Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – The Laughing Man (2005)

This is essentially a compilation of the twelve arc-heavy episodes of “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Season 1”. It does not take place in the same continuity as the 1995 and 2004 Ghost in the Shell films that I’ve watched and greatly enjoyed. A different team created the television show and this film.

While many characters, worldbuilding elements, and themes carry over, it’s very clear that it’s a different approach. It is a lot more action-focused than the original two films. It’s much, much less cerebral and abstract. It feels a lot more juvenile in a lot of ways. The Major’s appearance in this film, and the show, is honestly ridiculous. It’s embarrassing and ludicrously fetishistic. There is no reason for her to wear such bizarrely sexualised clothing and for it to be barely justified or commented upon, when the writing usually goes to great lengths to vocalise and explain anything notable or creative about its world.

The animation is more standard and less creative than that of the original two films, but hardly unappealing or anything. Strangely, the vocal tracks and dialogue are different in this film than in the episodes it was adapted from (the vocal performances were notably better in the original episodes).

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The best feature of film and show are the “Tachikoma” robots, adorable unique-looking robots grappling with their growing consciousness and autonomy. I wish the focus was on them, not the Laughing Man plot, because their journey seemed a lot more interesting and tied into the more fascinating themes at play in the setting. The “Tachikomatic Days” minisodes appearing after an episode, featuring the unique “Tachikoma” robots gleefully (and briefly!) addressing the theme of the preceding episode were a highlight; it’s a shame they didn’t factor into the film. A lot of the better aspects of the show didn’t make it into the film really, as a lot of the better episodes weren’t the arc-heavy episodes adapted here.

The main plot, and villain, centre around cyberhacking and shady, unethical business manipulations in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s interesting enough, though unoriginal, and nowhere near as fascinating or captivating as the much more metaphysical concerns of the original two films. This is a well-told cyberpunk story, but not really anything more. I enjoyed watching it, but I don’t see myself remembering it or pondering it later the way I do with the 1995 and 2004 films. I give it two and a half Tachikomas, and a hacked set of eyes.

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