Category Archives: Art

#10: Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid Was Inspired by Cronenberg’s Scanners

I just watched David Cronenberg’s classic 1981 sci-fi thriller Scanners for the first time the other day, and I noticed a whole slew of undeniable parallels between it and Hideo Kojima’s 1998 sci-fi action game, Metal Gear SolidI’ve never seen anyone else make these connections, so I believe I’m bringing you something that’s never been discussed or discovered before.

This essay will feature heavy spoilers for both Scanners and Metal Gear Solid, so if you haven’t seen the film or played the game, I highly recommend you do both before reading this. They’re both phenomenal works in their mediums that are best experienced without knowing the plots going in.

First, let’s break down the plot of Scanners.

Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Cameron Vale, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by a man named Dr. Paul Ruth, who founded a biochemicals and weapons company called ConSec. Ruth mentors Vale in how to use and control strange abilities he’s always had but never understood, discovers his abilities are very powerful, and sends him on a mission to infiltrate light-haired terrorist antagonist Darryl Revok’s renegade army and take out Revok himself. You see, both Vale and Revok are powerful psychics called scanners, Revok’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful psychics, and Vale is told that he’s the only one who can stop Revok. Vale is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and after mastering his abilities comes to fit the “quiet badass” role to a tee.

These psychic abilities allow the scanner to light people on fire and control their motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: the wielder is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around them, and they can’t stop their brains from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and can drive them crazy. Vale is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and Revok was institutionalized because of his, eventually drilling a hole into his own forehead in an attempt to relieve the pressure caused in his head by all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.

Along the way, Vale goes undercover and stealthily infiltrates the ConSec biochemicals and weapons company’s facility, and by hacking into a computer and thus finding a classified cache of information, he discovers Revok’s true plan and that he and Revok, as well as Revok’s army of psychics, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were fetuses, specifically through the use of a drug that was administered to their mothers which was intended to sedate pregnant women and ease pregnancy pains and sickness. Revok’s plan is to continue to inject unwitting pregnant women with this drug to create a whole society of powerful scanners and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world so that scanners will never be abused and neglected by society the way he and Vale were. Dr. Ruth originally started this plan with the intention of creating a scanner utopia, where people with psychic powers would make the world a better place. This program is called RIPE. Revok has been slowly taking over ConSec from the inside over time, and somewhere along the way he has Dr. Ruth killed, with the goal of completely taking over the company for himself to take RIPE in his own ideological direction.

During Vale and Revok’s climactic confrontation, Revok then reveals that he and Vale are brothers and the most powerful of these artificially-created psychics, because their mother was the first woman this experimental drug was used on while she was pregnant and too much of the drug was administered. Revok also reveals that Dr. Ruth is their father, that he’s the one who administered the drug to their mother, and that Revok hated him for creating the two of them as freaks of nature, abandoning them, and leaving them to suffer in a world that doesn’t understand them with painful abilities they themselves didn’t understand.

However, Vale accuses Revok of becoming just like their father Dr. Ruth in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Vale denounces both Revok and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very psychic abilities that made them into what they are. Vale overcomes Revok by leaving his own body and overtaking Revok’s body with his own voice and personality. Here, the film ends.

Now we’ll break down the relevant plot points of Metal Gear Solid, pointing out the identical ones and the differences between similar ones where Kojima took the basic idea and changed the details of it to fit his own narrative.

Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Solid Snake, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by government agents led by a man named Roy Campbell, Solid Snake’s commanding officer from his second mission. A man named Big Boss, founder of both a US elite special forces unit called FOXHOUND and a radical military nation called Outer Heaven (the latter of which he founded covertly and unbeknownst to the US government), Solid Snake’s former commanding officer who sent him on his first field mission against Outer Heaven itself (because Big Boss was the head of FOXHOUND, and the US government assigned FOXHOUND to stop Outer Heaven’s uprising, so Big Boss sent a rookie to do the job hoping he’d fail, but he didn’t), and whom Snake killed during his second mission which Campbell headed, was also his father and mentor who helped him to hone his incredible natural combat instincts and abilities. This time around, Campbell sends Solid Snake on a mission to infiltrate the Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility which light-haired terrorist antagonist Liquid Snake has taken control of along with his renegade army and FOXHOUND itself, which Liquid Snake has also taken command of, and take out Liquid Snake at the head of it all. You see, both Solid and Liquid Snake are super-soldiers who share the same code name, Liquid Snake’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful super-soldiers, and Solid Snake is told that he’s the only one who can stop Liquid. Solid Snake is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and fits the “quiet badass” role to a tee.

