Is there a ghost in this shell?
What's it all about?
Arguably one of the largest manga-based franchises on the planet, Masumune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell continues to thrive, in one form or another; this latest is Arise, a 4-part prequel/reboot series.Set over a decade into the future, the world has been shaken up by a cyber-based non-nuclear fourth World War, which has left cyber security a priority, with terrorists being able to hack into the machine-dominated world. Major Motoko Kusanagi is a full-body cyborg who works for the Army’s 501 Organisation and is involved in an investigation into the corruption of one of their own; an investigation which makes her question her loyalty and even her identity. After all, if your mind can be downloaded, then what’s to stop somebody uploading a completely new reality without your even knowing?
Split into four hour-long parts – called ‘Borders’ for no apparent reason whatsoever – the series has been further split down the middle and released in 2-part segments. Episode 1 (Border 1) is called Ghost Pain, and focuses on the Major’s last military investigation, and her early meetings with the Public Security individuals who would later become integral parts of Section 9. Episode 2 (Border 2) is called Ghost Whispers and has the newly-independent Kusanagi tasked by Public Security Official Aramaki to investigate a supposed war criminal whose memories have somehow been altered.There’s no question that all of Shirow’s key ingredients are here – plot, characters, themes, visuals and action. The story is dominated by a complex and frequently contrived blending of multiple layers and themes. To call it densely plotted would be a massive understatement and you’ll be warmly satisfied to make it through the first hour with your mind intact.
And with no time to spare, there’s more action than we’ve perhaps become accustomed to in the last couple of series’. What’s more intriguing is the notion that reality can be so violently distorted – even for the Major herself – and it’s these notions of identity, so very intrinsic in Shirow’s original work, that are not explored as fully within these episodes as fans might have hoped for. Still, this is just the first of two halves, and with enough promise to hook you in, there’s plenty for fans and newcomers alike to enjoy.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe first two parts of Ghost in the Shell: Arise come to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray complete with impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentations in the show’s original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen.
Detail is excellent throughout, with strong line detail that largely renders the characters strikingly, providing what has now become something of a quintessential Ghost in the Shell look, only obviously (and quite jarringly in the case of Motoko) updated for this latest incarnation. Stylistically, this has advantages and disadvantages, and the former clearly outweigh the latter.
The colour scheme is broad and varied – perhaps even more so than ever before – with plenty of vibrant, vivid tones on offer, and strong black levels which allow for some impressive darker sequences.
If you were impressed by the visuals of previous incarnations of Ghost in the Shell, then Arise competes with the best of them in terms of presentation.
The style of the piece is clearly intended to help better blend the CG animation in such a way as to feel more real, but frequently this requires a certain amount of softness to be employed around the edges (blooming spotlights dominate the piece). Whilst this is undoubtedly an authentic representation of the material, it’s the only niggle in an otherwise largely stunning presentation. Thankfully, though, it does not prevent this show from achieving demo standing.
Blu-ray Sound QualityOn the aural front the accompanying Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are equally impressive, and it will be tough to choose between the original Japanese audio and the English dub because they are both so professionally done. Previous incarnations have been frequently only made available in the UK with English tracks, so many might have become accustomed to not listening to the original Japanese, but with new characters and a new show, now could be the time to test the water and check out the alternative. Either way dialogue comes across clearly and coherently from across the fronts and centre channels, with the Japanese dub featuring forced English subtitles.
Both tracks offer impressive activity across an intricately designed soundscape.
Surround usage is frequently striking, with plenty of across-the-room and overtop effects, and the rears getting a decent workout too. The LFE channel is seldom left out of the loop too, and, even during the quieter moments there’s plenty of atmosphere and ambience going on in the background. With a strong score – although not quite as good as fans might have expected given the magnificent scores on the preceding incarnations – rounding out the material on offer, this is an excellent aural presentation.
Blu-ray ExtrasFirst up we get a US Commentary from the Cast and Crew, who talk about rebooting the series whilst remaining true to what has come before; providing some origin work and maintaining originality, and working within the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Ghost in the Shell: Arise at the anime expo (2013) is a strong 21-minute offering that boasts interviews with key members in the production crew. Then there are the two Border: 1 – Cyberbrain I.G. Night Talk Shows which are Q & A segments that run at 11 minutes a piece.
Split across the two discs we get a shotgun blast of extras, many of which are pretty decent.
Logicoma Court and Logicoma Beat are 2-minute shorts which promote those robot things that you’ll have a love/hate relationship with. There are Textless Songs for the opening and closing credits. Decode 501File spends 2 minutes offerings some background into the mysterious 501 organisation. There’s also a 30-sec Border: 2 Teaser, 2-3 minute Surface and Pacific Racing Team Promos, Commercials, Blu-ray and DVD Spots, Promotional Videos and US Trailers.
Blu-ray VerdictIt’s certainly good to have Ghost in the Shell back on the small screen, in whatever shape or form. Whilst the new character designs jar a bit, everything else slips smoothly into place, and it’s certainly interesting having a little more background into these characters and where they came from. Sure, the bits that hold your interest are generally more to do with the new stories, rather than the old origins, which merely flavour the background, but it’s a strong start, and I am certainly interested in seeing how they round things off, and whether there will be further seasons in the Arise series.
Fans of the franchise should be all over this. Newcomers could do worse than starting here, purportedly where it all began.
This Region B locked release matched up to its preceding US counterpart and boasts excellent video and audio and a strong selection of extras spread across the two discs. Undoubtedly there will be a 4-disc release of the entire series but, in the meantime, enjoy the first half of this new mini-series.
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