The Ghost In The Shell S.A.C. Episode That Shows The Best And Worst Of Anime

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex took the world introduced in the classic anime movie and broadened it, showing how technology has changed the structural fabric of everyday life. No episode manages to show that impact like Season 1 Episode 12, “Tachikoma Runs Away; The Movie Director’s Dream – ESCAPE FROM,” a deep, emotional stand-alone episode that stumbles with one of the worst anime tropes.

It’s a meditative story of escaping reality and dealing with grief and disappointment but covered up by obnoxious sidekicks with excessively grating cute voices.

The Super-Cute Spider Tank

The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode starts with one of the Tachikoma, the mobile spider tanks used by Section 9, realizing they have gained sentience, so it runs away to the city. There, it meets a little girl named Mikki, who is searching for her lost dog. The high-pitched kawaii voice and manner of speaking by the Tachikoma is grating enough, but then Mikki pouts a dog collar on the spider tank, and it’s almost too cute.

Using Cuteness To Tell A Dark Story

In almost every anime, there’s always a character like the sentient Tachikoma that’s designated as the annoying sidekick or the cute character, from Mineta in My Hero Academia to Usopp in One Piece, and while they often wind up growing and changing over the course of the story, it’s a common anime trope that can bring down an otherwise great series. In “ESCAPE FROM,” that’s almost what happens, but Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a well-written series that plays with the “cute” anime trope to get across a dark story.

An Episode About Escapism

You see, during the course of its adventure, the Tachikoma learns that Mikki knows her dog is dead. Her parents said it ran away, so she went along with that to hold her grief back just a little bit longer. It’s a sweet, sad story, nearly overpowered by the “cuteness” of the spider tank, but that’s only half the episode. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex filler, or “stand-alone” episodes, are some of the best in the world of anime, and the segment about the movie director’s brain is one of the best examples as to why.

The Role Of Entertainment In Our Lives

The Tachikoma found a brain in a box along its adventures, so when it comes back to the Section 9 base, Major Kusanagi dives into it to try to understand why it’s trapping people that “jack in.” Surprisingly, she finds herself in a movie theater, with the most beautiful movie she’s ever seen playing on the screen, one that has no beginning and no end, leaving the assembled audience of people “trapped” in complete rapture. In a wonderful touch, we never see the movie, only that it drove the Major to tears.

Escaping Reality

On her way out of the theater, the Major encounters an old man, the director, who explains it’s his brain. In the same episode as the kawaii tank, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex engages in a deep discussion about dreams versus reality and the value of entertainment. The director explains that the people watching the movie will face misery once they leave, so what’s the harm in letting them enjoy their dreams?

The Major fires back, stating, “Doing nothing but projecting yourself into other people’s dreams is the same as being dead.” After that, the old man refers to her as a harsh critic but a strong girl and says that if her dream ever becomes reality, she will come back and let him know, and then, everyone will leave the theater.

A Tale Of Two Stories

It’s a tale of two stories in the same episode, built on the same theme of escapism, but told in two different ways: the first story is filled with bright colors and kawaii characters, while the second is in various hues of brown, with older, jaded characters discussing philosophy. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex carries deep literary undertones, specifically the works of J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut, but it’s also prone to fanservice moments and the typical anime excess.

If all you know of the franchise is the Scarlett Johannson live-action adaptation or the more recent CGI-heavy series, Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045, it is well worth your time to go back and catch Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex on streaming. It’s available for free on Plex and also Adult Swim.