[Short Story] Fantasy Fan Con Panic [Excerpt]

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Back inside, Jack and Crystal eyed the couple from the second story terrace overlooking the hotel lobby. They watched a crowd slowly form around their two targets while they swapped use of the Chem-Thermo goggles that had been provided for them.

Among the crowds of cosplayers interspersed with the banner advertisements and kiosks showcasing the newest trends in manga, anime, and fantasy there they stood among them all. Even dressed in costumes like the other con goers, it was frightening yet intriguing spectacle to see these kinds of predators blending in with the other humans down below.

The vampire looked no older than perhaps twenty as he spun his cape and flashed his fangs for the adoring fans that took photos of him and his poses. The young Dracula cosplay look that he was going for must have been some sort of meta-joke of his, or a blatant invitation for someone to stake him right then and there. Even so, he fit right into the costumed clientele of this particular convention. Crystal zoomed in on him, noticing his thin, smooth, innocent, and androgynous looking face with piercing, pale-blue eyes. Crystal raised an eyebrow as he pouted at one of the cameras that coaxed him for another photo. Under the therm-optic filter his body took on a greyish blue hue in a sea of deep red pedestrians that stood or passed him by.

The succubus — the vampire’s partner — was able to spoof her heat signature better among the crowd, but she also shared her undead boyfriend’s meta sense of humor. She was standing next to him with her bat wings and black horns on full display. They looked real, but could just as well be chalked up to being the product of well done prosthetic make up and accessories. Like the vampire, she had a conventional beauty and confidence in the way she carried herself. She wore armor, but nothing that could be considered practical. It reminded Crystal of Xenia the Warrior Princess, but with a shorter leather skirt. Not much left to the imagination. Jack and Crystal switched to the chemical tracer filter on the goggles and could see that she was already releasing pheromones into the crowd. People who

might have been uninterested in the impromptu photo shoot in the lobby, were now transfixed and slowly growing attached to this attractive couple posing together. On the surface, things looked innocent enough, but Jack and Crystal saw it for what it was: lambs being lead to slaughter in some anonymous hotel room later tonight.

As the crowd grew from a dozen to nearly twenty in a matter of minutes, Jack and Crystal got up from their table and began to walk down to the lobby area. They were dressed in post-apocalyptic duster jackets. A cosplay grab that fit with the eclectic dress code of the nerd convention. As they walked, they fingered the holstered, plastic-looking guns that were actually loaded with silver and holy relic tipped subsonic ammo. They were suppose to take this demon and vampire in alive, but if worse came to worse, the subsonic ammo and suppressors would quietly dispose of them. Jack and Crystal each put on their shades and pulled on their gas masks to counter the vampires hypnosis and the pheromones of the succubus.

Now in the lobby, they walked casually into what was now turning into a fan mob. Not a single person among the crowd of ninjas, transformers, and alien princesses noticed nor raised an eyebrow at the Mad Max cosplay couple making their way to the front to see the vampire and succubus “models” gaining attention.

When Jack and Crystal reached them, the two supernaturals noticed them, and momentarily paused their act. For a split second, it felt like a connection was made between the four of them. Fight or flight began to take hold. The vampire and succubus noticed the gas mask and shades Jack and Crystal were wearing and tensed up. The fear in their eyes seemed to surprise Jack momentarily before realizing that he had already put his hand on his gun.

Austin By Night – Art [Layer 11]

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I wake up in the back seat of a car after having come to a stop. I check my watch and realize it has been nearly twenty four hours since Molly and I went our separate ways and I decided to lay low at a friends house. My clothes are soaking in sweat from being in the car for so long. I remember paying this man and his friend two hundred dollars to drive me back to central Austin, back to a specific address. I don’t remember talking to him much or his friend. Something about last night’s rave at the anime con and a guy who got robbed at gun point in the parking lot for his cash and gundam figurines. My contributions to the conversations were short, monotone phrases of something approaching these sorts responses mostly being: “Wow.” “That’s fucked up.” “Did that really happen?” “It is what it is, dude.” After the first hour of the driving around and hanging out in their apartment throughout the day they stopped talking to me and continued the agonizing, stream-of-consciousness level of conversation with each other. I was tired, not interested in discussing the latest season of Soul Eater, or the most recent post on Sankaku Complex. I closed my eyes and saw the dealer’s rooms, cosplayers and laser light above the dance floor drift in and out of my subconscious. Then I saw the woman kill that man on the live camera feed and I began to feel sick to my stomach.

