|Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG
Stand Alone Complex is one of the few works that never fails to impress me. I continue to regard it as nothing short of an accomplishment, with its exceptional degree of story and character depth, elements which I can never praise enough. I even used the word quintessential in my review of its first season, again, believing that the label is wholly deserved for its consistently remarkable level of quality across its storytelling, animation, music, and voicing. Ghost in the Shell has always sought to intrigue its viewers; to encourage them to question, imagine, consider, and, at its best, to even empathize. The first season of S.A.C does all of this effortlessly, remaining an engaging and entertaining watch all the while. Fortunately, that quality and those aspects that make the first season so outstanding are present in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG. A second season full of action, curiosity, and emotion, 2nd GIG only reaffirms my feelings of praise for the series.
2nd GIG takes place two years after the first season, where Kusanagi and Section 9 continue acting as a spec-ops unit that investigates and opposes real-world and cyber terrorism. This season focuses on a present national unrest due to past conflicts. After World Wars III and IV, countless refugees became displaced all throughout Asia, many of which were later welcomed into Japan for the country’s own reconstruction. Seen as cheap labor, these refugees would be treated as second-class and forced into refugee districts, while denied the same quality of life standards as native Japanese. Meanwhile, natives face rising taxes and unemployment, and are quick to blame the refugees. With the two sides clashing, and with the largest of these refugee districts, Dejima, requesting their independence from Japan, the unrest comes to a head when a radical group of refugees, The Individual Eleven, attempt to commit high-profile acts of terror. These acts are foiled by Kusanagi and Section 9, yet the intended flame-fanning is successful, as are the intentions for a refugee leader to arise. An idealist named Hideo Kuze rises as a champion for the refugees, and through his ideology and actions, the refugees become emboldened in their fight for independence. As Section 9 investigates Kuze and The Individual Eleven, a member of the Cabinet Intelligence Service, Kazundo Gouda, offers his aid. However, his particular knowledge of recent events and later involvements cause Section 9 to suspect Gouda and other government entities of a deeper connection with the current national unrest.
Similar to season 1, 2nd GIG has its episodes grouped by Dividual (and Dual), those telling the main storyline, and Individual, those which offer a deeper look into a particular character, event, or side-story, and provide a bit of color or backstory. Starting with the Individual episodes, these are again as fantastic as the Stand Alone episodes of season 1, in which they not only provide those back stories for characters and the world, they do so exceedingly well. Each of the Individual episodes is intriguing and entertaining, and always emphasizes the tones and shades of the world they occur within. Also like Season 1, they are noteworthy for proposing topics, issues, and conflicts that would potentially arise in this cyberized, technologically advanced setting.
Then there are the Dividual episodes and the main storyline told through them, and I believe it’s here that 2nd GIG differs the most compared to Season 1. Rather than the complex web of Season 1’s story, in which its characters, story points, and events are ultimately weaved together, 2nd GIG features a more linear story, drawn out by history and taking its time to disclose its major plot points through a saturation of detail. History is the key word, as past events, from the international and national levels down to the individual histories of participants, and the ways they connect to present affairs are what drive this season’s story.
As for its execution, 2nd GIG’s main story is a mostly intriguing experience, successful in its ability to bridge and bring to life an intense past and a volatile present. It’s presented with plenty of detail and that hallmark Ghost in the Shell style and feel that kept me mostly engaged throughout. Also of note, there is a slight, yet noticeable decrease in violence and conversely an increase in vocal and emotional confrontation. Although the methods are different, the levels of energy and fierceness are nonetheless as high as Season 1. I found this to be an excellent alternative to the more traditional violence while maintaining the franchise’s trademark fervor. Not to say there is none, there is still plenty in the forms of martial arts, gunfights, and military level altercations. A last note, the only shortcomings regarding the story that I experienced are the seldom occasions in which the story felt bogged down by its own pace and excessive detail. These moments, perhaps oversaturated in detail and exposition, felt as if they droned on. Fortunately, these feelings were seldom, as the story is overall amusing and its progression has plenty of dynamic scenes that helped me to quickly reengage. Overall, the stories are thought-provoking and captivating, different from Season 1, yet recapturing the brilliance.
Regarding its characters, we get to see as much in the ways of development and backstory in 2nd GIG, in similar style and quality seen in Season 1. The standout accomplishment in this season is Kusanagi’s development, as we are offered a more internal view, as in how her memories, thoughts, and emotions are influencing her. We get to see moments of her childhood during which she struggles with loss and the painful process, both physically and mentally, of her adapting to a prosthetic body. We see flashes of the earlier years of her career, when she works with Batou for the first time, as well as her first meeting with Saito. Of course, other characters, too, have their moments to shine like Saito, Batou, and the Tachikomas. Yet, this is very much Kusanagi’s arc. We get to witness her transformation from a calculating military head to something so much more. We are again treated to her brand of humor, glimpses of her playful sides, and the compassion that makes her so much more than a stoic major. Yet, we are now granted even deeper insight. We see Kusanagi questioning her purpose, revisiting events that shaped her, and rediscovering the myriad of emotions felt through her memories. It’s a stunning arc of self-discovery and transformation, and its execution is impressive, making Kusanagi a truly genuine character whose development alone is nothing short of a creative achievement.
Moving on to its aesthetics, 2nd GIG highlights the successes of season 1 and the series as whole, with stellar music, appreciable voice casting, and in the case of season 2, a stronger overall visual production. Starting with its audio, 2nd GIG features an equally stellar soundtrack as season 1, taking influences from rock, metal, techno, jazz, and more to create truly outstanding works. And each featured track elevates the scenes they are paired with, accentuating events on-screen with substantial emotion and depth. Also as impressive as season 1 is the voice work and, again, my praise is equally high for both the Japanese and English actors. They capture the essences of these characters. Never does an emotional outburst, a melancholy dialogue, nor a reaction made ever feel disingenuous. Rather, the casts bring unparalleled vividness and authenticity. It’s one of the many reasons why I consider the S.A.C version of these characters to be the best versions in any Ghost in the Shell production. With the outstanding voice acting and the amazing soundtrack, 2nd GIG’s audio efforts are an achievement all on their own.
2nd GIG also features an impressive visual effort, matching the high points of season 1 and addressing its few flaws. The overall artistic quality is still as impressive as ever, depicting expressive characters in a believably cyberized world. The art style is bold and sharp, bringing added life to the product and further defining S.A.C.’s particular, remarkable aesthetic. The animations are also as noteworthy for their boldness, as they never fail to convey the energy or tones of the scenes. They are as smooth, detailed, and fluid as season 1 and remain a highlight of the series as a whole. Lastly, I had mentions a few flaws in my review of season 1 and I am happy to say that most have been addressed. However, I did still notice occasional drops in artistic quality and this mainly occurred when needing to show depth. In seldom cases, the details of facial features would diminish to the point of feeling like laziness on the artists’ parts. Though, this is a far less frequent occurrence than seen in season 1. Other than this, the visuals of 2nd GIG are just fantastic, once again demonstrating the masterful efforts of the series’ artists.
Most everything done right in its first season is reproduced in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG. Its storyline, one full of strife and intrigue, will entertain throughout. Kusanagi’s character development will never fail to awe and draw out my emotions and empathy. 2nd GIG delivers impressively, not shying away from real conflicts and issues, from a global level down to the personal and intimate, and at the same time offering ideas and proposing questions that stir our curiosity and challenge our perspectives. It truly is every bit an accomplishment as season 1 and I cannot praise nor recommend it enough. This is indeed quintessential Ghost in the Shell; captivating and immersive, ever stirring our emotions and imagination.