What They Say:
Border 1: Ghost Pain
When cyborg hacker Motoko Kusanagi is hired to investigate a devastating bombing, she must fight her way through a maze of phantom memories to unlock her mysterious past – and track down the evil mastermind behind the attacks.
Border 2: Ghost Whispers
Witness the formation of the legendary Public Security Section 9. When a clandestine organization hacks every car in the city, Kusanagi recruits a lethal team of cyber operatives that includes a badass brawler with Special Forces training, an explosives expert, a technology specialist, and a chain-smoking jack-of-all-trades with a sordid past. Together this ruthless gang of enforcers sets out to clamp down on the chaos and make the city safe again.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid all around as we get the original Japanese language track and the new English track in 5.1 using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that works well with the surround mix between the overall warmth of the music and instrumental pieces throughout it and some of the decent ways it uses the virtual sequences to provide a greater illusion of things. The bigger action moments certainly come across well and there’s a lot of good bass to be had in some of the explosions as well as the way the weaponry works. Dialogue is well placed throughout and there’s a very well designed forward soundstage here for incidental sounds and movements as well as dialogue in general. We skimmed the English track and didn’t notice any issues there, enjoying what we heard, but largely listened to the Japanese track since the tracks are locked and doing comparisons on the fly is problematic.
Originally released in 2013, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The episodes are given separate discs here to maximize space alongside the extras and the end result is a very, very appealing show with some very rich colors. The show works a number of different locales as it plays out while also working the virtual space well and what we get is a very detailed and fluid looking show that really shines with the work put into it. The blending of the animation and CG material definitely fits well and there’s a good smoothness here that makes it look all the better. The transfer brings things to life in a very good way as there’s a good vibrancy and pop where appropriate while the darker areas maintain a solid feel and avoid issues such as breakup or noticeable noise. It’s definitely a great looking presentation.
The packaging for this release gives us two Blu-ray cases inside of a slightly thicker than thin cardboard box. The box itself has a great image on the front with one of the more familiar pieces Of Kusanagi in her red outfit holding her weapon against the city while other characters populate it behind her. It’s done with a different kind of paper that gives it a nice metallic look without being overdone or standing out too much. The back cover uses the same thing with select pieces of artwork while the rest is given over the a look at the show overall and breaking down the two episodes. The extras are detailed in their layout and the technical grid covers everything well for both formats in a clean and easy to read form with the color selections and placement used here.
Inside the box we get the two Blu-ray cases where each OVA has its DVD and Blu-ray release associated with it. The covers are really good illustration style pieces that has Kusanagi with the Logicom and a little pistol as well, all of which is done with some somber shades of gray and even soft reds that keep it from feeling vibrant as it sets the tone. The back covers provide their own images in a similar style which works nicely to show off a couple more versions of Kusanagi as well. The covers for both volumes have artwork on the reverse side with different looks at the city in full color. Each case also has a small booklet inside of it that’s full color which breaks down aspects of the episodes with the terminology, the character designs and who is who as well as interview pieces and some exploration of how this world and country work in 2027.
The menu design for this release is… interesting. What we get is essentially a solid gray background with some shading to it while the right side has the logo with its mix of Japanese and English about it. That’s done in a different shade of gray while inside of it we get the clips from the show playing throughout it, mostly noticeable in the ARISE portion. It’s something that you may not even notice at first, which can be a little disconcerting when you do recognize it. The layout is certainly straightforward for the navigation along the bottom with white text on a black segment with selections highlighted in red and moving around is easy and natural. Submenus load quickly and the navigation aspect works well as the pop-up menu during playback.
This release comes with a slew of extras, which clocks in at seventy-one minutes across both of the releases. The familiar things are, of course, included. We get the clean opening, trailers, the news flashes that showed off what was coming and the theatrical trailers for the run the episodes got in there. We get some background material such as the two minute Decode piece that explores the world and there’s also some good Japanese extras in the form of two pieces that run about twelve minutes each that have the cast and staff talking about the production. There’s a hilarious and totally awkward Logicom Beat segment where they basic do a little rap and we also get an array of commercials and Blu-ray release spots. The big neat extra, on top of the US commentary, is the Anime Expo 2013 segment that runs about 20 minutes. This shows off the con pretty well with fans talking about why they love the franchise but also spends time with guests from the OVA that appeared there to talk about it during its North American premiere.
The return of Ghost in the Shell in anime form was something that I had looked forward to quite a bit. Masamune Shirow’s works are ones that got me into the whole manga world in a big way back in the 1980’s when Studio Proteus released Appleseed into the direct market and it was a series I checked out and fell in love with. When Ghost in the Shell made the leap to anime form, I really didn’t like the original film. It felt far too pretentious for me, though I adored the animation itself and what it achieved. The second film left me largely in the same sense about it. But the TV series and the Solid State Society parts of the franchise won me over handily and kept me enraptured with what it could do. It also left me wishing the Appleseed property would get treated as well as this one is. So new Ghost in the Shell with the four part ARISE series, the first two of which are here, was definitely a welcome sight for me.
