Overview: The following is an overview and review of the first episode of first season of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (see SFAM’s season review), a hugely successful anime TV series, based on the Manga and the movies that preceeded it. With the highest budget given in the history of anime on Japanese television, Stand Alone Complex fuses state-of-the-art concepts with traditional metaphysical and sociological topics, capped off with a jaw-dropping animated style that is so unique, so addictive, it’s mind-blowing in its ongoing intensity. The series follows Section 9, a secret government security force that doesn’t officially exist. When acts of terrorism and dangerous criminals rise to the surface, Section 9 rises to the challenge to counteract the threat. Its members are made up of cyborgs, each with their own unique special trait, AI Tachikoma robots, and state-of-the-art technology and weaponary.
The Story: When three robot geishas in a restaurant kill two diplomats and capture the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and two visitors from the North American Industry Support Association, it’s up to Section 9 to rescue them. When the criminal controlling the robot geishas escapes, after Motoko sends a hunting virus down the line to trace him - before he erases the evidence of his actions - the team track him down through the city.
As Pazu and Bouma chase him down in their car, they see that he is a cyborg running at great speed. Batou takes to the street to chase him by foot, eventually tackling him to the ground, but the cyborg erases his own memory on the scene! With the diplomats rescued, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs safe, Section 9 is told by Kubota that the minister’s secretary, who was killed in the restaurant, was his inside contact.
She was under his command, making secret inquiries on the Minister, regarding The Ichinose Report, which contains scenarios for diplomatic and military tactics in an emergency. The minister has this in his possession. Kubota’s contact was killed because she knew something, that’s why he’s come to Section 9, so they can find out what it is she knew and why she was killed.
With Kubota’s job and reputation on the line, Aramaki initiates an investigation to uncover light on the puzzling death for his old friend Kubota. Motoko reviews the CCTV footage of the restaurant, to find out what went off at the kidnap scene with the robot geishas, but doesn’t find any revelatory details. It is not until Togusa physically walks the crime-scene that he realises the Minister, who liked to switch his ghost between himself and geishas, has in fact had his brain-core hijacked and been replaced by an imposter, so they can gain access to The Ichinose Report.
Aramaki contacts Kubota and learns that the Minister has just taken the report and is on his way to the airport to fly back to America. When Section 9 arrives, they confront the minister, exposing and arresting him as ‘Assemblyman’, a political exile, spying on Japan. In the metal case the imposter carries is the Minister’s real cyberbrain-core.
Section 9: Section 9 are up against the bureaucracy of Police jurisdiction, who, when faced with the crisis of the robot geishas, sit around a desk arguing over how to control the scene; with the army wanting to take control, instead of taking affirmative, immediate action and responsibility themselves. In steps Aramaki, taking over with Public Peace Section 9’s combat force to deal with the situation before it escalates further. The aftermath of the events is what they subsequently investigate throughout the first episode.
- Majore Motoko Kusanagi - in control from the get-go. Sexy, athletic, and as expected in anime, has very large breasts! (They’re even bigger in the second series), has purple hair and some very cool-looking combat outfits.
- Batou – muscle-bound character with eye-goggles and ponytail. Tough, macho, but with a soft side and a sense of humour. Him and Major Motoko have a bit of a chemisty going on between each other that develops throughout the series.
- Togusa – the youngest member of Section 9. A family man with a young family, he is a rookie in some parts, but more than makes up for his lack of experience. He’s usually partnered alongside Batou, and the two have many good scenes together through the series.
- Ishikawa – senior Section 9 member. Primarily handles information and communication elements of the cases, usually from the secret headquarters, but is shown on mission in this first episode.
- Saitou – primary sniper member of the team. Has a cyborg eye implant that is established in this first episode, with enhanced optic capabilities, but uses his natural eye when using his sniper rifle in the episode.
- Pazu – along with Bouma, provides backup on missions if targets escape. Drives a very stylish yellow sports car.
- Bouma – has red eye-implants, and works alongside Pazu.
- Aramaki - cutting through the red tape of modern-day Japanese bureaucracy that he has to deal with daily. So much so, he almost seems tired of the whole routine of it all.
- Kubota - an old friend of Aramaki’s, who respects him gratefully. He works for the Army and is concerned about the robot geisha situation, as one of his men is inside, but due to the nature of the people involved, can’t even tell Aramaki all the details, let alone the police.
- Robot Geishas – look exactly like the real thing, but have enhanced physical capabilities, using their strength to restrain the diplomats, keeping them at the point of pain, without killing them as they hold them kidnapped.
• Looks beautiful in pretty much every single scene. The colours used are not just single painted on cells, but have texture, and many backgrounds have colour gradients, illuminated by light. The level of detail is amazing.
