As with any form of geekery, there are certain anime that it’s sort of assumed that everyone has watched. Needless to say, not everyone has actually watched all of them, even the ones that are considered staples of the art form.
I’ve been meaning to watch all of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex since high school, when I received the first DVD as a gift one Christmas. I don’t know what happened with that, really. I remember watching the opening animation—which is, for some reason, CGI despite the rest of the series being standard animation—and thinking the operatic-sounding Russian OP was cool. But I don’t remember watching the episodes or caring about the characters. I took away enough to recognize Major Kusanagi cosplayers and to enjoy the Mary Elizabeth McGlynn Q&A that we stumbled into one Otakon while looking for Yuri Lowenthal.
Then, during my last Japanese topics seminar in my senior year of college, we watched the original Ghost in the Shell movie. I really enjoyed it, which led to me thinking, “Goddamnit, that means I need to watch Stand Alone Complex. Add another anime to the list…”
Well, a year and a half later, I have finally found time to sit down and finish watching this show, and let me tell you what: it’s actually really good.
The series is set in a highly technological, near-future Japan, where the majority of the citizens have cyborg prosthetics ranging from individual organs to full prosthetic bodies. Public Security Section 9 is an intelligence division of the government that deals with various crimes ranging from cyber warfare to domestic and international terrorism. The plot follows Section 9 as they dig deeper and deeper into the mystery and intrigue surrounding a kidnapping plot a few years previous. The kidnapping, masterminded by a hacker known now as the Laughing Man, culminated in the Laughing Man holding a pharmaceuticals executive at gunpoint in a public venue and escaping by hacking every cyberbrain and camera technology to display a comical graphic where his face should be.
One thing I enjoyed about this series was that it was very episodic in nature. Every episode related back to the overarching plot somehow, but there were rarely cliffhangers and it wasn’t hard to enjoy even when I could only watch one or two episodes at a time. Of course the action ramps up at the end, but through most of the series the episode plots are very self-contained.
I also loved the characters—they’re all very unique and none of them really fall hard into stereotypical anime trope territory. Particularly close to my heart was Togusa, the optimistic family man of the department. Despite having the least amount of cyberization (and therefore the least combat advantage) of the squad, he was always eager to help their investigations, which often meant getting himself in harm’s way.
Major Kusanagi, or just the Major as she is most often called, is the hero of the story. She’s a grade-A badass, with a fully prosthetic cyborg body, mad combat skills, and excellent hacking and intelligence-gathering abilities. Everyone in Section 9 looks up to her and respects her. My only beef with the series is her character design. Although she, as a nearly indestructible combat-ready cyborg, has the right to dress however she pleases, something about a purple-haired, red-eyed, hourglass-proportioned character who wears bustiers and thigh-highs to her government job on the regular seems like it’s pandering to fanservice juuuuust a little, yeah? The series never dives too deeply into the usual anime annoyances like the “Whoops I fell and both hands landed on your boobs” trope and its ilk—in fact, her breasts generally behave like actual breasts and not like physics-defying airsacs—but the fanservice is certainly there. It’s probably more frustrating considering that the Major is the only woman in Section 9 and the only main character who is female.
All that said, I highly recommend this series. It’s intellectual, interesting, well-developed, and has got some great music on top of that. Anime fans should definitely check this one out.