- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

One of the most influential Japanese anime sci-fi movies in the history of the medium returns to Blu-ray in an artsy metal case but offers little else to impress devoted fans or home theater owners in Ghost in the Shell: Mondo X Steelbook Series (Anchor Bay Entertainment, not rated, 82 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $34.99).

In 1995, director Mamoru Oshii adapted Shirow Masamune’s sequential art (manga-style) source material, used traditional cel animation with some computer-graphics wizardry and created a state-of-the-art vision of a highly advanced and plugged-in world where humans can pass their conscious to cybernetic shells.

The story, set in the year 2029, finds an elite team of enhanced government agents, led by the cyborg Maj. Motoko Kusanagi, on a mission.

They must locate the extraordinary criminal hacker entity known as “the Puppet Master” as it searches for a host and before it can become sentient and merge with a human body to experience real life.

Amidst some graphic violence, nudity and a pinch of profanity, Mr. Oshii and Mr. Masamune ultimately offered a philosophical look at what it means to be human and the impact of electronic monitoring and robotics in society.

More pointedly, if an organism’s DNA is simply a program and its genes a memory system, then can a sentient robot become a life form?

Embracing themes from author Philip K. Dick’s “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report,” “Ghost on the Shell” was a well-received, adult animated classic that continues to inspire filmmakers today.

The 1080p digital transfer is passable at best and looks culled from the 25th anniversary release of the film on Blu-ray, based on reviews of the 2014 release.

The film’s colors are often muted, not crisp or vivid as I would have hoped; it has some soft-focus issues; and the aspect ratio inexplicably presents a black bar window boxed around the entire screen.

Still, this version is begrudgingly the best-looking around and certainly enhances some memorable visuals especially some close-quarter combat scenes and a fight with a giant, crustacean-looking robot.

However, with the current advances in remastering technology, Anchor Bay had zero excuse to not transform this release of “Ghost in the Shell” into the definitive release.

Best extras: Except for a download code to add the film to an owner’s UltraViolet digital cloud storage library and the shiny new case, connoisseurs get nothing.

This version of the classic is barren and inexcusable. In past releases, viewers were able to enjoy an interview with the director, an overview of the production, an introduction to the anime style and even a collection of essays in a previously released color booklet.

What will it take to get one ultimate version of the “Ghost in the Shell” Blu-ray package to rule them all? Maybe, a 4K UHD release is in the future to deliver the goods?

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