“So,” The guy lets the word drag on unnecessarily to fill the silence. “This is the spot, right?”

I look over and see my old middle school. Now a long, dark, ominous, single-story, red brick building, with black windows that suggested something terrifying was hidden inside them. I forgot how afraid I was of the dark.

“Hey,” The other guy snapped. “We have to get to San Antonio by midnight. You have the other half of the money?”

I realize, turning to face him; that I didn’t remove the aviator shades from my face and I was seeing everything in a darker tint.

“Sorry,” The word comes out dry, like sandpaper, as I reach into my back pack and pull out the second hundred that I promised for their service. The second guy snatches it from me, happy to receive the money.

“Thank you,” I say in the dry sawdust voice again and step out of the car.

“Hey, man,” The driver rolls down his window and looks at me. He seems genuinely concerned. “We can drive you to your place, man. You don’t need to give us some random address.”

I look at him through my shades, trying to see the angle in what he’s offering. I glance at my reflection from the passenger door mirror and I see a guy in white shorts, white button up, black fingerless biker gloves and lips pursed. I look like a burnout or somebody trying too hard to impress strangers. Either stereotype might fit, since it all adds up to someone dying for attention or a man looking for sympathy by feeling the need to bribe people he doesn’t know for rides. I probably know what the real answer is, but I’m too afraid of going there. It’s a level of introspection not worth the price of facing who I really am. That’s for other people to make assumptions about.

“No, I’ll be okay.” I sling the backpack over my shoulder and start walking.

The car pulls away and heads down the nearest avenue, presumably towards I-35, south, to San Antonio.

I walk in the dark back to my mom’s house, mentally counting up the money that I made. After the hotel room, convention badge, food, the burner phone and transportation, I had made a 2,300 dollar profit. Better than expected, but I probably could’ve roomed with somebody to cut costs. Maybe I can room with a client next time.

I see the porch light on when I reach the house. The rest of the street is dark, which should strike fear in me, but the shades help alleviate that. I am not here, I tell myself. I can see through the large window that the television is on, my sister is home. I walk up to the door and go inside.

My sister glances up at me and returns to her reality TV show, something about housewives.

“Hey,” She says in between the bites of a sandwich. “How was that anime con, or whatever?”

“It was cool,” I sound a lot clearer, moister returning to my throat.

She looks at me in an odd way and I remember that I’m still wearing my shades.

“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” She asks. “It’s, like, ten at night.”

I laugh and take them off.

“Sorry, it was a joke,” I say, trying to smile.

I hear my mom coming in from the kitchen.

“Hey, Eric! How was your trip to Dallas with Neal?” She seems happy to see me. She’s stirring something in a bowl and wearing a cream colored apron over a green shirt, with matching slippers and black yoga pants.

“It was good, really cool. We just hanged out in the hotel room and helped out moving equipment in the dealer’s room for the sellers.”

My mom looks off to the side and nods her head, I can’t tell if she’s expecting more for me to say or is confused, but accepting my answer.

“Sounds interesting,” She says, her stirring slowing down a fraction. She looks up at me and smiles again “Well, dinner is already prepared, so you can have it now if you want.”

I nod, thanking her, and head to my room.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

The Ghost in the Shell Reboot: How Hollywood Turned Fandom Hate into Cold, Hard Cash [Analysis].

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I have to hand it to Hollywood, what they did with this movie was kind of brilliant. If you’re someone who had no clue about Ghost in the Shell before seeing this film, but felt compelled to see it anyway it was probably because you liked action films and this looked like something you could vaguely get into; or maybe you’re a sci-fi fan that was just looking for something different to get lost in for over two hours; or maybe you just like Scarlett Johansson and wanted to see her in something that didn’t involve the Avengers. However, if you are a fan of the three Ghost in the Shell anime films, the two season anime T.V series, the reboot to the anime T.V series, and the three mangas (graphic novels) that tie the whole universe together, then the only motivation you most likely had for going to see this adaptation was to find out if it was bad. The audience that walked in cold would get a competent, stylistic and action packed sci-fi film that seemed kind of high brow, and was pretty fast paced. Those that came in with the fan baggage (like me) were in for a condensed, mish-mash of the main plot of the first film and a story arch from a separate season of the T.V series both of which got whirl-winded together into a spark notes recap with subtle inaccuracies and stilted acting. Both interpretations are technically correct: both audiences came in with specific expectations and got exactly what they expected and (more or less) walked out satisfied that their assumptions were correct. It seems like a strange thing to take away from such a film, but it also tells you a lot in terms of how dialed in Hollywood seems to be when it comes to getting an audience to come into the theater for any kind of genre film.