Among the ranks of Liquid Snake’s FOXHOUND is a psychic soldier called Psycho Mantis. His psychic abilities allows him to light things on fire and and control people’s motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: he is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around him, and he can’t stop his brain from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and drives him crazy, and as a boy he lashes out and lights his village on fire with his psychic abilities, killing his father whom he hated because his thoughts were consumed with bitterness and blame for his mother’s death in childbirth. Mantis is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and he wears a gas mask because it protects his head against all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.

Along the way, Solid Snake stealthily infiltrates the Alaskan facility and rescues a scientist and master hacker who, by hacking into a computer and finding a classified cache of information from weapons company Armstech, discovers Liquid Snake’s true plan, which is to use a giant, walking battle tank called Metal Gear REX to launch a stealth nuclear missile at any target on Earth. It’s also revealed that Solid and Liquid Snake, as well as Liquid Snake’s army of super-soldiers, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were embryos and fetuses, specifically through the use of genetic modification aimed at removing weak genes and replacing them with genes connected with superior combat instincts and abilities. This program was called Les Enfants Terribles. Liquid Snake’s complete plan is to continue creating more of these genetically modified super-soldiers to create a whole society of them and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world, controlling the military-industrial complex and creating a never-ending war society where super-soldiers will always have value and won’t be abandoned and neglected by society the way veterans are after the military is finished making use of them. This was Big Boss’s plan for the Outer Heaven military nation before it was stopped by Solid Snake. Liquid Snake is turning this Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility into a new Outer Heaven to be the helm and centerpiece around which this new war society will revolve, and he wants to surpass Big Boss by succeeding with the Outer Heaven idea where Big Boss himself failed.

During Solid Snake and Liquid Snake’s climactic confrontation, Liquid then reveals that he and Solid are twin brothers, as well as the most powerful of these artificially-created super-soldiers because they were the first of these super-soldiers to be made. This was done by taking cells from Big Boss, known as the greatest soldier to ever live, and creating eight clones from his DNA, then killing six of the octuplets in-utero so the remaining two would become even stronger. This effectively makes Big Boss their father. Liquid Snake also reveals that he hates Big Boss for being responsible for creating the two of them as freaks of nature and supposedly giving Liquid Snake all the recessive genes, which he thinks makes him weaker and inferior to Solid Snake, who supposedly got all the dominant genes.

However, Solid Snake accuses Liquid Snake of becoming just like their father Big Boss in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Solid Snake denounces both Liquid Snake and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very super-soldier abilities that made them into what they are. Solid Snake overcomes Liquid Snake, killing him, and after a tense escape, the game ends. In the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Liquid Snake’s forearm has been removed from his body and reattached to Metal Gear Solid‘s secondary villain Revolver Ocelot, who lost his forearm during the events of that game. Liquid Snake overtakes Revolver Ocelot’s body with his own voice and personality, and he becomes a new “Liquid Ocelot” hybrid villain.

As you can see, the vast majority of Metal Gear Solid‘s main plot points are lifted directly from Scanners. Kojima also lifted ideas from a slew of other Western films, so I’m not insinuating that all of Metal Gear Solid was copied from Scanners or that this film was the only source of inspiration for the game, but I’m familiar with no other single work that has a greater number of direct plot points used in the game than this film. The uber-passionate film buff and fan of Western cinema that Kojima is, he’s known to take elements from many Western films and mix them all up into wholly new creations, and virtually all of his creative work follows this modus operandi. Although Hideo Kojima himself has never cited Scanners as an influence, as Terry Wolfe’s book The Kojima Code points out, there are many clear connections between Kojima’s work and Western films that Kojima himself has never officially stated as influences, but which are too coincidental to likely be mere coincidence. Sometimes, even without official confirmation, so many obvious connections can be made between two works that the inspiration can be safely assumed.

