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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man Blu-ray Review

10 min read

When a cold case is brought back into the foreground, new revelations show a deep reaching conspiracy that must be dealt with.

What They Say:
The year is 2030 and six years have passed since a criminal known only as The Laughing Man swept through top medical nanotechnology firms committing acts of cyber-terrorism, kidnapping, extortion, and corporate espionage leaving no known suspects. New information is revealed to Japan’s top homeland security force, drawing Major Kusanagi and Section 9 into the hunt for a suspect capable of hacking the eyes of every operative, obscuring all details of his appearance and leaving behind a trail of copycats and hacked cyborg citizens.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty strong as it features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix for both language tracks that has a lot going for it. While the music is an area where it really shines the most with the amount of bass and the overall enveloping feel, it also makes out very well with the action sequences with solid impact and a lot of directionality to the rear channels that helps to drive it home. It also knows how to work the quiet scenes just right as well with little movements here and there, the clicking of shoes or the flow of data across the screen. It’s definitely a very enjoyable mix that shows off just how much attention went into the overall production with its design. We didn’t experience any dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese language track.

Originally released in 2005, the transfer for this movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080i using the AVC codec. The feature is a compilation from the TV series with a smatering of new footage mixed in that has a run time of just over two and a half hours. The encoding here is really quite good considering when the show was animated as it has a rich, detailed design to it with some great colors and a natural flow. The bit rate tends to spend most of its time in the thirties and it shows in some very solid backgrounds, even in the usually troublesome green hall interiors. The series this came from was ahead of its time in a lot of ways when it aired, and the transfer her reflects it as it holds up very well and is very appealing. The big action sequences look fantastic and the quieter moments are well handled as well. The transfer avoids the usual problems and in general has a very clean and sharp look to it.

The packaging for this release is done in a standard size Blu-ray case with no slipcovers to it. The front cover artwork is a good cast shot of the main crew in their usual apparel, rather than mission garb, as they’re within the data world itself as that serves as the background. That brings in a bit of color and it’s cute that the Laughing Man logo is just underneath the Ghost in the shell logo itself. It’s a serious looking cover that does things right here but without any particular style or definition. It’s an easy sell but in the end it is just a cast shot. The back cover goes for darker colors with the logo and movie title along the top while the rest of it has the Laughing Man logo as the background in shades of blue. On top of that is a fairly text and picture heavy piece that conveys most of the story basics and what the discs features are, including an accurate listing of the audio codecs. The main technical grid breaks things down cleanly and clearly and overall the layout has a good look to it, even if it is a touch busy in how it ties together all the pictures. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is pretty nicely done in-theme as the main menu features an orange and red hued widescreen style border while clips from the feature play within through the filter. Most of it is CG based so it works well in creating an otherworldly techno-feel while the strong instrumental music plays along that gets the mood working even more. The navigation strip along the bottom is simple with the usual top level items there and a very easy to access series of submenus that makes it all a breeze. The layout is good but the disc didn’t read our players’ language presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles. We also had iffy luck on restarting the feature as to whether it would go back to where we left off or start up from scratch again.

The extras are definitely interesting to revisit after all these years. The short one here is the Tachikomatic Days piece which runs just under two minutes or so but is a good bit of comedy to be sure. The big extra is the Stand Alone Complex Archives with is a thirty-two minute standard definition extra encoded with the AVC codec rather than just a cheap port of the original, so it has a much better look with the higher bitrate. This goes into the background and making of The Laughing Man and definitely is fun to watch after the movie to look at various parts of it through the people behind it all. Sadly, there are no chapter marks included with it so navigation is a real pain.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex series came out, I was head over heels in love with it. It was everything I wanted, from the beautiful opening sequence to the layering of the story that was told throughout the first season. It was the series that really made me aware of the director, Kenji Kamiyama, whose works I have thoroughly enjoyed for nearly a decade since. While I am a huge fan of the TV series and drooled over the fact that it was a highlighted early HD DVD planned release, I’m far more cautious about the way it created a lengthy movie from the first half of the season with the story involving The Laughing Man. While you can cut away a fair bit of material plus the openings and closings and pare down to something tighter, the original work was still something designed for 20 minute or so consumption on a weekly basis, not as a a nearly three hour movie. It’s length is what hurts it the most in the end as it just feels like it goes on and on after awhile.

