The year is 2030 AD, and the available technology is enough to make me think that it is pretty likely that a non-oil alternate energy source must have been discovered prior to 2030, although that is pure speculation. Watching SAC made me realize that I should not bother with lasik eye surgery, and just find myself a pair of those sweet prosthetic eyes (Yes! I can finally return to 20/20 vision, with a guidance system and some other features to boot.) The futuristic setting surrounds an elite group of law enforcement agents known as Section 9, headed by Motoko (a.k.a. The Major), who receives backup from a team equipped with intelligence, muscle, sharpshooters, a persistent old man with connections, and some interesting robots.
SAC has two episode types – stand alone episodes, which in case the name did not give it away, are entirely episodic, and complex episodes, which are interspersed throughout the series and follow a case surrounding a suspect known as “the laughing man.” The series never drags, probably since the stand alone episodes provide fresh plots, and upon returning to a complex episode, the viewer must refresh their memory about prior events related to the case, which keeps things interesting. I enjoyed the format of placing the complex episodes throughout the series as opposed to keeping them together in one spot; it seems to highlight the idea that Section 9 works on whatever case is most pertinent, returning to the laughing man when time permits. The complex episodes ultimately serve as the vehicle for the climax and resolution of the series, but that does not mean the stand alone episodes are worthless; in fact, many of the stand alone episodes provide a comedic or quick detour from the sometimes heavy laughing man case. As a side note, I give bonus points to any writer that includes references to one of my favorite books, The Catcher in the Rye.
The story of SAC is as much about the members of Section 9 as it is about the cases they try to solve; even the best plot concept needs good characters to help the events unfold effectively. The relationships between Section 9 members define the manner in which they can solve cases, and often dictate the direction in which the plot turns. The plot may seem a bit formulaic – something happens, a new case is introduced, the characters attempt to solve the case, and it may or may not get resolved – but then again, sometimes formulas work; the formula in this case helps SAC succeed in telling a story, which is better than ditching the formula to allow the series to wander about until it finds eventual failure.
Regardless of someone’s like or dislike for the GITS movies, I don’t think anyone will question the success of the animation and visuals; SAC is no different, and its animation mirrors that of the movies. The well thought out and executed cityscapes provide a great backdrop for Section 9’s missions, and an equally good mixture of day and night scenes varies the timbre of the series well. The animation style makes for good battle scenes, complete with cyborg parts flying every which way (you may not realize whether certain individuals are human or cyborg until you see bunches of wires and machines exploding about the screen.)
I only need say two words, and for many people, that will be enough: Yoko Kanno. As always, Kanno delivers, this time with a bass heavy, funky techno-jazz, setting the pace and tone of each car case, death scene, and emotional moment. The opening hits you like a subtle car wreck (if there is such a thing), letting you know this series will be fast paced and deliberate, with a few chances for the viewer to catch their breath and regroup. The background music adds suspense and intensity to the events as they unfold, but never overpowers.
I am a subbed kind of person, but this is one series that I have watched both the dubbed and subbed versions, and I am basically indifferent between the two; the voice acting is great either way. Occasionally the dialogue feels a bit choppy, but I think that may be more a consequence of the fact that the members of Section 9 constantly relay orders and information – hence, no time for extemporaneous or drawn out thoughts.
For those of you who have watched any of the GITS movies and cried due to lack of character development, watching SAC may be a good way to help you look more highly upon the GITS saga. Some background information presents itself directly, but insight into the characters is gained mainly through observing the Section 9 team work through cases and going back and forth with their sometimes biting remarks. Okay, I admit interactions do not necessarily translate into the strongest character development, but the members of Section 9 with all their idiosyncrasies are a great construct for the events that take place in SAC.
The series must choose a few key characters, and the spotlight generally shines on Motoko, Batou, and Togusa; honestly, it would be difficult for every member of Section 9 to receive in depth analysis, and since Motoko, Batou, and Togusa tend to work the front lines, they are appropriate candidates for receiving the most attention. However, each minor character is developed to the fullest extent within the series and plays a unique role within the team and the plot. Even the AI support team known as the Tachikomas, have personalities of their own, which develop immensely after Batou spoils them with treats and affection (think of them as the resident puppy dogs.)
SAC may be what Ergo Proxy wanted to become: a series about futuristic world with problems of its own, and the people who must take it upon themselves to prevent the world from deteriorating into complete corruption – unlike Proxy, SAC does not shoot itself in the foot with overtly philosophical musings. I admit there are some philosophical underpinnings mixed into SAC, but thankfully they never drag the series into oblivion. SAC provides a snapshot into the inner workings of Section 9 and its members, and gives the viewers a nice mixture of action, intelligence, and comedy. In the end, that is all I can really ask for.