Revue Starlight and the Unreality of the Stage (and Why It Works)

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Stage musicals blur and bend our perception of what is “real” in a way that’s sort of unique to their medium. With the audience sitting in the same room as the actors (perceived as characters) on the stage (perceived as the fictional world of the story), their suspension of disbelief becomes a little more elastic and more forgiving. We’ll accept the background scenery rolling away because we understand that it’s a set change, we’ll accept the chorus turning and addressing the audience because we understand the “fourth wall” in theatre is much more malleable than it is in movies or television, and we’ll accept characters over-emoting because we understand that they have to convey these feelings to people who can’t see them up close. And most importantly, we’ll accept characters breaking into song, because of the theatricality of the whole thing. The audience-story relationship is by nature more ethereal, so we have fewer demands that theatre conform to “realism”.

In a way, this means a story about the theatre is the perfect place to play around with perceptions of “reality”, and that’s where we come to the delightfully bizarre and distinctly musical Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight. Continue reading

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Butterfly Soup: Queer Romance, Geek Humour, and the Authentic Teen Experience

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Did you know during metamorphosis, inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into soup? […] If you want to be a butterfly, you have to be butterfly soup first.

The more I think about it, the more “butterfly soup” is the perfect analogy for the type of coming-of-age story I’m interested in: that messy in-between stage of life when the characters are figuring themselves out and becoming something new, though they’re not entirely sure what yet. It will be strange and at times awful, but they will come out the other side transformed by what they’ve been through, whether that’s an epic adventure or just the plain ol’ forging fires of high school.

Butterfly Soup is a game about growing up, a little snippet of four girls’ lives during this pivotal, clumsy chrysalis phase. It’s about falling in love, about figuring yourself out, about dealing with crappy parents, and also about baseball and anime and not being straight. It’s a sweet and moving little visual novel that speaks from the heart and tells a very real-feeling tale of teenaged existence, and provides a hearty mix of both comedy and drama all the while feeling like a smooth ride rather than an emotional rollercoaster. Continue reading

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Food for Thought: July ’18 Roundup

Emiya Menu (122)

I must be a real adult now; I got a set of really nice kitchen knives for my birthday and was a whole new kind of excited I’ve never been about homewares before. A quality, sharpened knife makes all the difference, you know! There’s something immensely satisfying about dicing up food with one.

See, this is the kind of thing I say now. My show Today’s Menu for This One Student House Full of Transformers and Anime Figures will be coming to a streaming service near you next season.

Anyway, my goodness! It’s been a big month for blog output. There’s been ace-positive demons, lesbian bear-girls, and all kinds of fantastical goings-on in between. As always, thanks for reading!

On the blog:

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Swords and Saucepans: Domesticity, Masculinity, and Emiya Shirou (in which I appreciate the protagonist of Fate/Stay Night–not something I thought I’d be doing, if you asked me a few years ago!–and how he embraces both traditionally “masculine” and traditionally “feminine” traits without mockery from the narrative)

Farah Mendlesohn’s Four Funky Factions of Fantasy (in which I lead a whirlwind tour through one theorist’s set of categories for fantasy fiction. It’s about how the tale is told, not just what happens!)

On Anime Feminist:

Going Beyong Severance: Metaphorical and Literal Queerness in Yurikuma Arashi (in which I dive deep into the many tangled layers of allegory and symbolism about queerness in that show with the bears, and how it’s all the more effective for actually having queer protagonists)

On The Asexual:

Asexual Positivity in a Game About Sexy Demons (in which I get just a teensy bit personal as I reflect on Cute Demon Crashers and its impact on my journey to identifying as ace. It’s my first post for these guys, and it also features in a printed edition of the journal!)

Fresh and funky web content:

Let’s start with a video essay again: this one’s about how sometimes we like things—love them even—that turn out to be cruel and problematic upon reflection when we’re older and wiser. This video looks at H.P. Lovecraft, the tricky question of “can you be a queer fan of a homophobic writer?”, and the complicated heart of what exactly makes these works of cosmic horror so resonant (even if it’s not what the author intended).

It was the start of a new anime season this month (again! The damn things just keep happening. Curse the disorientating nature of the passage of time!) which means it’s premiere review season once more! Be sure to check out AniFem’s collection (Vrai dives into the trash so you don’t have to), Artemis’ anime taste tests, and Rabujoi’s episodic reviews if you want to keep up with the deluge and get a better idea of what you might want to watch.