#8: GANTZ – The Greatest Manga I’ve Ever Read

I’ve just finished reading the Hiroya Oku’s GANTZ manga today, and what an insane and thrilling ride it was.

If you’ve never heard of GANTZ before, it’s a sci-fi action/horror manga (Japanese comic) that spans 37 books, a 26 episode anime, and two live-action, Japanese-made films. It’s a brilliantly visceral series that tackles a lot of issues with human emotion and hypocrisy, and offers as much intelligent social commentary as hardcore violence. It’s an intense thrill ride from beginning to end, and Oku is a total master of messing with his readers and their expectations. You never know what’s coming next with GANTZ, and it’s by far the most consistently entertaining series of Japanese media I’ve ever come across.

In my opinion, the order in which I was lucky enough to experience all of the various GANTZ media is the perfect way to experience it. My first experience with GANTZ was its anime, and its insane premise and razor-edged vulgarity, sexuality, and violence instantly drew me in and made me want to watch more and find out just what the fuck was going on. Unfortunately the anime ends partway through the seventh book and adds on its own finale, which Oku himself gave the anime’s director permission to come up with since the manga was nowhere near complete when the anime was nearing its end. It has incredible animation and music, and its English voice  cast did such a great job that they won awards for their work on the series. (Fun fact: practically the entire cast of GANTZ is also the cast of Cromartie High School, my favorite comedy anime!) GANTZ‘s anime merely gives you a taste of the story and what’s to come, and it instantly makes you salivate for more when it’s over. It’s a perfect introduction to the series. I give the anime a solid 8/10.

Next I watched the live-action GANTZ films, which essentially cover the same material as the anime (minus its anime-exclusive finale) and incorporate elements from books 14 and 15 as well while also adding in a whole bunch of original, exclusive story material not found in either the anime or manga. The production values on the films are really incredible, and although they skip over or barely touch on a lot of details (and in some cases even entire Gantz missions) and a lot of the strong characterization from the anime is gone (Kei Kurono, the main character, goes from being a perverted and selfish asshole in the anime to being a generic soft-spoken good guy in the films), they’re still very well made films and manage to feel like a completely different beast from the anime. Since they cover much of the same ground as the anime and even go a bit further into the manga while also leaving you with a lot of unanswered questions (yet answering more of your questions than the anime does) they’re the perfect next step after watching the anime. And like the anime, they too come up with their own original finale since once again the manga was nowhere near complete when they were made. The first film feels mostly like a rushed retelling of the anime, but the second film brings a lot of new material to the table and is much better written and paced than the first film is. It’s also much more emotional and tense, and some of its action scenes are truly spectacles to behold. The films also get a solid 8/10.

Then I read the manga, which is the perfect final step in experiencing the GANTZ story. I tried starting with its scanlations (scanned pages with fan translations), which start off very well done by the team that was originally doing it, but as soon as they stop their work on it and other translators take over, it becomes an absolute wreck: literal, robotic translations without emotion, typos left and right, inconsistent translations of names, and no localization to speak of. It completely takes you out of the story and atmosphere and ruins the experience. The only way to experience GANTZ as a manga is to buy the books from Dark Horse. I bought mine on Amazon, where they range from a few cents to $12 a piece, even brand new, and it’s absolutely worth it. The official translation is phenomenally done.

