Ya know, kids, I’m a relatively new anime fan. I saw my fair share of dubbed Digimon in my time, and I did pick up some knowledge from my friends, but really, I’ve only been an anime fan myself for a couple of years now. As much as I enjoy some of their animated works, the Japanese are responsible for some seriously brain-melting decisions.
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Japan -and I say this with great respect- Japan, why in the fuck can you not just name sequels and consecutive seasons in a logical fucking fashion? What do you have against numbering things clearly? Square used to do that, but now it’s all with the X-2s and the [duodecim]s.
Sailor Moon finishes its first season. Then it becomes Sailor Moon R. What the fuck? Why? The following seasons make even less sense. How are you supposed to tell what comes first if you don’t already know what you’re looking for.
In the grand scheme of things 2nd GIG isn’t too bad in that regard. It’s clearly the second season. But what’s wrong with “Ghost in the Shell Season 2″? Sigh. Japan, you so crazy.
Why that’s mirrored I don’t know. Sorry.
Anyway, it’s been a couple of years since the Laughing Man incident last season, and Japan’s new Prime Minister reinstates Section 9 for another season of ass-beating in a post-World War III technological wonderland that’s a beautiful hybrid of The Matrix and Metal Gear.
Like the first season, the episodes are divided between self-contained episodes (“Standalone”) and episodes focusing on the season’s main plot (“complex”). This time around, we have two ongoing plotlines, so the Complex episodes are further divided into Individual and Dual. The standalones are called Dividual episodes this season. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the self-contained stories to be called Individual?
The Dual episodes deal with Section 9 being tasked with suppressing insurgency from refugees on the island of Dejima by a high-ranking member of the Cabinet Intelligence Service, Goda Kazundo.
But Section 9 isn’t stupid and it quickly becomes clear that Goda’s up to no good and using them for his own mysterious agenda. The Major’s investigation indicates that Two-Face here may not be a nice guy. What a shocking revelation.
The other year-long storyline are the Individual episodes, which are about, well, the Individual Eleven. They’re violent fucking idiots who fancy themselves revolutionary samurai, committing acts of terrorism and even making an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister, all in the name of freeing the refugees from their quarantined island.
Section 9 are a bunch of talented motherfuckers, so they try to get to the bottom of both plots to find out how they’re related and just how deep Gouda’s political fuckery goes, before the whole thing ignites a civil war.
Overall, 2nd GIG‘s story is handled somewhat disjointedly. Having two ongoing plots to follow is fine, especially since they begin to coalesce towards the end. However, sometimes it seems like they bit off more than they could chew and things start to get jumbled, especially if you don’t have the time to sit down and watch it in as few sittings as possible.
Ghost in the Shell has always been complex and multilayered. The 1995 film, along with Akira (1988) was one of the first anime movies to get Western audiences to realize that maybe it’s not kid stuff just because it’s animated.
The first season had a pretty well-established goal: find the truth behind the Laughing Man. It took a lot of twists, there was a lot of stuff going on, but you always knew what was happening and the reasons why. 2nd GIG is much harder to follow. Characters seem to make conclusions based on thoughts and evidence the audience isn’t always privy to. Who’s with who, where they are and why they’re there is sometimes less than clear.
Too much time is spent on the standalone episodes, especially in the first half of the series. There will be long stretches of standalones between plot developments, and then the rest of the main story is crammed into the end of the season. It makes the whole thing feel rushed and maybe a little confusing, since you’ve had time to forget small details that were brought up 20 episodes ago. The final episode in particular feels kinda slip-shod, like they suddenly realized they were out of time and hastily tried to tie things up.
It’s not because I don’t like a complex story and it’s not because I’m dumb. I actually understand what was going on in Metal Gear Solid 2. They’re the ones who fucked up.
Stand Alone Complex has been criticized by some of throwing away the philosophical ideas of the 1995 film in favor of making Ghost in the Shell into a police/counter-terrorism series.
That’s not to say 2nd GIG lacks substance. In the film, the Major has distanced herself from Section 9 to pursue her own questions about existence and what it means to be human. Officially, the film and SAC are in different continuities, but they don’t contradict each other and you could certainly take the series as a prequel to the movie.
Throughout 2nd GIG it looks like the Major is beginning to head down the more philosophical path she’s on in the film, especially towards the end. We get some unexpected details on her childhood, and how it relates to what’s going on in the present. By the finale, she’s definitely a changed woman-cyborg-thing and has a different outlook on life, much closer to her movie self.
This comes at the cost of developing the other characters, who are relevant to the plot, but we don’t get much time to learn about who they are. The prime minister is probably the second-best developed character after the Major. And she’s mostly relegated to a supporting role. Batou, Togusa, Aramaki…they don’t get a chance to grow this season. It’s nothing new, though, Ghost in the Shell has always been about what’s going on in the Major’s head.
2nd GIG also succumbs to sequel syndrome in that it does its very best to continually one-up the previous season. Whether or not this is a good thing is really a matter of taste. Like I said before, we have two inter-related plots this season instead of just one, because more is better, right?
A more positive example of this would be 2nd GIG‘s action sequences. They are very much bigger and better; elaborate set pieces beyond most of what the first season has to offer. This includes not just the gunfights and hand-to-hand combat Section 9 usually takes part in, but full-scale military engagements. They feel more urgent, more dangerous. The stakes feel higher. They’re exciting, well-choreographed, and one of this season’s high points.
Speaking of which, this season really makes it clear how much The Matrix owes to the Ghost in the Shell franchise. I know I’m supposed to support my fellow trannies, but come on Wachowskis. There’s a lot of scenes very reminiscent of The Matrix, at least visually. There’s one scene in particular where the Major is dangling out of a helicopter on a rope as it smashes into the side of a glass skyscraper.It’s not shot-for-shot, but it’s very, very close.
The animation is a good as ever. Production IG’s well-known attention to detail is on full display here. Vehicles and weapons in particular look very realistic, though sometimes it seems that drawing humans (and cyborgs) may not be their strong suit. The main cast looks fine, but outside of that, a lot of supporting or one-shot characters look rather bland. Even so, the important stuff looks very, very nice, and I like that things look like practical military/intelligence technology, and not your usual anime shenanigans.
That said, GitS can look a little dull at times since so much of the series takes place at night, on top of the already dark color palette. There’s a lot of black, gray, dark purples and greens. IG makes it work though, and their night-time cityscapes are particularly awesome.
2nd GIG is well worth your time if you’re already a Ghost in the Shell fan. It’s by no means a bad season; I quite enjoyed it. The story isn’t as coherent as the first season’s, and you made be left feeling a little confused at the end, but it’s certainly a fun ride. I still think the first season of SAC is the best part of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, but you could do a hell of a lot worse than this.
I’m not usually the biggest fan of GitS soundtracks, but 2nd GIG‘s closing music is just gorgeous, so I’ll leave you with that: