United We Stand in Ghost S.A.C. 2nd GIG| Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2004 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG” and its recap 2006 film “Individual Eleven,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.

Cafe note: I reviewed the first season right here, so check that out prior to reading this. Many thanks, happy reading~!


Back to the Cybernetic City

With the Laughing Man’s agenda terminated by Motoko Kusanagi and the gang, Section 9 is no longer forced to operate in the shadows. Taking an interest in the way the brutal hunting force operates, Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Kayabuki re-establishes Section 9 as her final attempt to fend off the latest rounds of cyber-terrorism, and find a party whom she could trust her life with. This new deadly collective, “The Individual Eleven,” has led a string of seemingly unrelated terrorist plots and assassinations across the nation.

Just as the Major and Chief Aramaki begin investigating into these gruesome cases, however, the Japanese government faces a forced confrontation by the alarming build-up of foreign refugees who were ousted from their homes during the Third World War, and are now seeking asylum in Japan. Section 9 attempts to juggle both crises, but their constant bumping heads with Kazundo Gouda of Cabinet Intelligence Service leads the Major to suspect he may be even more tangled up in the mess than the “enemy” is, and that perhaps both The Individual Eleven and the refugee crisis are just two parts of one titanic movement.

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The Stand Alone Complex branch of the hit Ghost in the Shell franchise returns to the scene to reaffirm that everything, be it physically or digitally, is interconnected by the pushes and pulls of a techno-dystopian society.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

S.A.C. 2nd GIG wastes no time in welcoming us back to its inner universe. Unlike its predecessor, 2nd GIG features a clearer, more concisely written story. It achieves this by appropriately placing its “stand-alone” episodes within the timeline in less-congested areas of heavy plot action. Sticking to a story written in sequential order, 2nd GIG feels a lot easier to grasp, even if the characters themselves are more “complex” this second time around. I can see why fans acknowledge this series as the superior one not simply because the visuals are upgraded, but the linear way in which the story is told—even if the concept may not rival that of a wizard-class super hacker—seems more straightforward. Either that, or it just took me 26 episodes prior to get used to Kamiyama’s directing.

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Critical characters to not only the series but the franchise as a whole are introduced quickly and efficiently, these namely being Kayabuki, Gouda, and Kuze, the eventual leader of the refugee camp and a mastermind in guerrilla warfare, both on the battlefield and in the net. Watching Kayabuki crumble before but endure the weight of those dirty politicians and back-alley deals emphasizes one trait that defined the Major as such a relatable character for so many: the strength of women, and the power, beauty, and grace that comes with enduring unfavorable outcomes and situations. Ghost in the Shell, like much of entertainment, explores the notion that life is one big power struggle; it’s as unavoidable as the rising moon or the flowing tides.

New, Twisted Faces

Speaking of power, Gouda is clearly not meant to be a likable dude. His *literally* twisted face should be an indicator of his reliability. He’s a competent and sophisticated man, using people and manipulating scenarios like he does with data. Though he’s got several tricks up his sleeves to be used against all of the pawns in the game, including the Major, his sheer level of skill and sneering wit make me MELT with a swelling love for his character. And John Snyder, his English VA absolutely knocked the role outta the park! We honestly need more intelligent rivals like him in anime; he’s a dick, but that’s what makes him so fascinating. Gouda is always one step ahead of the game, and stacking the deck is the only way to secure a trump card in this dirty world.

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The Major’s foil finally manifests in the form of Hideo Kuze, an calm yet equally interesting antihero who holds a similar background. While I cannot mention too much without spoiling, I will say that he’s just as calculating as Motoko and Gouda, and perhaps more skillful and inspirational than both of them on a personal level. He’s quite interesting, so let his words sink in . . . everything he does is for the people . . .

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Aside from the Major’s few moments, those members of Section 9 that did not previously have an episode for their own backstory (Pazu, Saito) receive one now EXCEPT for poor, poor Borma, the fat guy. While the Tachikoma’s return with more amusing exclamations and ideas, Togusa takes takes the back seat for this ride. One of these days we’ll get the backstory details and spotlight that they ALL deserve, but that time is sadly not now.

