Let's get one thing straight. Ghost in the Shell:Stand Alone Complex is NOT --repeat NOT!-- a "reimagining" or "parallel universe" or "offshoot" or anything else of the Ghost in the Shell movie.
GITS:SAC is a PREQUEL series to Mamoru Oshii's fascinating but bleak 1996 masterpiece.
It takes place in the exact same place and time as the movie. There are no "multiple timelines" or "alternate realities," only this ONE.
Everybody's familiar with GITS by now. It's futuristic Japan in the mid 21st century. Nearly everyone --men, women, and in some cases even children-- has undergone some degree of cyberization, from small brain implants to fully synthetic bodies. Cyber-modification is as ubiquitous as ipods and cell phones. This gives rise to a new and extraordinarily dangerous breed of cyber-criminal.
Enter Public Security Section 9, a special government organization tasked with dealing with these crimes. The field leader is Maj Motoko Kusanagi.
If you've seen the movie, then you already know most of her fellow teammates. Batou, (who in my opinion really oughta be the leader) Togusa, Ishikawa, and Chief Aramaki.
And three new members: Paz, Boma and Saito.
Also there's the addition of the Tachikoma's, small, four-legged tanks with their own AI. They talk like children, but in the field fight like adults.
The main storyline that runs throughout the season revolves around the investigation of the "Laughing Man," a hacker with almost Godlike control of technology. He can hack into brains, erase memories, even alter video footage in real time! His plot seems to be to exact revenge upon certain police officials, but of course it's far more "complex" than that. The show's producers said they wanted it to kind of be like a futuristic version of NYPD Blue. Well, David Milch would have a hard time topping this.
This is a show made for people who appreciate intelligent storytelling. The vegetable-brained MTV crowd will love the pretty pictures, but their pea-brains will soon hurt as the Laughing Man story evolves. It's complicated and at times not easy to follow and the show is unapologetic about that.
EVERYTHING you liked about the movie is here. The animation is top notch, almost feature worthy. This world is so richly detailed and realized you want to touch your TV to be sure it's just animation. The characters are fully fleshed out. The political intrigue is far smarter and more immediate than the sketchy and vaprous stuff from the movie.
Whereas the movie was a fascinating though dark world with Kusanagi becoming increasingly despondent over whether she had a "ghost" or not, this series is a straight-forward police procedural. Gritty but not dark.
Motoko is simply a cop trying to catch crooks. That's it.
Like the movie the series does frequently sojourn in philospohical asides, and expositional monologues but it never allows itself to lose sight of the fact that there's bad guys to be caught.
The music is done by the incredible Yoko Kanno. She's well known for her work on Cowboy Bebop, but GITS:SAC will make you want to buy the soundtrack before the episode is even over.
Whatever the awesome animation doesn't do, her score will.
The TV series is not run by Mamoru Oshii', although he did help produce it, and his influence is felt throughout. It chooses several of the most mature elements from the manga to flesh out the series.
Things like Togua's domestic life, bureacratic wrangling between chief Aramaki and the Prime Minister and even things like Motoko's lesbian tendencies --mostly implied of course, but clear.
This is the animated series I have the most regard for. Visually it's easily among the best animated TV series ever made. The movie was a hard act to follow. But GITS:SAC does it brilliantly.