Wonder Egg Priority is perhaps, by now, most famous for how it started out strong and then scrambled itself. The shift from dreamy fantasy to convoluted sci-fi and the show’s unsympathetic treatment of its young female characters, particularly in its finale, are two key factors in the series’ downturn. But these two storytelling issues do not exist separately; they intertwine and inform each other.
Egg’s shift from magic to sci-fi coincides with its shift in character focus. Early episodes center on the four female protagonists. But by the end, its narrative authority lies with its adult male characters, the Accas and Ai’s teacher Mr. Sawaki, who explain the motivations of teenage girls rather than the girls themselves telling their own stories. Intentional or otherwise, it’s worth examining this shift in priorities from magic and the emotional reality of young women to science and the “logic” of grown men. It provides insight into the author’s biases and underlying gender politics, anchored in a study of the series’ genre politics.
“Oh, please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
This post contains major spoilers for Beastars season two
In Beastars, the friendship between a deer and the wolf who bites his leg off might be the healthiest one there is. Does that sound bananas? Yes? Excellent, welcome to Beastars. This series about anthropomorphic animals trying to navigate their teenaged years (feat. a murder mystery) has always been deliciously weird, and always been layered thickly with themes about power. Chiefly, power imbalances, and the many ways those might manifest. Season two delves even deeper into those quandaries and reveals some intriguing new commentary on the topic.
Whether or not Beastars is a love story is, at this stage, up for debate (we’ll need to see what happens between Legoshi and Haru in the end), but I think it’s becoming clear that Beastars is a story about love. Love, and the ways that even a positive emotion like it might become destructive; and how a relationship might devour the people within it.
Iggy & Ace is the story of two gay best friends — and their drinking habits. Their favourite hobbies are happy hour pub crawls and getting wasted on wine while watching Bondi Rescue. As far as they’re concerned, life is sweet. But a panic attack while hungover at work makes Ace (Josh Virgona) wonder if this is healthy.
Delirious and trying to change, he signs up for a sobriety support program — much to the horror of Iggy (Sara West).
In many ways, Iggy & Ace is a zany drama-comedy blend about recovery and friendship. But this series is also committed to portraying the rough ups and downs of addiction, toxic friendships, grief, trauma and love.
It’s a wild ride, but one certainly worth taking, even if your brain might start screaming it wants to get off at the most emotional and visceral low points.
The Half of It opens with a musing on Plato: specifically, his idea that humans began with two heads, four arms, and four legs, but were sliced and diced by the gods and left forever searching for their missing other half. The stop-motion sequence emphasises the longing for connection that this severing left, showing an increasingly crumpled and shredded figure fumbling miserably after its own reflection. Until, at last, the figure finds its mirror image and they reunite… before the narrator dismisses the whole myth as silly and unrealistic.
It’s easy to see why our protagonist, Ellie—who is introduced to us via that poetic yet cynical voiceover—feels this way. In the first instance, she has no hope of finding her mirror image in her rural American hometown. As the child of Chinese immigrants in a sea of white teenagers, there’s no one who looks like her or can reflect her experiences back to her. As a queer teen, it becomes even more complicated. As both of these things, and as a child who had to grow up very quickly following the death of her mother, she enters the story pre-sapped of romantic naivety. She swats away the Greek myth of the other half in a monotone, and repeatedly dismisses the whole notion of romance throughout the film; yet there’s a sense of impossible yearning that underscores her whole character.
In the end, The Half of Itis about longing: for acceptance, for freedom, for love, for something you can’t quite pin a name on, something that you know exists just beyond the horizon but who knows if you’re ever actually going to get your hands on it? It’s about small town isolation, the pressure to fit into expectations, the way that we can easily become silent and stagnant and cynical. And it’s about how love—familial, friendship, romantic, self-love—can haul us out of this. And it’s about the unshakeable bond between a gay nerd and a wholesome himbo, a dynamic that more media should, frankly, be exploring.
In July, I presented at two different virtual conferences, and have made these short presentations available for anyone that might find them useful or interesting! (Or anyone who just wants to check out my cool glasses)
How might the liminal, mischievous, underdog figure of the Trickster lend itself to stories about queer teens? (Presented in Canada, but from right in front of my bookshelf!)
Join my colleague Chloe and I for a brief introduction to the world of queer young adult fiction, from its historic beginnings in the 1960s all the way through to the new directions it’s taking now!