• The slow motion fight on the roof is spectacular and reminiscent – I think deliberately – of the first The Matrix film, where Trinity jumps from the roof, after being chased by the Agents. Here we have Motoko chasing a criminal across the roof and shooting his ankle out. It is done with considerable more style than The Matrix, with better camera angles.
• Detail in atmospherics. The little touches that make up the whole. Neon signs in the background.
• Flashing lights, moving camera angles instead of static shots. Realistic lighting design gives the animation a real depth. Good use of tonal green colours for the city at night. Very vivid.
• When the helicopter at the start rises, the heat haze blurs out the corner of the frame for a brief moment, barely visible, but there all the same.
• Very good standards for an animated series. I prefer this style to that of the last three movies.
• CCTV shots with analogue signal interference, wavering over the image.
• Characters walking into the shadows of buildings, takes some attention to detail to pull off.
• Body movement when characters are running is amazing. Works on an impressive loop-cycle for the character in the foreground, instead of just repeating the background. The background moves new with each frame of animation, creating a stunning fluidity to character’s interacting with the cene, giving it a real three-dimensional death.
• Electrical surges are popular thoughout this episode and look visually impressive.
• There’s a lot of movement with the characters’ heads, even when they’re just standing still, their head will move, conveying emotion through animation.
• Depth of field. If it’s a two-shot, the character in the foreground will be out of focus, and the character in the background will be in focus; and vice a versa, just like a real film camera.
• Communication-blockade – so that the geishas cannot communicate within anyone else from inside the restaurant. They are completely isolated and cut off from outside communication. This doesn’t appear to have any effect on them, but it does allow action to be taken, with the element of surprise given to Section 9.
• News Censorship: Code 1-4 – only lasts about half-an-hour before the media become aware of what’s going on inside the restaurant.
• Alert Level B-6 – when the hacker escapes from the scene, Aramaki raises the threat level to this.
• Army Wiretap – listening in on Section 9’s Sniping Group. Batou hears the wiretap as he listens to the communications before they storm the restaurant.
• L-2 – Batou equips the L-2, the code-name for their Tiltorotor plane/helicopter that the team uses near the end of the episode.
• Holographic Display Interface - on the police desk, gives a three-dimensional schematic of the restaurant, in variations of green and yellow, pinpointing the precise location of individuals inside the building. Cool.
• Portable Cyberbrain Interface - Aramaki uses this C-shaped device around his neck to plug-in to Kubota’s cyberbrain and have a secure private conversation, to find out what’s going on about the geisha robots and why Kubota’s involved. He uses this at the start of the episode as well as later on.
• Aramaki’s Cell Phone – uses it to give the order for Motoko and the team to strike against the restaurant and rescue the kidnapped diplomats, and later uses it to view a data-disc inserted in the right-hand side of the device, linking the phone again to his cyberbrain to view the video data.
• Ishikawa’s Portable Computer – used when he tries to connect to the communication lines beneath the restaurant.
• Optical Camouflage – part of the combat suits the Section 9 team wear. Motoko initiates the suit and with its invisibility cloak, similar to the invisibility shield used by the Predator; enters the restaurant without being spotted. Togusa uses it whilst running through the courtyard of the restaurant, and Batou cloaks as he enters the basement and runs up the stairs.
• Cyberbrain Eraser – the unknown, anonymous cyborg uses this device, linked into the neck of his cyberbrain hub, creating an electrical charge that formats his own memory.
• Cyberneticly Enhanced Eyes – the Minister has these, but when he tries to read the document report, it’s encrypted and it returns ‘error’ as his retinas try to scan each line but are unable to read the encrypted data.
• Cyberbrain Core – the Minister’s real cyberbrain is kept in a portable containment case by the impostor throughout the episode. Much like a portable hard-drive.
• Data Disc – red, quite similar to a Sony Mini-Disc, but a lot more compact.
AI Sensha Tachikomas are blue-metal alloy combat tanks with Artificial Intelligence. They have the capabilities to think for themselves, but with a child-like female voice, they add an often hilarious element to the serious action around them. Featured frequently throughout Stand Alone Complex, we learn a little more about the Tachikomas with each episode. They frequently display a mischievous and curious side whenever they’re in the prescence of things that are new to them, especially technology! Each night they are synchronized, so their intelligence is equal across each Tachikomas for the next working day. Seen:
• In the Tiltorotor with Batou at the beginning, then the same one on the roof with Batou, observing the restaurant before he goes in. Later on in the series we will discover that Batou prefers a single one of the Tachikoma’s to the rest, and uses this one on missions along side him. It arrives later, albeit late, once Batou has caught the hacker cyborg.
