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Ghost in the Shell Arise: Borders 1 & 2

FUNimation // Unrated // October 28, 2014
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted November 13, 2014 | E-mail the Author


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Ghost in the Shell Arise - Borders 1 and 2 - Blu-ray Review


One of the most successful of all anime franchises
has been
the Ghost in the Shell series. Originally a manga series from
Masamune
Shirow, published by Kodansha, it has been successfully adapted into a
ongoing
anime franchise through powerhouse anime studio Production I.G., who
first
adapted the work into the acclaimed anime film by extraordinaire
filmmaker Mamoru Oshii.


Oshii's film was a breathtaking work of
intellectual science
fiction and won the acclaim of critics and general moviegoers both in
Japan and
throughout the world. The concept was later the basic conceptual design
for
creating a anime television program, which became Ghost in the
Shell: Stand
Alone Complex
(which was directed by Masamune Shirow). While
Production
I.G. advertised the four-part Ghost in the Shell: Arise as
being a
prequel series, it also seems specifically designed for both new and
old
audiences and it feels more like a reboot series. On this release,
viewers will
find the first two episodes of this iteration: Border 1 - Ghost Pain
and
Border 2 - Ghost Whispers, each a standalone OVA of around one
hour in
length. 4 'Borders' are planned in total for this series.


In the first episode of the show, the story picks
up with a murder
which is under investigation following a devastating bombing. The
tangled web
unfolds with a top secret, mysterious group known as '501 Organization'
recruiting
Motoko (voiced in this recast Japanese version by none other than the
amazing
artist Maaya Sakamoto, renowned for both her impeccable music and for
collaborations
with Yoko Kanno - coincidentally, the acclaimed composer of the
previous Ghost
in the Shell
incarnation). Sakamoto is one of the great Japanese
singers.
Her voice is impeccable. And she is absolutely talented as voice actor
as well.
(I was previously quite impressed with her work performing as a voice
actor for
Arakawa Under the Bridge and Trigun: Badlands Rumble).


Motoko is just now coming to terms with having a
cyborg body
and she has to learn how to deal with organizational issues related to
servicing of her cyborg body's maintenance,  as
she is told her
living comes with quite the expense (so she is "requested" to work with
them in return, as she is also known as a mastermind hacker who could
benefit their group).
As the story of the first Border unfolds, she must delve into the
mystery of a
group of ongoing murders and figure out how they connect to the one at
beginning of the episode. Motoko must also find a way to support
herself
through her ties to this organization. She also meets and has to learn
to deal
with Batou (voiced by Matsuda Kenichirou), who in later incarnations
plays a
bigger role than the character does here, but this is ultimately
just a
introduction designed for Border One.


Border 2 follows a similar mystery-themed
plot-line surrounding
a event in which the logicomas become hacked. The episode takes on a
more
cerebral and strange design with Motoko in a state that is otherworldly
and
technological as she must deal with a deranged cyborg with a strangely
fierce
ability to use technology against others. The cyborg comes into
conflict with
her and the Public Security Section 9 must 
find a way to stop the chaos. Motoko is no longer restricted to
the
duties previously required of the 501 Organization. (Though I won't be
spoiling
how that happens.)


While there's no doubt that some of the action
sequences and
visual splendor of the show is the work of great animators and artists,
Ghost
in the Shell: Arise
fails to feel as impeccably made when compared
to past
incarnations. While I never saw every episode of the Stand Alone
Complex

series, I was greatly impressed by what I did see. I am also a fan of
the
brilliant, enormously original, and brainy Mamoru Oshii feature films.
Those are
much more smart, entertaining, and complex works of art than Arise
is.


One element of this series that I especially
appreciated was
the brand new music composed by Cornelius, a artist who is
unquestionably one
of Japan's most technically savvy and creative artists. His music
deftly blends
electronics with a more classical style of composition that is focused
on
specific melodies and rhythmic beats to absorb a listener in his
colorful world
of compositions. To be involved in Ghost in the Shell: Arise is
somehow
fitting (despite some of my issues with the series). Yoko Kanno is one
of the
most brilliant composers working in the film, television, and anime
world to
this day and her music to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
is
some of the best I've ever heard for any anime or film production
(stateside or
in Japan).


The producers of the previous series knew to hire
someone
who had a noteworthy pedigree as an acclaimed and noteworthy musician.
Thus,
Cornelius was brought in to work on this series. If there is any area
where
this collaboration may disappoint, it's found in the unreasonably high
expectations viewer might have for what the music might sound like
after the
brilliant results Kanno delivered again and again for S.A.C.


Cornelius is also less prolific and thereby the
series has
less music per scene than the former series did. This means the show
isn't
constantly having an array of electric tunes. Yet this is certainly no
criticism of Cornelius. As a huge fan of his creative musical energy,
it's
clear he poured forth his stylistic approach into the series whenever
he could
in a compelling way. It makes the scenes that do highlight his score
even more
intense, beautiful, and fun to watch (...and listen) to.


There are a few issues with Arise. First
of all,
prequels tend to have a lot more difficulties in keeping the storyline
feeling
fresh and original. Arise is no different in this regard. And the
storytelling
here was less intelligent than previous incarnations. I found the
writing to
feel somewhat jumbled and almost entirely convoluted. The writing was
just not
as succinct. Everything felt less inspired and the series felt like it
was just
going through the motions. Production merits are strong, though.


