Should Writers Care What Critics Think? [Article]

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Writing fiction is tough, teaching about writing is straight-forward, but critiquing about writing is as simple as one’s willing to make it. Despite that last bit of inflammatory bait, I often do find critics to be a very important, if not a mysterious aspect of the writing ecosystem. Even though writers put a great amount of effort being readers themselves, book critics are one of the few groups of people out there who are actually willing to obsessively read anything any writer or author puts out anymore. They’re the only ones parsing and dissecting a piece of fiction or non-fiction for any biases, literary meanings, or political leanings that the author might be projecting in their paper bound tombstone of textual art. This level of attention to detail can’t be sanely justified without the person being given an opportunity to talk about what they thought about the book to somebody. Whether it’s done via one-on-one with a friend, a starred rating on Good Reads, or as a book review columnist for the New York Times is none of my business. However, as a hopeful writer and author, myself, I often contemplate the evolution of the critic and how that eye for critique is often trained at novels from the past as much as novels being produced in the present.

Maddie Crum’s “12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When The First Came Out” is a great analysis and a compelling piece of insight into how critics often get it wrong when guessing what books ought to be worthy of our time and praise. Most of the books mentioned on the list are, as of this date, firmly a part of major literary canon as well as being taught in several schools and universities across the Western World. However, there’s also the flip side to that coin as presented in John Glionna’s LA Times Article “Mark Twain: Inexcusable Racist or Man of His Time?” This article presented as a counterpoint and a piece of reinterpretation of a 19th century pro-abolitionist, and anti-slavery activist whose controversial, but ultimately acclaimed novel Huckleberry Finn is still read and presented as a piece of anti-racist literature.

I’m not here to debate the merits of the critics stated above me, but simply provide a perspective using the two examples.

These sets of critiques (or “opinions,” if you’re inclined to feel technically correct while being truthfully dismissive) often reveal a source of perceived inconsistency. That inconsistency which often –rightfully–  frustrates the particular kind of author and reader that’s looking for a definitive “yes or no” in terms of whether such a book is worthy of anyone’s time.

The truth of the matter is that critics are human; and like the writers who bring in their own baggage of personal history and experiences into account when producing their fiction, critics, too, suffer from historical biases of their own. Most critics worth their salt, come into the fold with an academic background, or at the very least a knowledgeable backlog of past novels and writers. That academic and historical background has its own baggage to unpack. Critics have no choice in the matter when having to compare a book to not only the current zeitgeist, but also history, culture, and previous books already written. It’s the only way they can measure themselves in the face of backlash and scrutiny. This analysis also applies when revisiting older pieces of work or authors decades or centuries after their books and lives have long since been recorded. Literary figures have experienced falls from grace as well as being lifted up as misunderstood paragons. Conversely, current authors experience the same level of ups and downs in the critic sphere of publishing.

These roller coaster interpretations in the literary world and the critics who run them shouldn’t be seen as a possibility, but simply an inevitability. As an author or writer, once you put something out there and the critics get a hold of it, how they interpret the work and its intentions is simply out of your hands. And much like history is in the business of interpreting and re-interpreting past events, so too will critics recast and reclassify authors and books in a different light well after the author and their original readership is long dead.

However, this shouldn’t be thought of as something at all negative. Critics can bring a newfound understanding of an author that provides context, and historical perspective not yet considered, as well as help in bringing in new fans into the fold after an authors death. It can also help in bringing exposure to a current author whose work remains obscure.

The Critic is neither good nor evil, but simply serves as a function in the literary sphere to interpret stories and give a simple “yea or nay” on whether the book is worth picking up. A single critic and its audience is a microcosm of a particular kind of reader. A fantasy critic and their audience would never give a five star review to a slice of life novel, much less be inclined to read such a thing. Nor is a feminist critic going to have anything good to say about the James Bond novels. And while we’re at it, no male-supremacist is going to like The Handmaid’s Tale, either. In the end, authors should instead view critics with a certain level of respect, but with a hefty dose of ambivalence. Easier said than done. However, when facing the possibility of any author having to face down a brigade of anonymous one star reviews on the internet, or a twitter-led hate campaign, having thick skin appears to be a must.

Game Review: Syndicate [Hard Drive Archive]

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Author’s note: I wrote this not-so-nice review back in early 2013 as a facebook note. The fact that I mention both Gamefly AND Block Buster in this same article probably dates this piece a considerable amount. Also, as a bit of an ironic twist, I ended up actually buying this game three years later for less than five bucks at a second hand shop, and I’ll still occasionally play it when I can’t bother to fish out my copy of Perfect Dark 64.

