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Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (2004-5)

Following on from the success of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Production IG return to follow the further exploits of The Major and Section 9 in the second- at final to date- season, subtitled 2nd Gig.  (Read our review of season one here)

The second season picks up two years after the first. As the season begins, Section 9 is officially disbanded, but continues to operate in secret as a special forces unit. It's not too big a spoiler to say that they are quickly reestablished, just in time for another major threat to materialise.

As with the first season, the show is divided into standalone episodes and those that form part of the ongoing storyline. In this case though, there are actually two interrelated ongoing storylines. The standalone episodes are labelled 'dividual', while the other episodes are split into 'individual' and 'dual' categories, designating which storyline they are part of. Even the dividual episodes sometimes relate to the other stories this time around- meaning that Second Gig is much more intricately plotted than the first season.

The main thrust of the storyline in the season relates to the mysterious terrorist organisation The Individual Eleven. 2030s Japan is a melting pot, where tensions between the local population and a growing number of refugees threatens to spill over into outright violence and agression. Meanwhile, the after-effects of two world wars still create tensions between Japan and other countries.

Stand Alone Complex is at its heart, a crime procedural. Section 9 investigate and tackle various cybercrimes and terror threats, whether they are standalone cases or part of the ongoing investigation. The action sequences are masterfully mounted, the kind of exciting set-pieces that Production I.G excels at.

And it all takes place against one of the best-realised sci-fi worlds you'll find anywhere in animation. Like in the best examples of world-building, the show drops little nuggets of information that help enrich the world and flesh it out, and leave you wanting to know more. For example, we get references here and there to the third and fourth world wars that took place years prior to the first series, but we never find out the full story.

The world created by Masamune Shirow is a fascinating one, full of such concepts as ghost-hacking and cyberbrains and cool tech such as spider-tanks and thermo-optical camouflage. Arguably, the TV series is the most effective incarnation of it yet.

Despite its relative age, the series holds up well and can hold its own against much more recent shows on a technical level. The use of CGI for vehicles does continue to stand-out- but then that never really looked good, even at the time. The series looks solid otherwise, although at times there does seem to be a bit of a drop in animation quality in comparison to the first season. Nonetheless, it looks the best it ever has in this Blu-Ray release.

What hasn't dated in the least, however, is the writing.  It's themes of refugees, terrorism, nuclear threats and a divided society have only become more relevant with the passing of the years.

The storytelling is very complex and sophisticated, working in references to real historical events and philosophical concepts. At times it can be heavy on the dialogue (and full of jargon and technobabble) but that has always been part of the deal with Ghost In The Shell. Even if you don't follow every tiny detail, that's no barrier to your enjoyment

Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is sophisticated and mature feeling science-fiction storytelling at its best. Unlike some of the other incarnations of the franchise (Mamoru Oshii's movies in particular), it does have more light-hearted moments- mainly thanks to the AI personalities of the Tachikoma. To some, they may feel totally out of place, but to others, they actually add a bit of humanity to proceedings (ironically, as they aren't actually human).

The upgrade to Blu-ray also works wonders for the audio. This is definitely a good thing, as the peerless Yoko Kanno returns to provide music for the second season (just as she did with the first). The work she did for both seasons might well be her best soundtrack outside Cowboy Bebop- with which it shares a number of her key collaborators.

The English dub features one of the best ensembles in the business. At this point, actors such as Mary E. McGlynn (as Major Kusanagi) Richard Epcar (Batou) and Crispin Freeman (Togusa) so thoroughly inhabit their roles that it's hard to imagine anyone else in their place.

Whether you are a long time fan, or this is your first experience with the Ghost In The Shell universe, Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is a worthy successor to the excellent first series.

FROM Manga Entertainment
15 [UK]
26 Episodes

IN A NUTSHELL: Intelligent and grown-up sci-fi that earns its reputation as a true anime classic. Dive In and you won't regret it.

Release Information:  Ghost In The Shell Standalone Complex is available in the UK as a Complete Boxset From Manga Entertainment which includes both seasons (with extensive extras), The OAV releases The Laughing Man and Individual Eleven and the Solid State Society sequel movie, and a 140-page book. Available exclusively from Zavvi while stocks last.

© 2002-2007 Shirow Masamune-Production I.G/KODANSHA. All rights reserved

*Review Copy provided by Manga Entertainment*