The manga is the best way to finish out your journey through the various GANTZ media, as it answers virtually every unanswered question the anime and films left you with, sometimes even within scenes the anime and films covered. For example, the anime and films never tell you why characters’ heads explode when they leave the allotted mission areas, and the manga answers that question very early on. Thus, reading the manga last, after watching the anime and then the films, is highly satisfying as you learn so many more things about the story, the characters, and how the world works, and why things are happening. The manga is absolutely top notch and by far the most amazing work of fiction I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. The artwork is just unbelievably and STUNNINGLY detailed, the writing is legitimately perfect in both pacing and tone, the action scenes are thrilling and easy to follow, and even the sound effect onomatopoeias employed are amazingly realistic if you actually sound them out, especially if you use a hushed or whispered delivery while sounding them out. A story should only be as long as it’s able to continue introducing intriguing and exciting new developments and twists, and suffice to say, GANTZ never overstays its welcome. In fact, it’s such an addicting manga that you never want to put it down. There were instances where I had to put it down even though I didn’t want to simply because it’s such an emotionally exhausting work at times, but I enjoyed every single moment it took me to read it. My only complaint is that I would have liked a chapter after its finale to see how the characters go about living their lives after the events they just went through, but I fully understand why Oku ends it the way he does and appreciate his decision, especially when supplemented with the interview included at the end of the final book that explains what the final chapter was so heavily influenced by. The manga gets a stellar 10/10 and deserves it beyond any shadow of a doubt. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes over some of the amazing artwork on display, and it still blows my mind that Oku was able to pull off some of the things he did, not because of fear of criticism or backlash, but because I’ve never seen such mindblowing detail in serialized illustration before.

I can’t possibly recommend GANTZ strongly enough, as long as you can handle raw and honest depictions of extreme violence, vulgarity, and sexuality. Hiroya Oku’s sheer imagination is unparalleled, and I’ve never seen such amazing creativity in monster or alien designs in my life. His writing is completely superb and is able to take his readers on intense roller coasters of emotion, from deep, sober solemnity, to high octane excitement and fear, to heartrending emotion, both sorrowful and joyous. He defies all expectation and delivers an experience unlike anything else out there. He’ll make you question your humanity, your understanding of how the universe works, and even your personal morality. All I ask is that you please, whatever you do, not read the fan translations online and instead buy the books for the official translation.

#2: Art Never Expires

It’s a popular idea that spoilers “expire” within a certain time frame after a work’s release. This applies to all storytelling mediums: literature, film, interactive (video games primarily), and television shows. Ideas differ greatly on how long after a work’s release it should take to be able to discuss spoilers openly and without warning, from a few weeks to a few years. I’m here today to tell you that no story expires, ever, and why it’s so important to immortalize them, to preserve their twists and surprises for all time.

I’ve had this on my mind for a long time, but the particular inspiration for writing this now is the newly released Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I saw someone share an image on Facebook that said something along the lines of, “Let’s give people two weeks to see Star Wars before we start openly discussing spoilers.” As someone who doesn’t care when I see a film in theaters, with no desire to have to see it as soon as it comes out (hell, I don’t even buy video game consoles until they’ve been out for a few years, when their libraries are vast, they’re getting upgraded revisions, and their prices are down), this frustrated me, because it meant I’d have to go see the film ASAP before discourteous, egotistical people who don’t care about anyone else’s experience with a work start spoiling it openly. So I’m seeing the film tomorrow, more to get it out of the way to appease the selfish masses than because I’m actually ready to see it. And that’s not right. I shouldn’t be forced to go see something I may not have a comfortable amount of money or time to do and squeeze it in just because I don’t want other people to ruin it for me.

Spoilers are incredibly important to me, and having a big plot point ruined for me can oftentimes completely destroy any desire I once had to experience the work for myself. I have a strong appreciation for good writing and for the great lengths an author will go to in order to set his audience through specific emotions at specific times and get the biggest reactions he can from them. After all, people are most drawn to things that affect them the deepest, and heavy emotions tie people very heavily to the work that brought those emotions out. Think of every one of your favorite works of fiction and why they mean so much to you. Think back to the first time you experienced a work and how heavily it impacted you through the power of its writing, whether it was a moment so inconceivably awesome that it blew you away with how you didn’t see it coming at all, or a moment so gut-wrenching or heartrending that it still pains you to think about it, or a moment that took your breath away or left you in tears, or a moment so absolutely hilarious because it was so out of left field and unexpected. These are the moments writers work so hard to build up to, so as to give their audience the utmost amount of entertainment they can possibly provide, with the hope that they’ll remember that work for the rest of their lives. That’s every writer’s aspiration.

