Ghost in the Shell is probably one of my favorite animes. It's got a great story with intelligent writing, beautiful animation, cool characters (I confess, Batou's my favorite) that are multidimensional and carefully developed, and music I'd buy the soundtrack for.
What It's About
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
is a near-future (or perhaps alternate-history more-or-less now) story in which a small group of elite police called Section 9 fights crime and terrorism -- both physical and cyber -- and generally attempts to prevent international incidents. Most people have some cyberized components, and some people are entirely prosthetic, like the main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi.
Stand Alone Complex picks up the story after the two movies, Ghost in the Shell and Innocence. It's not necessary to have seen the movies to understand the tv series, but many viewers will probably want to see them after watching a few episodes of the series to fill in some of the backstory (especially the past relationship between the Major and Batou).
What It's Like
The television incarnation of Ghost in the Shell
is less philosophical and more action-oriented than the movies, but that doesn't mean it has abandoned the viewer's intellect entirely. This is still as much an anime for thinkers as it is for action fans, and the writers have taken their time when they need it to build up the story and the characters.
One of the things the subtitle "Stand Alone Complex" refers to (there is another referent that is revealed in the story) is that there are two kinds of story: some are told in single (stand alone) episodes, and some carry over multiple episodes. It's not just an episodic collection of tales, though; there is also an overall story arc for the whole season -- though this isn't really apparent yet just from this one disc.
What It Looks and Sounds Like
Stand Alone Complex
is animated with a combination of traditional and CG animation, but the two are so well blended that the viewer is never jarred out of the story by incongruous visuals. In fact, many people won't even notice the difference at all. The characters are well-designed and, while the style is not identical to that of the two movies, they are recognizable as the same people. Most of the voice actors carry over from the movies, too, which helps. And speaking of voice actors, the Japanese and English voices are well-matched, so if you decide to switch from dubbed to subbed (or vice versa) part way through, it won't be too disorienting.
I don't think it's too much to say that anime fans need to see this (though I admit the possibility that not everyone will like it as much as I do), and that science fiction fans really should check it out, too, even if they don't usually watch animated stuff. Whether you're into intellectual viewing or BFGs and blowing stuff up, you'll find something to like in GitS: SAC.
The UMD includes a full four episodes, just like the DVD -- a refreshing change from most anime UMDs, which often include only two episodes. Also on the disk are the "Tachikomatic Days" shorts that appeared after each episode, but which were left out of the North American television presentation (at least here in Canada). There aren't much in the way of extras, just a few DVD trailers, but any
extras are appreciated, as UMDs usually have none.
As for the packaging, the disc is in the usual clear UMD box, but the cover isn't double-sided, so there's no nice artwork showing through. There are also none of the usual inserts such as episode and chapter stops lists, and not even the "quick start" instructions. However, my copy did include an extra goodie: a PSP screen protector (at least I think that's what it is). It's the right size and shape, and it's made of that clear window-cling-like material, but it's got a picture of the Major on the left side. It's pretty neat, though I don't think I'll ever actually use it on my PSP. The Major would always be getting in the way. Still, it's a nice little item, and collectors of anime ephemera will appreciate it.