Ghost in the Shell: Laughing Man
a semi-weekly column by Todd Douglass, Don Houston, John Sinnott, and Wen-Tsai
Now that the dust has settle from the Geneon fiasco fans everywhere are looking to the future and hoping that some of their shows get picked up. For right now though I'm sure many of you are scurrying around retail stores and the web trying to get your hands on some remaining volumes before they go extinct. Good luck, God speed, and know that you're not alone.
Fortunately many other things are happening in the anime world and the otaku train keeps on rolling. We tackle shows like This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, Basilisk, Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and My-Zhime – My-Otome. Not to mention the fact that films such as Tekkonkinkreet and the Inuyasha collection have been released. These are interesting times we live in and as the Geneon supplies begin to dwindle rest assured your buddy WTK will be around to help you out!
While the first two volumes of Gakuen Heaven were pretty bland, the episodes presented in the third volume are a little bit more interesting. The series could be on an upswing. The three installments on this disc are all connected and wrap up the problem of the Vice Chairman of the school's board trying to get Ito kicked out of the academy. While there's no nail biting suspense or taught drama, the shows are enjoyable to watch and definitely have their moments.
Tokyopop has licensed FUNimation to repackage and distribute some of their older series. This is a great idea as the shows are getting much better distribution on store shelves and these new sets are priced much more competitively. The latest Tokyopop/FUNimation release is GTO - Great Teacher Onizuka, a series about a former gang member who is now determined to become the greatest teacher in Japan. This is a really fun show that is easy to get lost in. Onizuka is crass, not very smart, and has a very unconventional style but its hard not to root for the guy. This set contains the first half of the series and the content is identical to the original Viz volumes.
With the animated film Tekkonkinkreet director Michael Arias became the first Westerner to create an anime feature film. Born in the US but living in Japan, Arias has an impeccable pedigree. He worked with the anime legend Hayao Miyazaki on the seminal Princess Mononoke and contributed work to The Animatrix project. For his first animated feature, he chose to adapt Taiyo Matsumoto's manga Black and White (serialized in the US in the late, lamented, magazine Pulp.) This film is a visual feast with intricately detailed backgrounds that would make wonderful paintings. Unfortunately the adaptation fails on several marks and even the endearing animation style isn't enough to overcome the problems with the script. With multiple unrealistic cliffhangers, superfluous characters, and a weird metaphysical ending, this isn't a film that will convert any mainstream viewers into otaku.
While the introductory volume of The Third was great, with the second disc the series starts to slide a bit; a victim of the dreaded sophomore slump. Two of the main characters are written out of the show (for now) without any fanfare, and the show seems to be having trouble finding the story it wants to tell. Even so, the individual episodes are still fun and the series has a lot of promise. Many shows are able to pick themselves up after a weak second volume, and here's hoping The Third can do it too.
Speaking of the sophomore slump, the second volume of My-Zhime - My-Otome has been released and it manages to avoid that pitfall that afflicts many anime titles. This volume is just as fun and exciting as the first, and it also develops the plot nicely. This time around Arika finds out that she might get expelled before she even starts classes when one of her uniforms turns up for sale in a shop, and the girl gets in even deeper trouble when she explores a hidden passage with the princess. A solid program that shows no signs of slowing down.
Originally released over three volumes in 2006, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World has been repackaged and re-released in compact thinpack boxed set. When it was first put out, there wasn't a huge fan reaction to the show and DVDTalk reviewer Todd Douglass Jr. looked at the first volume and was under-whelmed. After seeing the program, it's easy to see why. This show is something that we've all seen before. With flat characters, a predictable story, and very slow pace, this 12 episode series isn't anything special. While it wasn't painful to watch, at the end of this series the reaction is pretty much "Okay, that was a waste of time." There are only 12 episodes, yet the plot moves along at a glacial pace and the show has a lot of filler. They could have whittled this series down to just 4 episodes and very little of substance would have been left out. While the animation is very good, that's not enough to save the show. If you're curious, rent it.
What can you say about Super Robot Wars? It's a three episode OVA that is based on a long running series of video games. Games that haven't been released in the US for the most part. Okay, so it's hard to get excited about such a show, but this one even failed to live up to the most meager of expectations. Watching the anime, it feels like you've been plopped down in the middle of a long series with no explanation of what's going on or who is who. What's going on? Why should anyone care? The images are pretty, but that's not enough to make up for the other flaws. Added to that is the outrageous price ($49.99 MSRP for three ½ hour shows) and lousy picture quality. Just skip this one.
ADV's latest series, Air TV, had quite a following prior to its release here in the States. So many people were excited about this sometimes bizarre yet highly entertaining program. After sitting down for the second volume I can certainly see why, though there are a few nagging points that have kept it from blowing me away. For starters the series focuses almost entirely on developing its characters and world. This doesn't give the plot the time it needs to get going and because of that the pacing feels very off. I find this show intriguing, entertaining, and captivating, but at the same point I feel like I am being jerked around and toyed with. So far it has been a decent show and I certainly hope the coming volumes will capitalize on the development.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a great show; I'm not going to beat around the bush. This series encapsulates just about everything I look for in a show and it seems as though I'm not the only one who feels that way. This anime features intelligent writing, hilarious situations, over the top humor, fan service, action, and fantastic voice acting. These characters will work their way into your mind even when you're not watching and you'll be humming the theme song all day if you're not careful. Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch this show!
Do you like Inuyasha? If you answered yes then chances are very good you have already seen some of the films already. However, if you're a late Inuyasha bloomer or simply never got around to watching them VIZ has packaged all four features into one boxed set. Each picture takes some liberal use of the franchise and even ventures beyond the television series, much like the Tenchi films have done. The four movies range in quality and it's hard to deny the fact that they are basically extended episodes when you get right down to it. Still, more Inuyasha is a good thing in my opinion and that makes this set worth checking out.
