Last year we got two anthological multi-authorial Ghost In The Shell volumes (Ghost In The Shell Comic Tribute and Ghost In The Shell: Global Neural Network, each with many artists and writer tributing the Masamune Shirow’s manga in their own way.
Now we finally got a new anime series, Stand Alone Complex 2045, streaming exclusively on Netflix, with the first season being available from the 23th of April, and the second one planned but with no certain release window, though it will arrive for sure, not just because it’s confirmed, but because the original Stand Alone Complex series had 2 seasons as well, and this is set-up as a continuation of sorts.
In the meantime, let’s look at the first season, directed by Kenji Kamiyama (Shinji Aramaki is set to direct the second season).
While it’s billed and souns like a continuation of the Stand Alone Complex continuity, i honestly wasn’t too sure, since some details (which i’m not gonna describe due to potential spoilers for the old series) don’t seem to add up totally, especially on the geopolitics, but then again the geopolitical map of GITS SAC is complex and i didn’t watch the series in years, so i might be totally wrong, and there are no big continuity errors. Yeah, i wasn’t sure at first it even this somehow was set as it’s own thing (like most iterations/adaptations of Ghost In The Shell are), but then it heavily relies on you knowing these people already.
You can follow the series regardless and understand it well, but even more due to his short runtime, this first season just kinda requires you to be already familiar with GITS in some form to be enjoyed at the max. For example, you really wouldn’t know what the hell is the deal with the really big fella, or you may just not know it’s called Borma, they say it’s name like once in this season, let alone know what is its specialty (he’s a bomb disposal expert). So yeah, watch Stand Alone Complex first if you didn’t already.
As for the story, it’s set in the year 2045, with the global economy wounded by an event known as the Simultaneous Global Default, which destroyed the value of any paper or electronic currency, and the G4 nations opted to engage in a state of never-ending “sustainable wars”, in order to keep the economy going, fully adopting and normalizing (even more than before) war as in industry.
The special police unit of the japanese goverment, known as Section 9, has been disbanded long ago, and most of the members (including Motoko Kusanagi, Batou and Ishikawa) went to work as contractors for PMCs, mercenaries tasked to defuse hot situations with their incredible expertise, experience and cybernetic enhancements. But with the rise of the so called “post-human” individuals, and a conspiracy by the American goverment looming on them, the group is forced to reunite, and the Public Security Section 9 is reformed.
STAND ALONE COMPLEX
Compared to the original SAC series, the narrative revolves less about episodic cases that Section 9 has to solve, undo, etc. with maximum secrecy, but it’s mostly about reforming Section 9, figuring out how to track and combat these new “post humans”, while there are secret political stakes and plans to basically leverage the newly refonded Section 9 (who is aware of this)) to do America’s work and basically help them getting leverage in these new “sustainable wars” handled by IA.
Having the previous directors of GITS series and other Shirow’s adaptations helps to avoid the biggest writing pitfall one could expect, the fear of this being just a re-heated SAC replica, of the writers trying to recapture that tone and quality by basically re-using the Laughing Man and Eleven Individuals storylines, or basically to commit the same errors Arise did, by trying to find a balance between a Motoko Kusanagi like she is in the manga, like she is in the SAC series, AND trying to do an origins story for her, which isn’t that important to GITS to begin with, and was already done better in SAC itself.
SAC 2045 understands this and just feels right, like a proper continuation without a lazy retreading the “best hits album” of the old series, with the same tone and approach to classic sci-fi themes of post-humanism, freedom in a technologically pervasive society, the systematic dependence on the military-industrial complex to balance economies, and all that good“cyberpunk jazz”. It has that good balance between the sometimes care-free approach to issues like child labour seen in the original manga, and the mournful, moody, but also highly phylosophical approach seen in Oshii’s adaptations.
Also, it was a good choice to have both Kenji Maruyama, who previously curated the original Stand Alone Complex series (and the Solid State Society movie that capped it off), and Shinji Aramaki, who directed many movie adaptation of the other beloved Shirow Masamune’s manga series, Appleseed, and so had definitely more experience with directing anime movies made or heavily reliant on CG.