Around the web
A brief and energetic introduction to the all-women Takarazuka theatre tradition, which Kageki Shojo!! is drawing heavy inspiration from.
Modern costume dramas will often make their female leads derisive of feminine dress and activities as a shorthand for them being “feminist” by 21st century standards, despite the fact this actually runs counter to what feminist activists of the era were doing.
The Late Stage (or Lock Down) Loopy La-las – the Thesis Whisperer examines the very scientific concept of “the loopy la-las” and the way your brain can melt when deep in academic work. I reckon they’re onto something, and may start using that phrasing.
We Are the Mountain: A Look at the “Inactive” Protagonist – Vida Cruz examines the way “agency” is often conflated with mobility and action, particularly in sci-fi and fantasy, and how surviving and coping with a world that Others you is an acceptable form of character strength even if it’s commonly dismissed.
Premise: Briseis has had power over plants for as long as she can remember: flowers bloom when she walks by, ivy tangles when she gets anxious, she can bring even the most shrivelled sprouts back to life with a touch, and she’s immune to poisonous weeds that should kill within minutes. It makes helping out in her mothers’ florist easy, but it’s also a struggle to keep the magic hidden. When Briseis finds out a long-lost biological relative has passed away and willed her a country house, she jumps at the opportunity to discover more about her power and her lineage, and finds herself quickly tangled in family secrets of mythological proportions.
Rainbow rep: a sapphic protagonist, a cool sapphic love interest, and the protagonist’s delightful two mothers
Content considerations: some gnarly descriptions of poison taking effect, brief discussions of systemic racism
Much of the joy of This Poison Heart is watching the mystery at its centre unfold. I like to keep these spotlight posts spoiler-free so they can intrigue and entice, so I’ll be saying very little about the deeper machinations of this book, but I do want you to know that I ate through it in two days because I got so swept up exploring this world and its secrets alongside Briseis. It’s a lot of fun, complete with spooky secret gardens, hidden compartments containing lost documents, and nefarious villains and twisty-twists. All that classic magic-adventure-mystery stuff, capping off with a glorious reveal about our protagonist’s Secret Legacy. It’s delightful to see some of these tried-and-true tropes given to a heroic Black, queer character. As author Kalynn Bayron herself discussed recently, these concepts are not “overdone” until everyone has had a turn, and there are still plenty of twists and takes on them to be tried before the well is dry.
Content warnings: threats of sexual violence/sex trafficking
What’s it about? During a blazing high seas battle, a young girl named Fena is pushed out to sea in a rowboat, instructed to stay alive until her protectors can find her again. Ten years later, Fena is living in a brothel in the rough and rowdy port town where she drifted ashore, with her “prima nocta” being auctioned off now that she’s come of age. Fena isn’t having this, and concocts a plan to rob her buyer and escape. Just when it seems her scheme has fallen through, some figures from her past reappear, and Fena finds herself swept up in a whole new daring adventure.
Pirates! There is an unmistakable glamor to them (or, at least, the version of them that has filtered down to us through Hollywood and adventure stories). I certainly have a soft spot in my heart for tales of swashbuckling, treasure-hunting, and handsome rogues in big billowy shirts (and that’s handsome rogues of any gender—Cutthroat Island may be credited with tanking the pirate movie genre, but its powerful Looks from Geena Davis had a profound impact on my sense of aesthetic attraction).
Needless to say, the title Fena: Pirate Princess grabbed my attention even before the show’s slick trailer did. I found myself entranced by the idea of a seafaring heroine and the intriguing mix of aesthetics and fantastical elements. The question is, how does the first episode hold up? Can this show sustain itself on my starry-eyed adoration of sword-fighting women alone?
Content Warning: Discussion of domestic abuse, sexual violence, sexual harassment, suicide
Spoilers for Wonder Egg Priority
Wonder Egg Priority is a series about society’s “monsters,” its early episodes intent on addressing the many all-too-real abuses and social pressures faced by teenage girls through a lens of dreamlike metaphor. As the story progresses, however, the script’s critique of predatory adults and systemic violence takes a sharp pivot. By the time the curtain falls, what Wonder Egg ends up suggesting is that the root of all evil is a single, vindictive individual: a rogue AI in the form of a young woman who is somehow encouraging girls to commit suicide.
Just as the dreamscape Wonder Killers provide a convenient and killable representation of the issues that harm young people, the writers of the show invent a convenient “monster” and pin the blame for those very issues on her. As a result, a lot of the nuance in the series’ treatment of trauma and suicide is lost.