Once in a great while a TV show comes along that wake you up. And when it’s a cyberpunk show…
Overview: Almost missed out on Almost Human, Fox TV’s latest attempt at a cyberpunk/sci-fi show. Really didn’t know about this until mid-Febuary, and then it was almost too late. Mostly because of a similar sounding show on SyFy called Being Human which was more supernatural than sci-fi. Now I need to catch up with the reruns, or try video on demand (even if I have to purchase), or wait until the DVD, or maybe Pirate Bay… only as a last resort (Amazon already has season one for download). But based on what I have seen from the pilot and season finale, this may be one that’s going to stay for a while… but it has some serious past history to overcome, more later.
At first glance, Almost Human sounds like your typical police-buddy drama with a cyberpunk twist. That might be true, but there’s more to it. Check this:
The Story: The year 2048 sees rapid advances in science and technology; Too rapid for legal and government systems to control. The crime rate has jumped 400%, fueled by organized crime groups quick to exploit the lag. The most successful organization is the Insyndicate group. Desperate to combat these groups, police departments implement a new strategy: Pair human officers with an MX series advanced combat android.
Detective John Kennex (Urban) leads a raid on an Insyndicate warehouse, only to have his team wiped out in an ambush. Refusing to leave a critically injured partner, he is abandoned by his MX android. While trying to evacuate the scene with his partner, an explosive device goes off, amputating Kennex’s leg and killing his partner.
Two years later, Kennex is left with a prosthetic leg, damaged memories, psychological problems, and a girlfriend who abandoned him (possibly joining Insyndicate). While seeing an unlicensed “recollectionist” (a doctor who helps people recover lost memories), Kennex is called back to duty when Insyndicate robs an armored transport carrying synthetic, programmable DNA. Unhappy with his MX android partner wanting to report his behavior, and still stinging from the last one abandoning him, Kennex decides to gently “dismiss” his partner:
With no more MX androids available, Kennex is assigned an older android: DRN-0167 (Ealy) who prefers to be called “Dorian”. DRN androids were programmed to have human emotions, but many became “unstable” and were decommissioned and replaced with the highly-logical MX series. Dorian had been “offline” for three years before being reawakened to be Kennex’s partner. Despite their differences, they will need to work together to bring down Insyndicate and stop a mole in the police ranks.
Any similarities between Almost Human and Blade Runner is somewhat intended.
The Lighter Side of Cyberpunk? If the above screenshot looks too similar to Blade Runner, that was intended. Creator J.H. Wyman claimed that he “deliberately wanted to create a ‘hopeful’ interpretation of the future” as opposed to the darker visions of cyberpunk we’re accustomed to. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to detract from the overall cyberpunk-ness of the series, especially since it’s really about Kennex and Dorian, and their growing “ro-bromance” (The leading term for this budding human-android relationship). Such buddy-ships are often keys to a good cop film or series, and Almost Human takes it to a new level with the emerging android technology. Like any relationship, there are bound to be good times, there are bound to be bad times,…
“I apologize for scanning your balls.”
… and there are bound to be times that will totally rustle your jimmes.
History Never Repeats… We Hope. Sounds like Almost Human has what it takes to be a hit series. Unfortunately, the ratings says no and now it looks like the program’s only chance of being renewed is for a bunch of other Fox shows to crap out (Hey, it worked for Family Guy). The problem isn’t due to the show itself; It’s actually quite good… at least it’s better than CBS’s less-than-watchable Intelligence. But the show does have three major strikes against it:
First strike: Fox itself. The network’s track record with cyberpunk shows has been quite underwhelming. Remember early efforts like Harsh Realm and VR.5? VR.5 did last long enough to see a season… or series… finale; Harsh Realm wasn’t so lucky. More recent shows Dark Angel and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles saw a second season, though some say Connor lasted one season too long. It seems that sci-fi shows I like last only two seasons before they pull the plug. I’m expecting Almost Human to follow suit.