Ah, violence and ninjas seem to go hand in hand, don't they? In case you missed it FUNimation released a little show last year called Basilisk and it sought to dethrone Ninja Scroll in the kick-ass ninja genre. In many ways it succeeded with two warring ninja clans that featured warriors with strange and deadly abilities. Caught in between are two leaders in love with each other which gives the series some strong Romeo and Juliet undertones. If you can stomach the cheesy lovefest you'll find a bloody affair that never really lets up.
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by John Sinnott
Both seasons of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex are excellent works and they easily rate on my Top Ten Anime Series of All Time list (as well as DVDTalk's top ten anime lists for the years (2004, 2005) that they were released.) Deeply plotted, excellently animated and with likeable characters who change and evolve over the course of the show, the show is a high mark in anime that has garnered both popular and critical acclaim. With anything popular though, there's the lure of making a quick buck by putting out a lot of product. The producers at Production I.G. haven't been able to totally resist that either. First they put out the solid but outrageously expensive Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex Official Log DVD/Guide Book, and now they've released Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - The Laughing Man, a direct-to-video movie. This feature condenses the Laughing Man story arc that ran through the first season of the show down to 2 ½ hours. Helmed by series director Kenji Kamiyama, this is a very good edit of the story, though it still isn't as engaging as the entire series.
In the not too distant future, most humans are augmented by cybernetic implants. These implants make people faster, stronger, and more powerful. No longer do you have to spend excruciating hours in the gym to get the perfect body, you can just order one. Crime is still prevalent in this future society, and the criminals are now much more powerful. In order to combat these criminals, a special division of the police, Section 9 has been created. Manned with state of the art cybernetically enhanced officers Section 9 handles the cases that no one else is equipped to.
Section 9 has their work cut out for them too. The Laughing Man has shown up again after a six year hiatus. He is an amazing hacker, with the ability to hack into people's cyber implants and literally alter what they see. He can commit crimes in crowded places and no one can identify him afterwards, as he did when he first emerged six years ago. When The Laughing Man threatens the Superintendent-General, Section 9 takes the threat seriously and opens up their own investigation into the criminal. They spend a lot of time sifting through the mountains of data and interviewing suspects about this mysterious villain, and they think they have tracked him down. But with someone as skillful at gaining access to computer systems as The Laughing Man, can the police even be assured that the records they are accessing are accurate?
Made up from the original series with a few extra lines of dialog sprinkled through to link the scenes, this movie does a great job of telling the Laughing Man story. Though some things have been left out naturally, the plot still retains its multilayered quality and it's quite a fun ride. There's action, intrigue, and most of all a lot of mystery. Since the animation was directly lifted from original series, this movie looks just as impressive as the show.
The bad thing is that this edit leaves out just about all of the 'stand alone' episodes that gave the series its heart. Those installments also had a lot of character development and while the movie doesn't ignore that aspect of the series, there just isn't enough time to cover everything. Some of those 'stand alone' episodes were among the best the show had to offer, such as the time that Batou is assigned to see if a boxer he idolizes is really behind a string of cyber thefts.
Even though it is condensed, this isn't nearly as bad as it could have
been. If this movie had come out first and then the series expanded
upon it, I would have been really pleased with this disc. As it is,
the fact that it's a glorified clip show make it seem like a step in the
The viewer has the choice of viewing this program with either an English dub (a 5.1 DTS mix and DD 2.0 track) or in the original Japanese (DD 5.1 and 2.0.) There is good use of the full sound stage on the 5.1 tracks, giving the show a very encompassing feeling. Music and incidental effects come from all angles surrounding the viewer, but these never become overpowering. There isn=t a trace of hiss or distortion, and everything is very clear and crisp. I viewed the show in both English and Japanese, and I had a preference for the original language, but the English dub sounded great as well, with the voice talent doing a good job. There are optional full English subtitles or just subtitles for the signs and song lyrics.
While the audio sounds great, there is a problem. For some odd reason the original English dub cast didn't return for this movie. For those who listened to the English dub of the TV series this is pretty jarring. While some of the voices are similar, like the Major's, others don't sound anything like the original English cast member. Batou's voice is particularly grating when compared to the original.
Like the TV series, the video on this movie is stellar. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video was encoded from a high definition master and is just about flawless. The colors were excellent, blending gracefully from shade to shade without any signs of banding or aliasing. The picture was sharp and the definition was first-rate. This is a great looking show.
The entire second disc is given over to extras, but there wasn't much there. The featurette, Stand Alone Complex Archive, is a 30 minute interview with director (of both the movie and show that it was created from) Kenji Kamiyama by Atsuko Tanaka who voiced Motoko Kusanagi. He talks about how he condensed the show, the writing of the original series and even the Tachikomas. Speaking of the little tanks, there's also a Tachikoma-narrated section in this featurette on how the original series was scripted and created.
The only other items on this second disc are a series of trailers and an episode of Tachikomatic Days where the lil guys try their hand at ADR recording.
This is a really good movie. The only problem is that the series is better. It's richer and there's more character development. I'm not really sure who this is aimed at either. Fans of the show already know the story, and people who weren't interested in the highly touted series are unlikely to pick this up. It seems like a cheap way to cash in on the series success. The fact that there are very few extras on this two disc set only reinforces that belief. If you've seen the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex there's no reason to watch this. If you haven't, go out and get the series. I guess this would be good for someone who wants to see what all the fuss is about, but doesn't want to spend the time watching all 26 episodes. If you fit into that category this would make a good rental.
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