The second Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex book is actually a collection of three novellas, or maybe lengthy short stories. As with the other GITS:SAC novels (The Lost Memory and White Maze), any one of these could have been made into one or more episodes of their own — they were, after all, written by series co-scripter Junichi Fujisaku, who obviously knows theGITS:SAC canon from the inside out. They are not only entertaining and briskly-paced, but serve to fill in a great deal of background information about the show’s setting and character’s motives. Because these particular installments are that much smaller than the ones in the first and third books, they’re not as ambitious in their scope or execution, but still intriguing, and they each end with a solid little twist that’s right in line with the themes in GITS’s extended mythology: the larger questions of identity and self that the show constantly plugs back into.
“Double Targets” gives us Tanaka and Sasajima, two cybernetically enhanced down-and-outers who work dirty and dangerous jobs in one of Japan’s post-WWIII Refugee Zones. They’re actually ex-military men who were disavowed by their own country, and can’t afford to be picky about their work. One day they apply for a “dismantling” job, only to find out it’s a codename for an assassination. The target: Daisuke Aramaki, the white-haired chief of Section 9. The rest of the group springs into action, though it's not simply to protect Aramaki, since he’s been a target more times than he can count. What they want to know is who commissioned the kill and where they got their funding. When Section 9 follows the trail to its end there’s a nifty climax that calls to mind that deceptive editing trick in the movie The Silence of the Lambs.
“First Love, Last Love” deals with either your most or least favorite character(s) in theGITS mythology: the intelligent but compulsively playful Tachikomas, the armored and AI-ed robot tanks that Section 9 calls in for heavy muscle on a given job. This particular story is told from the point of view of one such Tachikoma, when he (he?) is decommissioned from Section 9 and assigned to what seems like a far more mundane duty: traffic duty. He’s doing time with a female cop, who is a little like another iteration of Motoko Kusanagi herself, although this Officer Kirishima is as brash and headstrong as Kusanagi is deliberate and precise. He also develops an affection for her, something that his designers probably didn’t expect at all, but the way it’s all handled is bittersweet and elegiac, very much in keeping with the tone of the series.
“Revenge of the Cold Machines” picks up where part of the plot of “First Love” left off. Section 9 has recovered a braincase from the ocean which turns out to be Kin’Ichi Matsumomo, founding member of an important cyberbody-manufacturing concern. This leads into an insanely complicated plot involving rival corporations and a super-charged cyberbody-bearing assassin named Tegan Yo, who proves to be almost too much for Section 9 to handle. But, again, even this most complicated of stories turns out to be tied into many standard parts of the GITS mythos: it’s all about the injustices of the past being revenged by those who were wronged, and the way that is expressed in a world of shadowy political connections and corporate skullduggery. It’s not as emotionally absorbing as many of the other GITS stories but it’s impressive how much information, plot, and movement they’re able to cram into such a small space.
Translation: Camellia Nieh has been responsible for all the GITS novel translations, this one included, and her work is transparently effective. The presentation’s equally clean and professional.
The Bottom Line: If you haven’t yet read any of the GITS novels and are curious about how they’re rendered, this volume may actually give you the most value for your money with its three separate stories. And if you’ve already read (#1 and/or #3, this one’s a fairly good match for the other two.