Final Fantasy VII, for example, is a video game with a majorly emotional plot-twist that left its audiences literally crying over when they first played the game in 1997. That moment, a particular character’s death, is a very big reason why that game had such a huge impact on people and why so many gamers call it their favorite game of all time. Unfortunately, that plot twist had become so commonly known after the game’s release that it’s nearly impossible to play the game for the first time today and not know about that event in the plot. I’m one of those people who played the game after having been told about this big spoiler, and because I knew it was coming, it didn’t affect me whatsoever. And because the game’s biggest emotional moment didn’t affect me, the game itself as a whole didn’t affect me much. I recognized that it was a well-made RPG, but because such a big moment of the story was ruined for me before I played it, I’ll never be able to appreciate the game on such a deep, intense level as all the people who played it when it first came out. And that’s simply unfair.

To say that spoilers have an expiration date is to say that stories themselves have an expiration date. Storytelling is an art form. Art has no expiration date. Art is timeless. As long as we preserve a work, it will last forever. Spoiling a story is not only disrespectful to its author (who works so hard to find ways to surprise and affect his audience) and its audience (who want to get the utmost enjoyment out of the stories they’re devoting their time to experiencing), but it’s disrespectful to the story itself. If you think a story is so great, it’s likely because you didn’t see its twists coming and they surprised and affected you somehow. To spoil that for someone else is to deny them the same great experience with the work that you had, which in turn denies them the ability to be as affected by it as you were, which then means that they won’t be able to appreciate it as much as you did. Usually when someone loves a work so much, they want other people to love it as much as they do. By spoiling it for someone, you’re ensuring that they won’t be able to love it as much as you do, because you’re sullying their experience with it by deadening the impact the big moments have on them.

There are always going to be people who didn’t have the money or the time to experience something when it was new. There are always going to be people who had never heard of something until later and then want to experience it for themselves once they do hear about it. And there is always going to be a new generation of people who have never experienced a work before because they were either too young to experience it or not even born yet when it came out. To all those people, you are ruining their chance of ever experiencing a work blind and unspoiled. You are effectively saying that YOUR time to experience a work was the only time that mattered, and everyone else who comes after you can suck it. You’re saying their experience with that work isn’t as important as yours was. That’s about as narcissistic as it gets. How selfish, how egotistical it is of you to trash someone’s experience with a work of fiction simply because they didn’t get a chance to see, read, or play it within the small window of time YOU decided would be be allotted for everyone on the planet to do so. Your life is a mere blip in the expanse of human history. A work of fiction will last forever. It will go on to affect more people’s lives than you can possibly imagine, gain followings and wikis and fan sites, spur discussions and gatherings and conventions. On the other hand, you will one day die, and at your funeral there will only be the people who were closest to you throughout your life, then after a few generations people will forget about you and you won’t be talked about anymore. A work of art is bigger than you. It is more important than you. You don’t get to decide when it expires, because it doesn’t expire. You do.

It is never acceptable to discuss spoilers without warning. It isn’t asking a lot for you to simply warn people that you’re about to go into spoilers for a particular work before you dive into the details. If you’re posting online, all it takes is something along the lines of “Warning: Walking Dead spoilers” at the start of your post. If you’re discussing a work in person, just ask the people you’re talking to if they’ve seen/read/played the work before going into spoilers, and if they haven’t, warn them that you’re going to discuss some spoilers for that work. If you’re out in public, you can talk about spoilers in hushed tones so everyone around you doesn’t have to hear you blab about it. These simple displays of courtesy give people the option of not reading your post, or walking away or covering their ears for a minute while you discuss the work. Or, if spoilers don’t bother them, they also have the option to continue reading or listening. But always give people the chance to avoid spoilers for a work so that they may experience it as it was intended to be experienced. Stories old and new deserve equal respect, and so do their authors and audiences.