This is a perfectly microcosmic episode of Stand Alone Complex, though structurally it is perhaps anticlimactic and reversed. The big action scene is upfront, and the rest is procedural: political and bureaucratic. This is a show where these two elements, action and procedure, are intrinsically linked, where the latter only occasionally manifests in an action scene, and the action scenes work primarily as depicted here: favoring strategic maneuvering and for the Major, coordinating a team, over gratuitous explosions and gunfire. This is a paramilitary police force, borderline black-ops team, and so their engagement with enemies — from terrorists to politicians — is much more about communication and precision than shoot-em-up action.
“Public Security Section 9” is also a survey in this way, but more so it is telling of the scope of the show, that malfunctioning geisha androids are not the final enemies, so indeed they’re dealt with in the beginning — it’s something more sinister: a foreign spy who’s swapped bodies with the Minister of Foreign Affairs in order to smuggle a key document out of the country. The hostage situation was a play to murder an undercover investigator who witnessed the body-swap. Turns out the androids weren’t malfunctioning at all.
The politics, the technology, and the military tactics all tie in so perfectly to create a formula, not the arc-formula of a stand alone complex, repeated once more in 2nd Gig, but the in-the-moment and episode-to-episode appeal of a cyber-crime with a lot of moving pieces. It’s a killer scifi hook stacked onto the already killer hook of computerized minds that can be manipulated and hacked.
After the hostage crisis is resolved, Chief Aramaki talks with Kubota, an army Intelligence officer an old friend, and puts the plot into motion. Kubota lost his investigator, and in order to avoid a scandal, he turns to Section 9. This episode is our thesis of what the team does, and by the end we get a convenient (and needed) wrap-up: had the regular police handled the situation, the raid on the geishas would’ve ended with a bunch of dead androids. Section 9 was also able to delay the spy’s private jet due to weather, despite the sunny clime.
We also see on an individual level, how all of these specialists function. This is the first time such great attention is paid to characters like Boma and Pazu — which is why they’re not paid enormous attention in the series. In the context of Ghost in the Shell, it’s a lot, but for now, never enough.
The team gets into position around the geisha-house, with the Major taking the lead, Batou and a Tachikoma on the roof, Togusa and Ishikawa trying to hack in — Togusa is called onto the field, Saito’s got his sniper rifle, and then Pazu and Boma are on the street, standing by in a car to chase down the perp. While these jobs shift around on occasion, this gives us a good foundation for what they do.
In response to comments made on podcasts starting the Ghost in the Shell Double Anniversary Celebration, this is why the Major is damseled in the original film, as well as later on in this first season. Section 9 is a team, and while that’s less explicit in the movie, it is mentioned to Togusa, but here, we see the philosophy in action.
There is broader dramatic potential for such a team, as well as branching genres — often times Batou and Togusa will take on the detective roles, and in one suspicious scene early on, Pazu and Boma play like yakuza in shaking down information. But always we come back to the Major, who’s military in her name to begin with, and lets professionalism define so much of who she is.
She’s at her most compelling here, and if you can excuse the garish outfit she dons for the majority of the first season (she… puts on pants, for 2nd Gig), she’s someone who may not stir you in the deepness of your heart like our recent television characters of this mold, whether Carrie Matheson or Jimmy McNulty, but she exemplifies a paragon of strong female character that is cathartic and forcefully engaging. Physically, she’s the toughest badass in the show — nobody can match her in hand-to-hand combat, such that she can hunt her prey casually in the opening scene. She’s also the leader of this elite team, so she’s incredibly level-headed (a sharp temper, if not a short one, maybe), and visibly intelligent.
We see where this episode takes cues from the manga, and from the film (Kamiyama admits he’s trying to ape Oshii’s style — clearly he’s being humble), with sexy killer androids and the Major teasing Togusa about his Madaver, but the central character here is completely actualized. And she finally makes sense in her environment. Granted, in Ghost in the Shell we could argue that she’s been in Section 9 too long, and so this incarnation is an earlier version, but they feel like completely unrelated characters. I don’t see this Major becoming disillusioned with the job because of an internal crisis (it may be other things).
And beyond the overhaul with the Major, this is as sure an adaptation as each and every entry in the franchise has been — including Arise. The sexy geishas are not fetishized by the camera, and they get their heads obliterated so you can see the grisly detail of their inhumanity. The show is both familiar and different in one, like each of these titles are the visions in a Tatami Galaxy, repetitive in story but not in form.
Stand Alone Complex will go on to tell two long, great stories, extended cyber-crime cases that are high-concept within the high-concept of the fictional universe. For the in-between episodes, we alternate between cool ideas and character studies, insofar as the show defines ‘character.’ Indeed, this might be the most western Ghost in the Shell, but the characters are mysterious and not conventionally drawn. Is it because they’re inhuman, or because this show is inhuman?