Anime Reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG
This continuation of Ghost in the Shell definitely delivers, with sharp visuals and an engrossing narrative that puts the rock-solid first season to shame.
Title: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG a.k.a. Koukaku Kidoutai S.A.C. 2nd GIG
Production: Production I.G.
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 1/1/2004 to 1/8/2005
Age Rating: 17+ (strong violence, strong language, brief partial nudity, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Two years after the Laughing Man incident came to a close, Japan's Public Security Section 9 are just as busy as they've ever been. And it's not just Public Security, either--the government as a whole has been cleaning up the mess left by the whole incident, electing a new, Conservative female Prime Minister in Yoko Kayabuki, and forming a new counter-intelligence branch called the Cabinet Intelligence Service, headed by the disfigured Kazundo Gouda. Conflicts arise, however, when the administration's decidedly anti-refugee stance spurs into existence a terrorist group calling itself The Individual Eleven, whose goal is to incite a war between the millions of displaced refugees and the Japanese Self-Defense Army. It's up to Motoko and the rest of Section 9 to put a stop to this menace before their whole society falls into chaos.
The Good: Surpasses its predecessor in every conceivable way
The Bad: Some side characters still given zero development; ends a little abruptly
The Ugly: The Major's low-riding pants, but then again, at least she's wearing pants this time...
So the first Stand Alone Complex was a fairly good-looking series with a thought-provoking narrative and frigid characters. A bit disappointing, but I didn't feel like my time was wasted or anything, but at the end of my review, I wished that 2nd GIG would do bigger and better things with the franchise. And boy, am I glad to say that my wish has come true--damn near everything about the first season was amped up to 11. Let's not waste any more time with needless prattle and get right into it, shall we?
First off, I recall stating that the original Stand Alone Complex looked pretty darn good for a series over a decade old, but 2nd GIG just looks great, period; it could have been made yesterday and everyone would be none the wiser! The backgrounds are more intricate, the characters have more detail and shading, the animation is way, way smoother than before (and would be some of the best TV animation around if it weren't for those pesky ufotable TV series, Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night 2014!), and even the CGI on the Tachikoma units is much improved and more smoothly animated than before (though their talking/bouncing gets a little repetitive). Of course, this also means that the series' many, many action sequences are a joy to behold. Absolutely flawless in the visual department.
Another thing that's been improved upon--this time greatly--is the soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. Seems like someone finally decided to wake her up from her sleepwalking through the last season, because hot damn is her work in 2nd GIG a huge improvement. Both seasons went for a futuristic synth-y sound accented by traditional instruments, but it's only now that the tracks really stand out and create an incredibly tense atmosphere. Tracks like "Banquet Firewall" and "Cyberbird" illustrate the majesty of Yoko Kanno when she's not asleep at the wheel, and to top it all off, we get yet another excellent opening, "Rise," once again with Kanno composing and ORIGA providing the vocals. And this time without the horrible 3D CGI! All in all, a great soundtrack by a composer who should normally be without reproach.
Oh, and the voice acting is great in both the English and Japanese versions. Did I mention that last time? Because it was there, and it is here. Nothing else to say--you will get a quality experience no matter which language you prefer.
Naturally, if just about everything else is upping the ante, then it's only natural for the plot to follow suit. Straight away, you have compelling action drama involving terrorists seizing government facilities as well as political drama with controversial legislation that would tip the scales of societal friction to its breaking point (that's a working metaphor, right?), and there are even whispers of military operations to extract plutonium from an unofficial nuclear reactor and the threat of tactical nuclear bombs accompanied by full-scale riots--that's a hell of a lot for our heroes to deal with. The filler episodes are back, in a sense, but each one either adds something to the story or is done extremely well. A couple particularly excellent episodes pay homage to films such as Taxi Driver or Der Himmel über Berlin (also known as Wings of Desire and later remade in the U.S. as City of Angels), and there's also an episode where Motoko wanders into a so-called "memory shop," and I cannot tell you enough not only how great that episode is, but also how important it is. The stakes are higher and the writing is tighter, and I am a happy boy.
You know what else makes me happy? We finally get some emotional investment for characters who aren't Batou and Togusa! Several characters get an episode or two devoted to them, and because they are finally given a chance to shine in the spotlight as characters instead of gun-toting information-diving props, I can at last get behind many of them! I can finally remember Ishikawa's, Pazu's, and Saito's names! It certainly is a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the absolutely frigid first season. And the new characters are interesting, as well--the stalwart but stressed Prime Minister Kayabuki, who knows she's a figurehead but still strives to do all she can, the ambitious and resourceful Cabinet officer Gouda, whose allegiance is perpetually ambiguous, and the stoic, righteous terrorist juggernaut Kuze, whose status as the series' villain at times feels arbitrary...they all feel so alive and interesting, compared to the underwhelming Laughing Man and Secretary General what's-his-butt.
Unfortunately, 2nd GIG isn't without its problems, the chief of which being that some of the recurring characters still never get much in terms of development. I still have no clue what Borma is all about, except that he develops cybervirus vaccines and once worked as a demolitions expert in the military and that he has crazy red cyber eyes, and even Chief Aramaki, as cool as he can be, is still largely a talking head full of exposition and mission objectives. Come on, guys! These two need some love, like everyone else got!
The other issue I have is that the ending is a little too much, a little too quickly. This could have been solved by making the episode a big to-do television special series finale event spectacularooza and making it an hour long, but eh. What's done is done. Have fun being blindsided by a crapton of major events that pass by in a flash!
But honestly, given how good everything else about 2nd GIG is, I can't rag on its faults too much. In the end, I wanted a superior follow-up to Stand Alone Complex, and that's exactly what I got. Now all I can do is track down the series' movie finale, Solid State Society, and pray that THAT raises the bar even further. As far as this series is concerned, it's an obvious recommendation for anyone who's already watched Stand Alone Complex as well as any other curious anime fans out there who have heard the name but never took the dive. Of course, fans of the original film who haven't yet caught the TV series are another easy mark. What can I say? 2nd GIG is a quality release in a quality franchise that goes above and beyond the call of duty (the duty being to entertain us with cyberpunk-y action, of course).
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. With tremendous improvements over its predecessor in nearly every facet, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG is an outstanding series that delivers spectacular visuals and a more robustly fleshed-out cast of familiar faces to accompany us on yet another intense and intelligent thrill ride.