Strike two: The human-android-cop-buddy concept isn’t exactly original. It’s been tried before… several times, with none lasting beyond season one. Search IMDB for the shows Mann and Machine, Future Cop, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Total Recall 2070. The syndicated Total Recall 2070 fared the best, lasting 22 episodes before having its plug pulled, but ultimately none lasted beyond season one. I put the blame on the screwball Holmes and Yo-Yo (#33 in TV Guide’s 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time) for poisoning the interest of the human-android-buddy-cops concept. There is humor in Almost Human, but it’s more of a dry, almost British sort laced with dark sarcasm (example: see GIF above).
Then again, the concept of robots/androids living and working among humans remains a touchy subject to most outside of Japan. Even now, that concept still generates friction amongst the meaty who still have visions of Skynet and robot takeovers burned into their BIOSs. Even with today’s advances, Almost Human may still give some cause for alarm with “robots intent on removing humanity and taking over the world, starting by taking over human jobs.”
Regardless of why the prior shows failed, Almost Human hopefully learned from their mistakes.
Strike three: Have you seen what’s on US TV schedules lately? Shoehorned between the reality (lack of) talent shows, the American airwaves are virtually choking on “procedural dramas.” Not that the format is new or unpopular, but it seems that such shows have been on the air since the original Law and Order debuted in 1990, and shows no sign of abating anytime soon. This glut is one reason why I haven’t been watching TV lately. The last thing we need… or I need… is yet another CSI-NCIS-SVU-SUV-DDT-TNT-ACDC-KMFDM-NRBQ-R2D2-C3P0-TMZ-DMZ-DVD-VCR-DVR-USB-ISA-SCSI-SATA-IDE-KKK-XXX-RSVP-LOL-ROFLMAO-ZOMG-WTF-BBQ clogging the networks. Then again, they don’t have futuristic technologies and sarcastic androids, so that may be an advantage.
Conclusion: No word yet on on the fate of Almost Human which may or may not be good news. Hopefully FOX will renew, but it looks more likely that it will be picked up on cable. Hope you have been watching, or at least recording to watch. This is one show that needs to be watched, especially by cyberpunk fans. Only once in a great while does a show come along that has such cyberpunk goodness. Do watch this show, by any means necessary. Then pester FOX until they renew it. And if FOX doesn’t renew…
Another gem from the forums. I actually watched the series when it first came out on TV. Never really thought of it to be cyberpunk, but Intel not only believes it to be, but also thought it to be very good as well, and responders agree with him. I’m going to see if I can acquire the series, so let’s see what intel Intel has…
List of some cyberpunk themes:
Story: 20 years after the last batman episode, Batman now has an advanced exoskeleton-type suit, but is suffering from age. While fighting a group of kidnappers, he has a heart attack and is forced to use a gun to fend of the criminals. He then give up his batman identity and the story jumps ahead 20 more years to year 2039.
Bruce knows he can’t be the Batman forever. Sooner or later, he needs to pass the torch… and the suit.
Now we shift over to Terry McGinnis, an athletic 16-year-old high school student and ex-troublemaker with a sense of justice. In the pilot episode, Terry saves a fellow passenger on a commuter rail from a member of the Jokerz gang, and then takes on an entire gang of Jokerz to defend his girlfriend, resulting in a high-speed motorcycle chase. The chase ends on the grounds of Wayne Manor, where Terry runs into the elderly Bruce Wayne. Bruce and Terry fend off the Jokerz together, but the fight causes Wayne’s heart condition to act up. Terry helps Bruce back to the manor and, while staying there, he discovers the entrance to the Batcave. Chased out by Bruce, Terry comes home to discover that his father had been murdered by the vengeful Jokerz, and later returns to “borrow” the Batsuit to avenge the death of his father. As crime and corruption are beginning once again to rear their ugly heads in Gotham, Bruce ultimately allows Terry to assume the mantle of Batman.
Overview: We now find gotham to be a huge, sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers, metro-rails, and hover-cars. the wealthy live in the penthouses and crime a poor are left to the ancient alleyways. criminals are now high-tech assasins, genetically-engineered low lifes, CEO’s of megacorporations, and even a few rampant AI.
Click the pic to visit LegionsofGotham.org to see more Batman Beyond background images like this one.