The Syndicate series is a bit obscure in the video game world, even by cyberpunk standards. Though most people, myself included, were barely out of their diapers when the first game came out in 1993, I did in fact manage to play their sequel Syndicate Wars on the PC. By the way, good luck finding a copy of either, unless you want to pay Ebay over one-hundred dollars and use DOS-box to run the damn things. And much like its two predecessors, the new game can be just as hard to find as a rental if you don’t have a GameFly account. I almost had to beg the only Block Buster store within fifty miles to reserve a copy for me. This massive inconvenience alone, no thanks to the (but largely enviable) burgeoning online mail-in rental industry could be a topic I could post an entirely separate thread about, but I digress.

Syndicate, the reboot to the 1990s cult favorite, tells the story of a corporate-dystopian future where — no surprise — corporations have become the new nation states. The game is a First-Person-Shooter, shown to you through the perspective of Miles Kilo (the surname, no doubt a clever reference to the Executive Producer’s favorite pastime). Kilo works for Eurocorp, one of the major conglomerates that control the world in this dark anarcho-capitalist future. Your protagonist at the start of the game has been implanted with a Dart 6 brain chip — the latest in corporate wet-ware — which allows the player to see the world in a digitally augmented reality state. This device also allows you to remotely hack terminals, as well as humans who you can then either control them in order to turn them against their allies or force them to commit suicide.

You’re then teamed up with the very sociopathic, Merit, whose pastimes include: shooting innocent civilians, blowing up buildings, and talking about how awesome the female scientists’ racks are. Another supporting character is the inventor of the Dart 6 chip, Lily Drawl, who is supposed to be Kilo’s moral compass throughout the story even though she has no qualms watching you put holes in the bodies of other people at close range.

The acting, as well as the story, seems phoned-in. Kilo, I’m sure for budget purposes, remains the silent protagonist who has to be strung along by the other characters otherwise he’d probably just sit there. Merit’s voice actor sounds crawling on lips drunk, which interestingly enough makes his stupid antics in the game almost plausible. Lily Drawl’s voice actress seems to be the most competent, but doesn’t give a whole lot of range for you to feel invested in her emotionally. Even the writer for this game, Richard Morgan, cyberpunk author of Altered Carbon and Market Forces, doesn’t seem to be trying.

The story itself is pretty basic: a lone man, who has worked for corporations his whole life, has a crisis of conscience after a job goes bad and is now being hunted by the very people who’ve worked with him his entire career. True to EA form, the game also has a conclusion that is open-ended enough to warrant a sequel, which is required by law nowadays in the video game biz, apparently. It’s a story-mode so paint-by-numbers predictable, it could’ve just been a list that Morgan had to check off as he wrote the script. Whether you’re a Chomsky-leftist or a hard line Ayn Rand acolyte, there’s very little intellectual-wank-material to be had here.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, you’re still getting a half-way decent shooter. However, if you were an old fan of the previous games RPG elements, you’ll be severely disappointed. Most of the squad-based tactics have been taken out and replaced with you working with an NPC to complete mission objectives. Even my favorite aspect of the series, which was the economic management of your corporate enclaves and the upkeep of R&D for your trench coat assassins has been completely tossed out. Though to make up for this, the player can earn cash or experience points that can be put towards augmentations that give you certain perks like X-ray vision, optical-camo or faster cool-down times in between using abilities. The guns are stylish, but nothing you haven’t seen before in any other FPS, with the exception of two: one that can shoot through walls and another whose bullets can track a target around corners. You won’t be able to travel to wherever you want to either like you did in the previous games, but will only be whisked away to exotic locals if the story permits it. The game is much more linear, shootier and turns the hacking mini-games into single-click, wait-’em-out-before-they-shoot-you-out time crunchers.

