Phantom of Inferno could well be the future of entertainment. An anime on DVD, in which you use the DVD remote to control the direction of the plot. The first title to truly straddle the closing gap between anime and computer games. A director’s cut in which you are the director, in many ways! Except you’re not.
Here’s the thing. Interactivity is a myth. Not because we can’t influence the way a story turns out, but because audiences have always done so, since the first time stories were told. The days are gone when bards would change tack mid-verse to avoid getting another bottle hurled at them by an unruly crowd, but marketing surveys, preview screenings and focus groups do a lot of that work instead.
Do you honestly think that, if you vote with your wallet to see a worthy art-house film made in the People’s Republic of China – Red Sorghum, or Blue Kite or any other combination of Color and Noun, that halfway through there’s going to be a car-chase, followed by martial arts combat between two men wearing jetpacks? Or when Jerry Bruckheimer presses the GO button on his latest blockbuster, that he hasn’t already thought through the needs and desires of every fifteen-year-old mallrat in the multiplex, and carefully tailored the movie to conform to the choices they would have made, if they’d been asked?
Films are already interactive. When I refuse to pay money to see Harry Potter and the Emperor’s New Clothes, I am casting a vote. It isn’t one that counts for much, but it’s a vote nonetheless. When I pay $150 for my copy of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories DVD, I am also casting a vote. In fact, I may have to cast it twice, because I can’t remember who I lent my Memories to, and I may have to buy another one, how’s that for irony?
But my low-tech approach, ignoring the entertainments that don’t suit me, could become a thing of the past if the interactivity fascists have their way. Instead of a hundred, different anime movies, studios could instead throw all their resources into making one, big crappy one, with a hundred potential endings. Then they’ll wire us into our seats, and “let the audience decide” how the movie goes…
Is it just me, or does that sound like Hell on Earth?
It’s bad enough that I should endure the infantile distractions of poorly-housetrained, ill-mannered children (of all ages) in a movie theater. God forbid that they should have any say in how the movie I’m trying to watch actually ends! I don’t want “democracy” at the movies, because that way lies the madness of TV ratings. I’m paying my dollars to see what the writer, director and actors wanted me to see, not a pablum that pleases the largest sector of whatever audience followed me in.
That’s what the creatives are paid to do. That’s why we pay them. Allow the audience to interfere with the creation of a work of art, and you might as well have nothing but reality TV and game shows.
“Fan Service” is a fabulous term that the anime world has given us. I love it in particular because it is a triumph of spin doctoring; something really dumb, that’s been sold to the public as something really smart. Fan service is what happens when the camera peeks down a girl’s blouse, or zooms in on her shapely behind. It’s when the film-makers throw in a piece of titillation “for the fans”… isn’t that great? They’re blaming you for the times when their movie sucks.
Take fan service to extremes, to the one-note “joke” that is Agent Aika for example, and you have nothing but wiggles and jiggles. The fans have been well and truly served… but then the real audience drifts away, and the creators wonder why it is that their stuff doesn’t do quite so well as the stuff by the Greats, your Miyazakis, your Takahatas, your Shirows…
Now, I’m sure if you, yes you – I’m sure if you sat down with Masamune Shirow or Katsuhiro Otomo, you’d get along fine. You’d have a nice chat, and at the end of the day, you might be able to give him a few pointers to improve his work. Sure. But what about the guy next to you, or the Hello Kitty Hugger in the corner, there? Do you want them having access to your favorite creator as well? Surely you like these creators because of the way they write and draw without your help… why on Earth would you want to rock the boat?
What makes these creators great is that they lead us to places we cannot conceive. They do seek out new worlds. Don’t make them go where everyone has gone before.
(This article first appeared in Newtype USA magazine in January 2003. I choose to reprint it here in the wake of David Hayter’s begging letter to fandom on AICN, pleading with them to go and see Watchmen twice, as if this is going to save the world).