Which inevitably bring us to the animation.
3D CG REALITY
Animation is handled by Production I.G. and Sola Digital Arts, who worked on the recent Ultraman series for Netflix (they even had a promo with Ultraman and Motoko Kusanagi since they debuted on the streaming giant at the same time), full lenght Starship Troopers movies, and Appleseed Alpha. And honestly it’s not a bad decision at all, quite the opposite, it’s not studio Orange, but then again, it’s not Polygon Pictures.
To be honest, this is the best 3D CG i’ve seen yet, it doesn’t feel robotic, the action scenes (1 vs 1 fights, chases, etc.) are well directed and never feel stiff or hampered by the style of animation, the art direction is good (even if there are some weird ass choices), good character designs, and very good production values, like one would expect. But yes, i understand why this style puts off many viewers, especially ignorant fans who already decided not to watch this only due to the 3D CG.
On the other hand, it would be as bad to dismiss any criticism, because there is still a “plasticy” quality to this style, and while now the standards for 3D CG are finally good to not be a total deal breaker (see Dorohedoro and Beastars), to evoke the evil spectre of Berserk 2017, there is still more than enough room to improve, and to finally make people don’t care if it’s in 3D CG or not. Also, it’s somewhat ironic (and fitting) for a Ghost In The Shell anime to have issues trying to catch up with technology, despite being born in “the sea of data” and connected as possible.
My main gripe with SAC 2045 is not so much the graphical style, but the lenght.
And it’s not just because i always want more Ghost In The Shell material, but because there’s a lot on the plate that doesn’t get fully explained or satisfyingly explored, like the geopolitics, how exactly can this “sustainable war” system exist and what it entangles that makes it different from warfare that was already an industry in anything but name, since it also has P.M.C.s, etc. In this first season you don’t really get that because there’s barely time to tackle the events leading and motivating the resurrection of Section 9, the new “post-human” menace, introducing the new characters and having time to furtherize characterize old and new members of group.
It’s a pretty packed 12 episodes season, and it doesn’t feel underdeveloped, but even if you already know these characters from their Stand Alone Complex iterations (or other Ghost In The Shell adaptations), it just feels like there should have been some more episodes, especially those made to develop characters, to see how they operate outside of their military enviroment, the bank heist episode that’s in this season is great, for example, a perfect mix of comedy, heavy drama, technological and economical trickery, and it helped reinstate Batou as a really gentle, good hearthed giant with bionic eyes.
It’s that great balance that made SAC great, with funny moments usually involving the Tachikomas, but also the range to tackle more dramatic and heavy subjects without a jarring discrepancy, to balance action with more quiet moments and phylosophical implications (like previously mentioned). And the new characters for the Section 9 manage to be both useful and act as comic reliefs, balancing out the otherwise quite serious rest of the group, like the jokey mercenary “Standard” and Purin Ezaki, a ditzy girl tasked to manage the Section 9 and the Tachikomas, quite proficient in gathering information, but also kinda of a stalkerish Batou fan-girl.
Not too fond of the season ending with a cliffhanger, though, i must say. Seems like a cheap compromise, at least as of now, since the older SAC series/seasons actually had a finale. We’ll see if this choice pays off when season 2 arrives, but when my major (pun intended?) complain is that i want more of GITS SAC 2045…..
…..yeah, i’d say it’s pretty good so far.
Recommended, just get over your snobbery of 3D CG as if the technology and style was still like in Kemono Friends. It’s better than Ghost In The Shell: Arise, i’d say.
ADDENDUM (07/05/2020): I’d like to clarify what i said in regards to the 3D CG, because Sola Digital Arts productions had this look for years, and it’s clearly not using the technology like the recent Dorohedoro anime, which strives to emulate and recreate the feel of traditional animation (and manga) with this CG reliant method, while Appleseed Alpha(for example) and SAC 2045 don’t, opting for a digital artstyle to begin with.
There are merits to both approachs, and i stand by what i said, just felt i could have explained myself better.