Visuals: the show is full of grungy buildings, neon signs, and power cables. It also has an interesting mix of japanese and english written on many of the signs. The hover cars and metro rails add a nice touch to the scenes. The show usually takes place at night, adding to the mood, and shows lots of scenes of batman soaring through the skyline with his new flight capabilities.
Conclusion: It is by far one of the darkest shows to ever run on a daytime children’s cartoon channel,
“Dark” might be an understatement…
and had surprisingly complex themes for its young viewers. If you’ve never heard of it, just watch the opening video here to see what I mean:
Postscript from Mr. Roboto. A couple of things to watch for while watching this series. First off, some of the old enemies reappear in some form, either as “aged” forms or as “trophies” Bruce keeps.
Mr. Freeze shows he’s ahead of his time. [rimshot.wav]
Second, there’s a season two episode called “Project: Zeta” which lead to a spin-off series, The Zeta Project. It’s about a killer robot who chooses not to kill and runs away with a girl who teaches it how to be human. This series I have got to acquire to review… unless I see it in our reviewer forum first…
Robots that think, move like humans and fight our wars–Real Terminators–may now be possible. At leading universities and covert government labs, robots are now being developed in man’s image; cyborgs with superhuman strength, machines that may eventually be able to make decisions, even kill on their own. But will these very robots designed to protect us ultimately turn on their masters?
Rise of the Robots. When I first heard about this episode of That’s Impossible while watching Ice Road Truckers, I just had to watch to see where we were with military robotics… and where we may be headed. Real Terminators is second episode of the That’s Impossible series, which includes other topics like invisibility, immortality, and “weather warfare.” I managed to catch the Tuesday (July 14) night premiere of Real Terminators, while they repeated the episode early Wednesday morning. History won’t rebroadcast Real Terminators until Saturday, July 25 @ 3pm, so make certain to have your TiVos programmed to record it if you can’t watch it on time, or there’s always the Torrent route.
Real Terminators shows how robot combat has evolved to its near-current state, and what other robot technologies and breakthroughs can affect what the battlefield mechs will be like. Hint: It won’t be like BattleBots or Robot Wars.
You might think that this is a scale model of a WWI-era tank, but this little bugger is the father of all battlefield robots. Click the image to see the Wikipedia article about it.
Humble beginnings. Battlefield robots actually got their start in WWII, thanks to Nazi Germany. They used a remote controlled tank-bot called the Goliath tracked mine, which was driven to its target and detonated. It was considered a failure due to the control cables being easily cut or damaged and the vehicle itself being too lightly armored, but the Goliath has since become something of an inspiration to future war-bots… though it would take some sixty years after the first tracked mines were produced before battlefield robots would begin to emerge with the SWORDS robots. But robots were already in the air, thanks to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.
The Next Big Step is to get the drones out of the sky and back on the ground, but without the tank treads or wheels being used today. Drones need their legs, and the Big Dog shows why:
Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog robot is intended to be a pack-animal, but some can’t stop thinking about weaponizing it.
Already, Boston Dynamics is developing a two-legged robot, the PETMAN, to better navigate human environments.
Organic components. DARPA is not looking at just a mechanized future for the military. They intend to keep a human element to the machines through the use of robotic exoskeletons:
Other pieces of the puzzle. In order to make terminators possible, one major breakthrough must happen: Artificial Intelligence. Future robots will need highly-developed (almost human-like) AI to do seemingly simple things like identify targets and allies, use strategies, and know when to fall back for repairs and recharging/refueling. Also, robots will need to show “instincts” like gauging a person’s emotional state to recognize when s/he might attack. Those “instincts” may come courtesy of a brain scanner. This will allow a robot to decide if they should kill on its own, without some human operator needing to pull a trigger.
But there’s more being considered. Robots will need to recharge or refuel. That may be alleviated by the EATR project, which will allow robots to consume organic matter for energy. Also, repair and construction/replication of robots, where nanaotechnology is being considered to fill these needs.
Now consider what can happen with all the pieces in place. A robot soldier, hundreds of time stronger than a human, with an appetite for organics and programmed to kill, and able to repair itself.