• One in the service tunnel beneath the restaurant, shining one of its high beams on the communication box as Togusa watches on as Ishikawa tries to connect to it with a portable device.
• Criminal firearm - semi-automatic pistol with a long barrel. Reminiscent of the main gun in Robocop, except this one is gunmetal blue, instead of nickel-plated.
• Semi-automatic machine gun - reminiscent of a modern sub-machine gun design. Used by Batou, Motoko, and Togusa, with a silencer for maximum stealth.
• Saitou’s sniper rifle - colossal, portable mounted to the ground it’s that big, but he is unable to use it on the restaurant and can only do limited sniping as there are too many trees blocking his view.
• Pazu and Bouma carry and draw a black 9mm semi-automatic pistol on the cyborg.
• Togusa’s gun – a firearm blend between a revolver, with the barrel of a semi-automatic pistol. This is a very cool-looking gun, like something out of Blade Runner. He uses the gun with armour-piercing bullets.
Hacking, ghost control, cyborgs, retinal implants, portable computers, triple-screen laptops. Pretty much every scene contains some element of cyberpunk concepts and visuals that are necessary to the story as well as to the life of the characters. Throw in the visual aesthetic of the futuristic New Port City, in 2030, with characters wearing cyberpunk-style clothes, and you have the perfect cyberpunk narrative experience. What is interesting to see is how, after seven years from the first Ghost In The Shell movie, Stand Alone Complex presents a more contemporary look at cyberpunk culture, with the technology displayed being not so far-fetched and entirely plausible.
• Main violence in the series is here, instead of the other episodes. We see it once in this episode, and don’t see it again in later episodes, unless it’s a unique situation, where a scene of ultraviolence is necessary to convey emotion.
• When the robot Geishas get shot, the back of their synthetic heads explode with white liquid. The sexual connotations of the serving geisha’s white bodily fluids is quite obvious as they literally explode, splurt over their kidnapped clients – a clever role reversal - as the diplomats cry out with their release, instead of the geishas. This scene is also a reference to Ash’s destruction scene in the first Alien film.
• Batou (just before they storm the restaurant with the geishas):
“Major! What if the robot geishas ask to entertain us?”
• Batou (after the cyborg he’s caught wipes his own memory):
“Shit… I might’ve screwed up…”
• The series starts with two helicopters flying overhead past the Major, which is exactly how the movie opens.
• Motoko’s hair has been changed from black to purple and her eye color from blue to burnt sienna, Batou has long hair, Togusa’s hair has become a lighter brown, and Aramaki has been given a more chiseled face.
• The Minister of Foreign Affairs in this episode appears to be the same MOFA head from the first Ghost In The Shell movie.
• The Major says that the dead NAIPA man’s spinal column unit should have been, “made by the North American Neutron Company,” which is the same company that Doctor Willis worked for in the movie.
• The Section 9 Tiltorotor: V-22 Osprey, the plane that the Major and Batou jump down from towards the end of the episode, dubbed a Tiltorotor, is a descendant of the very Tiltorotor that the unit uses in the 1991 manga Ghost in the Shell by Shirō Masamune. In the manga, there are two blades on each rotor. Section 9’s Osprey in the television series also has two blades per rotor. The aircraft makes its first appearance in the manga in Chapter 7 - “PHANTOM FUND”.
• The Minister of Foreign Affairs attempts to read an encrypted document. Around the pupils of his cyberneticly enhanced eyes reads: “Made in Germany… Carl Zeiss”. Carl Zeiss (1816-1888) was a famous German optician who pioneered several camera technologies. It is also a tribute to cyberpunk classic/precursor William Gibson who used eye implants by Carl Zeiss in his short story Burning Chrome (1984). It also reads “Directed by K.K.” in reference to series director Kenji Kamiyama.
The Bottom Line: A lot can happen in under twenty-five minutes, and an episode of Stand Alone Complex is working proof of this. The pacing is flawless, running at breathtaking speed from scene-to-scene, but never feeling rushed. You get an almost film-length story told in a short duration of time that is a pleasure to watch, and this is just the first episode! I just wish films could be this entertaining, and Stand Alone Complex gets better as it progresses. One of the core themes of Stand Alone Complex is the establisment of individual identity against the bigger whole of society. Section 9 exists as a covert group to counter terrorist threats carried out against society. Even though the criminals may work in a group, it is usually one individual that is the focus of the episode. Section 9 is a group, but as Aramaki says in a later episode, they’ve never thought of themselves as part of a team. This is the Stand Alone Complex, working as one for the good of society, Publice Peace Section 9.