Fight, O Maidens: August ’19 Roundup (and Hiatus Notice)

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Well, it had to happen eventually–I’ve been running this blog for more than five years and I’ve never taken an official break except when I was travelling. The closest I came was dropping from one post a week to one post every two weeks, a change I decided on when I was getting into the thick of my undergrad degree. Though it’s also a change I promptly ignored, since I still committed to doing episodic reviews every week for a good portion of that year, which… actually meant I was doing even more writing than usual. Honest to goodness, how did I pump out a post per week? Obviously not all of them were very good, but still, the sheer output impresses me. Oh, the unstoppable vigour of youth… or something…

The long and short of it is, my blogging practices have changed over time. It used to be that I could stack up a bunch of posts in a queue, often a couple of month’s worth, and be sitting pretty waiting for them to go live. Recently, I’ve been… I think the official term is “flying by the seat of my pants”, at least more than before; looking at WordPress’ little calendar and seeing it empty and wondering where another two weeks went, catching myself thinking “crap, I need to come up with something to fill up the blog queue”. I’ve also become way pickier and more self-conscious of what I post, which means more drafts than ever before are being discarded since I’m not happy with them, and I either send them back for reworking or just never let them see the light of Internet day. It means I’m quite proud of what I do post, and these posts are often longer, more in-depth, and more polished. This skew towards quality over quantity–the reverse of my early blogging days–is a positive one, but it does mean that a lot more work and time is going into this thing, and I’m forcing myself to admit that it’s not always time that I have.

So I’m taking a break. Oof, it hurts to do it, but I think it will be for the best. Let’s say there will be no posts over September, which will give me time to come up with ideas at my leisure and stack them in the queue rather than frantically hammering articles out because I feel I ought to. I’d like to get back to the post-per-fortnight schedule after this holiday, since I enjoy the consistency of it, but we shall see. A month can be a long time, but it can also vanish out from underneath you the moment you look away. What do you mean semester has started again? What do you mean I have to give a presentation in three weeks? What do you mean we’re already at episode eight of the anime season??

everything is on fire

…you see where I’m at.

In any case, dear reader, I will see you on the flipside. And of course I’ll still be dicking around on Twitter if you want to hear from me.

On the ol’ blog

Community Season 3: A Study in Weirdness and Parody, Made With Love – what exactly made the sitcom’s third and most buck-wild season so impactful, fun, and interesting?

O Maidens in Your Savage Season and “Not Like Other Girls” Syndrome – how Sonezaki’s plotline seems to be unpacking the toxic, isolating trope of “the bookish heroine versus the bitchy girls” that crops up in YA and other teen media.

Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Broadswords, Birdwatching, and Band Geeks – a look at Once & FutureSilhouette of a Sparrow, and This Song is (Not) For You.

Bonus! I recommended a novel for every day of the month over on Tweeter. I swear I have read and enjoyed more than 30 books throughout my long love of reading, but this was sometimes very difficult. It also helped me realise how many books I haven’t read that I still want to, so if you have any recs of your own based on this palette of my tastes, feel free to shoot them my way!

Around the web

Let’s dive into some video content…

In the wake of the movie trailer, this has been doing the rounds–it makes for a very neat introduction to the musical Cats, beloved and baffling to many including me (this actually serves to clarify some plot/character beats that I hadn’t even picked up on with the many times I watched the filmed version as a kid!).

So… how ’bout that Game of Thrones thing that wrapped up a little while ago? In an hour-long deep dive, Lindsay Ellis lays out and picks apart what exactly went so pear-shaped about the end up the series. Her first video looked at this more broadly, but this one looks at individual character arcs (which is fair enough, considering the show was supposedly character-driven…).

This is much more poignant than the clickbaity thumbnail might suggest. A retrospective on AnoHana nearly ten years after it aired, part analysis and part personal story of the show’s emotional and cathartic impact. What does it tell us about grief? About play and childhood and the mirage of maturity? About art and the different conversations that it can have with each viewer? Am I crying about AnoHana again? Yes, yes I am.

Again, goofy title card aside, this is an intriguing look at the genre of “world making” games that, in fact, have you laying down infrastructure on a world that already exists. Do these games unintentionally come from, and encourage, a colonial mindset? Even if it’s just in a fantasy space? There is no easy answer, but it’s certainly an interesting thing to think about.

Kase-san and Queer Thirst: Depicting Sexuality in a “Pure” Yuri Manga – how good ol’ Kase-san tells a story about teen sexuality without sexualising its teenaged cast.

