Sunday, October 5, 2014

"The Sphere Where Thoughts Gather" Vol.1

General Reflections

It's a slow and rather cold Sunday afternoon here, work has been kicking my ass as I'm still settling down after my latest transfer and goddamnit this post was supposed to be up last Friday so, finally, here's some personal reflections on the game that I'd like to publicate.

Thoughts accumulated over time like references, similarities, parallels and other bullshit are included in this semi-organized block of words, which are also full of spoilers that newcomers are advised to avoid.

Sol Bianca (1990)

Mechanical designer: Atsushi Takeuchi

攻殻機動隊 Ghost in the Shell (1995)

"It has found a voice, now it needs a body." 

"Even a simulated experience or a dream is simultaneous reality and fantasy."

Simon Orestes Cohen is the quintessential "Puppetmaster." The game even references his status as a manipulator in the Photosphere where a Geppetto faux-icon can be found, which I presume stands for the program he's using to run his simulations.

Nemo, of course, is his Pinocchio. An artificial being that, who knows, may have spontaneously developed a soul or "ghost" by the end of the story, much like GITS's Project 2501 did. Seeing the way that Simon speaks to Nemo (him/her/it?) a good degree of autonomous comprehension and elaboration of information is implied. Add to that free will after being set free by Simon from his own simulation and you've got the main components to what can be construed as an electronic life-form. The game actually provides a very comprehensive list of the things Nemo is equipped with:

By paying attention to his monologue in the aforementioned booklet, his own self-inserted cameos and appearances, which culminate in a crucial supporting role in M47 SELF AWARENESS in his own fake reality, you'll see a man who relishes his position as the all-powerful, omnipresent, creator of an A.I. who is working for him and (unknowingly) has no one but him to thank for his own existence. However emotionally damaged or even deranged this story's mad scientist may be though, he never imposes his own will on Nemo, his own creation. Actually, if you look at it from an in-universe POV, you'll notice that he's actually having quite a bit of fun. This game is one of those works that respects the player/viewer and actually gives clues here and there hinting to the truth behind the game so that when the final twist is revealed, it doesn't feel like the makers pulled it out of his ass. Here is one of the advertisements interspersed throughout Expo City, this one in particular taken from M07 NO CLEARANCE:

P.I.G. or Programmed Intelli Gence
Once the A.I.'s job is done, he is rewarded with freedom by Simon, in a seemingly sudden and unexplained decision. In what is probably Simon's only sign of compassion in the whole game (towards a program, no less, a programmer's programmer if I ever saw one), instead of shutting him down he sets Nemo free*. Well, after all they've been through together, it's understandable that Simon would like to let him/her/it thrive.

Akio Otsuka, voice of Batou: "Experience [the movie] with your heart instead of thinking deeply about the story aspects."

Truer words have never been spoken, as my first viewings of that movie resulted in me trying to get what was going on at an intellectual level, which often resulted in a lesser movie-watching experience. On subsequent viewings, once the plot proved less troublesome to follow, watching it from Motoko's point of view, her story, proved to be a vastly more rewarding experience. Kenji Kawai's score also helps a lot as just by listening to it, by itself, the more emotional and human side is suddenly a lot more evident.

"People love machines in 2029 A.D."

And I feel the same applies to AC3E. A cyberpunk story (well, five) full of political machinations, reflections on the human condition and where there are a total of six wingmen that each have their own paths and distinct character arcs that all help shape this dramatic flight shooting game. Once you get the plot out of the way, the human side of AC3E really shines. Funny enough, the same can be said for Nemo's story itself as it is hard for me not to imagine Nemo feeling God's grace as he's freed from the only confines he's ever known much as when Project 2501 merged with Motoko to ascend to a completely new plane of existence.

"...the net is vast and infinite."

Do people love A.I.s in 2032 A.D.? Or maybe the other way around?

*Unlike what many once thought (or may still think),  Nemo getting "purged" never meant his deletion. Rather, that was the moment Simon released Nemo from the virtual environment he'd been always restricted to.

Fun fact: the first time I found out a link between AC3 and GITS was around 2007 or 2008 when I bought the R1 release of GITS SAC Official Log Vol.1. In it is an interview with Dai Sato where he's credited with writing the script for AC3. I don't think I even knew about the original Japanese version of the game back then, and his name sure wasn't on the US version's release, so that may have been the first clue that made search for more information on the game. Pity no one else bought that damn DVD+BOOK, would have loved to see the Vol.2 released...

