I’m falling behind on Finish or Fail posts. I still have to do them for Index, Utawarerumono, and Mononoke (spoiler: all finished) but I felt like writing about Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex real quick.
I will say upfront that I did not finish SAC season 1. After 8 episodes, I gave up and decided I would just watch the Laughing Man compilation OVA before moving on to season 2. I would have probably finished the season if I didn’t realize there was a compilation movie, so it’s not like I ragequitted the show. I just figured it would be easier to get through it in a more compact version. On to the rant…
My decision to watch Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex came from two different elements. The first involves my current focus on sakuga anime. Knowing that GITS SAC had one of the highest budgets on any TV anime, I’ve always wanted to see it for, if nothing else, it’s place in the hierarchy of animation. In this regard, I was pretty disappointed. Before I even start on this rant, I will give you some context. This series aired from the end of 2002 into the beginning of 2003, putting it’s release just after Full Metal Panic, RahXephon, Saikano, Chobits, .hack//SIGN, and Azumanga Daioh. It aired alongside the likes of Witch Hunter Robin and Haibane Renmei, and after it came series such as Kino’s Journey. Hopefully one of those shows will give you a general idea of the sort of things on TV at the time around this series airing.
The anime market was FAR less saturated back in ’02, leaving way less room for low-budget anime, but even then Ghost in the Shell would have been one of the prettier shows on TV, from a technical standpoint. It wasn’t nearly as above-average as my experience had led me to believe, though. (I think the episodes I saw on TV must have mostly been from 2nd Gig, which aired a year later. The difference between the two is almost as big as the difference between Full Metal Panic and The Second Raid.) While GITS SAC looks more expensive than most of what I listed above, I think RahXephon may have been about the same level, unless my memories are really glorified.
However, high-budget animation does not save GITS SAC from being an ugly show. You heard me. For all that the action scenes in the series are great in using that technical power to produce satisfyingly realistic (more tempted to say ‘professional-looking’) SWAT operations, the series nonetheless excels at being visually displeasing. Let me count the ways…
Character design. I actually like Motoko Kusanagi – she’s probably my second favorite thing in GITS SAC, but what the fuck is she wearing?! Kusanagi’s usual attire (pictured above) is the ugliest fucking excuse for an outfit I think I’ve ever seen donned by an otherwise attractive character. For one, the colors clash (pinkish purple on black?! WHY?!) For another, the jacket looks stupid as shit in combination with the rest of the outfit. I actually don’t mind it so much when she takes off the jacket, but she rarely does. It’s the most useless jacket of all time. I would love to burn it. Fuck this whole outfit.
Your reaction might be ‘well, they wanted to stay true to the original manga’, but I retort that if such was their goal, then they fucked this up real bad. For one thing, check out this picture of Kusanagi’s normal attire that I nabbed from the manga.
Yeah, the whole leggings and thong situation is still pretty stupid, but the t-shirt looks perfectly fine. It does enough to accentuate her breasts (not seen in this image, but read the manga) without the cleavage (I have nothing against cleavage, I just have something against what the anime made her wear to get it) and what’s more, it makes sense – her outfit says that she doesn’t really give much of a damn about what she wears if it’s comfortable, and a t-shirt looks comfortable (plus it’s all the same god damn color, and that color isn’t offensive). Nothing about that jacket or that corset-like thing looks in any way comfortable, so what inspired her to wear something so ugly? But you know, this wouldn’t bother me if everyone was wearing this shit. I’d believe that in the future, this attire is simply popular or something. After all, in the manga, everyone looks stupid. Look at fucking Batou.
He looks like he just walked out of an 80s seinen manga (oh wait), but look at Batou in the anime.
Normal fucking clothes! Everyone except for Motoko dresses just like they do today! She is the single anomaly of misinterpreted 80s design lingering in this otherwise modern series. Well, her and Togusa’s fucking mullet.
You can’t even try to bullshit me by saying that it’s her ‘combat attire’ or some shit, because when she is going into serious combat, Motoko usually wears the awesome-looking stealth suit (which she also uses in the manga for those missions). There is no excuse. And don’t say it was ‘just for fanservice’ as if that gives it a pass or makes it less of a problem. I have no complaints about this image of the Dirty Pair (though I admittedly took the less-embarrassing outfits from the post-80s version) looking fucking great in next to nothing. This is fanservice done right, without giving me fucking eye cancer.