Golden Age Superheroes Were Shaped by the Rise of Fascism – an important, and artful, reminder of the origins of many of our favourite superheroes, and that statements like “we’re trying to keep politics out of comics” are inherently false and harmful.

The Post-War Kids: Anime After Annihilation – Dominic looks at a few iconic series and films (from Kids on the Slope to AKIRA to Astro Boy) that respond to the massive cultural shift that occurred in Japan after it was bombed and occupied by the US military, exploring post-nuclear tension and the building of a new national identity through sci-fi, music, and many other art expressions.

And there goes August. As always, take care, and I’ll see you on the other side of the hiatus!


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Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Broadswords, Birdwatching, and Band Geeks

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Here we are again, gang: this time with a sci-fi myth retelling, a quiet historical coming-of-age story, and a contemporary romance (featuring a love triangle that stays triangular). Read on… Continue reading


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O Maidens in Your Savage Season and “Not Like Other Girls” Syndrome

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As a general rule we tend to gravitate towards what we’d call “underdog stories”. In YA, or other tales about teens, this “underdog story” often—historically—takes a particular shape. For boys (that is, male protagonists), this tends to manifest as “nerds versus jocks” and the familiar imagery of tall dudes in sports uniforms shoving scrawny glasses-wearing lads into lockers, or guffawing at their interest in science, or knocking them over so their Dungeon Master’s Guide falls into a puddle. For girls, you see this most as “bookish versus bitchy”, with squads (often trios) of heavily made-up young women throwing catty remarks from lip-gloss-coated smirks, often while dressed in pink or a cheerleader uniform, in stark contrast to the plain appearance and conservative unfashionable clothing of the heroine hugging books to her chest.

There are variations on type, of course (and this is a very Hollywood set of images, though it extends beyond that too), but in both gendered cases, the villain of the piece is an image of what’s conventionally attractive and cool, versus underdog heroes who aren’t. In their shadow, our geeky, less-attractive less-cool protagonist looks like a pigeon next to a peacock. But don’t worry, underdog: you have something that these nasty people who conveniently hit their growth spurt in time to be hot during their high school years don’t. That’s right, they might seem to have it all, but they’re dumb as rocks. And they have sex. And we all know that’s gross!

Watching the character Sonezaki move through her high school life in O Maidens in Your Savage Season, it’s not hard to guess what kind of character she identifies with in those many novels she reads. She is, after all, a True Intellectual, a Tormented Outsider, and truly, deeply, much more mature than those silly girls in her class with their shortened skirts and eyeshadow and interest in boys. They are The Other Girls in the tropey teen movie that is Sonezaki’s life, and she is clearly the Bookish Heroine. Except, of course, it’s a little more complex than that—as the series has begun to dig into with her personal arc. Continue reading


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Community Season 3: A Study in Weirdness and Parody, Made with Love

Community pillows and blankets

It’s always nice to rewatch something you used to love and say “hey, this is still real good”. I had that experience recently with Community, the meta-humour-heavy sitcom about a bunch of misfits attending community college and becoming unlikely friends, with plenty of shenanigans along the way. This premise would be enough to carry a perfectly fine comedy on its own, but Community always stood out for its ability to get a little bit abstract and absurd, often referencing or parodying some other genre works in the process. Season three is my favourite by far, and features some of the show’s best-written, most creative, and dare I say iconic episodes. The combination musical-horror-story-Glee-parody? The Halloween shorts? The documentary about the pillow war? The one that mostly takes place inside a retro 2D platform game? The Law and Order-style investigation into a smashed yam? The timeline-hopping “what if?”-exploring “Remedial Chaos Theory”??

But why did season three get so good, and why are the ones that take aim at a genre, show, style, or collection of tropes so good in particular? What’s the gold nugget at the heart of these wild, convention-skewing episodes? After some thought, I think I’ve figured it out, and it ultimately comes down to a deep amount of care for these creations… even while laughing at them. Continue reading

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Filed under And I Think That's Neat, Archetypes and Genre

You’re a Gem: July ’19 Roundup

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It occurs to me that I’ve put out two big posts in a row that essentially amount to “I relate strongly to/connect with these characters who get the crap kicked out of them in their respective narratives”, and just in case anyone was getting worried, I want you all to know that I am okay. Just much more aware of some self-worth issues that are bubbling away at the back of my brain, these days, and trying to work through them through the (comparatively) safe lens of stories. This is, after all, one of the great appeals of fiction: it can reflect your own image back to you in sometimes unexpected ways, and that refracted image can throw things unexpectedly into perspective. Maybe this uplifts you, maybe this depresses you, maybe it provides a mix of both. Maybe it reminds you to take better care of yourself. Maybe it just gives you the little thrill of being able to say “same”.