Cowboy Bebop (1998) 

"The work which will become a genre itself will be called..."

Session #23 "Brain Scratch" was Dai Sato's first anime writing gig, who after meeting Shinichiro Watanabe for an interview during the time Macross Plus was airing/releasing received an invitation to write an episode of Cowboy Bebop

This episode tells the story of a man who got rid of his human body to upload his soul to the Internet and started a cult with the premise that by digitizing their own selves, people can achieve eternal life. 

"...and lead you to the infinite sea of electrons."

Needless to say, it's the same basic story, only the one in AC3E has been expanded and transplanted onto an ACE COMBAT game (of all things!). I'd love to know the story behind this, there's a huge difference between 2 and 3.

Originally aired on WOWOW on April 3, 1999, this episode was not part of the original, aborted run of Bebop that consisted of sessions 2, 3, 7 to 15, 18 and a special (Session #0 maybe?) from the previous year.

In retrospect it is amazing how much of AC3E feels like a full realization of Sato's idea of people migrating to a virtual reality, which he surely had to change and compress for Bebop in order to fit into a single episode's running time. I can't even begin to fathom how much story he planned to write when the game was still initially set to span 4 discs worth of content. To me, each of this game's 52 missions feels like an episode straight out of an anime (this exact number of missions/episodes could not have been a mere coincidence).

Upon skimming through the episode in order to grab some screencaps I happened to listen to one line spoken by Spike during the final confrontation with the cult leader: "If you want to keep dreaming, keep it to yourself, will ya?" which is very similar to the way Fiona responds to Cynthia when she talks about the Electrosphere and how wonderful it is, currently translated by us as "If you want to dream, keep to when you're sleeping!." Keep in mind that the lines may not be exactly the same, as I listened to the dub version. There's probably other smaller similarities, like lines and imagery in there, which I would love to find out when I finally buy the series on BluRay.

Fun fact: the translator who was going to localize the game for NAMCO Hometek back in 2000, Agness Kaku, also collaborated with Dai Sato on the liner notes for one of Cowboy Bebop's soundtrack releases. Small world, huh? Pity it never came to be.

I also had the pleasure of exchanging a couple of personal messages with Mrs. Kaku last month. It is apparent how she still holds AC3E in high regard after all these years. We at Team NEMO hope to make justice not only to the fans but also to her, as her translation work for games like MGS2 were nothing short of amazing, especially after I learned more about her upon reading an interview with her for a gaming website. Her demo translation file for M01 AWAKENING that she posted on years ago has helped me very much during editing not only for that mission but as reference for the remainder of the game.

Some of her lines from that demo file remain in our current edit and while I asked her for permission to use some of her work she rightfully noted how it's NBGI or Frognation who hold the actual rights. It remains to be seen what these companies' stances are in relation to our translation project, if they even know we exist in the first place. We will respect their wishes whatever they may be. For the moment I'd like to thank Mrs. Kaku for contacting me after she saw her name posted on one of my AC3 videos! It was a great honor to be able to speak to someone related to this game, the translator no less!

The Matrix (1999)

"Free your mind"

One thing I really like about the GITS movie, AC3E and The Matrix, which had come out only a month or two before the game was released, is that when the story ends, instead of offering a definitive "closure" to the story, it opens up a world of possibilities.

"...where we go from here is a choice I leave to you."

Here we have an artificial, but advanced, being that has just discovered the truth about his own existence, that everything up to that moment did not "happen." What would Nemo do with his new-found freedom, now in the year 2032, eight years before the so-called Corporate War is supposed to break out? That is all he's ever known up to that point.

Will things play out differently now that Simon has all the data he needed? He works for Neucom after all. Was the simulation even ordered by the company or was it just Simon trying to kill Dision's "dead copy" out of revenge while gathering data for the war that is brewing?

The possibilities for a true sequel, that will of course never happen, would indeed be endless. Personally, I like to imagine a Nemo navigating the Electrosphere undetected for an undisclosed amount of time, gathering information and learning about the real world, eventually stepping in and lending a hand to whichever side he chooses (or none) when the real war happens, even hacking into airplanes as shown in M33 GEOPELIA. It would be like an AC3 -Part 2- "This time it's real", a sequel that would build upon the foundation laid by the first outing and up the ante in every possible way. But I digress, as I'm not all that into fan-fiction, just an idea spurred by a game that just keeps me coming back time and again.