Finally getting past Kusanagi’s design, I will move on to the rest of the cast – or rather I won’t, because they all look fucking boring as shit. I understand that GITS SAC tries to be realistic by featuring a squad of characters who can pass for a real cop team (excluding Kusanagi, though the show’s future-setting of everyone-can-have-a-perfect-body explains her… but raises questions about several others) but once again, being realistic does not mean completely sacrificing memorability. Everyone in the show wears drab-ass shit and looks old as hell, and not in a good ‘cool older guy way’ but in a boring ‘unexciting guy with a mullet’ way. Seriously, Togusa, fucking grow it out or cut it short, man.
Witch Hunter Robin aired around the same time as Ghost in the Shell and was similarly a show about a police-type force fighting episodic crime with a realistic, serious attitude. It also managed to have a cast of cool-looking and very well-dressed characters whom I might actually try to remember instead of blocking from my consciousness. GITS SAC should take note.
But seriously, let’s get over the character designs. (The mech designs are made of win and awesome and the tachikomas are the best part of the show) seriously, moving on. GITS SAC has no style whatsoever. Maybe that works for some people – Baka-Raptor claims to not care about style at all. Now, I’m a purveyor of style, so coming from me, it might seem like having no style is a particularly huge turnoff, but this is not the case. A series can be fairly drab (Full Metal Panic is a pretty good example) and it will never bother me at all – as long as it’s art and animation work well with it’s story (which they do in that case.) However, GITS SAC is the most criminally boring show to look at I can think of.
There are no interesting ‘settings’ in GITS SAC. Even though it takes place in a big city, the only cool big-city shot I can remember is from the very first episode when Makoto chases a guy across some rooftops. It is hard to get a sense of distance or location at times, because the scenes tend to begin and end with people standing around in buildings talking, and the buildings are all so generic and boring that they are hard to even tell apart. Every scene is either in someone’s god damn office or in a car (but never on the way to a location, only when there’s like a car chase or some shit coming up) and for some reason, every single time the characters are on the highway, they seem to be over the water or out in bumfuck nowhere, with the city in the background, as if for some reason they have to leave the city entirely to get to anywhere in the city. I digress.
Something like 70% of the show is people standing or sitting perfectly still, conversing with completely straight faces about whatever today’s plot is. Kusanagi and Batou are the only people who ever show personality, but they are the muscle, and their moments of movement are usually when someone’s about to get their ass beat. If it isn’t boring enough to watch people talk, they also do it through their mind a lot of the time, meaning they aren’t even opening their god damn fucking mouth. I feel like if I lightly gave one of the characters a shove while he was rattling off plot details, he would just tip over like a statue and fall to the ground, and he wouldn’t even stop his fucking sentence. He would just lay there, stiff and awkward, and keep doing his job.
Let’s go back to those other shows that aired around the same time as GITS SAC. We’ll ignore the shows with great but totally different styles (Abenobashi, RahXephon), and talk about Full Metal Panic, a show which manages to successfully portray a realistic, military driven show and still be thoroughly entertaining. The first season was produced by studio GONZO, and it wasn’t quite the technical marvel that GITS SAC is, but it’s a nice-looking experience. And it is never god damn boring – the characters have facial expressions and emotions and habits and manners of speech and things that you can actually look at during the periods of dialog, and the exposition and action are mixed together well, etc. While the show doesn’t go out of it’s way to be stylish, it still manages to create memorable locales and meaningful expressions which actually make some effort to entertain the eyes.
So yeah, it’s nice to watch a fist-fight between Motoko and some huge cyborg dude with intense and fluid animation, but it would be a hell of a lot more cool if Motoko was dressed to kill (I think she’d look good in something like Alphard from Canaan wears), and her enemies were memorable, and her one or two minutes of combat weren’t bookended by visuals so boring they make my eyes glaze over. Waste of a fucking budget.
There’s a lot more to come. I didn’t expect to go on so much about the visuals of the show, so I’ll be making follow-up posts about the other aspects (since I don’t want to end up with a 5000-word post like my last Finish or Fail, which even I don’t really feel up for re-reading anytime soon lol.) So if you could, please comment on this post only in regards to the visuals in GITS SAC season one, and not about other aspects of the show.