the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002)
Most of the series' episodes present independent stories, but scattered among these are others that center around the protagonists' investigation of a mysterious criminal known only as the Laughing Man. While the director does skillfully weave this thread into his program in such a way as to give it some trajectory, Ghost in the Shell still has little else to structure it. Towards the series' conclusion, however, Kamiyama does effectively bring these recurring themes together so that its ending is genuinely involving.
What is more, a number of the program's episodes are fascinating on their own. One, for instance, in which the protagonists hunt a murderer who is skinning his victims and then leaving them to die, is unnervingly grim and surprisingly affecting. Others include intriguing meditations on man's relation to technology and the ways in which that technology is changing mankind, as well as elaborate and exhilarating depictions of combat. In several episodes, for example, the viewer is given the chance to see the protagonists, having been rendered nearly invisible with the help of special suits, take on different opponents, including some who are similarly garbed and others who are piloting enormous fighting robots. Admittedly, a few of the program's episodes are less than absolutely fascinating, but most are likely to retain the viewer's interest.
There are times, regrettably, when Ghost in the Shell's flaws do make it dull to watch. The series' single greatest shortcoming is perhaps its inclusion of innumerable scenes of exposition. Several episodes, in fact, are largely composed of the characters sitting around and discussing inordinately complicated plot points. A few such scenes could have been useful in bringing out some of the intricacies of the series' fictional universe, but there are so many of them that they grow extremely tiresome.
Even with all this exposition, none of the characters are ever developed in a satisfactory way. Most exist largely to perform some function or another, and the viewer is rarely given much of an insight into their minds. When personalities are revealed, they are usually shown as being defined by only a handful of traits. Motoko, for example, is rough and invariably serious while Batou is tough and incorruptible.
All these persons are, nonetheless, far more appealing than are the tachikomas, a kind of machine used for transport and other chores by the human characters. The tachikomas, which resemble enormous robotic spiders, are well conceived visually, but their adorable, high pitched voices and childlike personalities can, frankly, be grating. Many scenes in which they appear are, consequently, made unpleasant by their presence.
Fortunately, the series is generally appealing visually, although it is never likely to awe the viewer. The character designs are competently done and, if never inspired, are still pleasant to look at. Motoko, who rarely wears anything other than a bustier, a thong, and a leather jacket, is particularly attractive. Moreover, the countless machines and robots included in the program are complex and rendered in considerable detail, and the backgrounds employed, though somewhat drab and nondescript, are, nonetheless, effectively realized. The series' best visual elements are, however, those that give life to the various interfaces and screens with which the characters interact with the electronic world that has so pervaded their physical reality. These are always fascinating to see.
Even though Ghost in the Shell is far from the best animated series I have encountered, its engaging visual style, occasionally enthralling stories, and well done action sequences do make it worth watching. The viewer should, however, be prepared to endure a fair amount of lethargy interspersed with such elements.
Review by Keith Allen
Note: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is followed by Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig.
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