Ever since I started reading the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson and other authors, I found myself drawn to a cyberpunk-style anime called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. And ever since I watched that show (and loved it), I just had to go and watch the sequel series, Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG.
The Story: The Scars of War
If you thought the original anime was high-brow and philosophical, then get ready for even more!
Following the Laughing Man case, Major Kusanagi and the rest of Section 9 find themselves thrown into a complicated situation. Japan’s refugee population has grown since the last war and has become a political football. A lot of anti-refugee agitation stems from a group of radicals who call themselves “The Individual Eleven.” There’s also a bit of inter-governmental rivalry with the Cabinet Intelligence Service, led by the disfigured and manipulative Kazundo Gouda. Tying both these sides together is the mysterious and charismatic Hideo Kuze, who draws near-universal support from the refugees due to his ability to link millions of them to his cyberbrain all at once, becoming their spokesperson and savior.
So, imagine a game of chess, only with three or four players instead of two, and you’ll see just how intricate this plot becomes.
The Cast: The Same Players, Now With Ten Percent More Depth!
The roster for Section 9 remains about the same, except for the addition of a few recruits whom we hardly ever see and are only around to back up the original team. Being a well-developed sequel, this series goes a little deeper into some of the side characters like Pazu (and the unfortunate side effects of his love life) and Saito (who tells the tale of how he lost his eye and had his first fateful encounter with the Major). As for the Major herself, we get to see how she came to receive her prosthetic body as a child and how a young man from that time comes to play a far more significant role in the present, which gives Kusanagi all the more reason to keep the refugee crisis from spiraling out of control.
There’s also some great new additions in the antagonists for the series. Gouda is the head of the Cabinet Intelligence Service, providing a foil for the gruff but lovable Aramaki by being polite but treacherous. His facial disfigurement is always unsettling, but it works for Gouda just as a hunchback works for Shakespeare’s Richard III. Hideo Kuze is himself a foil to Gouda, being white-haired, handsome, and committed to starting a revolution with the refugees. He’s the more sympathetic villain, and at times, even a bit of an anti-hero.
And of course, the Tachikomas return to support Section 9, although they’re used less as tanks and more for Net-diving and digital manipulators (being AI and all). They also return to their role of being a Greek chorus for the show and its central themes, all while setting up for their amazing sacrifice in the final act, which pulls even harder at the heartstrings than the first series.
Ghostly Themes, Musical And Otherwise
Another great return to this series is the soundtrack composed by Yoko Kanno, along with a new opening theme written and performed by Origa, who created the first theme “Inner Universe” and follows it up with the far more alluring techno-beat wonder “Rise.”
I have to admit that 2nd GIG really upped the ante on its philosophical and expository conversations, and as much as I love a good thought-provoking discussion in a show, there were plenty of times during the series that I found my mind wandering as the characters just stood in place, talking. Now, before you start wondering, there’s still plenty of great action scenes, but it has a higher ratio of exposition to action than Stand Alone Complex did.
But as I said, the philosophical questions in this story are well done. What defines a stand alone complex and how does it relate to the refugee crisis–on either side? Will the individual lose something by surrendering to the greater good? Do AI like the Tachikomas really have their own souls (or “ghosts”) or is it just an illusion on the part of human beings? All this and more are put on the table in 2nd GIG and they serve to enrich the story in my opinion.
Final Verdict: 2nd GIG Stands Well On Its Own
If you like philosophical discussion or political intrigue as much as a good fight scene, then you’ll really like 2nd GIG. If you’re more into action than you are into dialogue and exposition, then you might be a little disappointed, but the quality of the action in this series is on par with Stand Alone Complex. It’s a show that darker, deeper, and even a little daring.
Bibliography: Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG. Directed by Kenji Kamiyama. Produced by Yuichiro Matsuka, Tsutomu Sugita, Charles McCarter, and Kaoru Mfaume. Written by Kenji Kamiyama. Production I.G. (studio). Manga Entertainment (North America and UK). Adult Swim (network). Original run: October 1, 2002 –October 1, 2003.