Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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I wanted to love this movie. I did, truly. I guess you already know how the rest of this review goes but do try to stay with me here, I’m not just a crying fanboy. While I drafted this with minimal spoilers, there still are spoilers ahead so consider this your spoiler warning.

So Ghost in the Shell is a manga from the late eighties, a movie from the mid-nineties, and an anime from the early 2000’s. This franchise has been through a lot, and I’ve been a fan of it for a very long time. The 1995 movie, while slow-paced, is an excellent work of art that conveys the messages that it wants to convey quite clearly. The Major, Batou, and Aramaki are some of my favourite characters from manga. The Major has this playful nature, Batou… is the butt(ou) of several jokes, and Aramaki is a sly fox that you can’t help but admire. Togusa representing the stubborn, older generation. Most of the other members had augmentations that made their job easier (Saitou’s vision, for example). Others augment themselves for fun (Borma’s liver augmentation). I guess the point that I’m trying to get across is that Ghost in the Shell represented a crossroads in our future where all of these types of people coexisted. We weren’t all cyborgs and we aren’t all humans. And the characters are all so relatable, it’s hard for me to pick ones that I don’t like. Even in the older movie, it was incredibly difficult for me to dislike the Puppetmaster, rather I disliked some of his actions (the poor man with false memories).

Maybe this one was a little close to home, and I shouldn’t have gone in because of that. Let’s talk about what I liked about the movie first.

The movie is visually appealing. I can almost see the future with holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers already. While I see the payphones on the side of the street disappearing (sorry 1995) I can see the idea of more robots in the service industry. Hell, Japan, in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics is already constructing hotels run by robots dinosaurs. ROBOT DINOSAURS! Come on man! ROBOT FRICKIN DINOSAURS! There are some great special effects, however I believe the movie failed to capitalize on the 3D. Especially the scenes where The Major is getting painted back to normal, mesmerized me every time.

The acting is fantastic. ScarJo knows how to play her character (most of the time) and there were some great scenes where you could really see how her movements felt robotic, like it wasn’t a natural human body. In the source material The Major is a little more playful, which is what I liked about it, but eh, new adaptation, different direction. I’m not terribly bothered because what ScarJo did do, she did well.

Before I move on, I do want to take a moment to address the whitewashing controversy. Anyone that complains about it doesn’t understand the source material. The Major’s origins are notoriously mysterious (within source material, which this movie dodged for the most part). And I think that anyone that complains about the whitewashing doesn’t quite get the point. See, the major is effectively a human inside a machine and (I believe) the point that Shirow was trying to make with the character of The Major was that none of the external features really matter (and this is very effectively demonstrated in the 1995 movie). Quite simply, there’s nothing in the source material (that I recall) that makes The Major “Motoko”. In fact, there’s nothing that really makes The Major female. Sure, the exoskeleton appears female, but it could have easily been male. The Major itself could easily be ‘male’ (if we’re going by original personality) but again, that doesn’t matter. That’s the point of The Major.

I don’t know where they found Batou (Pilou Asbaek) but he was perfect. I don’t think they could have picked a better Batou. Christ I loved his Batou. He just seemed so buff! Kuze (Michael Pitt) exaggerated the little robotic flairs of The Major. I’m not sure how much of that was CG, but the line delivery was spot on. He really played himself off as the villain we could all sympathize with even if corporates didn’t turn into assholes.

There are some notable exceptions to the excellent acting. Togusa’s character (Chin Han) had like two lines the entire movie and they were delivered in such a way that I felt like it detracted from how naive the Togusa of old seemed to be. But this isn’t just nostalgia bait, he gave the line so quickly and so flatly “I am a human, and I will always be 100% human” that I felt like the line was wasted. I also don’t like exposition that way, especially when that line served no purpose for the entire movie.

I do wonder why Aramaki spoke Japanese for the entire movie. He clearly understood English, as everyone else spoke in English and the others clearly understood Japanese (maybe they had a translator in their ear or something). But with what little screen-time he had, he did exude badass. And while we’re on the topic of Japanese, why was Hanka always pronounced as hay-n-ka? Should’ve been pronounced Ha-n-ka and every time they pronounced it incorrectly I would cringe. Sounds weird when you read and hear Japanese most of the time.

Okay, let’s talk about what I didn’t like. Everything else.

I don’t think this is really “Ghost in the Shell”. The original Ghost in the Shell discussed several existential themes regarding humanity and what it means as we merge man and machine. It also addressed how these things would impact our day-to-day lives, and how these things could be abused by corporations and governments. It’s not like the source material lacked things to really discuss. And I don’t feel like I got much of that out of this movie. I feel like it was sorta just mentioned, and then we moved on so we could get to the action scenes. The action scenes weren’t terrible, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not really what I paid for. Other scenes didn’t seem to connect too well if you ask me. I feel like we may have been shown a series of loosely connected stories, which is kind of what the manga did… but I don’t think that a movie should be doing that sort of thing.