Paramount Pictures hedged their bets properly when they finally decided to bring this adaptation out of development hell and into the light of day. After the debacles  that were Avatar the Last Airbender and Dragon Ball Evolution, Hollywood has more or less given up on appealing to this elusive demographic of Millenials who watch “cartoons” well into their twenties and don’t trust Hollywood with their white-washing, Americanized versions. The films appear to be “faithful” adaptations that seem to look and feel like the thing fans would love, but the nerds among us can smell its synthetic, copy-cat quality a mile away. Like a mother bird that refuses to feed her chick when it is touched by another human, the anime nerd (with some righteous anger followed by pensive mourning) must leave his or her beloved live action adaptation to die in the wilderness after being appropriated and tainted by the hands of American movie executives.

However, Hollywood has flipped the scripted and turned this particular movie going experience into a perverse game that no fandom seems immune from. Movie executives have pretty much decided that us fans will hate the adaptation anyway, but know that most of us are too tempted not to go in and see this film. They know we’ll go because we want to know “just how bad it is” and that means putting another ten to twelve dollars on top of the growing pile of monied validation to gleefully vindicate both sides in this transaction of consumerist nihilism.

I might be coming off as melodramatic, if not incredibly heavy handed, and you’re most likely right. Truth be told, I don’t see this movie as some kind of nadir that will lead to our demise culturally (American politics has made it clear that that’s their job). Nor is this film going to taint the good name of the original Ghost in the Shell and its countless other anime iterations. However, it kind of makes you wonder just how much contempt these American movie Executives must have towards these particular consumers and their niche interests.

It’s obvious that they had not intention of making a sequel for this film, judging from the amount of plot they crammed into it without so much as offering a cliff-hanger or an after credits plot Easter egg. I felt like I was being lead through a bloated, three-course meal with the wait staff, chef, and restaurant owner all leaning over my shoulder and badgering me to eat my meals, stop looking at the fly in my soup, and hurry the fuck up so I can pay my bill and get out of there without a to-go box. Of course, if they’re the only restaurant in town that serves steak dinners that you’d have to drive to the next city over and play twice as much for the experience, you can kind of expect that the owners can afford to act like assholes. And that is what it feels like watching Ghost in the Shell, except Paramount Pictures thinks that by throwing a bone to a bunch of connoisseurs –  even if it’s a literal bone – they think they can get away with calling it a four star meal. The fans are looking with confusion as the rest gnaw on these scraps with Paramount telling us to get down in the dark ally with the rest of them and chew on the morsels as if it’s some kind of privilege. They act like this because these anime adaptations happen once in a blue moon and we don’t get a lot of love unlike the DC and Marvel fans that get tailored to year after year. And while I might get flak for saying that Ghost in the Shell is an objectively better anime adaptation compared to what’s come before it, even then, it barely measures up.

It makes me wonder if there’s something horribly wrong going on in Hollywood right now. How can something as scrappy as Amazon produce critically acclaimed AND financially successful films like Neon Demon and Manchester by the Sea, while a legacy studio like Paramount pictures is stuck making sub-par reboots to better films made twenty years ago and making questionable sequels like Zoolander 2 and XXX: Return of Xander Cage? They seem to really want our money, but are loathed to work any harder than they have to in order to earn it. And just like the Ghostbusters reboot, they’ll enable an army of sycophants to blame the fans for not stepping up to the plate and giving this the support it deserves.

If Ghost in the Shell does fail, Paramount may blame the fans for the flop, but it’s not as if we all did a mass boycott, or anything. I went, and I even predicted that it might start a new trend in Hollywood. We’ll know for sure by Monday. Until then, Hollywood is still allowed to laugh all the way to the bank, while the fans nitpick, and the rest of society shrugs and goes about their business.

