Synopsis: The year is 2032, and Public Security Section 9, Japan's elite anti-terrorism and anti-crime unit, is back up and running after the tumultuous events of the laughing man saga. As the political atmosphere continues to change, Major Motoko Kusanagi and Chief Daisuke Aramaki continue to do what they do best: keep the peace. A new threat known only as the "Individual Eleven" has emerged. Their intentions are unknown and their tactics bizarre. As Section 9 investigates, Major Kusanagi is confronted with her own past as once again an ominous tide threatens the stability of the current political landscape and very existence of Section 9.
Review: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is the second Ghost in the Shell TV series, based on the original manga created by Masamune Shirow. Despite being a sequel, 2nd gig remains an exhilarating and thought-provoking experience. With an even more intricate plot, a larger cast of characters, exciting action sequences, and intelligent dialogue, 2nd Gig is an impressive achievement despite being slightly more difficult to approach than the first series.
Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig continues the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi and Public Security Section 9, focusing on their investigation of a criminal/political organization known as the "Individual Eleven." Despite the existence of an overarching storyline involving this new terrorist group, the show's plot structure remains episodic (see Miscellanies below). The main storyline is also built up quite gradually as we get small pieces of it scattered amongst the earlier episodes, with the momentum increasing significantly as we approach the latter episodes. Almost all of the main characters from the first series remain so we still get to see plenty of the strict but sassy Major Kusanagi, the smart and sentimental Togusa, the witty yet impulsive Batou, and the always serious and always brilliant Chief Aramaki. But along with the new storyline come new characters. First there's Yoko Kayabuki, the first female prime minister in Japan, who is slightly insecure in her position yet has full confidence in Aramaki and his team. Then there's Kazunda Gouda, who is not only the head of the Cabinet Intelligence Service but eventually becomes a major antagonist as the series progresses. Finally we meet Hideo Kuze, the supposed "leader" of the individual eleven who is revealed to have some sort of relation to the Major's past. In fact, as a whole, 2nd Gig is a far more complex tale than its predecessor, weaving many seemingly unrelated tales into a single fabric of political intrigue and philosophical exploration.
It may be important to point out that while it is a sequel, it would not be quite right to call 2nd Gig the second "season" of Stand Alone Complex since as the name suggests, this series stands on its own and doesn't rely on the events of the first series. In fact, watching the first series is not mandatory at all since the 2nd tells a completely new story. However it does provide additional insight into the characters and their various relationships with each other.
From a technical perspective, Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is an impressive achievement, combining state of the art animation with a superb sound track and excellent voice acting. The production values are indeed even better than the first series, and once again help to make Masamune's vision of the near future come alive with its dazzling cityscapes, detailed character designs and fluidly animated action sequences. The detailed background art, a trademark of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, is very much evident here and one of the most notable aspects of the show's striking visuals. The remarkable fidelity of the visuals is especially evident in the HD version (broadcast on Japanese digital cable), but the DVD transfer is excellent as well. The sound design, while not particularly creative is more than competent and sounds great whether it's the Dolby Digital or DTS version. Speaking of sound, the original voice actors for the first series return to reprise their roles and as a result we're treated to some of the best voice acting around, whether it's the original Japanese track or the excellent English dub track. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Major Kusanagi) and Crispin Freeman (Tougusa) once again deliver some standout performances. Finally, Yoko Kanno, yet again, has created an immersive soundtrack including background music that enhances nearly every scene and beautiful theme songs like "Rise" (sung by Origa) and "Christmas in the Silent Forest" (sung by Shanti Snyder).
2nd Gig expands upon some of the philosophical themes of the first series such as the meaning of individuality and humanity, but also introduces some of its own themes including ethics, social unrest and political greed. The tachikomas, which are artificial intelligences that do not have human minds (i.e. ghosts"), continue to strive to become human. The individual members of the "Individual Eleven" all believe they are acting on their own without being influenced by others or by the stand alone phenomena, bringing into question again the meaning of individualism in a society where cyberbrains are connected to each other. Gouda, in his lust for power seeks to use the social unrest created by Japan's tense refugee situation for his own political gain. Finally we see people struggle to hold on to their individual identity in a world where cybernetics can completely replace a natural human body.
Yet despite the fact that I felt more impressed overall by Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig than the first series, I couldn't help but feel that the first series is more enjoyable and more charming. One of the reasons for this is that it's more difficult to get attached to many of the characters. Indeed, 2nd Gig is even more plot driven than the first series and character development suffers at times. As a result, characters simply feel more distant this time around. Another reason is that the storyline itself seems too complicated for its own good. Instead of classic cyberpunk, the story this time is far more political. I found myself somewhat confused on more than one occasion and had to re-watch a few episodes multiple times before the meaning became clear. Moreover, the plot seems to be less focused, with perhaps too much attention put on the various subplots and "stand alone episodes" which contribute little if any to the main storyline. Along with this comes the inconsistency in episode quality. Even in a series with an episodic storytelling style, certain episodes just feel poorly paced or out of place and to be honest, there are a few episodes that I felt simply had no business being there at all. (In fact there is one episode that's so bad that it was, wisely, omitted during the high-definition broadcast) The end result of all these issues is simpler than you would imagine: the show just isn't as fun to watch.
Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig is a worthwhile anime for anyone's collection. While it's not as fun as its predecessor this is still sci-fi/postcyberpunk storytelling at its best. As long as you're willing to make the commitment and wade through the complicated politics, the rewards are still quite satisfying.
Miscellanies: The series has three designations to describe each type of episode: IN, DI, and DU. IN stands for Individual, DI stands for Dividual, and DU stands for Dual. The Individual episodes are related to the main storyline (relating to the Individual Eleven), the Dividual episodes are Stand Alone episodes not strongly related to the main storyline, and the Dual episodes are related to the subplot dealing with Cabinet Intelligence Service head, Gouda.
The North American DVD release of Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig was handled by a joint venture between Bandai Entertainment and Manga Entertainment and and was released in 7 volumes. There are also two versions of each volume: a standard version with a single disc containing English and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, and a special edition version, each of which comes in a metal tin and with an additional disc containing English and Japanese DTS mixes as well as additional extras such as series soundtracks.
A sequel movie to 2nd Gig was released called Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society.