NOTE: This review is based entirely on the movie version of Ghost in the Shell. No refrence is made to Stand Alone Complex or 2nd GIG. However, they do kick ass. Some images in this review will also contain brief, non sexualised nudity.
Time to go down the good old route of nostalgia, with my first ever 'proper' anime, Ghost in the Shell.
I first saw Ghost in the Shell probably around three or four years ago, and I really liked it. Browsing through my Xbox Live video marketplace the other night, I saw they had recently added the remastered, high definition version of Ghost in the Shell, otherwise known as 2.0. Don't be fooled, this is not the sequel, but simply a remastering. I coughed up the the 500 odd points and decided to visit some childhood memories. Was it as good as I remembered? Well.. Not really.
But first, some basic plot information. Ghost in the Shell takes place in the year 2029, in a future where the world is connected by an electronic network, pretty much a super advanced internet. In Tokyo, a group known as Section 9 who monitor the network are after the nefarious hacker, known only as the Puppet Master. Leader of this manhunt is a cyborg known as Major Motoko Kusanagi, or more simply known as The Major.
This beith the lady
So that's the basic premise. However, the film isn't too keen on exposition. It pretty much throws you into a deep lake and expects you to swim to the bottom. It is what I could also call the 'Akira' approach to anime storytelling, in which at least a little background knowledge is needed to fully grasp onto the film from the get-go. Even with the background knowledge, the film is all over the place. There's a twist at the mid way point of the movie which is never properly explained and just comes out of nowhere.
The characters populating the narrative aren't really interesting enough to support the, at times, incomprehensible plot. A big deal is made out of the Majors struggle with being a human trapped in a cyborgs body, but this is only really brought up at the films conclusion and in a few sprinkled conversations, but I didn't really care enough about her for her internal struggles to mean anything. To be brutally honest, the rest of the characters could just be cardboard cutouts that are propped up against a nearby wall and speak now and again. They have little to no depth.
What depth could maybe have been restored to these characters is lost in the mediocre English dub. The Xbox Live rental did not give the option to have Japanese with subtitles, so I was left with the English dub. While not downright abysmal, pretty much every character sounds flat and uninterested. There is no real emotion to any of the performances.
Other elements of sound design almost compensate for the lousy dub though. The soundtrack is sparse, but when there is music it is very good. Not astounding, but it suits the tone of the movie well, and in the remastered mix, sounded crystal clear.
Speaking of the remastering, if you happen to be a fan of the film and haven't seen this new remastering, check it out. It's not simply a touch up here and there, they have gone all out to bring this 15 year old film some new life.
Just check out this amazing compare shot (2.0 on top, original on bottom)
It looks amazing, and I am a whore for good art design. As a visual experience, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is incredible, with silky smooth animation, backgrounds and intricate detail and it's a shame that the movie is so short because I could have easily kept staring at it for another hour or so.
And that's the inherit problem with Ghost in the Shell; it's too damn short. Excluding opening and closing credits, Ghost in the Shell clocks in at under 80 minutes. It is clear the story the creators wanted to tell should not be compressed into anything under 80 minutes, but it was anyway, and this is what really hurts the film. Another 20 minutes for some clearer exposition would have gone so far to making the film simply more accessable and coherent. As it is, it's jumbled beyond belief.
So, how did my trip down Nostalgia lane go? It was an interesting experience. What I will give Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is this; it looks amazing. My eyes enjoyed every second of what was being presented to me on screen, but my brain itself wasn't too fond of the compressed plot that really does not flow smoothly at all.
If you're a fan of good art design and luscious visuals, give it a look, especially the remaster. However, if you're bigger on story and characters you will feel dissapointed by this film, as on both fronts it is weak, which is a shame as with just some more time it could have been so much more.