Ghost in the Shell – Hollywood’s $100 Million Dollar Bet.

On March 31st, 2017, come rain or shine, sleet or snow, my butt will be firmly in its seat at the local theater to watch the Hollywood adaptation of one of my favorite animes: Ghost in the Shell. It’s no secret among my friends that Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite animes and manga series to come out of Japan since Akira. I like the anime so much, that I even posted a video on Youtube in the form of a short poetry-ode to the original animated film to the collective chagrin, troll-baiting, and amusement of several people. I still haven’t died of embarrassment over that stunt, but there’s still a chance if tags attached to the vid net any extra traffic.

There is reason to be excited about the film. Unlike other western adaptations of previous animes, this one has been given, a rumored, nine-figure budget to ensure top quality throughout the film’s production (Scarlett Johansson alone has been paid $10 Million and given top billing to star in the film as The Major). Even Mamoru Oshii, the director of the first original anime film from 1995 endorsed the adaptation, for what it’s worth (although there has been no word from the original creator of the series, himself, Masamune Shirow, which is troubling, but not suspect). And considering the source material, which not only involved action sequences that inspired The Matrix, but also included philosophical intrigues that drew from the likes of Rene Descartes, Jean Baudrillard, and Friedrich Nietzsche it also makes good on being a thinking-person’s action film. Simply put: it’s a series too cool and too clever to easily screw up.

However, this film’s success probably fills me with even more dread than its failure. After the stinkers that were the Chun-li movie and the Dragon Ball Evolution film, I’ve come to expect this to be the best Hollywood could do in terms of adapting anime for the American screen and calibrated my expectations accordingly. Having said that, Ghost in the Shell comes into the fold at a unique time in Hollywood.

The elephant in the room, which has only gotten bigger over the past year, is that Marvel and DC films have been doing okay, but not stellar. Just looking at the budgets and revenues of films like Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, both made their bottom line in terms of dollars (thanks in part to China and Europe). However, both also received poor reception from both fans and critics. Not only that, but countless other superhero films have been coming in fast and furious to the point where some comic book fans can’t even keep up. Fans are getting bombarded with so many superhero films, that movie studios are now strategizing on how to combat the movie consumer’s growing “superhero fatigue.” Knowing the movie industry’s knack for marketing, I’m sure this will probably work in the short term (or as long as they can keep releasing sequels to the Avengers and rebooting Batman), but the writing on the wall is clear: some other trend is going to have to pick up the slack.

Ghost in the Shell, I believe, represents Hollywood’s first true dip into doing a legit, high-budget, and highly marketed anime adaptation aimed at America, as well as targeting the Ghost in the Shell fans who live here. If successful, there are dozens and dozens of other anime series that the Hollywood machine may be more than happy to appropriate, repackage and pass off as something fresh and exciting (because, seriously, how many people outside of reddit and anime conventions know what the hell Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, or Gundam Wing are?). For Hollywood, Ghost in the Shell may be their quiet hope that they can start the pivot to sell “new” franchises and create new “fans” of future anime adaptations made for Westerners, by Westerners, and featuring Western actors.

They’ll do this because Hollywood knows something that most diehard fans seem to fail to comprehend which is that most people who watch these comic book films, like myself, never made much of a connection with DC and Marvel outside of the movies that got released for mass consumption. Sure, there is loyalty (I happen to be a fan of the X-Men films), but that extends only as far as theater ticket buys with accompanied Blu-Ray releases. The last time that I even bought any comic blatantly Marvel or DC was back in 1999. I wouldn’t have even known what Guardians of the Galaxy was (much less that it started as a comic by Marvel) had there not been a movie about it. I consider myself a fan of X-Men, but I can only count on one hand the number of comic issues I actually read of that series. The X-Men movies and the animated T.V series are, truly, my only way of having any real knowledge about the X-Men universe. When I admit to these kinds of things, it tends to piss off the more die-in-the-wool fans who actually did the work. Even the more polite ones often try and fail at hiding their internal eye-rolling. I usually deal with these encounters with polite indifference at best and passive-aggressive trolling at worst.

