Back in the late 90’s a very ominous and unique looking advertisement appeared at my local London Underground Station for a film called Ghost In The Shell. At the time I was quite young, still in school, but I liked my anime. While the poster, and the subsequent trailer I saw shortly after – on a New Dominion Tank Police Manga-branded VHS release (I’m showing my age here) – certainly intrigued me, it wasn’t until around the early half of the 2000’s that I finally came to see the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Fast forward a few years to the arrival of the new series Stand Alone Complex that captured me for its visual beauty, more action-based scenario, complex notions and the unique universe it was set in. Though I enjoyed the first series there were elements of it that went completely over my head (I think it was the third episode where the setting was an online chat room and a variety of theories about the Laughing Man were being thrown around. All the information took me a long time to digest, as it was a heck of lot of dialogue to take in). When Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig came out I truly came to appreciate the franchise on a greater level. The storyline involving the Individual Eleven had me hooked from the get-go and I personally believe the second season is superior to the first, a debate that will no doubt continue to rage on for years to come I’m sure. When it came to my attention that there was a to be a feature length follow-up to 2nd Gig, I was elated, as I wanted to see more adventures involving Section 9 in this version of Masamune Shirow’s universe. This feature length follow up is known as Solid State Society.
It had been quite a while since I last watched this feature (a good few years, in fairness). So when the Blu-Ray arrived at my doorstep I was very excited to see how it held up not only against me memories of it, but how it stood with the rest of the franchise and against the original DVD release as well.
The story begins with our heroine Motoko Kusanagi standing atop a structure implying she has found something. What we don’t realise until shortly thereafter is that the Major has not been linked with Public Security Section 9 for over two years. She left to become her own entity and tackle occurrences on her own terms. Togusa (finally sporting cyber implants of his own) is currently heading the now twenty-person unit seeking to find out why there have been a slew of suicides of refugees from the Siak Republic. This leads us to a clue that shapes the destiny for Section 9 as they are warned that The Puppeteer is coming. Couple this with the mysterious disappearances of children and this leads on you an exciting journey back into the cyberpunk world imagined by Masamune Shirow that provides many thought provoking moments, twists & turns and, above all else, an engaging story.
However, because this film is a sequel to the two Stand Alone Complex series, potential viewers that have not watched either season will likely be alienated. Solid State Society does play off a numerous details, including character relationships and hierarchy, that were established during the two seasons of the program. I strongly suggest watching those two seasons before giving this a try. When Mamoru Oshii directed the inaugural Ghost In The Shell and its sequel Innocence, he focused on a more emotional journey. Solid State Society very much continues on the faster pace, action-based stance developed by Kenji Kamiyama for the Stand Alone Complex series (a direction I prefer, personally). In turn, providing a film that does fabulous job of retaining your attention amongst the signature elements that the franchise has become known for.
These details in mind, it is a very enjoyable film. The fact it’s a chance for the Stand Alone Complex saga to continue is a great plus in itself. It covers a variety of parameters that the series is known for, including political disputes, social commentary, secret dealings, and more that are intertwined into the splendour that is this futuristic universe. There is also a greater focus on the supporting characters, particularly Batou & Togusa. The Major is involved, but it’s best to say from the outset that due her role in the story, she is not presented as the primary protagonist in this film (but don’t you worry, you’ll have the chance to see her in action). Because the focus is driven more toward these characters it does act a welcome change from the norm. While I’m all for having Kusanagi at the forefront of any Ghost In The Shell production (it’s pretty much a given as she is the main draw and the focal point of the series), this does feel very unique because the extra emphasis is put on the likes of Togusa & Batou and how they deal with a situation that’s presented to them.
This brings me onto the voice acting, which as per previous Stand Alone Complex releases, has been very well directed and executed. Specifically referring to the English voice cast, each actor did a splendid job of reprising their roles and firmly taking of control of the fact their characters statuses have changed since their last outing in the 2nd GIG series. The English voice cast as usual is a perfect compliment to the original Japanese audio (also included on this release). It’s very clear a lot of due diligence went into portraying how the characters were now that they are two years older. The portrayals of Batou & Togusa in particular stood out the most to me. How Togusa’s thought process has changed now he has a higher profile role within Section 9 came across perfectly.
Staying on the audio side of things, the soundtrack is also something I MUST bring to everyone’s attention as Yoko Kanno was the composer. As she did in both seasons of Stand Alone Complex, she created perhaps some of the most engaging orchestrations there possibly could have ever been for this film. Anytime there is music in a scene, it’s a perfect addition to it and I’d be hard pressed to imagine how it could be any different because it all fits like a glove whenever it’s present. It truly is amazing how music much can compliment a scene sometimes.
This leads me onto perhaps the biggest question for many people when it comes to this release: is it worth shelling out for Blu-Ray if I already own the DVD? Personally, given I owned the original DVD before getting this Blu-Ray, I’d say yes. It’s wonderful to have another form of this franchise available on a high definition format. The transfer to Blu-Ray from what I can tell isn’t a huge leap from the DVD version. It’s still better than the DVD, yes, but if you’re expecting a vast difference in quality between the two formats, you shouldn’t. Also, for bonus content the Blu-Ray mirrors that of the original DVD release. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it is loaded with extra content anyway, including trailers, interviews with staff, a feature on the designing of cars and more. It’s just a shame there couldn’t be anything more added to it to make this Blu-Ray it feel more superior to its DVD counterpart.
In conclusion, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society is a great film that is sure to make fans of the franchise very happy. The fact it’s being released on Blu-Ray is a wonderful thing (and hopefully this will lead to the Stand Alone Complex series receiving the same treatment). If you already own the DVD it might be a difficult proposition on whether it’s essential for you own it on Blu-Ray as well; perhaps that’s more dependent on your level of fandom to the series and the franchise in general. But if you’re yet to have this as part of your collection and you’re a fan of the series you can’t go wrong with owning this Blu-Ray.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society is released on Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment on May 21st 2012.
You can pre-order this release as a DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack at Amazon UK HERE.
– Jeremy Graves