Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society [2011]

a review by the Crow.

SOLID STATE SOCIETY

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OPENING THOUGHTS

In the lead-up to 2017’s live-action Ghost in the Shell, I’d originally intended to review everything(!) Ghost in the Shell. Unfortunately, thanks to this-and-that, all I have for you so far are the two movies helmed by the legendary Mamoru Oshii: Ghost in the Shell [1995] and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [2004].

I would’ve ideally tackled Stand Alone Complex: 1st GIG next, but to be quite frank, that’d have been a monumental task. And on that topic, I should mention that I consider the Stand Alone Complex series to be one of the most significant works when it comes to science fiction storytelling, ever. However, reviewing it will never be easy for me. There’s just too much I want to say.

Now, I will at some point start going through the series (both GIGs), but for now, let’s take a look at the third feature-length movie in the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole.

For those of you not in the know, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (narrowly missed out on a case of cancer, that title) is not a follow-up to Oshii’s film series, and neither does it have anything whatsoever to do with them. It’s the third part of the Stand Alone Complex series, rather.

In a way, Stand Alone Complex is the 3rd GIG.

Let me quickly fill you in on our main characters and where we find them at the start of this movie, first. Below, is the core team of Public Security Section 9 from the first two GIGs, from left-to-right, they are:

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Paz (smoking), Saito (eyepatch), Batou, Major Motoko Kusanagi (centre), Borma (the tall one), Togusa, Chief Daisuke Aramaki, and Ishikawa. And yes! This movie brings the gang back together for the first time in a feature-length presentation! (Side-note: the only character out of the lot above we never really find too much out about over the course of the series is Borma, which is a shame. I’ve always been a little curious about him.)

At the end of 2nd GIG, the Major ventures out on her own, leaving Section 9 behind. Following her venturing out on her own, Batou starts fading into a character not far from the one we encounter in Innocence, and Togusa gains a promotion, becoming the new spearhead of Section 9.

In the two years since the departure of the Major, Section 9 has considerably expanded, and there are a whole bunch of new recruits running about. Azuma makes a decently significant appearance, for one. And Proto‘s here as well, at Aramaki’s side like always (most of the time, anyway).

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I know it might be a bit much to those just entering the franchise with this as a starting point. My advice for you? Don’t watch this movie blind. And certainly don’t pick this movie as an entry point to the series.

This is how you should watch the Ghost in the Shell series:

Now, I think that’s good enough for those of you who haven’t yet gone through this franchise. All you need to know is, please don’t watch this movie without having seen the TV series first (especially 2nd GIG). A lot won’t make sense otherwise.

Right. Everything looks good? Are you caught up to the series so far?

Now that we’ve gone through the background information, let’s talk about the movie!


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STATE OF THE PLOT

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MODERATE SPOILERS

Solid State Society opens with a standoff at an airport. Section 9 is called in to deal with the issue. It ends in what appears to be miserable failure when Ka-gael (the son of Ka-rum, a general living in exile in Japan, formerly of the – fictional – Siak Republic) shoots himself while under pressure from Section 9, declaring he’ll never be had by – after a fashion – the “Puppeteer” (not to be confused with the Puppet Master from the first film).

And all of this happens under the spying eye of Major Motoko Kusanagi, perched high above with a Corvid’s-eye view of the happenings.

Ka-gael’s dramatic suicide is one amongst many committed by people formerly loyal to the Siak Republic. Against the wishes of PM Kayabuki, Aramaki and most of Section 9 head to Ka-rum’s home. They raid it and find Ka-rum’s personal bedchamber (screenshot above). It’s revealed to us that Ka-rum is an ageing man who is hooked up to a nationalised – automated – healthcare service, and that he mostly keeps to himself.

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But things go awry when it’s revealed that Ka-rum has actually been dead for some time – a victim of an assassination covered up to look like suicide. And on the floor next to his bed, in the moments before his death, in his own blood, he’d written the words: “Kugutsu Mawashi” (Puppeteer).