Improved Presentation Transcend S.A.C.

The two-ish year gap between each series really does reiterate the fact that Production I.G is the king of science fiction anime. Most of the characters receive new outfits and gear, all of which show off their differing personalities. The Major’s transformation from light gray and white to a dark gray and black skintight suit add contrast to the series’ new tone, a perfect match for some of the unsettling truths regarding the Major’s past. Her leather trench coat and obsidian visors complete the look. Besides the returning overly impressive architecture, it’s all the tiny details in character design that make 2nd GIG a fashion show for our models, both the sleek and the grungy alike.

Kanno returns to add that techno-blues/cop show soundtrack from the first season. Many of the tracks were even reused, so it’s not an entirely “new” OST. The epic action music in particular was done better this time. Where she doesn’t stand out in background music Kanno definitely makes up for with the new opening “Rise,” once again sung by the lovely Origa. “Rise” is the epitome of cyber punk trance dubstep, a song that hypes itself up with its intense beat, ascending chord progressions, and deep lyrics. Exhilarating stuff!

Since the characters remain largely underdeveloped in terms of background info, many just watch the show for its intriguing story, to which I point you toward the 3-hour (eek) recap film titled Individual Eleven that hones its focus solely on the core case from beginning to end. It is a recap, however, so all of your favorite one-off episodes are not present, and a lot of cool detours were cut, such as a fatal mission flaw by the Major that made my heart skip a beat. I give the same caution that I dished out last time, though—Individual Eleven features an entirely different English voice cast. While the wonderful Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Crispin Freeman, and now John Snyder should never have been replaced as Motoko, Togusa, and Gouda, respectively, the new cast largely remains serviceable.

United We Stand – The Individual VS Society

Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG continues as a more light-hearted cop-chase approach to the original 1995 film, and by this I mean that it is less about self-reflection and more geared towards the interactions people share with others. It’s also no laughing matter, either, presenting the sadness of war, and that in the near future warfare is still terrifying and tragic. 2nd GIG resumes its heavy, confusing political drama, but its new emphasis on securing a cyber body through the black market is neatly explored with greater depth, ironically “fleshing” out the world.

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The sequel to the beloved Stand Alone Complex is a successful piece of science fiction and sociological analysis. It’s a series rooted in the effects of technology on people, be it the goods, bads, or really bads. Sharpening its linear storytelling and enhancing its setting and character designs, one really shouldn’t stop at the first season—continue to uncover the fate of Section 9 as the original story intended!

“The refugees have given me countless names. I joined forces with them with the intent to save them. But maybe the real reason I united with them was to keep the loneliness at bay.” – Kuze

Final Assessment:

+ Story told sequentially with with focused, linear direction

+ New character designs are more appealing; Major’s new look

+ Production I.G upped their game again!

+ Both Gouda and Kuze are excellent characters

+ Explores the pillars of social order through a cool story; the war on terror continues

– Section 9 members STILL don’t get the backstory treatment they deserve

– Recap film English dub remains pestering

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GitS S.A.C. 2nd GIG also deserves its “Cake” title (4/5), a must-watch if you’ve already started the first! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Thankfully the action weighs well against the political banter. What did you think of the Individual Eleven story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Still lookin’ fresh, Batou and Major

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No Man Laughs Alone in Ghost S.A.C. | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode fall 2002 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and its recap 2005 film “The Laughing Man,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.


City of Steel, Bodies of Iron

It’s 2032, the cyberization age. Because most brains are now encased in a metal mold, people can access the net just by thinking and slide into mechanical bodies through a connecting cable alone. Walk along the streets and one would find fleshlings, cyborgs, and robots alike coexisting as if it were commonplace. The power of the net has virtually blurred the lines between the physical and the digital, which can breed both terrific convenience and terrifying crime. Completely ineffective in halting cyber crime, as it typically is, the government has hired Security Division Section 9, a group of ruffians specialized in taking down hackers and terrorists alike.