Maybe I’m just feeling sappy–in the wake of the arson attack on Kyoto Animation this month, there’s been an outpouring of pieces (short and longform) about how the studio’s various works impacted people, whether that meant making them feel seen, making them feel happy when they were in a bad place, making them appreciate the beauty of everyday things, or just making them laugh. Out of the tragedy comes a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of art. Engaging with and thinking about stories can save people, whether in great life-altering ways or smaller, seemingly less consequential ones. At the heart of it this, I think, is why I’m so passionate about stories. This stuff matters, you know? I probably don’t need to tell you this if you’re following this blog diligently enough to be reading the ramble at the beginning of the monthly roundup, but it bears repeating.

Take care out there, everyone–of yourselves, of each other, and of the stories close to your heart, and let them take care of you.

On the blog:

Land of the Lustrous as a Story About Burnout – musings on Phos as Millennial icon (this got a ludicrous amount of views in its first week, and is maybe now one of my most-read posts. I’m glad it resonated with so many people! But please, if it resonated with you, go take a nap!!)

Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Snow, Shapeshifters, and Spooky Castles – three more reviews, this time taking a look at Girls Made of Snow and Glass, The Brilliant Death, and Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

Around the web:

The Ultimate Fantasy of Dragon Age: Inquisition is Being Listened to by a Man – an examination of the romantic appeal of Cullen, whose wish-fulfilment ultimately lies in the fact that he’s Just A Good Sweet Boy who genuinely respects the opinions and choices of the female player-character… a low bar, but one that many straight men fictional or otherwise tend not to clear.

Through Doorways: Portal Fantasies as a Means of Queer Escape and Queer Hope – author A.J. Hackworth reflects on Every Heart a Doorway and how it taps into the escapist appeal the portal fantasy genre had for her and a lot of other queer kids.

The Silence of Peggy Carter – another look at how Captain America’s emotional resolution in Avengers: Endgame fell short, with a specific focus on how this “happy ending” robs Peggy of the agency she’d had throughout the series.

Nichijou and the Everyday Epics of High School Girls – a celebration of the bizarre sitcom’s knack for capturing the authentic teen girl experience, and telling a sweet story of friendship amidst the surreal shenanigans.

SARAZANMAI Imagines a Better Future for Queer Love Stories – an analysis of how Ikuhara’s latest delightfully bizarre project addresses and rejects a lot of the negative tropes that can follow queer characters and romances around in anime.

(I know I end up linking a post of Vrai’s basically every month. I know. They just write the good words and I want to share those words around)

Masculine Bisexuality in Games: Past, Present, and Future – a look at the elusive bi male character in the video game medium, and the tropes (and technological limitations) they’ve historically been trapped in on the rare case that they do appear.

Eugene Lee Yang is Making the Internet More Gay – an interview with content creator and BuzzFeed escapee Eugene “Try Guys” Lee Yang, a dude who I have a lot of respect for in his creative abilities, work ethic, and general coolness.

And of course it was premiere review season! I’m keeping an eye on O Maidens in Your Savage Season, given, and the magical-girl-mecha weirdness of GRANBELM, which is the most new stuff I’ve been excited by in a while. How about you guys?

That wraps us up once again. Take care out there, everyone, and take care of each other.

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Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Snow, Shapeshifters, and Spooky Castles

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The reviews and recommendations continue! This time round we have two different flavours of fantastical political intrigue and a gorgeously Gothic exploration of identity and freedom. Continue reading


Filed under Alex Reads

Land of the Lustrous as a Story About Burnout

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You ever feel like you can finish the things you need to do if you just pump yourself full of coffee or energy drink? You ever feel like you’d get more done if you just… didn’t sleep? Like you’d type much faster if you had fingers made of gold alloy? Like you’d be able to fit exercise into your schedule if you had super-fast legs? Like you’d become someone truly impressive and valuable if you just… transcended your mortal form and became a super-powerful being that no one could ever think of as useless?

No? Not even a little bit? C’mon, maybe just a little bit. Continue reading


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings