t just following one main story, which is the Laughing Man plot arc, rather it follows a formulaic style that makes us follow the Section 9 team going after various cases around the world. A case against the show’s credit is that the Stand Alone episodes deviate the main focus of the Complex episodes that chronicle the Laughing Man plot arc, but I would argue that the Stand Alone episodes are important to deal with a great amount of character development for our main characters. Some of the episodes offer memorable story arcs that aren’t important to the overall narrative but they constantly show how immensely well crafted the writing is in not only the dialogue but of how well put together the world is in the show. What’s so great about the world of Stand Alone Complex is the subtle details the writers put into account, such as the political and social plateau of how the world works that truly make it a living breathing world and not a superficial one.
As with character development goes, Stand Alone Complex definitely stands out in how it gives a lot of time to put forth plenty of depth with each character that is on-screen. This doesn’t just apply with the main characters, many of the side characters in each episode that we come across has a deep level of characterization to where they aren’t just these one-sided antagonists who do evil, they’re just normal people who are in this situation because of the society they’re living in. With regards to the each specific main character, they all have their own uniquely written personalities that show off their own personal presence in the show. Handled with great care and precision, they all play out so well with each other that make you care so much for their own struggles and relationships as coworkers trying to handle any given situation they meet. Chemistry is the key part in tying together a well-rounded cast of characters and Stand Alone Complex hits the nail on that part exquisitely. Batou and Kusanagi are especially two of the best characters, simply by how well the chemistry is between the two from their interactions and personalities.
What many consider the most poignant in the Ghost in the Shell saga is its music. Out comes famed composer Yoko Kanno producing all the music in Stand Alone Complex and provides a deeply layered texture into the overall atmosphere in the show. Shows typically set in a futuristic setting relies heavily on electronic sounding orchestration mixed in to feel more natural within the landscape of the setting. While there are certainly a lot of that to experience through the ears, Yoko’s brilliant blend of Jazz, Electronica, and Classical musicianship that combine each other amazingly well to give the soundtrack it’s own unique style that she is widely known for. Although I find Kenji Kawai’s score in the Ghost in the Shell movie left more of a profound impact on me in how it incorporates a lot of dark ambiance to the atmosphere, there is no denying the creativity that Yoko put into the score and ignoring completely would be insane when discussing the show.
Normally anime movies have the upper hand as having stellar animation and art while TV anime have a limited capacity in the level of budget that film studios have. There are, of course, exceptions to this and Stand Alone Complex is definitely one of them. Sure the animation isn’t as fluid as the movie but how the art’s quality perfectly compliments the ascetic vision that the artists were going for, it’s a true accomplishment to experience. How the city looked, the characters all having their own distinct look that makes them recognizable the moment we see them, and how the 3D models of the machines flow with the 2D animation of the characters work each other sublimely.
It is haphazard to call Ghost in the Shell an action show since it relies heavily on Noir aspects of tone and pacing, unlike in your typical action show where the pacing is more fast-paced in that respect. However, once it does delve into action territory, that is where the animation and sound really take it to the next level of technical genius. The fluid motions involving characters fighting each other still hold up to this day than many other action anime out there in terms of animated fighting sequences and gun fights. Sound effects of machines and gunfire feel very authentic and real that puts you on the edge of your seat as you’re transported into the scene. So yeah like I said, the show on the technical level is surprisingly still amazing to look at as it once was ten years ago.
One other aspect of Ghost in the Shell that is often noted when discussing the series is its profound philosophical themes. In the movie, it delved into the ideas of consciousness and ethics of A.I., while Stand Alone Complex is mostly centered on political corruption and conspiracy theories that involves the book “The Catcher in the Rye.” The one part where it does delve deeper into is when we follow the Tachikomas and how they describe the “Ghost” in each machine through their A.I. Oddly enough, it really works despite the fact that these childlike voiced machines seem as though they were there for comic relief. With regards to the political themes thrown into the plot, it doesn’t have nearly as much impact as the writers thought it would have considering how it’s told through a conventional style of storytelling and not try to seem as though they wanted to make a big political statement out of it. That’s not the same as saying that it’s a huge knock on the show, but it’s something that I felt would’ve been much stronger.
Whatever the case, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex will surely leave a strong impression on people on what makes a story stand-out as one of the most well-crafted entries in writing great characters and a largely detailed world. It is by no means a show that you can just like for the action or the great animation because that is only one-third of what makes Stand Alone Complex so deep in its overall philosophy and story. Well written character progression, great world-building, and amazing animation all combined into one glorious experience that will inspire anyone who wants to get into writing stories for years to come.