Also discovered at Ka-rum’s personal hideout are plans for a terrorist attack involving micro-machines, intended to be launched upon the event of Ka-gael’s death. Later on, we discover that the virus at the centre of this planned attack is intended to be carried by abducted children.

A further twist in the tale is brought in when Batou – so-far investigating yet another suicide – is sent to a hospital to interrogate Ma-shaba (another operative linked to General Ka-rum), the recipient of the micro-machine virus intended for the terrorist attack.

Batou runs into a familiar figure, Major Motoko Kusanagi (in a shiny new body), and they engage Ma-shaba, who’s locked himself into a heavy-duty construction vehicle to shield himself from cyberbrain hacks by his target – Kusanagi, whom he believes to be the Puppeteer the minute he spots her.

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After a short action scene, Kusanagi lifts the ampules containing the micro-machine virus and steals Batou’s car after her own’s been flattened by the flailing construction vehicle.

The plot thereafter launches into a complex case involving children, elderly – and nearly invalid – citizens whose lives are essentially tied into an automated medical system colloquially referred to as the “Noble-Rot Senior Citizens” system, projections of present-day problems present in Japan, child-abduction, racial purity (and even some questions regarding refugee crises returning from 2nd GIG), and with some fancy new theorising to do with the nature (and possible future) of human consciousness thrown in for good measure.

As a personal anecdote: I must add that all that theorising at the end of this movie (and the sort of theorising in Stand Alone Complex in general) helped me with formulating the missing link for a very important part in that debut-novel-to-be I keep mentioning, as well as essentially helping me think of the world in a different way. So, thank you for that, Mr Kamiyama and friends!

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Image not from the movie

While nothing but Ghost in the Shell can deal with concepts like these on such an effective level, I must point out that each variant of the franchise handles these things in a different way.

  • The manga is an excellent technical projection of the future, and is recommended reading purely from the point of view of engineering fanatics and futurologists. And it’s fun as well, heavy-handed as it can be (Man-Machine Interface, I’ll just mark out right now as not necessarily being the same kind of work).
  • The Oshii movies heavily rely on the manga as source material and explore philosophy from atop the shoulders of established work in the field by asking questions that might never have answers, throwing in some ruminations about religion and faith in on the top.
  • The Kamiyama-helmed Stand Alone Complex series (which Solid State Society belongs to) is highly political, but toe a fine line between both the works of Shirow Masamune and Oshii Mamoru. To be quite honest, this is the version of the universe I find myself most comfortable in. Shirow’s universe is a bit too messy – and even, at times, incoherent; Oshii’s is very open and open to exploration – to the point where the world itself feels undeveloped (as it should be with those movies, since the disconnect is necessary). And therefore, the Stand Alone Complex universe, on the other hand, functions more as a whole when compared to the other two.

2nd GIG might just be the best-ever SF series made so-far. And as a direct sequel, Solid State Society certainly holds its own. It’s a touch all over the place; but hey: this is Ghost in the Shell we’re talking about. If it’s not making your brain hurt even a little, something’s wrong with your dose of GITS.

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Solid State Society explores concepts that the other two GIGs lightly touched upon, and does them justice. Perhaps it’s all a bit too “packed-in”, but considering the runtime and the density with which information is flung in the viewer’s direction, I dare say a better job could not have been done.

There’s no doubting the fact that we’re dealing with heavy-handed stuff, here. Just when you think the identity of the mysterious Puppeteer (again; no relation to Project 2501, here) is apparently done and dusted, there’s confusion thrown in once more.

And on the subject of the Puppeteer: I do quite think that the Puppeteer itself functions as a summary to the series (and the idea) of Stand Alone Complex as a whole. I’m a bit surprised that others haven’t pointed this out as much, considering how central the true identity (or, the best identity we can point to) of the Puppeteer is tied into the entire idea of a “Stand Alone Complex”.

The identity of “it” furthers the ending of the first movie, even. And while it manages to offer a thread on which to hang for those who ‘NEED to know’, it delivers some marvellously delicious food for thought, nonetheless.

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Overall, the plot’s solid(hah!) and hits all the right notes.

And it even includes the best characters in the series (by far): the Tachikomas! I mean, come on… if a Tachikoma were to accost you, wouldn’t you just stop what you were doing and give it a big hug?!

