NOTE: This is a review of the quality of the discs, presentation and packaging/extras not of the series itself.
So as you can see from the title for this blog post I’ve decided to do something a little different. Like many anime lovers I’m a big fan of Ghost In The Shell. The original 1995 movie was an early indication to my young mind that Japanese animation could be an incredibly mature artform, it remains one of my favourites to this very day. It urged me to check out the original manga which is also highly recommended, its creator Masamune Shirow is the sort of visionary that doesn’t come along in comics very often and if you’re a fan of any of the anime versions you owe it to yourself to check out the source material.
In 2002 we got Stand Alone Complex. A TV series with a different continuity to the movie (and its 2004 sequel innocence), it blended police procedural with hi-octane action and some of the philosophical and metaphysical elements of the first movie to brilliant effect. Not to mention the longer running time allowed for better examinations of a stellar cast of characters and more insight into the organisation of Section 9 itself.
Many western fans have long been baffled as to why it has taken so damn long to get Stand Alone Complex on Blu Ray. Along with Evangelion it remained one of the most significantly well loved series to NOT have a blu ray release in either the US or Europe.
Last year America got a release of the show (on the back of the US live action movie no doubt) which was so full of quality control issues that it actually made fans SEETHE with rage. The subtitles were dreaded “dubtitles” (a transcription of the dub track and not a translation of the Japanese), the audio streams and subtitles also apparently didn’t work correctly, randomly switching between tracks at certain points among other things. To say people were pissed is a vast understatement. Particularly since Anchor Bay (the owners of the US wing of Manga Entertainment) doesn’t really seem to have given a shit about customers concerns and they didn’t really address the issue, even going so far as to ban people on Twitter who complained about their lack of customer service.
Earlier this year the set I’m about to talk about was announced from Manga Entertainment UK in partnership with Zavvi and Anime Limited. The last company is a pretty good one, the former two not so much, which had me a little worried. Considering Manga UK’s previous release of the Ghost in the shell movie which also had dubtitles and their similarly shitty treatment of Psycho Pass and Attack On Titan in recent years (among a myriad of others) i definitely felt a cause for concern particularly since this product is a deluxe limited edition which is not exactly cheap (£99.99)
I think Zavvi’s catalogue of failures as a company will be pretty well known by anyone who’s ordered frequently from them so I’ll not rant about that here.
Suffice to say that this boxset despite its lovely appearance in the pre-order photos was definitely making some fans air on the side of caution.
Today is the release date as I write this piece. The 4th June 2018. Because I haven’t got time to binge watch the entire series and I’m busy with viewing other anime for The Retro Mecha Podcast I’ve only skimmed through a lot of episodes and I haven’t noticed any audio/subtitle issues on any of the discs so far. I have been assured by a fellow fan who received an early review copy that he hasn’t found any issues in the set so that made me breathe a sigh of relief.
Video: The video quality is an upgrade from the DVDs as you’d expect. However it’s not a HUGE difference, it’s certainly not a night and day difference between these and my old R2 DVDs. I’m thinking that maybe the show hasn’t been fully remastered from the source. Apparently this is the same set of discs as a french set released last year and I’m not sure exactly what was used for the video source. Honestly though it does the job fine for me. I think shows produced in the early 2000’s are nowhere near as striking visually as shows of the 80’s and 90’s or more modern works. A lot of shows from that era have a bit of a “flat” look to me. Likely something to do with the techniques used to create them, I think hand drawn works will always benefit the most from Blu Ray anyway.
Audio: The audio is also crisp and clear on what I’ve listened to so far. Dialogue sounds at the right level and effects noises such as explosions and gunfire sound appropriately beefy. Since it had a DTS-HD Audio track if you have DTS compliant equipment you’ll likely get a lot more out of the soundtrack.
Subtitles: Subs are white with a black shadow around them. I haven’t noticed any grammar/spelling errors but I’ll update this review if I find any when I get around to watching the series properly. Here’s a screenshot of them from Episode 2.
Presentation: The box is beautiful. An image of Kusanagi from the first episode before she disappears using the stealth camo features on the front and if you turn the box over to the back you’re treated to the cityscape without Kusanagi (to illustrate her speedy disappearance no doubt). Anime Limited did packaging design on this boxset so it has their trademark removable label showing the contents of the box and series blurb on the back, you need to remove that to see the full image hidden behind. It just has those little removable non permanent glue tabs on the back as all Anime Limited releases do. However please be aware it’s a pretty damn big box due to the inclusion of the book. You’ll need a deep set of shelves to store it properly.
Features: Basically a LOT of interviews. If someone is important to the production they’re interviewed here. All of the main cast plus selected key crew such as director Kenji Kamiyama (in an interview exclusive to this set) plus the likes of the mecha designers, people who worked on the music (including the legendary Yoko Kanno) etc etc. Plus some TV spots and the obligatory textless opening.
“Access” (The hardcover book included with the set). WOW. Just wow. This book is indredible! It clocks in at an impressive 140 pages and is sooooo much more in-depth than I thought it would be. It touches on such subjects as the careers of both Masamune Shirow and Mamoru Oshii, the evolution of the Cyberpunk genre in Japan and even some of the philosophical aspects of the Ghost franchise. It also contains a complete episode guide with summaries, pictures and timelines for different continuities, all of the DVD covers from the various releases and a production design sketch section. The book has a very similar level of quality to the Udon produced official series guides such as the Evangelion Chronicle books, not something I was expecting to be bundled in with a Blu ray release that’s for sure!
I have no hesitation in recommending this set to fans of the series. At the moment its not known as to whether Manga UK will put out a standard edition. Considering they only tend to do one release for their blu ray sets it’s probably unlikely. Also they’d be sure to get called out on scummy business practices for only announcing a limited edition and then announcing a regular one at half the price months later.
This really feels like a premium release which is a shock for a company that has been putting out substandard products for years. Perhaps it’s the influence of Anime Limited who worked with them on this release. A lot of discussion has went on regarding this set online prior to this coming out. Fans have been saying its pricing is ridiculous and that people won’t buy it unless there’s a separate standard release but these people need to pay more attention to the prices of current collectors sets on Blu ray. It`s actually pretty good value for money when you break it down. I can understand people saying that companies announcing pre-orders for premium boxsets without a standard version is setting a dangerous precedent for the market and not to support it but I had a feeling it would be of decent quality since Anime Limited had put their name to it. I could’ve always returned it if I wasn’t happy with it.
Back to the subject of value there’s a lot more content than most of Anime Limited’s “premium” collectors sets like the recent Wolf’s Rain and Eureka Seven sets that were around the £130 range and contained substantially less video content.
When you consider most Blu ray sets of an entire season are around £40 RRP and this has 2 seasons plus 2 compilations and an OVA (the three of which would be likely to be at least £30 in their own boxset or more individually) that justifies enough of the price tag for me, the price is worth it for the absolutely phenomenal book and the special features which are much better than the average company’s release. How many times have you seen a blu ray of a series you love that only has a handful of trailers and maybe a clean opening and closing?, the discs here have interviews with 17 key staff members (cast and crew) that are insightful and well worth watching.
In short I’m a little bit blown away by how good this set is overall, coming from a company who I haven’t actually bought a release from in a couple of years now due to a stream of constant disappointments. I can only hope what I assume is Anime Limited’s influence rubs off on Manga Entertainment UK with future releases they’re NOT involved in.
The Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Blu Ray set is currently still available at Zavvi.