Overview: OK, so the Terminator franchise was pretty much killed off with the storyline train wreck that was T3, right? Think again. The luminaries at Fox have decided to wipe the thought of T3 from our collective memories to try again. While I would have preferred something taking place in the fucked-up future, this was not the direction taken (clearly the budget for a futuristic TV series would be cost prohibitive). This one takes place in modern times, with a potential bevy of bad terminators once again attempting to waste John Conner while he, mommy and their cute little teenage Terminatrix sidekick try to force crib death on Skynet before it becomes self-aware. While the initial pilot was less than inspiring, the second episode was significantly better – so much so that its worth giving this thing a viewing or two.
The Story: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after Terminator 2, and ends up pretty much obliterating the Terminator 3 storyline from existence. Starting in 1999, in this “version” of the future past, Sarah (played by Lena Headey) and John Conner (Thomas Dekker) have settled down to a life of sorts, where John goes to school and Sarah waitresses and falls in love with a regular guy. While they have kept out of sight of the police, Sarah never feels safe, an decides to leave when her fiancé gives her a ring. Soon after settling in their new digs, John befriends a nice girl at school named Cameron (Summer Glau), and then almost gets blown away by his substitute teacher who turns out to be a Terminator. Luckily for him, that cute girl he befriended ends up being his protector teenage Terminator chick.
Cameron informs them that the new world expiration date (when Skynet becomes self-aware) is April 19, 2011. After a bit of terminator action, Sarah, John and Cameron agree to find out how Skynet gets revived. Strangely, this involves raiding a bank built in 1963 to find weapon parts that can kill the current “red shirt” terminator (there appear to be lots of them), and then use the time machine left there to transport them to 2007. Cameron “supposedly” did this to ensure they would be safe – NOT.
As the second episode ensues, Sarah, John and Cameron are working to get legit-looking IDs, meet up with a bunch of Connor’s staff from the future, who also came back to 2007, and then to eventually stop Skynet. Unfortunately, it turns out that another Terminator has already wasted three of the four warriors from the future. Even worse, the red-shirt Terminator wasted with the cool ray gun in episode one somehow had its parts scattered into the future when the time travel occurred – now he’s rebuilding himself.
Evaluation of The Cast:
Cameron: Most of the early buzz around the Sarah Connor Chronicles concerns Summer Glau’s staring role as the mysterious but good terminatrix chick. In the pilot episode, she has a very mixed – mostly off – performance. Her deliverance of the signature “Come with me if you want to live” line had a quavering voice – hardly the stuff of terminators. Further, the awesome fighting we associate from her Serenity performance wasn’t on display. That said, Summer was significantly better in the second episode. Her face was more terminator-like, and she seemed to grow into the role more in a number of ways. Still, Summer is clearly not your Aaaahhnold’s Terminator - the bad guy terminators don’t even recognize her model number, for instance. She doesn’t even seem to have the same basic instruction set in that she seems to process information differently. There are already allusions to her having a very close relationship to John in the future, including a slight amount of sexual tension between Cameron and John. She could evolve into an interesting Data-like version of a “what dose it mean to be human?” terminator, or she could end up being John’s hawt android sexbot who just happens to pack a nice punch - who knows at this point?
Sarah Conner: Lena Headey plays a fairly interesting character, but is one which bares very little resemblance to the character played by Linda Hamilton. This Sarah Connor is a waif who struggles to be tough enough to do what is necessary. Emotions are always just under the surface for this character. In truth, Headey plays a Sarah Conner FAR closer to the first Terminator instead of after the second one. I don’t know if I like the change, but besides the occasional English accent switch, Headey does a decent job playing whoever this character is supposed to be.
John Conner: Thomas Dekker’s John Conner is FAR preferable to the monstrosity played by Nick Stahl. So far, Dekker is by far the most believable character. He seems pissed off, tough, smart and screwed over – exactly like we’d expect from the kid from Terminator 2. I’m interested to see how he “grows” into his leadership role.
James Ellison: Ellison is an FBI agent played by Richard Jones, who seems to be discovering that the future that psycho-Sarah seems to have told everyone might actually be coming true. So far, he hasn’t had enough face time to be relevant, but there appears to be some interesting possibilities.