When I was playing this game however, there was one game that kept coming to mind whenever I attempted a cyber-brain hack or a corporate infiltration (which was able as subtle as a shotgun shell through a door and I’m not kidding about that), that game being Deus Ex 3 (or Deus Ex: Human Revolution if you insist on it). Syndicate not only was trying to make you forget all about the previous, much better versions that came before it, but also the fact that a much better cyberpunk game from last year was still on the market. It had all the aspects of a Deus Ex game, without the open-endedness of the story-line or gameplay. Though it might be fairer to state that Syndicate is probably the best sequel that Perfect Dark 64 never got, it doesn’t even have repertoire of choice in weapons and gadgets that justify the label. It was almost depressing playing this game as it tried to so hard to impress me. Trying so hard to awe me with its graphics, trying to so hard to pull my heartstrings with Kilo’s tragic past, trying to throw as many flashy explosions and sleek skylines at me as humanly possible. It was like a younger, less competent child, attempting to outdo their much older, smarter and beautiful sibling, and like any good parent I was going to validate Syndicate’s need to feel special. However, I could only bring to give it just enough attention so that it may feel just a little less hopeless about its disposition all the while giving Deus Ex the preferred treatment behind Syndicate’s back. I probably shouldn’t go into parenting.

[Review] Game of Thrones: A Whodunit of Medieval Proportions [Hard Drive Archive]

Author’s Note: this review was written back in 2012 on a website that — thankfully — no longer exists. I wasn’t the best writer (or even reviewer) at the time, but there were a few gems that I feel stood the test of time. This is one of them. I hope you enjoy it!

A lot people have been asking me to read this novel. It has been making the rounds recently what with the T.V adaptation on HBO and the recent reprints of the books in nice, glossy covers, on display, at my local book store. Though, before I get into this review I should probably tell you something: I’m not much of a fantasy fan. Though I read from several different genres, Science Fiction has always been my corner. You could probably chock it up to bad luck as well that my first exposure to fantasy was Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series and the earlier World of Warcraft novels based on the MMO, both of which I didn’t like. Though, one can say I have moved on to greener pastures since then, having read the Narnia, Redwall and Lord of the Rings books (which are part of the modern fantasy canon anyway), none of them have been able to truly blow me away. Even J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter books couldn’t keep me interested past the second book and even supposed non-readers were going ape-shit over that series.

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Seriously, a crack dealer couldn’t sell their drugs as fast as those books did.

And do you want to know what’s even more terrible? My favorite fantasy series, if it even counts among die-hard fans, is the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and even it starts to lose its luster by the end of the fourth book (read the next four in the series at your own risk). It’s pitiful that I have to say that that series meant for middle schoolers is one of my favorites, with Narnia and Redwall coming at a close second and I think I know why.

Fantasy never seemed to want to walk on the “dark side” as I like to call it. For most fans of the genre, it seems to be all about the escapism and living vicariously through a “Chosen One” type of character and twisting it to become some Oliver Twist, rags to riches, good guys will always come through within the last fifty pages, storyline that just did not appeal to me as a reader. Yeah, call me a glum, cynical, emo-goth, but I cannot stand those types of novels. If I know for certain that it’s going to shit smilely faces at the end, why should I read it? You honestly think I can be surprised by that? Sci-fi seemed to at least be much more willing to take a more risky route in terms of storytelling by making their genre darker and grittier for it’s audiences. It’s those reasons alone that have turned me off from the genre of fantasy for several years until this point; despite the fact that Michael Moorcock and even Richard Morgan have been breaking new ground for years trying to drag fantasy out of the rainbow room. So can Game of Thrones change my mind on that? Well, keep reading, I dare you!

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A Game of Thrones: a hard cover novel thick enough to beat a crack dealer to death with.

Game of Thrones was written in 1996 by former screen writer George R.R Martin, who participated in the writing of several short stories in the 1970s that spearheaded his writing career on T.V., even writing for the 1987 series Beauty and the Beast. The series had a bit of a slow burn in terms of gaining popularity. Though considering he’s a man who once worked in Hollywood and has two middle names to call his own, I suppose that helps.

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“Yeah, I don’t know why have two middle names either.”

The book starts with the murdering of the King’s Hand by a mysterious assassin, along with the killing of two rangers and a lord at the hands of an ancient foe, both incidents occurring on different sides of the continent and it’s off to the races. From there this medieval tale takes an interesting turn as it soon transforms into not your average fantasy novel and becomes at its core, a mystery whodoneit scenario, based in a fantasy setting. Though the book is told from multiple perspectives, it mainly focuses on Lord Eddard Stark, as he tries to help his good friend, King Robert, solve this mystery of this murder while trying to navigate the political interests and intrigues of other lords and advisers, all wanting control over the Seven Kingdoms. Being also a fan of detective noir novels, I was immediately engrossed in the story. The characters were multilayered and had several competing interests with one another, not to mention most of these characters motivations were kept hidden throughout, leaving me to guess and even second guess their true allegiance to Stark and the other major characters.

