Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is based in an alternate universe where Motoko never encounters the Puppetmaster(more about the differences between universes here). We're still following the members of Section 9 as they fight various cyberterrorists, while working on solving the mystery of the Laughing Man case, the story's main plot arc. There's lots of action here in the series, with some phenomenal fight sequences, but there's also tons of discussion and dialogue on a variety of ethical issues we're likely to start running into in the near future. Production-IG set out on an ambitious project, and has delivered every bit of quality fans of the manga and movie could possibly want.
It's so good that I need to point out off the bat that despite my fanboyism, this is an absolutely fantastic show. The animation is gorgeous, the plot and storytelling are tight, and Yoko Kanno delivers a superb soundtrack to back it all up. Definitely one that pretty much everyone should see, regardless of their interest in Shirow or Ghost in the Shell. Heck, it turned out so well that a second season, GitS: SAC 2nd GIG, was created, and is still running in Japan, as well as re-airing the first season on one of the regular stations in Japan instead of the PPV channel it was originally broadcast on. It has also spawned not one, but two games, one for the Playstation 2 fresh out in the US, and another for the upcoming PSP that was announced at the 2004 Tokyo Game Show.
DVDs have finally started coming out in places other than Japan, though not without problems, I'll leave it to the respective companies to let you look at release details for the US, UK, and Austrailia, beyond that I'm not much use at providing international DVD release information. Unfortunately I haven't had opportunity to pick them up as of yet, so I have yet to hear much about the dub. Word is that it will be showing up on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block November 6th at 11pm Eastern, and at the rate I'm going, that's probably going to be my first opportunity to really listen to the dub outside of the clips on the official US site.
As I've said, the main plot revolves around a character known as the Laughing Man, a mysterious hacker that committed a crime 5 years prior and disappeared. Section 9 revives the case because other incidents have suddenly started occurring that all bear the Laughing Man's logo. That's the barest skeleton of what's going on, in part because its been too long since I've watched it, and in part because part of the pleasure of watching the show was watching things unfold and figuring out how they fit together. Though this is the main story arc, it only involves half of the episodes, using the rest to tell other side stories and flesh out both the world and members of Section 9. Production-IG has even given us a nice and easy way to tell the two apart, with the title card for each episode declaring it either Stand Alone(side story) or Complex(main plot), for a complete breakdown of the types, just scroll to the end of the page. Since there's so much to the series, I've only gotten to writing up spoilers for a couple of the episodes, to give you an idea of how things happen, so read on if you like, of don't, its up to you.
Now we've finally started getting SAC DVDs subtitled and everything here, but neither DVD currently availible has been released without issue. In the Volume 1 Special Edition, we were all shocked to find out that there was a very serious flaw with what should have been arguably the simplest item in the package, the OST. The music's all there, but tracks 8(Velveteen) and 9(Lithium Flower) got combined into one, and track 12(silent fish ~ cruise) gets split 2:14 into the track to become tracks 11 and 12. Some people have also reported audio dropouts on the DTS disc in the release, though Bandai hasn't said much on that at all.
As to Volume 2, something even more bizarre has happened. It seems that at least one batch of the discs ended up with the wrong disc labels, reversing the indicators of DTS and Dolby Digital Discs. This is less of an issue if you have gotten the Special Edition, as you'll be able to just put in the opposite disc from the audio you wanted. However, if you bought just the standard edition, there's a chance you ended up with a DTS disc instead of the Dolby Digital you should have gotten, and may be screwed in actually trying to listen to anything. From some corners, I've heard that this is also the issue with the so-called audio dropouts on the Volume 1 release.
With both volumes, Bandai has announced something of a recall, and the easiest way to look at that information is over at animeondvd.com's Glitch Disk listing. Unfortunately as of this writing, Bandai isn't offering and Volume 1 DVD replacements, but they have heard that people are having problems with it and investigating the issue.
It seems the UK release of SAC has also run into issues, and since I can't put it any better, I'll just quote the AnimeOnDVD.com review of the first UK volume: "So where's the big problem? Well, it's in the two stereo tracks. While I had no problems with my player in down-mixing the 5.1 tracks, some players may do and so those people would normally switch to the stereo track, both of which are messed up here. The English stereo track is severely clipped and phase inverted, while the Japanese stereo track is apparently virtually mono. It's a crying shame and is also why the audio has two grades above. Hopefully Manga will provide a fix for this."
What can I say, it looks like all releases outside of Japan are going to be cursed. I can only hope that all releases from here on out go off without any more issues, but I have a sinking feeling that that won't happen. Another issue, though one that won't ever get corrected, is the horrendous font choice they've made for the show's main title. Just look for yourself:
Now compare the clean and lovely Japanese logo to the ugly US/UK/Austrailian one:
For those interested in such things, here's a compiled listing. Each episode is designated S(Stand Alone) or C(Complex) depending on its relation to the main Laughing Man story arc(the Complex episodes).
01 - S: Public Peace, SECTION 9
02 - S: Proof of Recklessness, TESTATION
03 - S: A Small Rebellion, ANDROID AND I
04 - C: The Visual Device Laughs, INTERCEPTER
05 - C: The Inviting Bird will Chant, DECOY
06 - C: The Copycat Dances, MEME
07 - S: Idolatry, IDOLATER
08 - S: The Fortunate Ones, MISSING HEARTS
09 - C: The man That Lurks in the Darkness of the Net, CHAT!CHAT!CHAT!
10 - S: A Perfect Day for a Jungle Cruise, JUNGLE CRUISE
11 - C: Inside the Forest of the Sub-Imagoes, PORTRAITZ
12 - S: Tachikoma Runaway; A movie Director's Dream, ESCAPE FROM
13 - S: Not Equal Terrorist, NOT EQUAL
14 - S: Automated Capitalism, ¥$
15 - S: Time of the Machines, MACHINES DÉSIRANTES
16 - S: Chinks in the Armor of the Heart, Ag2O
17 - S: The True Reason For The Unfinished Love Affair, ANGELS' SHARE
18 - S: Assassination Duet, LOST HERITAGE
19 - C: Embraced by a Disguised Net, CAPTIVATED
20 - C: Vanished Medication, RE-VIEW
21 - C: Left-Behind Trace, ERASER
22 - C: Corporate Graft, SCANDAL
23 - C: The Other End of Good and Evil, EQUINOX
24 - C: Sunset of Orphan Castle, ANNIHILATION
25 - C: Smoke Powder and Bullet Rain, BARRAGE
26 - C: Public Peace Section 9 Again, STAND ALONE COMPLEX