Darling in the FranXX: A Complete Summary of a Disaster – if, like me, your knowledge of Darling in the FranXX comes from seeing other people’s baffled reactions to it, this post is a good summation of what exactly this divisive series was about and what exactly the problems with it were. Boy, it sure is something.

Revue Starlight and Takarazuka 101 — this neat and informative thread gives some background and context to the hit new “Love Live meets Utena” anime that everyone’s talking about.

Dreaming Machines: Fairy Tales in the Age of Artificial Intelligence — what is a fairy tale made of, and can new ones be written in this day and age?

Reflecting on Attack on Titan: How the Narrative Failed Its Premise — an ex-fan of the (once) massively popular Attack on Titan details how the series went off the rails into increasingly un-subtle fascist allegory, and the directions it could have gone instead to create a story that better emphasises what the readers were actually invested in–the characters. If you want more, there’s a companion post about how exactly the series failed its characters in the first place, and another about how it specifically failed its women and queer characters.

The Dark Knight: The Best and Worst Thing to Happen to Superhero Movies — on the anniversary of the acclaimed Batman movie’s release, The Mary Sue takes a look at its impact on the superhero genre and the ol’ stigma that films must be dark and brutal to be taken seriously.

We Tried to Uncover the Long-Lost “American Sailor Moon” and Found Something Incredible — a wild ride of investigative journalism searching for the mythical pilot episode of an American magical girl show that never came to be.

For a nice bookend effect, here’s another video essay, in which Lindsay Ellis convinces me that I never need nor want to watch the movie-musical RENT. Content warning: a big point here is that it spectacularly fails in being a sympathetic story about the AIDS crisis, so there’s some confronting material about the disease and about that harrowing period of history.

And oh, what is that? Finally another podcast recommendation??

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This one’s I Don’t Even Own a Television, a podcast about books! Specifically, books that have received critical acclaim and/or spent time on bestseller lists, but that are ridiculous and terrible in one way or another. It’s not all hate-reading, though, and they always make sure to talk about high points in their personal experience with the book as well as analyse what makes it so (potentially) appealing as well as what makes it silly. Scroll through the list and find a title you recognise–I had some good fun with their discussions of Ready Player One, the Maximum Ride series (from “The James Patterson Fiction Factory”, in their words. Drag him, my dudes. Drag him), and Casino Royale.

And that’s that for this month. Take care, everyone!

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Going Beyond Severance: Metaphorical and Literal Queerness in Yurikuma Arashi

Yurikuma Moon Girl and Forest Girl

Fantastical fiction is an ideal space for working through complex real-world issues using the frame of allegory, metaphor, and a little bit of magic. Yurikuma Arashi is one such series, a step detached from reality but with something to say about real-world problems: broadly about bigotry and ignorance, but also more specifically about homophobia and the societal stigmas queer women face.

While the series’ constant and varied use of symbolism is sometimes flawed and problematic, its message also lands with considerable impact because it includes protagonists that belong to the marginalised group at the heart of its magical, metaphorical conflict. Namely, Yurikuma Arashi uses a fantasy setting, exaggeration, and abstract visuals to deliver a message about the prejudice that queer women face, and, for all its flaws, works doubly well because its main characters are themselves queer women.

Head to AniFem for the full piece!

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Farah Mendlesohn’s Four Funky Factions of Fantasy

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Once upon a time, a scholar named Farah Mendlesohn set out on a valiant quest to create a classification system for the fantasy genre. The result was her 2008 (yes, “once upon a time” is approximately in the realm of 2008) book Rhetorics of Fantasy, an analytical and example-piled volume that digs deep into the question of what the different types of fantasy are, what we expect from them, and why they work.

Mendlesohn assures the reader that these four categories she’s come up with—Portal-Quest, Immersive, Intrusion, and Liminal—are not the new “rules” for fantasy writing nor the be-all-and-end-all of classification within the genre. They’re a tool meant to make studying these stories easier and more interesting, allowing readers, researchers, and fans to look at the genre from new angles with a new frame of reference. And so, just as I have previously brought you Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Tolkien’s Cauldron of Story, and Leavy’s Swan Maiden, I bring you Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy, summed up in several paragraphs and with a lot more anime and video games than the original textbook. Continue reading

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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

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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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