My favorite character by far was Tyrion Lannister, if only because he’s such a likable smartass, as well as being a dwarf. His cunning and intelligence seem to make him the most interesting and dangerous character since he’s basically playing off of, as well as conspiring for and against, with three different factions throughout the novel.

If there is anything bad I can say about this book, if at all, it is the pacing and the amount of characters in the novel. Like any fantasy book, this one often tends to dwell on more often than necessary I feel, on the lore and history of the Seven Kingdoms. A trope often employed by fantasy writers, mainly because I suspect they seem to have no choice in terms of providing proper exposition, but could have been edited down or expanded in dialogue. Also, since the novel is told from seven different character’s perspectives, there is a bit of difficulty in trying to follow the multiple story lines and some character story arches were more interesting than others. Especially when Martin tries to tie up his character’s journey’s at the end, with the exception of the last chapter, I felt that the story ended fifty pages ago and the rest was epilogue. There’s also such a girth of secondary characters that their appearances half-way through the novel tended to run together until I was basically assigning them a generic blank face and clothing when they made their appearance again to interact with the main characters. I’m thankful for the index that is provided on the back, otherwise I would’ve been lost on who’s who. Though like I said, minor nit-picks.

Overall this is a very great book that keeps you at the edge of your set until the very shocking conclusion that definitely made me rethink the genre of fantasy. It’s dark, it’s gritty and most of all intriguing. I’d say it might be one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read, though I’ll let you decide how much weight you’d want that endorsement to carry. I can’t wait to read the last two books in the trilogy…

Holy Seven Hells, he’s got five more of these books!?

Nocturnal Musing [1]

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So it’s been three months since started this little adventure and I’ve been loving the outreach and experiences that I’ve gained so far. Going back to my first few posts I remembered what I was feeling back then and how nervous I was when I posted my excerpt of Con Job and my first poetry review of Ghost in the Shell. I was nervous about it because I mostly thought I was giving the world the ammunition it needed to prove that I was a freak all along and that no one would be into that stuff. However, I kept going; I wrote more blog posts, a sort-of essay about how difficult it is to be prescient as a writer, my trepidation over the possibly popularity of the live action Ghost in the Shell, and then later the review that blew all those assumptions out of the water in one fell swoop.

Then I started Austin By Night, and that’s when things really took off. I can say that my greatest achievement thus far has been the fact that my visitor counts doubled in not only April, but also in May. Two months of exponential growth! THAT is something.

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I can’t be thankful enough to the people on WordPress along with my subscribers here on this site, as well as the wonderful local community of writers in my city, my home, Austin, Texas. There are many writers on twitter and their openness and willingness to help me make me a better writer have been invaluable. And there are those who are not online, but have also helped in immeasurable ways (and you know who you are and I am eternally grateful).

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I think I’m lucky that I live in a pretty cosmopolitan city that is willing to embrace and support artists like myself. Not an easy thing to be, especially in the American South, but Austin definitely deserves the accolades. Now that I’ve seen what it takes to make it as a writer, I hope to spread the signal further through here and out there.

So, what’s next? Well, I’m working on a novel right now, which I’ve posted an excerpt of over a month ago. That novel has been my off-site project as well as what I do here, along with twitter and youtube. I’ll still be posting videos and continuing the Austin By Night series for the foreseeable future and I hope you’ll still around to see the other projects that I have coming down the artistic pipe-line. Once again, thank you for your support, your subscriptions, and continue to spread the signal. In the end, it’s all up to us! See you soon!

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Night Trap Re-release Turns into Nostalgia Reloaded [Article].

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If you don’t follow my twitter account, or didn’t even know I had one, I don’t blame you. I’m not nearly that cool to warrant a large twitter following (yet). However, if you do you follow my twitter, you probably saw me have a minor fan freakout earlier this week over Limited Run Games doing a re-release of the infamous, but cheesy FMV game Night Trap.

What is Night Trap? The best point and click FMV game of the 1990s with the world’s best, worst acting money could buy for a Sega CD ROM exclusive. If you need proof just watch the 25th anniversary trailer here:

This game, I kid you not, was actually considered so violent and in poor taste, that the United States Congress held the worlds most awkward committee meeting over Night Trap’s possible ban. This threat of banishment back in 1993 was one of the catalysts that lead to the video game industry to create its own rating system known as the ESRB. Although, when you look at modern video games and consider the amount of violence that — thanks to technology — has been rendered to be as real, prevalent, and as intense as it is today, it makes Night Trap almost seems hokey and quaint by comparison.

