Our introduction to the long arc comes in the form of a high concept extrapolation of modern and controversial police technology. This episode title begins with the letter C, which is actually an acronym in contrast with the prior three episodes’ SA’s. This must be Complex, and the others were Stand Alone, meaning two things: one, the ‘mytharc’ is beginning, and two, buckle in.
We start at police HQ, with a young police officer looking at photos. His superior, one Chief Nibu, startles him, and appropriately so — he’s introduced ominously, almost robotic, or perhaps controlled… No, Yamaguchi says, he doesn’t want to go for a drink. He leaves and drops the photos in the mail. On his drive home he calls none other than Togusa, who he worked with back during Togusa’s HQ days. He wants a second opinion on something, and that something might be connected to the Laughing Man case from six years ago. Seems Yamaguchi is on the research unit for the case, even after all this time. So Togusa here gives an early rundown of what the Laughing Man was about — corporate hacker, etc. Nothing we need to worry about. Yamaguchi though is worried, because people are behaving oddly at HQ.
Yamaguchi’s vision is taken over by Interceptors, which cause him to drive off the road, and then his car explodes. It’s a pretty good way to covertly assassinate someone, although weather hazards may be necessary. Togusa had been waiting for him all night, and with Saito sitting there reading the paper, and Ishikawa fetching the mail, we get the briefest slice of life down at Section 9. The mail is Batou’s workout equipment, which Saito and Ishikawa don’t agree with.
Togusa finds out that Yamaguchi was in a fatal car accident, but believes it wasn’t an accident. See, the lab report blamed poor visibility, but no matter what the cause of death (like, the one we saw), the agent had information, so Aramaki gives Togusa three days to follow up, quietly. So we’re back on the Laughing Man case, which is all-too familiar to weary Section 9 members. The fact that it exists in the backstory gives it both an elevated presence and a police procedural realism — it’s a cold case that one obscure unit continues to work in secret, and it’s connected to the world in a number of ways.
A lot of big companies were targeted in what Aramaki notes was the largest corporate attack since the war. These people need to be covered, so the relationship between the police and private interests are hinted at. Also hinted at are the Laughing Man’s motivations: standard corporate warfare? Simple matter of ransom money? Nobody knows, even after six years of investigation. All that’s sure is that the Laughing Man is a Super Class-A hacker.
For now, if Togusa finds that there is indeed high level involvement from the police, Section 9 will have to step in. So our human detective pays his respects and meets Yamaguchi’s wife, who delivers the photos. Back at Section 9, Togusa plays Rick Deckard and enlarges this series of seemingly innocuous photos. We tour through them as he does, not seeing anything notable. When he comes back from bathroom-coffee, as well as calling his ever-understanding police-wife, he’s able to figure it out and maintain a step ahead of the audience: there’s no camera in these pictures!
Togusa meets with an old friend from HQ, Fukami. He asks about the Yamaguchi’s fabled trouble in the department. Fukami says that they’ve been working this case day and night — but they’ve got a new material witness who’s got reason to talk. He’s got beef with Serrano Genomics, the first micro-machine company hit by the Laughing Man. Top brass is on the fence about arresting this guy, having circumstantial evidence. They need to catch him in the act, which is why they have interceptors.
Interceptors were just legalized; Section 9 was briefed on them only months ago. What you do is plant them on a suspect and you don’t even have to suffer lengthy stakeouts and unhealthy takeout. Togusa reports back in that the detectives, Fukami and Yamaguchi included, had interceptors implanted without their knowledge, through a bogus medical checkup. This is the suspicious activity, because interceptors aren’t illegal so long as you submit the right paperwork, and have a neutral third-party observer on hand, which the police had not done in this case.
The analogy to our world can be twofold: there are wiretaps, as also dramatized in HBO’s The Wire, which takes the side of the police insofar as depicting how red tape can box good police officers out of duty, making wiretaps impossible (we take the side of their targets in a different way, feeling for them not because their privacy is being violated, but because they are human beings despite social stigma). Ghost in the Shell’s Section 9 busts through red tape, terrifyingly violating all civil rights in the pursuit of even more terrifying cyber-terrorism.
Between those two dynamics, it’s interesting to see how elements are exchanged. There is also the more recent reference point, of technologically-infused accountability of local police in hot zones like Ferguson. Cameras on cops is such a perfect solution, to guide policing behavior in the moment, counteracting the racism and human element inherent in all Americans. Interceptors are different because the point is that the police wouldn’t know, and so racist Japanese cops would continue on as they do.
Because Interceptors exist, the conscious cameras don’t — although one can’t imagine that cyberbrain memories wouldn’t be useful in court cases and to combat public outrage over brutality. Section 9 is essentially black-ops, and so those memories are protected under lock and firewall.
Here we have the evolution of police technology, and so the morality also evolves and complicates. Now there are cyberterrorists who could wreak limitless damage, including the always horrifying prospect of being hacked and waking up one morning having done something despicable the night before. To combat this, Section 9 eschews petty moral concerns in their desperate race. Any questions about brutality or accountability see the window and the team operates as this ghost, outside the law. We trust they know what’s right because they’re all so chill.
Serrano Genomics sold the interceptors to the police as the police were investigating Serrano Genomics. Fukami is currently undercover there, working security for the CEO. After talking with Fukami, they must know that Togusa is working the case now, so the Major wants to shake them up a bit. She does this by leaking a report through her bartender pal, who runs this hub for information trafficking.
Later, a reporter hassles Nibu about Interceptors, and this blows up into a scandal that costs the man his pension, and leads to a press conference where the same reporter continues to poke one Superintendent General Daido, who mentions that Nibu had violated something called the Sensory Perception Surveillance Act. Good lord.
Part of the poking is asking about the connection to Serrano, but before we get too far the Laughing Man makes a memorable appearance by plastering his iconographic visage over top of a man’s head as he monologues. It’s a menacing scene but, knowing the series ahead, can’t exist without that genuine emotional thrust behind it.
The Laughing Man didn’t want to do this anymore, but this farce Daido is putting on hasn’t made him laugh once. He orders him to reconvene in three days lest he be removed from the stage… *bang*
The serialization of Stand Alone Complex begins here, and this show never really balanced the stand alone with the complex, in much the same way American shows do. We might even run into a scenario where they mesh at an odd angle, like when Pazu gets his contained story as a convenient off-shoot of the Individual Eleven case.
Looking at two Rob Thomas shows, Veronica Mars and Party Down, whose similarities to Ghost in the Shell are clearly legion, we have the perfect balance. Party Down can even be seen as the next level, although its serial storyline is much simpler than that of Mars: the romance of the two leads. The stand-alone episodes, each event the characters are there to cater, cause set pieces that allow the two leads to develop their romance. If they’re having a fight, we might have a situation where the crew is doing team-building.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex treats its complex arc almost like an extended stand-alone case, because nothing (until 2nd Gig, or the Puppet Master in earlier iterations) really shakes up the Section 9 foundation. They’re all just cases, though some are more involved.