This series changes things up a bit, which doesn’t go over well for some fans, as it takes place five years prior to the TV series itself. Going back to 2027, what we’re treated to here is the obvious prequel of sorts that essentially shows us the formation of the group that Kusanagi would operate. While we’ve seen the complicated world of 2032 in the main series and the other aspects, there’s a different kind of complicated world here. Taking place a year after the end of the non-nuclear World War IV, there’s a lot of things going on in Japan with how everything unfolded in that war and their involvement in it. The shift from being on a war footing to focusing more at home makes sense, as there’s an isolationist strain about events, because a lot of what was done in the name of war and protecting the nation would be ruinous if revealed. So closing things down and holding close is a natural reaction.
But there are those that want these secrets exposed, because it’s the right thing to do to come clean about it and make amends and to hold those that authorized events to be held accountable for it as well. We’ve seen in the other works that kinds of things that this property wants to play against with hackers, villainous corporation heads and various military aspects and the political establishment itself. A lot of that fits into things here as it starts to unfold and that has a very relevant feel to the world today. We’re also seeing things that are building into what we know will come as there are, sadly, no Tachikoma here, but we do get their predecessor in the Logicom machines, one of which is given some decent personality as Kusanagi ends up working with it at one point while she’s trying to survive.
The two episodes here tell stories that are separate but connected, partially through the thread of Kusanagi finding her place in the world and what events on the outside are manipulating things. Viewing it as an origin story is a decent way to go about it, but it’s also building some real understanding of these characters we’re familiar with in seeing just how disparate they were at this time. Kusanagi herself is struggling with the death of her commander and is realizing that because of her circumstances, she’s essentially become the property of the military due to that. With her near unique situation if being an unborn child who was given a cyborg life without being born proper, there’s a huge investment in her and not something to be scoffed. We don’t see her origin in a true sense, but the glimpses we get certainly make you want to know more of how that childhood went. It explains a lot about her in this light and why finding her place in the world is important, even as she’s unsure of what it is she should do.
The opening episode deals with a lot of this while also working a story that involves the way those with implants and full on cyborg bodies can be susceptible to certain viruses that are being developed. When everything you see and understand is filtered through technology, can you really believe what you see? And should you? It’s difficult enough with human eyes, but this gets explored in some hard ways as we see how a group of people that we know will be a part of her team are going after objectives that are based on lies implanted into their minds. It’s fairly well layered and it takes a good bit of time for it to unfold across the episode, but after we start to see the curtain pulled back and the truths are revealed, it definitely makes for an engaging piece across the two episodes since it goes beyond Kusanagi herself.
The show also focuses, in a small way, how Aramaki sees much potential in her and wants to bring her into Section 9 in order to create a unit he knows is needed that’s independent to deal with the kinds of new threats that are on the way. With Kusanagi now getting a chance at life without the strings she had as a part of the military, it’s obvious she’s not ready to jump back into working for someone else, but the things being offered are tantalizing and having a central way to work out of things and experience more of the world, and the things that others won’t see, certainly appeals to her. Aramaki’s offer is obviously standing even as she walks away, but as events progress and she’s drawn into what’s going on we see how she begins to tug at the people that she’d want to work with, even as they’re trying to take her out since they’ve fallen victim to the virus themselves and aren’t seeing reality.
What we get across these two episodes is something that certainly fits in easily enough with what we’ve seen in the previous TV series, just with some differences due to it being five years earlier. Knowing what Kusanagi is and how different she is, with what she’s experienced and how she grows, there’s a lot to like in seeing her in this slightly smaller and less imposing form compared to what we’ve seen of her in control of Section 9 itself. It’s certainly not child-like or moe or anything, but there’s a younger feeling that fits in with what her experiences have been like. So when she gets thrust into the world outside of the military and those that had watched over her, and likely protected her in some ways as well, she gets to start growing in new ways while playing off the forged in fire aspect of what her experiences were like for so many years. It’s the start of a solid origin story for the team while also delving into who these shady characters were before she was able to mold them in her plan.
Ghost in the Shell ARISE kicks off its four episode run here with the first two and it certainly does it very well. There are complicated plots afoot that are built on top of other foundations that are revealed little by little along the way as it wants to deal with the military, mercenaries, politics, cybercrime and what it means to be human along the way. And it’s all wrapped up in action as well, of course. The show has a great visual design about it, though Kusanagi and her design could be considered the weakest part of it, and it hits some great marks as it moves forward and starts to build its energy with the revelations, the reactions and the intensity of many segments. With this covering the first half, it already feels like it’s over too quickly and has me pining for another series because this is a world with endless possibilities for stories.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Ghost in the Shell: Arise at Anime Expo 2013, Logicoma Beat, Logicoma Court, Decode 501File, Border:1 – Ghost Pain Cyberbrain Talk Shows, Surface X Ghost in the Shell Arise Another Mission, U.S. Cast & Crew Audio Commentary, Textless Openings and Closing, Promotional Videos, News Flashes, Theatrical Trailers, U.S. Trailer, Trailers, Commercial, Border:2 Teaser, Pacific Racing Team X Ghost in the Shell Arise Promotional Video, Blu-ray & DVD Spots
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: October 28th, 2014
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.