That said, compared to other movies that have done this, The Laughing Man stands as one of the better ones done with some new bits of animation added in to bridge areas and smooth out inconsistences that stemmed from how they had to reorder events in order to make it work. And unlike the TV series, we don’t get quite as many introductions into how this futuristic world actually works, the nuance of it all, as we see the characters move about their lives while still dealing with the work of being in Section 9, a small and tight knit group of government law enforcement people who use unorthodox means and ride the bleeding edge of technology in order to do it. With a world that has gone further into the realm of cyber, the woman leading the operations is a full body cyborg herself, Motoko Kusanagi, and just about everyone has implants of some sort. They all maintain a very human look and feel for the most part, but there’s a small sense among some of them that they’re becoming something different.

The story for this feature is essentially a police procedural mystery whose stakes are incredibly high. With the way people can be so connected, it focuses on a case that’s been dormant for six years called The Laughing Man. This expert hacker was able to create chaos surrounding the medical business world, which is tied heavily to the government, and did so by taking over peoples cyberbrains and actually being skilled enough to alter live video feeds so nobody ever saw his face, if it was really him. When you consider that the the majority of people now have implants and don’t see through normal eye, the ability to alter what’s real in front of you becomes very powerful and disturbing if you have someone that can manipulate all of this without you knowing. While the case has been quiet for several years, events cause it to resurface and it catches the attention of Section 9 through their one mostly normal operative, Togusa, because a detective friend of his got caught up in the mystery.

Togusa in fact becomes the driving force of this investigation since it started with what was given to him and he plays it well. It has much of what you’d expect from a procedural with him doing an investigation into various companies, getting new leads and information and working that along with everyone else who is dealing with the renewed interest in The Laughing Man by seeing who is acting skittish now. The exploration of conspiracies that go back several years that have a lot of impact allows the series to shine more of a light on cyberization of the mind and body helps the viewer connect with the nature of living in this time period. Going through it all through Togusa’s eyes helps a lot as well since he’s not as firmly cyberized and has only the bare minimum so he can participate in society and do his job through basic communication. Seeing the way he has to work with very superior partners with the implants they have, it shows just how much of what a person is comes down to who they really are.

The Laughing Man generally does hold up in a lot of ways when it comes to the technology it uses simply because it goes in its own very specific approach. With it predating how things have changed with smartphones, the growth of the internet itself and social media, there are obviously weak points to be had here. But they don’t feel like they’re major stumbling blocks to what’s going on, rather that we’re just involved with a world that went in a different direction with its technology. Spending most of the time with the Section 9 side helps as well, since you know they wouldn’t be hanging out on social media sites and the like as well. When you get into the level of hacking that can be done, especially with the way peoples eyes and what they see can be manipulated, it’d be fascinating to see the real social impact of something like that. But that’s not what the show is about here and what it does do, it does well in establishing characters that walk in the halls of power as well as in the muck and grime to deal with what’s going on.

In Summary:
Because of the nature of the film, it’s one that’s difficult to get into the specifics of because of how it layers each new revelation which in turn leads us down a new path. The feature has a lot of great material to it though and it largely pulls off what it needs to accomplish. By putting Togusa front and center, we get the human element to work through but we also get to see how events unfold through several other eyes as well and a few key flashback sequences. The Section 9 organization is one that you want to see a whole lot more of but they also give you the right amount here, a little too much some might say, in order to allow the feature to work right. This release really looks fantastic here overall, and it sounds great as well, but all it does is make me wish we had gotten the full TV series in this format already. Everything here is done just right and we’re easily transported into this world that looks like it could have mostly been released in the last year or two, never mind back in 2003 originally. Definitely a great way to spend an evening curled up in front of the TV watching a futuristic police procedural of sorts.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Stand Alone Complex Archives, Tachikomatic Days

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: June 21st, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 160 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080i AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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