Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - The Laughing Man Blu-ray Review
Spy Games 2030
Movies reviewSRP: £10.99
Far more than just a compilation of the best bits of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 1, The Laughing Man makes for a great film in its own right.The long running and highly regarded animated TV series was called Stand Alone Complex because, quite bluntly, it consisted of episodes which were 'stand-alone', and also consisted of episodes which formed a part of the 'complex' single overreaching arc. The latter were revisited and edited together rather impressively to produce this 153 minute feature, which is surprisingly taut and action-packed considering its origins as a series of episodes. The mind-jarringly complex narrative basically involves a group of cyber agents - Public Security Section 9 - who are tasked with investigating a spate of occurrences linked to an elusive hacker named The Laughing Man; an investigation which reveals a high-reaching conspiracy to cover up a cure for cyber-brain sclerosis which puts Section 9 in the crosshairs themselves.Revisiting the first seasons of Stand Alone Complex, it was easy to see why the rough third of episodes dedicated to the 'complex' arc were rich for compliation into a movie, but it took some degree of skill to fuse them into a cohesive whole, with a narrative that packs out over 2.5 hours of runtime effortlessly, without ever leaving you clock-watching. Perhaps the benefit of this type of retro-fitting is that there simply is no room for wasting time on filler, but it's still impressive work, delivering a 'feature' which is arguably even a superior way to watch this storyline, putting the key events into one long tale and allowing the confrontations and exquisitely staged action setpieces to thrill and engage at a level that even the acclaimed series did not reach. It's tense, thrilling and thoughful sci-fi action, and pure Ghost in the Shell genius.
Picture QualityThe Laughing Man finally reaches UK shores with a Region B-locked Blu-ray courtesy of Manga Home Entertainment. Framed in the show's original widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition rendition is largely impressive. With some striking visuals and explosive action setpieces, the screen is never less than busy with opulence, delivering strong line detail, intricate shading, and vibrant tones from a broad, vivid palette. .
A very strong visual effort
Some not insignificant work was done to help translate this from its small screen origins and deliver it as a viable feature, and the results are laudable, giving it a grander scale and feel, whilst retaining the strong animation that was always at its core. Black levels are decent, and defects are largely non-existent and, whilst it may not quite contend with more modern productions, it's a very good effort nonetheless.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks - available both in Japanese with the original voice cast from the series, as well as dubbed English from a new cast (controversially, for many fans, but the results - apart from when it comes to Aramaki - are pretty acceptable). Both are impressive affairs, delivering the key components of dialogue, effects and score with resounding proficiency on each count.
An impressive demo-worthy audio effort
Whilst the dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array (but for the dissemination of the 'net' communication, which takes more of an overhead narration feel), effects excite at every turn. Car screeches, grenade explosions and thunderous gunfire engage across the surrounds, bringing significant LFE weight with them. In particular once the armoured suits take the stage things become particularly bracing, and the action-packed final act is brimming with explosive set-pieces that give the array a mighty workout.
The score, which has been tinkered with for this feature adaptation, is also very impressive - it's always been a high point of the Ghost in the Shell franchise - and gets fine distinction on the audio track, which rounds out as a demo-worthy effort just shy of reference.
ExtrasIt would have been nice to have a couple of episodes from the series
Given the fact that the series proper has never had a UK release (and only received a US release just earlier this year) it might have been nice to include a couple of episodes just to give the fans more than the scant extras on offer. Instead the only real meat comes in the form of a half-hour chat with the director (interviewed in Japanese by the actress who plays the Major) talking about the 'compilation', the effort it took to reconfigure it as a feature, and the importance of the show itself. Beyond this we get a sample of the fluffy Tachikoma Days shorts that normally ended each SAC episode.
Blu-ray VerdictUtterly unmissable for fans of the franchise
Many fans of Ghost in the Shell are probably still upset that the excellent Stand Alone Complex series has still not received a UK-friendly HD release (it's available to buy on Amazon Video, and you can import the US release but it's Region A-locked), and many more will probably roll their eyes at the idea of a 'compilation' release like this, but it's actually a very effective, impressive fusion of the ongoing story arc in the series, and makes for a tense, thrilling and extremely satisfying watch.
Manga's Region B-locked UK release provides very good video and excellent audio and, for fans of the franchise - whether or not you were disappointed in the somewhat disappointing live-action movie adaptation - it's utterly unmissable.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £10.99
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