…no?
(Well, that’s just me, then.)

Well, they are kind-of the unsung heroes of the Stand Alone Complex universe. What would Section 9 do without them?!

Die. That’s the answer.

I mean, sure, the Major’s away and Section 9 is suffering, but who’s saved them at times of extreme need, time and time again?! EVEN WHEN THE MAJOR WAS PRESENT?!

See? Now show support for your friendly neighbourhood Tachikomas, kids!


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HOW SOLID IS THE EXECUTION?

Solid State Society is identical in look and feel to 2nd GIG. It doesn’t have the artistry of the Oshii movies, sure, but it has the usual efficiency that Kamiyama’s team has brought to the franchise since Stand Alone Complex first aired. It ends up being a good-looking movie, and the voice cast do their jobs well.

However, this is where the movie falls a little flat for me. It never comes off as anything other than an extended episode from the Stand Alone Complex series. That’s not really a problem, but there was space to do a little more.

The story (not as complex as people think) is handled quite well within the runtime of the movie, and the movie pays quite a decent homage to the Oshii series nearing the end.

The soundtrack is nothing spectacular. It’s basically an amalgam of the soundtracks from both the prior GIGs (mostly mastered over by the genius of Yoko Kanno), with two new songs thrown in. These songs: Player and Date of Rebirth are pretty awesome. As a matter of fact, Date of Rebirth happens to be one of my favourite bits from the overall Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex OST.

RIP Origa. You are sorely missed.

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Something in particular I’d like to point out is the intro sequence (which features Player as the backdrop song). While the “shelling sequence” doesn’t make an appearance in Solid State Society, I’d recommend going back once you’ve finished watching the movie and giving it another watch. It’s a very clever summary of the major plotlines in the movie.

And to be quite honest, I quite love the story. In case it’s not been apparent thus far, the core plot of Solid State Society is pretty much all I wanted from the finale to Stand Alone Complex. It’s not necessarily “epic”, as some might expect, but it has all the hallmarks of the series.

The concepts explored are epic in scale. The story just serves as a backdrop to those ideas. And oh, is it ever a lovely-intricate mystery. I’ve rarely seen the likes of the mysteries Stand Alone Complex presents in SF media (and even outside it). These are smartly-composed puzzles that require your attention to become clear.

And with the mystery at the heart of Solid State Society, I recommend patience and a careful viewing. Watch it twice, if you feel the need to. I’ve known people who’ve missed minor plot details on the first watch because the movie just seems too dense.

It’s actually not at all, but I don’t blame anyone who misses said details. Information comes at you at a very high rate. Take your time, and try to work through the mystery along with the loveable folks at Section 9.

At the end of the day, it’s a very well-handled movie, and comes recommended by this crow. I (again) urge you to watch the second Stand Alone Complex TV series first, however.


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ITS TIES TO ITS OWN SOCIETY

Solid State Society is a fine movie, even though it ends up coming off more as an extended episode of Stand Alone Complex, I don’t think that really counts against it so much.

That said, however, it is not a movie to be viewed solo. Unlike Innocence, Solid State Society is tied too deep into the Stand Alone Complex universe.

So… I’m in two minds, here. On the one hand, I want to dock some of the score of because it doesn’t function as a full movie; on the other, it works so damned well on all other fronts that I don’t want to do something so severe.

After all: It’s an absolute whirlwind of a mystery that we get dropped into in this “episode”, and watching Section 9 navigate the maze set out for them is fun like always. It’s a must-watch for fans, and highly recommended to newcomers.

Hm… I’ll figure something out.

But yes. I’ll repeat again that this movie is almost a masterpiece. It’s the perfect end to Stand Alone Complex, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to see Mr Kamiyama and his team tackle Man-Machine Interface and make sense of it.

I dare say they’d do a great job.


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FINAL RATINGS

THE CROW: 8/10

THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 7.5/10

A little confusing but a nice enough film.


Here, why don’t you take a look at this lovely poster for the series as a whole?

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6 thoughts on “Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society [2011]

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