Led by their Chief Daisuke Aramaki and Major Motoko Kusanagi, this small squad rules the shadows and grungy back alleys in an effort to clean up the city. When a great super hacker dubbed the “Laughing Man” rears his head once again after 5 quiet years, however, the Major and her troop face what could be their greatest social threat yet. Unlike their most recent cases, this one proves to be not as simple as SHOOT + LOAD + REPEAT, but rather an intense chasing game of CTRL + ALT + DELETE.

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The iconic franchise and its much-loved figurehead return to the streets after a silent 7 years since the groundbreaking film’s worldwide release in 1995. While it’s neat to see the title reinvented into a series, I found all of the GitS films, recap or not, to be far superior to the series. Before I go further into the franchise, let’s evaluate Stand Alone Complex and weigh its own merits.

It’s Not like the Movie, and that’s Perfectly Fine

This pun has already been pitched a million times, but to aptly put things, many of the episodes of Stand Alone Complex are, well, stand-alone. These episodes all tackle the lives of individuals of all all social classes, and how they interact with society and the Section 9 crew. The true underlying story is only tossed here and there as hints before the grand finale. Unlike the 1995 classic, which honed in on the psychological balance between human and cyborg, both of the GitS series challenge society instead, providing much sociological questioning such as “how much can people be “cyberized” before it’s no longer a human society,” or “whether the net truly brings people together or tears us apart.” Because it was less egocentrically based, I found myself less prone to self-discovery, but more open to social understanding. It’s a bit of a letdown at first, especially since the Major’s self-reflection is what sold me to begin with.

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Where the plot may stumble and confuse, the characters provide entertaining banter and motivation. Being a more light-hearted approach to the franchise much like the original manga was, it’s appropriate to chuckle here and there at the strong man Batou’s unfortunate misdemeanors around the still-intelligent Major, or admire the human normie Togusa’s total dad bod. The presence of the cute Tachikomas, blue insect-shaped and car-sized robot AI, helped to not only alleviate unnecessary government actions that frustrated me, but also provide that quintessential self-pondering of being a robot vs a lifeform similar to what the Major dealt with in 1995. They’re annoying at times, but they remind us as to the joys of feeling alive.

A Stunning Sci-Fi Story and World

People watch this show for the genuine Section 9 crew and for high-paced, explosive combat layered with a complicated cop show setup. For its 2002 release, SAC has aged remarkably, providing some of the most engaging sci-fi action that rivals today’s anime fights. What ultimately brought it all together was the world itself, though. The towering skyscrapers and low, wrap-around market places give off a bustling effect to Newport City. The occasional gray sky and drizzly weather is almost enough to take one back to 1995, and the traffic—my goodness, all the road traffic! What a headache! Watching the characters drive from location to location allows Production I.G prove that they are the masters of anime architecture. The complex interwoven highways and cars almost act as a mirror of society itself, in that we’re ultimately all just a small part of the great flow.

Story-wise, it’s quite complicated, honestly. I held off on any Ghost in the Shell until I was older simply because I felt I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it fully without encompassing a greater intellect. (I’m still no genius, though.) To assume one has to be smart to enjoy this series isn’t true at all, but when it came to all of the political nonsense between government officials and sketchy deals, it is a lot to consume, I’ll admit.

Much of this can be negated, however, if a person checks out the 3-hour (yikes) recap film that reorganizes the Laughing Man snippets that are littered throughout all 26 episodes and places them into a more logical, sequential order. The [sadly] very few valuable backstory spotlights of Section 9 members are lost, but if one’s just in it for the core story, then this recap film satisfies immensely. The only caution I can give is to those who prefer English dubs; The Laughing Man features an entirely different vocal cast from the series, and while it is utterly DISAPPOINTING to hear brilliant actors Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Crispin Freeman replaced as Motoko and Togusa, this other cast doesn’t do a bad job. Nope, not at all, and these are very large shoes to fill.

