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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

ghost-in-the-shell-innocence-coverA different exploration of an intriguing world.

What They Say:
In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the Major is still missing, not a trace of her Ghost in the system, but Batou’s search for her will have to wait. In the year 2032, advances in cybernetic technology and genetic research have opened the world to possibilities once only dreamed of. Humans can be fitted with cybernetic modifications, download their brains into permanent robot bodies, or bring home their own intimate robotic companion-it’s a life of luxury. Or so it seems. A rash of gruesome murders begins to plague the city and with every lead comes more questions. The culprits, the beloved robotic companions programmed to obey. How does a robot with such basic programming learn the deadly art of murder? Agent Batou and his partner, Togusa, must figure it out before the problem spreads. The more they search for answers, the deeper the rabbit hole runs. In this case wrought with scandal, danger, and mystery, they’ll find themselves in situations unlike any other.The Review!

Audio:
The audio presentation for this film brings us the original Japanese language track as well as the English language dub, both of which are in 5.1 and encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The film is one that has its big moments to be sure, there’s no denying that, but the bulk of it works the quieter areas with the dialogue, sound effects to build the mood, and the score itself which permeates much of it in a subtle and engaging way. The brash moments are great and will certainly stand out but I rather like the way everything in the mix works to create this sense of unease throughout the film, that something is wrong but just out of reach from coming together through it. The score is solid, dialogue is well placed, and the strong action sequences with the gun fights have a lot of impact to them.

Video:
Originally released to theaters in 2004, this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is encoded with AVC and has a resolution of 1080p.  Having seen this in a few editions now and the whole thing starting to blur,w hat we get here is a very strong and solid looking show with what it’s attempting to do. Colors are muted in general, which is intentional, but when the high crisp quality CG animation comes in, such as the floats, it’s incredibly vivid and very appealing looking. I’m sure there will be plenty of nitpicking from those that are very into the film and will be doing comparisons between editions but what most will get from this is something that captures the color tones well, the solidity of the stronger areas, and a lot of great detail and depth to the backgrounds that really makes it worth pausing and digging into. I was pleased to see the bitrate as high as it was throughout and that the end result is one that makes for a thoroughly engaging experience.

Packaging:
Packaged in a standard Blu-ray case, the cover art for this edition breaks ranks with the early releases and is more in line with the later ones. The central image is of the Major with the director’s favorite dog sitting in front of a massive piece of machinery that’s all bronze and faded looking. It’s a very murky looking piece of artwork but with its mixture of bright colors and dark colors, it certainly catches the eye as you make out the details of it all. The logo is fairly standard to what we’ve seen before, particularly in the Innocence portion of it, and there are only the couple of standard product logos beyond that. The back cover is well laid out as it carries over the background artwork from the front cover to a darker level. On top of that, we get a good rundown of the world the feature takes place in and where things have been before this since there’s a bit of history there. A number of shots from the film are laid out nicely and there’s a clean listing of the discs extras. The technical grid is solid as it breaks down the technical side of how the audio and video is presented. The remainder is given over the production credits and a few logos. No show related inserts were included nor is there anything on the reverse side of the cover other than an all-black piece

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty good as we get the director’s commentary and a Japanese produced making of sequence which runs about fifteen minutes or so. Neither are new extras as we’ve seen them on previous releases in multiple regions.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers and that some of it was originally written for the US DVD release and Japanese Blu-ray release)
When the first Japanese edition of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence was released on Blu-ray, it was an instant pick-up for me even if I don’t care for the film story-wise. It was a release that I carried into a number of retail stores so I could demo it on various TVs so I could decide what set I wanted to pick up as it gave me a feel for how recent theatrical anime productions would look. Of course, it was an early release and it got this even better edition that we have now which has a far better audio set of options to it compared to that original lossy release.

Coming long after the original movie and following it up along one vein, it’s not quite the same as what’s come before. Whereas that was a deep philosophical piece that had people like the Major questioning her humanity and what was left of it as she gave her life over to the mechanical side of things, this one has her long gone into the net and Batou not quite an unfeeling callous man without her but someone who isn’t quite at home in dealing with others even more than he used to be. While she wasn’t exactly human anymore, she was someone that could draw out the humanity in him, particularly his sense of humor. But with her now a part of the net itself, what little humanity he had seems to have withered away and he’s simply a man doing his job for Section 9.