But now I may finally get a taste of my own medicine. Which brings us back to the dread that I’ve been feeling. This movie may fail, and I’ll be upset, but I’ll live. This movie may also become a success and spawn a whole new wave of fans who gush about Scarlett Johansson’s role as The Major without caring or even knowing that there were three graphic novels, four anime films, and two anime T.V series that preceded it, much less seek any of that out. I don’t know if I’m ready to confront the me that may have to face that kind of world sometime soon.

Either way, whether I like it or not, I’m just going to have to deal with it; and, hopefully, it won’t take me that long. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

[Excerpt] Con Job [Short Story]

“…and you don’t have to believe me when I tell you this, but those cosplayers were the biggest sluts I had ever met in my life. All those chicks wearing those vocaloid, school girl outfits and that bikini mercenary shit that’s so popular right now. Yeah, I’ve seen some real babes around here and they will spread their legs for just about anything. You wouldn’t fucking believe it, dude. Dude, you don’t even know, bro. You don’t even know. But they won’t give me the time of day anymore, man, cuz I’m thirty, and I’m not a voice actor, or some web artist, or Youtuber, or whatever the fuck it is they want now. But, dude, everybody gets laid at J-Con. Everybody!”

Amanda and I are sitting across from this guy at our small table. We stare at him blankly in the dub-step speaker blasting, neon framed, black light, darkness of the hotel bar as the anime convention happening throughout the rest of the Omni Tower Hotel enters its third, and final, night in a city that I can’t remember the name of. My cigarette that I was about to light up and enjoy nearly falls out of my mouth; the butt now dangling from a precarious corner in the clutches of my lips. After my first two nights of dealing with the utter bullshit of this temp job involving breaking up fights, drug deals, theft rings, and  following up on over a dozen sexual harassment complaints, this night was supposed to have the potential of being decent before getting subjected to this rant. For the first time in my life, I make face-to-face contact with a guy who openly admits to buying into the “everybody gets laid at J-Con” myth, and he wasn’t some anonymous user on a message board. Despite myself, I smirk at this burned out looking, black clothed, cowboy-goth wearing shades in this dark, loud, dungeon of a crowded bar full of old-school anime nerds, wee-a-boos, and cosplayers.

I turn to look at Amanda, and she’s looking just as tired as we do, with bags under her eyes and her long, blond hair done up in a bun that hadn’t seen a shower since the other night when she got puked on by a belligerent, drunk con goer dressed up as a Transformer. She also came dressed in all black tonight, with her leather jacket and matching steel toe boots (for the purpose of major ass kicking, I guess).

I finger the threads of my dark green suit and dark purple button up shirt, and look down at my black sneakers. I’m proud that my color scheme makes us, as a trio, come off as significantly less fascist looking, or at the very least, less goth, and therefore more approachable. And I say that in spite of our standard issued red lanyards, blue-tooth head sets, and stun guns modded to look like SMG rifles (which seem intimidating, but only fire pellets that pop on impact, sending  a charged, tazer-style shock to the target).

Amanda turns to look at me. She sucks in her cheeks, trying to either hold back a laugh or an insult. She glances back at our fellow partner in con security, shakes her head, and takes out her phone.

“Penny for your thoughts, Amanda?” I ask her while I take out my cigarette, having given up on lighting it.

“I’m thinking…” she says, raising her eyebrows at the screen of her smartphone as she types something into it, “that I should have listened to my mom and finished college.”

“Hey,” says goth cowboy, “it’s fucking real, babe. Some will even stream their shit through VR now. I’ve seen it”

“Virtual reality?” I ask.

“Fuck yeah, dude,” he tells me, “and if you know the right dealer, you can take some LSD while you VR, and it’s guaranteed total immersion. Fuck, do that, but with an MMO, and you can actually fool yourself into thinking you’re an orc mage.”

I hear my phone start to buzz and I pull it out from my pocket to take a look. It’s Amanda,via text:

Hey, this guy’s a fucking creep. Wanna bail?

I look at the text for a few more seconds, trying to come up with something.

“What’s up?” goth cowboy asks me.

I sigh.

“Damien again,” I show my phone to Amanda, pretending to have received a text from our employer, “boss man needs an assist in the dealer room.”

Amanda takes my phone, making sure that goth cowboy can’t see the screen. She looks at it for a few seconds. I imagine her counting to five in her head before saying something.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser