Swords and Saucepans: Domesticity, Masculinity, and Emiya Shirou

Emiya Menu

Fate truly is one of the most widespread and versatile franchises of our time. So which varied spinoff am I keeping up with? The even-higher-stakes supernatural battles of Fate/Apocrypha? The surreal and psychological sci-fi drama of Fate/Extra? The alternate-history-hopping adventure that is Fate/Grand Order?

No, I’m watching the cooking show. That’s where I’m at in my life.

Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family (affectionately nicknamed Fate/Stay for Dinner by some) is a series of shorts which involve the characters we know and love from Fate/Stay Night going about their daily business, in a setting where magic exists but any semblance of a Grail War seems to have been put on hold. Lancer is alive and well and works at the local markets, Caster is eagerly leaning into the domestic bliss she never got when she was married to Jason of the Argonauts, and the various sibling pairs who were once pitted against each other in a supernatural battle to the death are now awkwardly sharing lunch. At the heart of it all is our protagonist Shirou, and each episode is framed around a meal that he cooks for (and/or with) another character.

It might sound a little silly, especially as it exists in direct juxtaposition to many other dark and action-packed franchise entries coming out at the same time, including the very dark Heaven’s Feel movies which star the same core cast. But Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is not meant to be laughed at, least of all mean-spiritedly—we can even safely say it doesn’t feel like a parody series, because yes, Fate already has a parody series we can compare it to. It’s just nice, I think meant to offer some respite from the onslaught of drama and bloodshed in the rest of the franchise; a sort of officially sanctioned Domestic AU for fans to rest their weary heads on. And at the heart of this calming, healing series is, as I said, Shirou and his trusty apron. And we’re not supposed to laugh at this, either. Continue reading

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Asexual Positivity in a Game About Sexy Demons

cdc cover

I can pinpoint the moment when I started down the path to identifying the way I do now: an 18+ visual novel about incubi and succubi helped me realise that I was ace. It sounds quite ironic, but I promise it’s a positive story, as opposed to my having played a game with such terribly-written erotic scenes that I was put off the idea of sex forever (which, while that isn’t really how sexuality works, would be a reasonable response to some of the bad erotica out there). No, the game in question, Cute Demon Crashers, which I played for the first time back in 2015, is a sweet, gentle, fun little interactive story of loneliness and love demons, and one of the first pieces of media to explicitly say to me “you should only have sex if you want to.” Much of the world runs on the assumption that everyone does want to, which filters down into our fiction in many forms both benign and insidious. It was an assumption I had adopted into my own mindset and my own relationship, and it was an assumption that this indie game helped me realise did not fit me.

Read the whole piece over on The Asexual!

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The Principal of the Thing: June ’18 Roundup

Princess Principal (17)

This will be a brief preamble, since there’s not much to report on (or wax poetic about) this month. After slaving away over a hot seminar most of May, I sort of unofficially took the first little bit of June off to just dive into some fiction instead of critical reading. The neat thing about doing a creative writing/lit studies postgrad project is that it’s relatively easy to convince yourself that reading fun books is still research; which is a handy thing when you are simultaneously exhausted but also filled with the agonising need to be Productive at all times. It’s also always nice to stumble into a really good book and remember with a flash just how fun reading can be. Expect some reviews over the next few months!

I’ve also been doing a lot of editing, both for uni projects and for web-based ones, so I can confirm there are some exciting new feature articles on their way soon! But for now, let’s focus on the present:

On the blog this month:

Loyalty Among Thieves: Found Family in Princess Principal (in which meaningful, interesting character relationships win out over spy capers every time)

Boy Meets Boy: A Fantasy Novel…? (in which there’s something just a little bit magical about this story of happy gay teens)

Due to popular demand (well, a couple of people expressed interest, which still totally counts) I’ve also added a Book Recs page to the blog, where I’ll compile an ever-growing list of cool and interesting non-fiction I come across in my studies. There is crossover between categories of course, but for now at least they’re divided into Mythology and Foklore, Gender/Queer Studies, and Genre Studies. If any of that sounds neat, roll on over and take a look!

Web Content:

Late to the party I know, but wow! That Lindsay Ellis lady with the video essays is pretty good! I’ve been especially having fun with her deep dive into film theory using the Michael Bay Transformers movies. They’re funny, informative, and it’s always a good time to call these movies out on their nonsense (and, of course, it’s always a good time to look at pop culture through an academic lens instead of setting it aside as “low art”).

In Defense of Escapism — over on Uncanny Magazine, Kelly McCullough asks why “it’s escapism” is such a damning phrase when escapism is so important, especially to marginalised groups.

My Fave is Problematic: Kill La Kill — the question “is this work of fiction Feminist(TM) or not?” is not one with an easy answer, nor is it a particularly useful one when it comes down to it. Rianne Torres digs into exactly this through the lens of the divisive series Kill La Kill.

Lady Bird and the Slice of Life Genre in Film — the slice-of-life genre is a staple of anime (and one of my favourites, when done well) but it’s less common in Hollywood film. Could we consider something like The Florida Project or Lady Bird to be slice-of-life by the same parameters? Mythos gets into it.

In Praise of How the Women of Ocean’s 8 Eat — you may not notice it until you think about it, but there are a strangely strict set of tropes around female characters eating in movies. This article lays them out and talks about some works that subvert them, using the recent Ocean’s 8 as a jumping off point.

Solo: A Shortcoming of Gender and Sexuality — big movie producers are back on their BS announcing that their characters are queer on social media while not representing it in the movie itself. Also designing sexy lady robots for dudes to date.

Queer Young Adult Fiction Grows Beyond the Coming Out Story — a neat summary of how YA has become one of the pioneering mediums not just for LGBTQ+ representation, but for representation that goes beyond the usual tropes and presents stories of all kinds and genres to its readers.

Let Queer Characters Be Happy — exactly what the title suggests, though in this case arguing the case specifically within the medium of video games. This discussion is usually framed around books, movies, and TV series, so it’s cool to see this critical lens being applied to game stories too.

And just for a bit of fun, and in keeping with the genre studies theme, over on YouTube one baffled British man is undergoing a years-long heroic journey through the bootleg-toy-infested fantasy realm of dollar stores and it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen:

Take care, everyone!

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Boy Meets Boy: A Fantasy Novel…?

boy meets boy

Boy Meets Boy is a sweet little story about the complications and shenanigans of adolescence and first love, set in a world so accepting of its LGBTQ+ youth that it broke genre. Critics and reviewers had no idea how to categorise this novel when talking about it. By all counts, it’s a contemporary YA romance: as author David Levithan himself described it, it’s a pretty simple “boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back” love story. The difference is, of course, that that plot is usually “boy meets girl”. It’s this queer twist on a recognisable formula, combined with the delightful unusualness of the story’s setting, that sent everyone into a headspin. This novel could not simply be labelled a YA love story—it had to be “fantasy” “utopian” or “magical realism”. The whole thing conjures up the mental image of an office full of reviewers clutching at their hair, staring into space, muttering “but the gay kids are happy—so it can’t be realistic fiction!” Continue reading

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Loyalty Among Thieves: Found Family in Princess Principal

Princess Principal squad

Emotions are a nuisance in espionage. Princess Principal’s leading characters, especially gravity-defying expert liar Ange, make a grand point that for one to survive as a spy, one must reveal nothing, feel nothing, and most importantly, trust no one. It’s delightfully ironic, then, that the heart and soul of the show is not the spy missions that these girls carry out with expert, emotionless precision, but the emotional bonds they form with each other. As with most “ragtag bunch of morally dubious professional misfits” ensemble stories of this nature, what brings the audience back is not in the episodic missions themselves but the colourful characters and their varied dynamics with each other. PriPri is very much a “come for the concept, stay for the cast” affair, with a moving throughline about girls supporting each other that ties the series together much more neatly than the overarching political plot. Continue reading

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Diving In: May ’18 Roundup

secret society

Did I say last month that a PhD is a hell of a thing? Well, at the risk of repeating myself, a PhD sure is a hell of a thing. I spent most of this month preparing (research-wise and emotionally) for a big ol’ presentation where I officially introduced my project to the world. The buildup, as with most public speaking gigs, turned out to be worse than the actual presentation itself. It helped that the seminar was held in a small tutorial room with a projector screen, when I had been picturing (against all logic) that they’d fling me into a gigantic hall with a stage and massive screens. Like, not even a lecture hall, but something like you’d see at E3 or some nonsense.