Naturally, when Togusa gets assigned to work with Batou on a case where a series of gynoid robots have been going crazy and killing their owners or whoever was nearby, he’s not exactly pleased by it. Batou’s not someone anyone else in Section 9 could work easily with on a number of levels, personality being a big one. In their initial research, they learn of the robots that they’re being built by a company who has almost seemingly come out of nowhere to achieve a reputation as quality work with some very addictive dolls. To ensure the sanctity of their operations, though, they work out of a large ship that’s kept in international waters so they’re not kept to the same restrictions as a number of Japanese based companies. Batou’s drawn deeper into things before he even knows about the case though when someone takes over his brain and causes him to shoot out his own arm and nearly kill a shopkeeper.

With their investigation being somewhat off the official record at first, Batou leads Togusa to find an old friend of his from back in the war days that has gone into making himself a next level kind of construct where he’s more than he ever was but also far less human. Figuring that his deep connections within the underworld and in the information layer of the net as well will give him some clues, it’s another stop along the way to figuring out just what this mysterious off-shore company is really up to before the gynoid dolls can kill again. It’s really a very straightforward plot that has Batou and Togusa doing what they do best in an investigative manner.

Why does it fall so short then? In watching this film with its nearly two-hour running time, why did I feel at the end that it was little more than a really expanded filler episode for the TV series and that the TV series has done far more interesting filler episodes? Don’t get me wrong here, though, the visuals for this film are simply amazing. The opening sequence does a beautiful job of showing how far digital animation has come in ten years by recreating the same opening we saw in the first film back in 1994 but with much more advanced and seamless techniques. It most definitely places that film into the dustbin in terms of visuals. Much of the meshing of CG and animation is fairly well done here, though some of it stands out poorly such as when the pair are walking through Kim’s mansion and their movements are very awkward and don’t blend well. But then you correspond it with scenes of the far east information city they go into with its spires and towers that are just gorgeous to look at. Or the festival moving through the streets that are so incredibly rich in detail and vibrant in its colors. It’s such a visual feast that there is almost more to take in than possible with how it’s done. So no, it’s no surprise that this film is, for the most part, a technical and visual marvel.

Where the real problem comes in is in the dialogue. Much of it is kept between Batou and Togusa as they perform their investigation, which really covers the first three-quarters of the film. It’s generally a slow paced piece which is more than fine, but it’s filled with banter between the two where they’re constantly quoting all sorts of religious or philosophical lines and using them as the way to advance the story. While I won’t say that the dialogue between these two made me feel stupid nor lectured to by the pair, it did leave me watching a highly unnatural method of discussion between two investigators. It seemed like Oshii wanted to make each and every line, every word, have such great dramatic weight to it that it would come across almost like a Greek play or an opera in a way. If it wasn’t for the incredible performances that Akio Ohtsuka as Batou and Kouichi Yamadera as Togusa put in with their distinctive natures this would have been even more difficult to get through.

And unfortunately, the film is difficult to get through. The plot is so linear in nature and easily projected from the get go that at times you feel like the characters are a couple of steps behind where they should be because of all of that dialogue. I didn’t go into this looking for an action piece because the first movie was much the same in a way, but it also had the draw of the Major herself, someone who is very much missing from most of this film. Batou is a very interesting character and the writers of the TV series have managed to showcase that on several occasions, but I don’t think he’s a character that can carry a full-length theatrical piece like this and with as heady a discussion as they all want to go on about here.

In Summary:
A visual and technical masterpiece that will certainly show off just how far anime has come since its predecessor, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, unfortunately, is a very formulaic story that’s so highly infused with religious and philosophical discourses that they seemingly forgot to put in dialogue for much of the plot. What makes it worth picking up is the animation style and detail to it all as it gives us a very distinctive kind of theatrical experience that plays to the philosophy style well, allowing you to soak it up without much distraction but also having a great deal you can dig into if you’re not quite into that philosophy side of it. Much like the half dozen times I’ve seen it over the years since that first release from DreamWorks under Paramount, I find this to be a frustrating film in the same way that I did the original. There are some really striking aspects to it and some intriguing ideas but it’s a work that doesn’t blend them together well and doesn’t engage. This film is usually lost in the shadow of the original for a few reasons but both of them are best left to the past at this point and leave me wishing for a proper modernized remake with something more cohesive. It’s a fascinating project though and this release brings it to life beautifully.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Director’s Commentary

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

Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Release Date: February 7th, 2017
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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