Despite the dark premise, it’s actually loads of fun; and I remember having an absolute laughing-to-wailing, riot of a time playing this game the first time I managed to get a copy of it running. If you have a PS4, you need to give this disc a spin. You will not regret it.

Now if they can just get a Snatcher re-release up and running…

A Morning Jog With The Zeitgeist [Analysis]

I don’t have to tell you that the world is going through a bit of weirdness right now. Though, if you weren’t surprised by either the election of Donald Trump, or the latest revelations on Global Warming, or the advent of 3-D printed guns, or the Alt-right weaponizing internet memes, or Russia’s meddling in the U.S elections, or the creation of Wikileaks, or the revelations of Edward Snowden, or ghost cities in China, or even this event of strangeness, you might want to stop reading this blog and become an investment banker or leave town before your get burned for being a witch.

This strangeness has been noted by famous surrealist and cyberpunk author William Gibson in a recent interview stating that “the current situation has a current of goofy incoherence,” which is true, if not understated by the overall shittiness of recent events. Though Gibson brings this up as a man of his profession, which is writing, which seems to have become only more difficult lately. One has to be pretty tapped into the current mood and events of the world. The zeitgeist as it is often called is considered by most pop-culture seer hunters to be the catch-all to be anything and everything involving humanity’s culture in the current moment. In the world of entertainment artists, musicians, writers, and directors didn’t necessarily need a crystal ball to tap into the zeitgeist, but often times it certainly helped. Increasingly, however, as more and more pop culture stuff has crowded the entertainment space demanding our attention, that ability to predict the future through art and fiction has become the one X-factor that has proven to be a sure fire way for an artists to be elevated a step above the rest of the crowd. Unfortunately, with the zeitgeist becoming less predictable and more clowns shoes than ever, that ability to be prescient through art has become more difficult to pull off now more than ever.

The internet doesn’t seem to help things by much either, since it has also accelerated the news cycle to where we can’t really pause for more than a few days before the next breaking story or outrage hits us. Our friends and followers can hit us with breaking news on our social media feeds in the morning and it’ll be propelled into the 24-hour news cycle by lunchtime.

For me, the process is exciting, but exhausts me just as quickly as it used to when I was a adolescent information hound that soaked up the digital world like media starved cretin coming out of his cave for the first time. The Zeitgeist — ageless and indifferent to time — has evolved to keep a quick and steady pace; and with some tired resignation on my part, I’m forced to keep up.

Which is why every once in awhile, I have to catch the Zeitgeist on its jogging route and be willing to run with it while I ask it a few questions. Questions that I’m sparing with because I tend to run out of breathe eventually and the Zeitgeist has no interest in stopping, because the rest of world doesn’t want to either. The Zeitgeist is polite enough to answer my questions, but you can tell its sort of rushed for time and you can’t really blame it (though its gotten really good at running in those clown shoes).

I do recall reading how artists, particularly authors, would invite the Zeitgeist for lunch or coffee and discuss with it current events, the state of the world, and where we’re heading. It sounds nice, almost quaint, and it makes me a bit envious that the Zeitgeist had the time back then to sit down and actually chat for leisurely hour or two. However, it’s a waste of time to even be upset about such a thing, since I’m, presumably, the ones of millions of millenials who enabled this kind of fast-pace info-culture to happen in the first place.

It’s also worth remembering that us millenials came of age during a time that included the collapse of the Soviet Union, the founding of the internet, the unabomber, 9/11, the war on terror, the rising consensus on global warming being a man-made phenomenon, social media, the crash of 2008, China rising as a global superpower, the election of the first black president, and the election of Donald Trump. All of these things were seemingly unbelievable, inconceivable, and anyone who tried to argue otherwise was thought of as a weirdo or viewed with the upmost suspicion. One should also remember that, just like us, the Zeitgeist can only be as reactive as we are, for we control how weird and how adaptive the Zeitgeist truly is.

Perhaps at one point we’ll learn to slow down, or will be forced to out of some unforeseen sense of necessity. We’ll learn to take a break from the crazily, infinite barrage of outrage and information to stop and smell the roses. Maybe then the Zeitgeist can stop its infinite jog, take off the clown shoes and come to visit for a nice lunch with a side of latte. We can only hope.

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.