The series attempts to make up for its weak
writing
throughout the 'Borders' by utilizing cutting-edge animation that is
beautifully stylish and perfectly fitting for the style
of the show. For some audience members, the  quality
animation throughout each OVA might be
enough to keep them entertained as the hyper action-packed sequences
unfold. If
you can't let go of the illogical and uninspired writing, though, the
entirety
of Arise feels like a cash-in rehash that fails as a reboot or
prequel. The
series even features some atypical product placements. I don't know
about all
viewers would feel on that subject matter, but experiencing Ghost
in the
Shell: The Product Placement Edition
is a concept that certainly
doesn't
pique my interests as much as former incarnations of the Ghost in
the Shell

universe did with their originality, intelligence, and abundant
creativity.  


The Blu-ray:





Video:


Ghost in the Shell:
Arise
finally arrives
on Blu-ray in North America from anime distributor Funimation
Entertainment with
a pleasant 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation that spreads the two
OVA
episodes across two discs (with each disc containing one OVA). It's
generally
quite stellar as a presentation with crisp colors, good line
definition, and
clarity. The show's CG animation and stylistic approach seems
to match the quality found on Ghost
in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
. The
release also contains rather strong bit-rates for each style="font-style: italic;">Border
episode. If there is any
downside to the encodes, it's that there is an occasionally overly
bright
aspect of the animation which seems to help bring out noticeable
banding issues
on occasion. This seems to be inherent in the source animation, though.
Most
viewers should find this a impressive technical presentation which
delivers a
solid HD image.


style="">Please Note: This is a
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release.


Audio:


Funimation presents the show with a
5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio
sound presentation for both the original Japanese language version
(which is
only available via the main menu with subtitled selected) and the newly
produced English dub. I myself preferred watching the series with the
Japanese
audio, but both tracks sounded similar as far as surround design and
dynamics
go. The main difference seems to have been the localization of English
speaking
for the dub and both felt as though they were from the same sound
design. It's
also worth noting that the original Japanese editions (which were
released as
stateside imports at higher prices) also had a Dolby TrueHD audio
presentation so the audio offering should be fairly similar if not
identical.  
Subtitles are presented
in English and are nonremovable when viewing in Japanese.





Extras:


 


Much to my
surprise, Funimation has included more supplements on this release than
an
average anime set. However, the quality of the supplements still leaves
something to be desired as these extras are still somewhat standard.


 


Border
1 - Ghost Pain (Disc One):


 


The best
inclusion
is Ghost in the Shell: Arise at Anime Expo 2013 (21 min.) which
features
two primary elements. The first is with Funimation staff asking
questions to attending
convention-goers about Ghost in the Shell: Arise and their
thoughts on
the franchise. Some of the answers included on this release are
surprising as
it sounded like they did not have enough people who had answered (some
talk
about how they haven't seen the Stand Alone Complex series but are
supposed to
be comparing it to past incarnations), but most of the volunteer
interviewees
who answer questions do so with good spirit and energy.


 


The better part
of
the supplement is when the head producer and creative director
overseeing Ghost
in the Shell: Arise
sat down to be interviewed during the
convention. This
segment is in Japanese with English subtitles. I found this to be far
more
interesting than a typical interview. For starters, viewers will learn
that the
creative director overseeing the production of Arise was
previously the
animation director for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex,
and that
he was surprised to even be offered to direct (he even describes it as
a
'request'). The producer also goes on to say he hopes viewers 'like'
the first
part but that they start to love it during part two. This is so
uncommon and atypical
to most interviews that it made the interview refreshing. Some good
information
is discussed regarding the creation and production of the new series.


 


Logicoma Beat (2
min.) is a short anime skit featuring the fan-favorite robots in a
cutesy-comedy piece.


 


A group of
promotional trailers (including a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer,
and TV
promotional clips) are included. The textless opening (featuring music
by
Cornelius) is also included.


 


Border
2 - Ghost Whispers (Disc Two):


 


The main
inclusion
on this OVA episode is a commentary track featuring members of the
English dub
cast.


 


Logicoma Court
(2
min.) is another short animated skit done in a comedic style with those
adorable robots.


 


Border 1 - Ghost
Pain Cyberbrain -  I.G. Night Talk Show
(11 min.) is from a question and answer session which features some of
the
directors, animations, and producers creating the show through
Production I.G. They
discuss the process of making the first episode of the four part OVA
and what
it was like to reboot the series with a prequel outing.


 


Border 1 - Ghost
Pain Cyberbrain - Cast Night Talk Show (11 min.) is a question and
answer
session from the same panel format used for the Production I.G.
discussion, highlighting
the discussion of the series through some of the Japanese VA's.


 


The disc also
contains a number of brief promotional videos, including: Promotional
Video,
News Flash, Decode 501 File, Surface X Ghost in the Shell - Another
Mission, Commercial,
Blu-ray/DVD Spots, Pacific Racing Team X Ghost in the Shell Arise
Promotional
Video (an advertisement about the advertisement of Ghost in the Shell:
Arise on
Japanese race cars), and standard inclusions of textless opening/ending
credits
and the Funimation trailer for Ghost in the Shell: Arise.


 


Lastly, it's
worth
noting that the set comes in two standard Blu-ray cases with inside
artwork on
each case and a special collectible booklet with information on each
'Border'
OVA, such as art spotlights and interviews with Japanese cast and crew
(including a enjoyable interview on the music by Cornelius).


Final Thoughts:


Ghost in the Shell: Arise is not as strong of an
effort in rebooting the beloved anime franchise as some might be hoping
to
encounter. While the animation and overall production merits are just
as
beautiful as in the Stand Alone Complex series, the storylines
and
character-development in these OVA episodes feels miniscule and doesn't
add much to
the experience. The storylines don't even make that much sense. Unlike
previous
Ghost in the Shell installments, which felt intelligent, Arise
feels watered down. Fans of the franchise will undoubtedly still want
to give
this series a spin to see it for themselves. Funimation has done a
solid job with the presentation and this release is certainly at
least
worth a rental for Ghost in the Shell fans.



Rent
It.



Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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