Hyperbolic imagination and all, it was kind of nice to be nervous about something because I was genuinely passionate about it and wanted it to go well, as opposed to the “oh my God I hate this and want to get it over with” sort of anguish. It’s rewarding to be given the freedom and support to dive into a project–both critical and creative–that is so close to my heart. And of course rewarding to get feedback from my (little) audience and have people show interest in it as well (this feedback was also rewarding because it confirmed that the audience not only listened, but managed to decipher what I said while I talked at 60KM/h in stage-fright!)

And of course you guys got a little taste of this project too in the form of my “genre is fake” post, which is a sort of blog-language literature review for one of the topics that’s most important to the project. Any posts to do with messing with genre and/or familiar tropes and narratives will go in the thesis tag from now on (including last month’s “Fairy Tales and Flowerbeds” which has been added retrospectively… to join most of the other posts I’ve written about Utena. Something about that show, man. It just lines up with all my stuff).

Some of you also expressed interest in a list of book recommendations to do with genre study/mythology/queer study, and this is on its way, if not ready just yet! Hopefully by next roundup I should be able to link to it.

Whew. With all that out of the way, I think I’m going to take a nap for a few days. Here are some cool links in the meantime:

On the blog:

Amanchu (4)

Adolescence, Anxiety, and Amanchu! (a reflection on a sweet little show about scuba diving and how I could see my own high school experience reflected in it)

Genre is Fake (But Very Useful) (a brief rundown of a key concept in my thesis: that genre is not “the rules” so much as a guide and an analytical tool to be played with)

On AniFem:

Cozy Campfires, Bitter Broth: Female Relationships in Laid-Back Camp vs Miss Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles (an examination of the central characters in The Camping Anime versus The Ramen Anime, and how relationship development makes all the difference between a show that’s heartwarming and a show that’s teeth-grindly tropey and stagnant)

Cool reads around the web:

There’s a lot of manga about girls falling in love with other girls out there in the world, but as demonstrated by recent tropey, icky releases like citrus, some of it is not thaaat great. So Zeria steps up with a plateful of genre know-how and delivers a list of ten of the best yuri manga for those who haven’t dabbled before but want to give it a shot. A transcript can be found here! I really need to read Kase-san, don’t I…

This month I discovered Uncanny Magazine, a sci-fi and fantasy-focussed publication stocked up with both short fiction and essays from a variety of diverse voices. Some favourites so far:

Worth a read as well is this piece on Atlas Obscura about the history and impact of the lesbian pulp novels of the ’50s and ’60s. Always a bizarre and fascinating topic, and in many ways tied into many tropes we recognise today… though that’s material enough for another post.

This month a very Big Marvel movie came out and caused all sorts of ruckus. The Mary Sue had a few choice critical pieces about it scattered across the month, addressing how it sidelines certain characters, isn’t super great to its women, and… well, this one’s just called ‘Thanos is a Terrible Villain’. Zac Bertschy also put out an article specifically critiquing the choice to try and make Thanos “sympathetic”.

And finally, here is an interview with the adorable married-couple creative team behind the stop motion music segments in Pop Team Epic.

…actually, for my final link I’m going to leave you with this. I promise there is fascinating and in-depth analysis of geek culture and art in amongst the surrealist film:

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Genre is Fake (But Very Useful)

"You're all just jealous of my jet pack"

Credit to Tom Gauld

Every text I’ve read that has anything to do with genre study dedicates at least a few paragraphs to the disclaimer that genre is slippery, arbitrary, and, while a useful tool for analysis, kind of a pain in the ass. This pain is only made worse if we take this system of categories to be Holy Doctrine rather than something we made up to make talking about stories easier. So, okay, maybe genre isn’t fake. When I say genre is “made up” I mean genre is “socially constructed”, rather than “not real”. Here, Brian Attebery says it better:

Both literary studies and folklore are built on the idea of genres, rather as biology is built on categories, from kingdom to species, reflecting morphological similarity and common descent. However, unlike, say, raptors and perching birds, different genres do not exist until someone imagines them.

Continue reading

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