After taking an extended break to deal with book deadlines and some family matters, I’m returning this week to review Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, an action-adventure anime series available at the Dublin, Fremont Main and San Lorenzo library branches.

Loosely based on the Ghost in the Shell theatrical feature films, and with many of the same characters, though the storyline is quite different, Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a 26-episode anime series that’s partly a police procedural set in a near-future science fiction setting, and partly a philosophical musing on what comprises a human being.

Major Motoko Kusanagi leads a team of anti-terrorism police in a near-future world where almost everyone has cybernetic enhancements. There are also robots that look and act human, which has led to interesting social and legal dilemmas about who is human, and therefore entitled to human rights, and who is merely a machine, something that can be owned and disposed of at the owner’s will. The distinction is the soul, or the “ghost in the shell.”

Kusanagi treads a fine line between machine and human. Struck down by a crippling childhood disease, her brain was implanted in a beautiful, ageless, superhuman Ghost in the¬†Shellcybernetic body. Yet, she is considered human, because she has a “ghost.” Her team mates all have varying degrees of cybernetics, including artificial eyes that enhance vision. The one exception is the rookie member, who has made the highly-unusual choice not to acquire any cybernetic implants. This choice frequently hampers him in the course of his police work; yet, it also renders him immune to some of the cyber-attacks employed by terrorists.

The series, episodic at first, starts by exploring questions about what it means to be human, the philosophy interspersed with punchy action sequences and lots of explosions. Then the storyline settles into a tense investigation of a cyber-terrorist known as “The Laughing Man,” which then morphs into vicious inter-departmental infighting between Kusanagi’s boss and his rivals as Kusanagi and her team begin to uncover truths that the government would prefer stay buried.

Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex also has a wonderful soundtrack–the opening theme, sung in what sounds like Latin and Bulgarian, is haunting and gorgeous, and the rest of the series’ music is a deft blend of rock and neo-classical.

Is this series appropriate for your child? Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is a hard action series that includes intense violence and acts of terrorism. This show is probably most appropriate for teens (13 years and older).