Genres: Cyberpunk, Cop Show, Neo-Noir
Creators: Kamiyama Kenji and Shirō Masamune
Studio: Production I.G.
Length: 52 episodes (two seasons)
Highlights: NCIS crossed with Blade Runner
The year is 2029, and the world has become heavily interconnected and wired into a ubiquitous, next-generation version of the internet. Technology such as cybernetic limbs and cyberbrains improve life for the fortunate who can afford them, while also blurring the line between human and machine. Japan managed to survive the Third and Fourth World Wars, but the government has become oppressive and society is beset with crime and terrorism. Tasked with managing this potential powder keg is Section 9, an elite counter-terrorism unit of the Japanese government. They specialize in cybercrime, such as brain-hacking and memory editing. Under the overall command of Chief Aramaki and commanded in the field by Major Kusanagi, they are called in to manage everything from cyber-terrorists stealing from banks with computer viruses to rebel groups intending to tear down the government to counter-espionage of spies from the American Empire.
Although it is based on the same setting and characters present in both the 1995 film and the original manga, Stand Alone Complex does not exist in the same world as either of them. The series, while drawing on the cyberpunk and Noir influences of its earlier iterations, blazes its own path by injecting influences from cop shows into the mix. As such, while the show does occasionally touch on the big-picture, “how do we know if we’re human?” questions the film and manga focus on, SAC in general focuses much more on the combative and investigative side of Section 9, meaning this often feels more like an American police show rather than mind-bending science fiction.
Both seasons of Stand Alone Complex give its episodes different designations depending upon whether or not they are connected to the season’s overarching plot. In the first season, independent episodes are called “Stand Alone”, while “Complex” episodes follow the members of Section 9 as they attempt to track down the elusive cyber-terrorist known as “The Laughing Man”. In 2nd Gig, episodes are given one of three designations: “Individual”, “Dividual”, or “Dual”. “Individual” episodes are tied into Section 9’s conflict with a terrorist organization known as “The Individual Eleven”. “Dividual” episodes are stand-alone episodes. “Dual” episodes connect to Section 9’s relations with a rival organization of the Japanese government, the Cabinet Intelligence Service. However, 2nd Gig’s designations are mostly cosmetic, as the two story lines are highly interconnected, and even most of the stand-alone episodes relate to the plot in some way.
Combining the best aspects of cyberpunk, neo-noir, and police procedurals, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of the best science-fiction animes and one of the best police animes all in one. It has the awesome action of a police show, the gritty future world of cyberpunk, and the distinctive visual look of Film Noir via way of Blade Runner. Whether you’re a fan of classic cyberpunk, neo-noir movies, or police shows such as NCIS, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has something for everyone.