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While everyone praises Yoko Kanno for her sheer masterpieces of music, Stand Alone Complex is not her most memorable work for me. She keeps with the flow of light dialogue and adrenaline-filled action, balancing the two just fine, but I can’t recall any specific tracks besides the opening, “Inner Universe,” sung by the late Origa, a piece of music that perfectly captures the ENTIRE franchise. Its haunting yet entrancing beginning put me in full-dive mode every time. It’ll live on with the likes of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” as anime’s bests, and rightfully so.

Let Me Walk Away Laughing

It’s no surprise that SAC is different than 1995: different directors, production date, arcs adapted, character introductions and routes taken, etc. What hasn’t changed is the same powerful studio behind the project and the unwavering calculations of the Major. Ghost in the Shell is a franchise that explores possibility through the unification of humans and technology. It also shows us the worst case scenario—its abuse, and how that turns people off from all things cyber entirely. SAC‘s first season is a little hard to understand thanks to its divided attentions, but so long as you trust in the Major’s new face and follow your ghost, you may walk away having thought of something new, and that’s what sci-fi is all about.

Batou: Nowadays . . . people entrust their memories to external devices because they want to set down solid physical proof that can distinguish them as unique individuals . . .

Motoko: A watch and weight training gear, both of us have clung to useless scraps of memory, haven’t we?

Final Assessment:

+ This incarnation of the Major can be just as meaningful so long as you have an open mind

+ Emphasizes that Production I.G is king of city architecture and sci-fi worlds

+ Works in sociological approach that defines the franchise today

+ That opening combined with all the fluid combat gets the blood pumping

– Such a lovable cast deserves greater backstories

– Overarching story is hard to follow, but recap movie helps

– Missing out on series dub in recap film


Stand Alone Complex is welcomed at the cafe as a “Cake” title (4/5), one too sweet to miss out on if you have the time! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Sometimes the intermixed action sequences were the only bits that helped me stay awake! SAC has been around for YEARS now, so what do you make of the series? Did you enjoy the Laughing Man story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Batou, his Tachikoma, and Major. Stay fresh, Section 9.

Cowboy Bebop, A Journey of the Blues

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 26-episode spring 1998 anime “Cowboy Bebop,” produced by Sunrise, based on the original story by Shinichiro Watanabe.

Come 2071, planet Earth is not the only home for humans. Most of the solar system has been colonized leaving a densely polluted Earth left behind. With a series of space gates that facilitate quick n’ easy cosmic travel, criminals cower to the deepest corners of space while mafias run rampant in the back alleys of distant planets. The Inter Solar System Police can only extend its justice so far, and as a result outlaw bounty hunters AKA “Cowboys” are deployed to muddy their hands with a huge cash reward dangling in front of their noses.

For cowboys Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, a single woolong (a dumb penny) is enough elicit risking their lives in chasing bounties and hauling dinner. Born as men for the good of the cause, life aboard the Bebop goes south when the ship recruits three new members that will eventually detour its steady course: Ein, the last purebred Welsh Corgi; Faye Valentine, a formidable and seductive cowgirl in her own right, yet currently searching for her elusive past; and Ed, a bizarre lil’ fella’ who knows how to use a computer quite well . . . scary well, actually.

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As the eccentric crew aboard the Bebop get themselves into all sorts of mayhem, we gradually uncover the shady events that brought them all together.

There are two reasons Cowboy Bebop has withstood the test of time. One is that the animation by Sunrise is stunning and artistic, encompassing more meaningful symbolism and well-choreographed action scenes in the first episode alone than what I’ve seen in entire shows as of late! Two is the fact that its episodic rhythm followed up with its smooth flow of fragmented “memories” detailing the characters’ bygone lives is more than well-written. It’s brilliant, mostly because it doesn’t feel artificial; by the halfway point, we feel the passionate weight these characters are dragging with them, and how their past influences their present choices. Though the story doesn’t get kickin’ until episode five, the action-packed opening episodes are an amusing gateway to the show’s darker themes.

