Ghost In The Shell
Stand Alone Complex
2nd GIG - Volume 1

Starring (voice): Atsuko Tanaka, Osamu Saka and Akio Ohtsuka
Manga Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 23 January 2006

Following hard on the heels of the anime series
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex comes a new series of Masamune Shirow's groundbreaking cyberpunk thriller. This time based on a story concept by Mamoru Oshii, director of the critically acclaimed feature film Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence. The first of a seven-volume series picks up where the first series left off, with the surviving members of Section 9 reunited but under a government enforced Indefinite Standby Order that effectively renders them inoperable...

In Reembody a criminal group calling themselves the Individual 11 has taken hostages at the Chinese Embassy demanding that the Prime Minister publicly announces a change to the government's Asian Refugee Policy. The incident provides Section 9 with a last-chance opportunity to be fully reinstated, but only if the situation can be resolved without any hostage casualties.

This episode was made all the more jaw-droppingly impressive by the fact that out of nowhere came a totally gratuitous gory scene. This actually helped to bring home to the viewer that this is about as far removed from Disney as you can get (before your DVDs start being distributed by a man down the pub). It was made all the more bizarre because one moment you have a guy's face being blown off and then minutes later you have a cutesy scene with the Tachikomas being reintroduced into the employ of Section 9.

Night Cruise sees a cyborg war veteran serving as the personal helicopter pilot for the chairman of a large company. This cyborg has begun to experience disturbing daydreams in which he is responsible for the violent murder of his boss. A recurring element of the dreams is the presence of a young woman who looks remarkably like Major Motoko Kusanagi. But are the dreams purely fantasy or is there an element of reality to these dark visions?

Night Cruise follows the story from the point of the cyborg war veteran who dreams of taking control of his own future. He's a bit of a "yes" man, but at heart he dreams of running the show and getting the beautiful girl - all things beyond his reach. As you'd expect, there's a rather interesting twist in the tale.

Cash Eye: When a wealthy businessman claims the infamous thief Cash Eye is planning to steal from him during a forthcoming social gathering, the members of Section 9 find themselves posing undercover at a very strange party.

This episode examines the seedier side of the Ghost in the Shell universe. There's something decidedly creepy about the room that contains the wealthy businessman's Pleasure Doll collection. We are also kept in the dark about why Section 9 have been called to help this businessman, especially when we already know that the Major was responsible for the initial break in. Again, as with Night Cruise, Cash Eye also delivers a rather interesting, and unexpected, conclusion.

Natural Enemy: Section 9 is called in to resolve a potential crisis situation when the AI units of a series of attack helicopters go rogue. Their involvement brings them into contact with the mysterious Special Intelligence operative, Gohda.

This episode is interesting as it examines the use of AI in military vehicles. While on a training mission, the pilot of a helicopter dies of a heart attack. But, as his brain is still giving off activity, the helicopter ignores a computer override command from HQ to return to base - believing that because the pilot is still alive the command must be that of a hacker. There is an ongoing feeling that this heart attack was not an accident, but by the end of the episode everything is very much up in the air. Is this the start of some larger attack? Or was it just an unavoidable, and tragic, accident?

This first volume sees the Ghost in the Shell writing team taking a different approach to the series. Instead of an ongoing story line, the first four episodes are individual stand alone tales. This works really well, and I found myself enjoying the stories much more than the drawn out story arc that took up most of the previous Stand Alone Complex series. This new direction means that episodes like Night Cruise can be introduced - something which wouldn't really have worked as well in the previous series.

Extras include a 16-minute interview with Kenji Kamiyama (chief writer/director), an 11-minute interview with Yusuke Takeda (art director) and Hiroshi Kato (conceptual artist), and various trailers for other releases.

I've moaned about it before, but I'm going to do it again I'm afraid. I'm still at a loss as to why the Ghost in the Shell releases insist on being spread across two discs (with all four episodes on both discs). Disc one has both Japanese and English stereo and 5.1 soundtracks, and disc two has a Japanese and English DTS mix. With only around 80 minutes of actual episode time I can't work out why this needs to be spread across two discs. They managed to include the same number of audio tracks (including DTS) as well as a 40 minute 'making of' featurette on the recent release of Millennium Actress, so why couldn't they manage to do the same here?

Despite that moan, this is an almost faultless start to the latest series of Ghost in the Shell episodes to be released on DVD. I can't think of a better way to introduce a new series than with these four fantastic episodes.

Ray Thompson

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