Problems With The Dress Code: OK, call me crazy but Sarah Conner in skirts and the Terminatrix in miniskirts just doesn’t work for me. Here’s a thought – I know its cliché but how ‘bout we try making Summer look tough. How? Hmmm, I dunno, how’s about using the traditional black leathers motif? That seemed to work for Kristanna Loken, not to mention virtually every other female action star since Catwoman in Batman Returns. Considering the number of clichés they’ve used already, this one seems like a “slam dunk.” And just another thought – have they considered possibly combat fatigues (or something similar) for Sarah Conner? Whatever they choose – PLEASE – stop the skirts.
Forget the T3 Fate - Now the Future Timeline is Fucked Up: Similar to T2, the message again is that the future is unclear. That said, if the future is sooo unclear, how is it that John Conner in the future is able to keep sending back his cronies to different times (1963, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2007 so far)? You’d think there would have been “some” change on the future, especially since apparently the 1963 machine is the way people can go back to the future. Again, one has to ask, if Skynet has the ability to send a significant number of people back (they always seem to be able to create that “one” more time machine…), why not send someone back to Sarah’s mother’s time and wax John’s grandmother? But far more troubling is the idea that all these things in the past simply haven’t affected John’s actions in the future. The world expiration date has now been pushed back to 2011 - how did that affect the people alive when John originally sent his father Reece back to 1984? Such questions are clearly beyond our understanding, but it just goes to show, that we can modify the signature line of the series (“We’re never safe”) to “We’re never safe from sequels in a previously successful franchise. Given this reincarnation, its only natural that the timeline issues so wonderfully explored in the first Terminator are now totally rendered nonsensical and silly.
They Actually Ripped Off Hardware!!! Yes, that long, lost, forgotten low-budget cyberpunk flick from Richard Stanley has been ripped off here. In Hardware, set in a dystopic future, a guy finds a cool looking robot head which he brings back home to give to his girlfriend. The head ends up being a low-budget Terminator-like robot (yes, it ripped off the original Terminator, so go figure), who ends up being able to slowly rebuild itself. Once it does, it wreaks havoc on the the wierdos living in this truly bizarre apartment building (I highly recommend this movie). The red-shirt terminator who gets wasted in the first episode apparently didn’t really get wasted (so much for the red-shirt analogy). Instead, he slowly rebuilds himself in a very cool zombie-like way…
The FX: Similar to T3, the Sarah Connor Chronicles are rescued by high quality FX – far better than we should expect from a TV series in fact. The time travel Terminator bubble looked excellent, as did the initial world destruction dream sequence. For the most part, the damaged terminators look decently realistic, and the battle sequences believable. Nice touches like the open arm and leg shots really do serve to finish this off. However, some stunts like the stupid terminator not noticing the 200 mph car hitting them have already been way overdone (twice so far). Truly terminators have learned how to look both ways before crossing at this point, ey? It looks cool and all, but give it a rest already.
The Bottom Line: For the pilot episode, I’d give it 4 stars at best. The second episode rates at least 6 stars – probably 7. While the pilot was really problematic, the possibilities exist for this to become a pretty good series. Some of the minor characters and plot points might end up working well. The whole mysterious terminator thing that Summer Glau engages in could end up being very interesting, or, if they pursue the whole love interest with John thing, it could turn into a truly sour dud. And even though the show has problems both in minor plot issues and believable characters, the well-known Terminator score really helps build suspense. We “know” what the music should sound like when a bad guy terminator approaches – we aren’t disappointed here. Bottom line, the series is worth giving a watch at this point. I’ll re-evaluate as the 12 episode season gets to its mid-point.
So its finally here. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, staring Summer Glau, Lena Headey, and Thomas Dekker has been widely anticipated, and appears to have a decent budget. I’ll wait to give my review until tomorrow night, but I just wanted to know what you thought about the first night.
Summer Glau of Firefly/Serenity fame is one of my recent favorites, so I’m eagerly anticipating this. Feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments. Thoughts?
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.