The language (Ghost, Shell) seemed very forced every time they were used, to the point where I feel like it would’ve been more natural to use ‘soul’ instead of ‘ghost’ every time they mentioned it. But this is due to line delivery, in the source material ghost is used so matter-of-factly that it doesn’t really leave an impact. But the doctor says “But the important part of you, your humanity, your ghost, is still there” is practically romantic so the language doesn’t seem to fit the line.

They ripped a scene straight out of I, Robot (a beloved favourite of mine), and I, Robot did it better.

My biggest complaint might be the Motoko subplot. It gets introduced about twenty minutes before the end of the movie and is resolved like five minutes after it’s introduced. And quite honestly, I don’t mind its inclusion at all. I have several problems about how it was included. First – why is the effective introduction of the subplot at the END of the movie, rather than towards the beginning? I feel like it would’ve been more effective had it been placed much earlier, perhaps right before the bar scene. And the extra irony about that scene is despite everyone complaining that ScarJo isn’t Japanese, the way they characterized Motoko’s mother looked distinctly Chinese. Just saiyan. The second thing is how very little we have to go on. There’s a glitch that The Major continues to see and it’s really the only thing she has to go on and The Major sort of just accepts that she’s Motoko but I personally don’t feel that the audience has enough information to come to that conclusion. The pieces of evidence she has are the memories of the burning building, watching her allies get kidnapped, and the name she was told by the Chinese lady. Sure, it’s “confirmed” by Kuze but I don’t think he should’ve had the information to make that conclusion either.

Long story short, I believe the movie failed to deliver on its source material, and just became another Hollywood action movie. Which I find depressing because of my attachment to the source material, but that’s fine. I would not recommend this movie. The pacing seems poor and the scenes incoherent. While there is some beautiful imagery, I don’t think that there’s enough of a movie here, let alone Ghost in the Shell. Thanks for reading

Artemis Hunt

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Most Positive Reviews are Useless

This title is likely ironic coming from me, a critic that has reviewed several games both positively and negatively. The point of this post is to emphasize what makes a review useful and why most reviews, particularly the positive ones, are useless. This is another meta post that I’m making to elaborate on how I do reviews in response to feedback on Steam.

So the first question we need to ask ourselves is what is a review? A review is an evaluation of a particular work of art. Since the evaluation is done by an individual, these are often likened to opinion pieces, however there is a key difference. While each individual may disagree on how the art utilizes certain features, most critics should be able to agree to some degree or another what makes a particular quality good. For example, I think you’ll find nary a critic that says Microsoft Excel menu navigation is good, so if a game has Microsoft Excel menu navigation, expect that to come up in the review as a source of annoyance.

Reviews serve two major purposes. First, they are tools for communities to tell other members what to expect when they purchase a product. If I review a product and tell my friend that it’s good except for this one thing and my friend thinks that one thing will make the game unenjoyable for them, then they may not want to buy it. It allows me to save my friend some time and money. This is why the developers get into so much trouble when they start deleting reviews. They are violating the trust of the community. Secondly, they are tools for developers to learn how to make better games. One need not be a good developer to write a good review, but one absolutely must be a good critic to be a good developer. Being able to understand the failings of games is crucial to avoiding the usual pitfalls that make a game unplayable. Being able to understand why good games are good is essential to crafting one’s own good game.

What you should find (at least across my reviews) is that I talk about the components of a game and how I received them. Story, character, interface, map, combat, and anything else I can think of should all be mentioned in every single one of my reviews. Especially the more recent ones, as each review is “practice” and ideally I should improve as I write each review. While you’ll definitely find my opinions within the review (as I do write these to entertain and inform), my opinion is usually backed up by some kind of evidence. And this is why most positive reviews are useless.

Most positive reviews that I see on Steam are “Good game, enjoyed the story, nice work” or something to that effect. This is useless for purpose one, as no one knows why you enjoyed the story (and it is possible to express why without spoiling) and it’s useless to the developer because they don’t know what exactly it is that you liked. Maybe the author is trying to keep it short because people on the internet have the attention span of a goldfish, but you’re doing it wrong. Learning to write shorter reviews that cover the key components is difficult (and it’s something I’m practicing), but you still need to evaluate the game on its merits. Negative reviews don’t often have the same problem, as most people that review a game negatively complain about why they didn’t like the game. In these complaints, a negative review always offers advice on how to improve and also serve to help other buyers make an informed decision on whether they want to buy the game or not.

Positive reviews are also sometimes coloured by how much the user enjoyed the game. One of my recent reviews (at the time of writing) for Kingdom: New Lands likely falls under this category (but I did complain about stuff in it so eh?). This leads to the author sometimes overrating the game, instead of evaluating the game based on its merits.