Bebop is not, however, a mind-blowing series of bleak revelations, but a journey cram packed with themes that jive with the soul. It is much more light-hearted, with enough emotional weight to rub the heart in a melancholic way—much like warm chicken soup or a deep blues tune would do—yet not enough turn off the viewer. You can feel this impact with the leads themselves, the subtle placing of the classic jazz-inspired episode titles, or the bluesy soundtrack masterfully composed by Yoko Kanno. All three work together to provoke sorrow, joy, regret, reminiscence, and wonder, in a futuristic world driven by detached hearts and jazz music.

Bebop‘s ending, which perfectly captures the nature of the show.

Most of the light-hearted nature of Bebop comes from the goofy or sassy interactions shared among the crew. Spike (dubbed “Cabbage Head” by my sister) is a way-too-lax and easily irritable man with a particularly complex history that frequently bumps heads with the present. His roots to the mafia come back to haunt him (like the mafia typically does), and his development is found in the monumental decisions he’ll be forced to make regarding the safety of the crew—and that of his own life.

Jet is an ex-cop now bounty hunter. ‘Nuff said. If Spike is the ill-tempered dad who always leaves the house for personal biz, then Jet is that mom who A) won’t tolerate your shit, and B) will cook dinner each night if YOU buy the ingredients. Rough around the edges, yet the one with the biggest heart, Jet serves the plot by being restrictor of reckless actions, even though he occasionally loses his temper. He holds Spike and Faye back from doing stupid stuff that could get them all killed, and as such plays a necessary role for this ragtag crew.

Lastly are the two sisters, one a troublesome teenager, the other a weird child. They are the tough-on-the-outside/terrible gambler Faye and the noodly Edward, and are mainly aboard to service the fans (Faye brings the sexy, Ed brings the laughs). While Faye will go on to have a much darker, richer past, Ed is pretty much there for the ride. The two share one thing in common, however, that being this common question burning the at back of their brains: “Why am I here, and where am I going?” It’s a romantic notion of growing up and dealing with acceptance. And that’s why they both work so well in Bebop—it’s the story of finding your place in this huge, cruel world.

Watching Cowboy Bebop is equivalent to revisiting an old website that you used to frequent back in the day, yet haven’t seen in ages. Does it feel nostalgic? Euphoric? A bit melancholic? Perhaps a bit of all three, but one theme Bebop enjoys feeding us is that internet is more than a tool—it can be a place for some, putting literal meaning to ‘home’ page. For me, this online café has given me a place to chat with and meet new friends. For the characters in the anime, the web is a place for an old man to play one last game of chess before giving his last breath, or for a disabled kid to vent his faith by becoming a God himself. It sounds a bit odd, but seriously, how much does the internet mean to you?

You should watch Cowboy Bebop because, in one way or another, it’s the story of our lives. Everything that challenges the Bebop crew and everyone they meet along the way represent a fragment of our deepest worries and regrets. Should you merely enjoy this anime for the comedy, then hey, that’s awesome, it’s got a lot of funny moments! But Bebop sure does have this genuine way of letting you know you’ve reached the end when it comes. With all of the interlaced light-hearted moments, it’s as if the show is reminding us that “Nope, sorry, this wasn’t the show you signed up for—and you know that.” Instead, you’re probably like myself and most Bebop fans, in that once it’s over, you’ll find yourself detached from the solar system, solemnly jiving to The Real Folk Blues.

“Life will challenge you to do things . . . sometimes, you just have to let go!” – Spike Spiegel

However you watch this anime, here’s advice straight from the Host: DO NOT string your viewings out for THREE months! It’s terrible! I endured this journey with my family, and being like all families, it’s hard to squeeze in quality movie time. But we did it, and now who knows what we’ll watch together, if anything. Rated a “Caffe Mocha” here, did you enjoy my review of this classically-acclaimed space western? Also, what’s your favorite aspect of Cowboy Bebop? Should it have lasted longer? I barely scraped the surface to avoid spoilers, but let’s talk about it in the comments! Thanks for reading and until next time, SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY . . .

– Takuto, your host