Whilst we wait for Scarlett Johansson to get into costume.
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.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-parts. Episode 1 was 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 was Ghost Whispers and had the newly-independent Kusanagi tasked by Public Security Official Aramaki to investigate a supposed war criminal whose memories have somehow been altered. These have already been released as Border 1 and 2, now Border 3 and 4 are offered here, with Ghost Tears and Ghost Stands Alone taking a more personal angle for Motoko and introducing the character known as Fire-Starter, in a story-arc which is purportedly continued beyond the scope of this release and into a fifth episode – Pyrophoric Cult – followed by a movie, imaginatively titled Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.Whilst trading in the same overbearing sense of technological paranoia that pervaded Shirow’s original work, and was evident in all of the previous incarnations, Arise – on the one hand – doesn’t really do anything different to justify its existence (beyond, ostensibly, giving us a slightly more personal insight into Motoko's universe) but – on the other hand – offers GITS fans yet more complex, densely plotted cyberterrorist tales set within this colourful dystopic future universe which they can lap up with aplomb. Perhaps the newly-designed characters were always going to be controversial (the now unnecessarily child-like Motoko in particular), and the retelling of the foundation of Section 9 may not be quite as compelling as an all-new saga would have been, but Arise still delivers action and intrigue with equal measure, disseminating notions of identity crises and the blending of illusions and reality in the way that we have all grown accustomed to.
Picture QualityThe second 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, matching up to the strong release of the first two parts.
Detail is excellent throughout, with strong line clarity that largely renders the characters sharply, 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 – not least Motoko’s indigo hair – and strong black levels which allow for some impressive darker sequences and keen juxtaposition with the electric hues of the tech on display.
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. 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.
Sound QualityOn the aural front the accompanying Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are also equally impressive, and, as with the first release from this mini-series, it will be tough to choose between the original Japanese audio and the English dub because they are both so professionally done. Previous incarnations of Ghost in the Shell – from the movies to the Stand Alone Complex TV seasons – 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 a solid part of the action, and, even during the quieter moments there’s plenty of atmosphere and ambience going on in the background. With a strong score – a trademark for the franchise – rounding out the material on offer, this is an excellent aural presentation.
ExtrasPeppered with lots of bitty offerings, the backbone to the supplemental package is the Inside the World of Ghost in the Shell Part 1 Documentary which runs at over half an hour in length and looks behind this newly-envisioned addition to the franchise.
Providing another shotgun-blast of extra features, the second release of Arise has plenty more to offer.
The rest of the offerings are split across the two discs and run at little over a couple of minutes each, largely consisting of TV spots and promos in one form or another: Logicoma Heart; Ghost in the Shell: Arise Episode [JP], Blu-ray and DVD Spots, Memory of GR – Making of Arise, Logicoma Root, Border: Less Project (itself split into five slightly larger chunks – Color, Foreseeing 2027, Working High, Memory and Yuki Will Never Forget Kenji), Promotional Videos, Theatrical Trailers, Textless Songs and US Trailer.
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 been interesting to see how these new old characters evolved into who they are/were.
With Hollywood about to take a shot at this massively popular property – and no doubt strip it of everything that made it so unique – this may well be one of the last anime-based incarnations we see.
Arise: Borders 3 and 4 almost completes the 4-part series, although the news of a further chapter and even a further movie – already released in other territories – means that clearly there’s more to come to round out this particular saga. Still, this second release affords consistently good video and audio as well as a welcome selection of extras. Fans should definitely check it out.
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