When I buy games on Steam, I very rarely look at positive reviews. If I’m on the fence, I go straight down to the negative reviews and see what’s wrong with the game. I will still look at some positive reviews, but only the longer ones as these usually tell you the flaws within the game. I guess at the end of the day, what I’m saying is that short reviews with little to no explanation are useless, and positive reviews often fall into this category. When writing (or reading) a review, these short reviews should be avoided because they won’t help a buyer make a decision and they won’t help a developer on their next game.

Anyway, that’s my stitch. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Most Positive Reviews are Useless

How to Rate on a Scale of 1 to 10

Alright, I’ve been getting some criticism for my reviews, some people pointing out that other people say it’s good, so it’s good. While I don’t wish to negate the input of these other players (that rarely tell you ‘what’ exactly is good) I do want to point out that there’s a good chance that they’re reviewing your game incorrectly. So let’s talk about the 1-10 scale.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scale utilized as poorly as 1-10. The reviewer is offered 10 options to choose from, which may be a bit cumbersome. So cumbersome in fact, that I think people completely disregard some of the scale to make it less cumbersome. If you happen to be a human reading this above the age of… let’s say 15 years-old, I want you to think of all of the people that you’ve rated based on attractiveness. More specifically, the ones you rated on a scale of 1-10. Ladies, you play along too, I know you rate guys. Now I want you to think of the distribution of those ratings. You probably have a lot of 7’s, 8’s, maybe a few 6’s and 3’s, with very few 1’s and 10’s. Those of you familiar with the Bell Curve will no doubt see the problem here, but I’ll explain it for those that don’t.

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This is the general shape of the Bell Curve. This one in particular is a normalized distribution, so it’s designed to show probabilities of an event occurring. And what we see here is that the greatest number of events should be rated 6. This is because 6 is the average between 1 and 10 (Actually 5.5 is but we’re rating using whole numbers so round up or round down. I choose to follow convention and round up). As the ratings deviate from the mean, we should see fewer and fewer uses of these ratings. So there should be more 3’s than 1’s and more 8’s than 10’s. If you’ve rated 100 people based on appearance, you should have very few 10’s. But I’m willing to bet that you have more than the appropriate number of 10’s and not enough 5’s or 6’s. Why is that? Let’s continue

The normal person will likely have a lot of 7’s in their rating database. I believe that when one asks themselves how attractive someone is on a scale of 1-10, they’ve unconsciously set 7 to be the mean. Movie was average? It’s a 6 or a 7. Since this close to the deviation from the mean, it actually produces okay results in ratings. However when it comes to terrible movies, it seems no one knows what to do. Is it a 3? Is it a 4? You’ll likely find that there are more 3’s and 4’s than there are 5’s, despite 5 being closer to the mean. And probably more 8’s than the two combined despite being aligned with 4 on the distribution.

Are you just seeing more terrible movies than slightly worse than average movies? Are you seeing more great movies than more terrible movies combined? That’s a distinct possibility. After all, who willingly watches a movie that they expect to be terrible? Who willingly plays a game that they expect to be terrible? But in that case, we should see a slightly shifted curve, rather than, well, a non-Bell Curve. If you look at seasonal anime ratings on MyAnimeList, you will see many 7’s and not nearly enough 5’s or 6’s. This is evidence of a shifted mean.

I’m not judging anyone for this behavior. I used to engage in this myself, particularly regarding anime and manga. But once I sat down and asked myself why I rated SAO a 6 and several of the Monogatari series in a similar range (5-7) I realized the problem. I thought back to the humans that I had rated based on appearance and saw a similar trend.

Bringing this back to what the problems with ratings, people seem to exclusively use a 3-10 scale instead of a 1-10 scale. The removal of 2 ratings might not seem significant but you’re talking about 20% of your rating scale not being used much at all. And then we need to remember that the lower ratings 3-5 are not used much at all. So you’ve pretty much turned the rating system into 6-10 with an average around 7, which actually lines up with general public nicely. If we turn it into a 1-4 system and equate 7 with 2, then 50% becomes the mean and that’s about what we want.

So I guess it’s not that you’re not producing a Bell Curve properly, it’s that you’re producing it for the wrong range of numbers. If you want to use a 1-10 scale, you need to USE the full scale. You can’t toss out 9’s and 10’s like candy because you felt something was phenomenal. You need to think about all of the games you’ve played up until now and see if it’s not really an 8. And don’t forget about the lower numbers. Don’t just hate a game or a movie and say, “Yep, that’s a 3”. Think about what you didn’t like and compare it against all of the others you’ve seen before.

At the end of the day, the method is up to you, but by adhering a bit more strongly to a 1-10 scale, you can make your ratings on the 1-10 scale be a bit more meaningful. I want to encourage you to really use the 1-10 scale and not the 6-10 scale. Anyway, thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

How to Rate on a Scale of 1 to 10