I've gone on record multiple times saying "Ghost in the Shell" is one of my favorite films of all time, and "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" is one of my favorite anime series.
It follows Motoko Kusanagi and other members of Section 9, a Japanese special ops group focused entirely on crimes related to cybernetics and the Net.
Through multiple movies, TV series, and specials, the team has taken on dozens of threats from super hackers to refugee crises and continued war-mongering and espionage from the American Empire — all within a post-World War universe where cybernetics has become prevalent, the Net is everywhere, and the world is recovering from widespread violence.
"SAC: 2045" is the third season of Stand Alone Complex, coming out nearly 15 years after the second. Since then we've had a middling reinvention in "Ghost in the Shell: Arise" and the much-panned and pretty awful Hollywood version of the original film. So a return to what made the series great was what fans really wanted.
I adore this series for so many reasons. It's one of the first "adult" anime I remember watching as a young child who did not understand what he was watching. It's one of the few anime I can easily suggest to a non-anime fan because it doesn't fall into the pitfalls of the medium and maintains a very serious, adult, and thoughtful tone throughout (for the most part).
It tackles deep philosophical questions of near science-fiction and cyberpunk like what a human is, the ethical implications of basically turning your memory into code, whether robots have a soul, and what it means to be sentient.
For a fan of "Blade Runner" or "Westworld" it offers a lot — and all wrapped in a military shell.
That brings me to 2045. Forgoing traditional animation for the CG Netflix original anime favor, the first hurdle to getting into the series is how it looks. While I'm not the biggest fan of this style I think the characters, redesigned by a fantastic Russian artist I've followed for years, look as good as ever.
And while muzzle flashes look ugly and some backgrounds and geometry are very PS2-like, the action is among some of the best the franchise has seen.
Meme'd to death because out-of-context some of the sequences are, to be fair, silly, with context they are the highlight of the series.
"2045" opens following a simultaneous global default that has tanked every market. No money is worth anything. The only people flourishing are the rich by pushing for sustainable warfare.
The idea is that war is the greatest way to create and boost an economy so the rich provide weapons for totally pointless wars.
Following the disbandment of Section 9 years before, Major Kusanagi and her team are now in America, acting as a private military group and fighting in the war zones.
They wind up getting wrapped up in a plot involving post-humans — cybernetic people who have become, essentially, gods.
Able to dodge bullets, hack thousands of people at once, and seemingly undefeatable, Kusanagi goes down a rabbit hole to discover how they were created, the goal they are working toward, and the plot of the American Empire's military that could spell nuclear war to continue sustainable warfare.
Full disclosure: I did not get into the series until maybe four or five episodes in. It did not feel like "Stand Alone Complex" for a while. Once it did, I was so invested and interested I was binging like a madman.
With twists and turns, a great new character in Purin, and an interesting mystery in the post-humans (as well as some great political action with Japan having its first foreign-born Prime Minister, leading to a lot of friction and red herrings), this was the Stand Alone Complex I had been craving.
But the ending drops the ball. The quick pace goes to a dead stop as the series, probably needing to fit the 24-episode order, spins wheels and becomes a boring slog, even with a lot of action and explanations for the mysteries.
It doesn't help that the ending is kind of weak, taking a jaw-dropping end to episode 23 and trivializing it in a way I would expect, perhaps from "Westworld," but "Ghost in the Shell" never had managed before.
"Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2045" might net a few new fans for the franchise, but it trips at the start and is gasping for breath by the end. The middle sprint is amazing but I think will only appeal to series fans looking for more of the big concept, philosophical sci-fi "GitS" is known for.
It's good, but it could have been great had it been four or five episodes shorter.
Rating: 3-out-of-4 stars
"Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045" is streaming on Netflix.