This shouldn't be confusing, but the rerelease of 'Ghost in the Shell' with "updated" animation made things a little complicated in the names department for the series. 'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' should not be mistaken with 'Ghost in the Shell 2.0,' but it's bound to happen due to the unnecessary renaming (and even more unnecessary reworking) of the classic first film in the 'GitS' series, which also contains a successful anime series, 'Stand-Alone Complex.' The sequel has not been updated or altered, and it is presented the same as it was back in 2004 when it first debuted, directed by Mamoru Ishii based off the Shirow Masamune manga.
There really isn't all that much in common between the films, especially in animation style, as a lot changed in the nine years between them, even if the films themselves have a much tighter gap between events. The main character from the first, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is not the lead in the second, as her former partner, Batou, and his new partner, Togusa. Yep, the lead is no longer a sexpot who is readily nude. Nope, that's not why this film isn't as interesting or solid as the first.
After a string of gynoids (sex robots, yeah!) go berserk and kill their owners and a few others, including some police responding to the scenes, Batou and his new partner are left with a case with few leads, and much mystery. A cyborg corporation named Locus Solus, where the gynoids were made, leads the pair down a dark, disturbing path to the truth, where gangsters out to avenge their boss's murder and equally dangerous robots wait around every turn. The truth? There's something really shady going on, and Batou is going to need the help of an old friend to get to the bottom of it.
'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' isn't a bad film. Actually, it's pretty interesting, as it has intriguing effects work, superb writing, and a very complex plot. One could even argue that the plot is too complex, with too much happening at once for its own good. It's an anime that requires viewers be familiar with the first in the series, and even then may demand a few repeat viewings for the entire puzzle to fit together properly. On first viewing, I can simply say my reaction was that of bewilderment, borderline confusion. Then, just thinking about the random events in the flick makes the matter start to make a bit more sense. I'll admit (or brag) that very few films have had me thrown for such a loop, and that's even with giving the film my entire attention. I can't imagine how anyone confused with 'Inception' or 'Memento' will handle this flick...
The step by step investigation of the bizarre case may seem to skip and jump along the way, without a single mislead, and while this may seem lazy, the film is complicated enough as is without any red herrings, and the course of the mystery does open the door for some amazing sequences. 'Innocence' has some melodic, over-the-top action sequences that have to be seen to be believed, and they're complete game changers, as these shoot 'em ups are placed perfectly through the film to keep the adrenaline and tech junkies in their seats instead of looking for other things to do. Each of the intricately orchestrated scenes of carnage are entirely different from the others, and that helps keep the film fresh and unique, despite the lack of a truly menacing robot or piece of armament, as was found in the original.
Reality blurs, to the point that viewers as well as characters will begin to question what is real and what isn't, and when mixed with some heavy philosophical themes, the complexity of the material transforms into a true piece of art, albeit a truly warped, perverse one. In a world where the line between human and robot has been blurred to the point where reality and fiction are no longer absolute ideas, where harmony and chaos coexist and intermingle, our heroes are forced into a situation that will test their will to survive, to discover the truth, and to set right a wrong that threatens everyone. While the super-heroine of past is somewhat present, her existence only complicates matters in ways that weren't necessary or logical, and the film suffers slightly from that, no matter how much fans wanted to see the Major again. 'Ghost in the Shell 2' is beyond interesting; it's a curiosity of epic proportions, and provides more than enough intelligence and action to glue audiences to the screen for numerous viewings, to catch those "a ha!" moments that make the story a bit more sensical and complete. A departure from the original, but not in a bad way, 'Innocence' relies too heavily on its predecessor, incapable of standing on its own two legs. As such, it is a film aimed directly and solely at existing fans. Do not venture into these grounds unless you've already given the already classic 1995 tale a spin or two.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc, housed in a standard case. There are no annoying pre-menu trailers, just a Bandai company logo, and the menu itself is full motion with a seamless (but annoying) audio loop.
This Blu-ray release went out of print, and due to a fairly low print, has become quite the expensive disc very fast. The question, now, is whether fans should pay the price, wait for a (hopeful) rerelease or repressing, or import. The UK release is still in print (though its region code status is quite possibly locked to Region B), and can be found very cheap, while the Japanese disc has always been expensive, and is also seemingly out of print at this very moment.
The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode given to 'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' is, for lack of a better word, great. Released before the horrible mishmash of hand drawn animation and CG found in 'Ghost in the Shell 2.0,' the sequel has a fantastic aesthetic that blends the styles together seamlessly, and has aged wonderfully these last seven years.
The CG effects aren't blurred, pixelated, or awkward. In fact, they're clear (razor sharp, even) and never a distraction, boasting fantastic textures, though the tiniest hint of aliasing does poke through from time to time. Some of the sequences using this technology are absolutely insane, for a cartoon made now or back in 2004, boasting vivid, breathtaking details without creating any anomalies in the picture. This cartoon has great depth as well, and a nice three dimensional feel, made all the better due to the fantastic grit and grime in the picture.
The only gripes with this release are not so much fair, but they do create slight issues. The film employs a very strong grain to create a gritty (absolutely no sterile scenes here!) atmosphere, and combined with some extremely hot moments creating bleeds and harsh whites, sometimes the picture can look a bit bizarre. There are some slight noise issues, and the tiniest bit of banding. To be fair, though, there are some sequences, particularly late, that would have proven absolutely disastrous if banding were anything but barely there, as the fully red picture in the underwater sequence would have been a true nightmare. Bandai did a great job on this disc, even if a few tiny issues and the film's own intent hold it back slightly.
The audio for 'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' is a bit unusual. There are three audio tracks for the film, and all three are standard (lossy!) Dolby DIgital 5.1 mixes, with the Bandai dub, a UK Manga dub, and the authentic Japanese, in that order, available through the menu. While Bandai English may be the default, this review is based off the native Japanese track.
For a Dolby Digital track, it's not exactly bad, but there are some moments where the lack of lossless audio is almost as obvious as in the movie-only edition of 'Red.' That's a bad thing.
Still, the Japanese dialogue didn't haven't any problems with prioritization, even if it stayed front and center. Rears get plenty of random ambience and activity, while there are a few localized effects that keep the soundstage lively. Motion effects, really, are very poorly utilized, with some not hitting the mark, and numerous times when they should exist, they don't. There's fun volume spikes, some good bass throbs (for a lossy track especially), though high ends do get rather annoying fast, particularly in music. Mechanical sounds are just splendid and fun, as they sound just like you'd imagine. Subtitles, while they do create a slight ring around them that is annoying, are very well made, without a single bad, bad translation.
I just wish that guns and explosions had pop. The gunship in the third act would have been off the hook insane, possibly demo material, but instead, it was simply nice, while gunfire lacks any real pop or thump, despite some serious, serious firepower at time. It's just enough to drop this track back down a score, because it is too noticeable how lacking and weak it is.
'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' is an interesting film. It's smart, possibly too damn smart for its own good, but it intersperses just enough action to keep the blood pumping. It's miles away from the original, but it's not a bastardization, not by any means. This Blu-ray has great video, three different audio tracks, and a few extras. Half a year ago, this would have earned an easy recommendation, but due to the prohibitive price this release is currently drawing, it may be best to wait it out until it goes back into print. Fifteen bucks sounds so much better than one hundred, especially with all the other anime that demands to be bought coming out right now.