Mention the word “anime” and you’ll get two responses… Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
The vast majority of anime fans have seen these two, and with the addition of Princess Mononoke, they are the standards to which the rest of the anime field is compared.
Ghost in the Shell (GitS) is on this listing for good reason. It offers to the viewer a multifaceted story usually found in live-action flicks. This is a thinking person’s DVD, but it has enough action, skin and art that the non-connoisseur can easily enjoy it. It easily won the 1997 World Animation Celebration’s Best Theatrical Feature Film and the Best Director of a Theatrical Feature Film awards.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when styles are mixed in an anime. Normally, it distracts the viewer from his or her immersion in the story. GitS is one of the very few animes that uses CGI to enhance the movie. The CGIs are only used when they don’t clash, and they are used sparingly. The artists paid painstaking attention to detail. In one of the opening scenes, the Major is putting on a jacket as she walks off camera. The jacket moves just like a real version, it is not a stiff flat piece of plastic that gets clumsily donned. In another long sequence, the Major is on a boat floating down a river when it starts to rain. Again, the detail in the animation is astounding. There is trash in the water and myriads of signs overhead advertising businesses. The signs overhead move three-dimensionally. The lower ones appear to move faster than the higher ones, creating the illusion of fluid 3D motion. Just as in Shirow’s manga, however, there are little pockets of lesser quality scenes, such as the old man who was annoyed that he missed the garbage truck. Luckily, these are few and far between.
The soundtrack really comes alive with the DVD version of GitS. Kenji Kawai’s scoring is essential in the creation of the mood throughout the film. You won’t find any embarrassing “J-Pop”. The score is very haunting and beautiful, enough so that I actually recommend you purchase a copy of the CD. The opening track is very Japanese, not “Americanized” for distribution in the US. The sound effects are on par with the visuals, and when you watch this DVD you should make sure the volume is turned way up.
I found the English voice talent a bit dry and lifeless, which would be my biggest complaint. Since this film follows a live-action format, with action scenes interlaced with storyline development, the monologues tend to get a bit windy. The almost monotone voice of the Major during these diatribes tends to be a distraction to the message in the speech. This is a heady movie, with a lot of philosophical points to explore. The dialog is essential to the enjoyment of the cohesive anime, and when you miss bits and pieces, you can easily get confused.
The DVD has a treasure trove of additional material. There is a 30 minute “making of” documentary, which I recommend you view right after you see the movie. There are many additions thrown in the DVD version that really should be standard with all animes. Interactive menus and a movie production report are two examples of this.
Another suggestion I have is to watch this DVD once in Japanese with English subtitles. Some of the scripting is different, and the Japanese voice talent seemed to have a greater enthusiasm for the role.
If you’re starting out collecting anime DVDs, Ghost in the Shell should be one of the first three you purchase.