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.

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Adolescence, Anxiety, and Amanchu!

Amanchu (1)

Let’s talk about a cute little show about scuba diving, and what it gets right about the benign terrors of high school.

Adolescence is, for many people, defined by a lack of self-esteem and a haphazard quest to find your place in the world. This is something Amanchu! portrays with loving care, telling the story of two nervous teenaged girls finding confidence and community in their shared hobby with both heartwarming gentleness and heartbreaking realism. The different ways their insecurity manifests, the underlying stress they face about finding purpose and a sense of identity, and how they help each other grow more confident, felt at times painfully true to my own teenaged experience, as I’m sure it did to many other viewers. Amanchu!’s slice-of-life school club setting means this is not a coming-of-age story with high stakes or high drama: it instead gives weight and importance to these girls’ down-to-earth struggle, creating a quiet and poignant story about friendship, love, and finding your feet in the weird world of high school. Continue reading

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Cozy Campfires, Bitter Broth: Female Relationships in Laid-Back Camp vs Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles

NoodleCamp 5

On paper, Laid-Back Camp and Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles sound quite similar. They’re both slice-of-life shows about girls with niche interests or hobbies, portrayed in loving detail—camping and ramen noodles, respectively. Each series also has a small ensemble cast headed by two standout main characters: a quiet, withdrawn girl with the greatest dedication to the special interest that is the subject of the show, and a more outgoing, effervescent girl who wants to be closer to her.

Alike as their premises may sound, the two shows go in very different directions in regards to this central relationship. In Laid-Back Camp, the main characters’ relationship develops over the course of the series and the show becomes a rewarding story about female closeness; Ms. Koizumi, on the other hand, sticks to the status quo established in its premiere, which creates a stale and repetitive story that perpetuates negative tropes about queer women along the way.

Jump to AniFem for the full post!

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Bear With Me: April ’18 Roundup

yeah horrifying

I don’t have a long preamble for this month–I am currently the world’s most boring person to chat with, since whenever someone asks “so what are you up to?” all I can say is “reading”. I think I’ve consumed more text in the last few months than ever before in my life. I’m crunching through entire books within days, something that’s so downright surreal that I made a Goodreads account just to show it off (and also to spend an afternoon not reading but still technically doing something productive). If anyone’s interested, I’m also considering making a page of book recommendations here on the blog for anyone interested in mythology, genre studies, queer studies, and the intersections of all three, since I’m finding a lot of cool stuff. Let me know if that sounds fun!

Now, enough about reading, and onto writing:

On the Blog:

Fairy Tales and Flowerbeds: Messing with Genre in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Yurikuma Arashi (in which Ikuhara anime deliberately plays with your expectations, and is also very gay)

Folklore, Worldbuilding, and Fun with Unreliable Narrators (in which the question of truth creates some spooky fun and depth of setting in Ash and Night in the Woods)

And the final episode writeup for A Place Further Than the Universe!

Fun Things Around the Web:

You know what’s fun, but that I don’t talk about a lot over here? Fashion history!

The entirety of BBC documentary A Stitch in Time is up on YouTube, so you can sit back and watch fashion historians, tailors, and costume designers puzzle out how to recreate outfits from famous paintings, teaching us much about their social context as well as their technical aspects along the way.

I love this sort of immersive, hands-on social history. The clothes people wore, the everyday objects they used, and the food they ate (incidentally, all of Supersizers Go is also up on YouTube at the moment) can tell us so much about day-to-day life throughout history. Fashion blogger Safiya Nygaard also recently completed a half-century-spanning series of historical fashion challenges to dig into these exact details, and the results are informative as well as very fun (and stands a better chance of not being taken off YouTube by the BBC…):

And now, articles:

Dear Marvel, Please Let Your Men Hug Each Other–come on guys, be afraid of Thanos destroying the universe, not of expressions of male affection!

Male Gaze, Female Eye: Comic Girls, Slow Start, Sakura Trick and Lewdness–if a show is made to appeal to straight dudes but a lesbian enjoys it, does that diminish the nature of the Male Gaze? Where do authorial intent and audience reception collide and/or cancel each other out? There is no simple answer.

Recently, I also discovered The Asexual, a web-published journal of creative writing and essays meant to showcase the ace community. Some personal favourites so far are journal founder Michael Paramo’s Beyond Sex: The Multi-Layered Model of Attraction“Meaningless Sex” by Heidi Samuelson, and My Waking Up by Adolfo Gamboa.

And it was the start of a new anime season, which means it was premiere review season! Head on over to AniFem’s collection of impressions to see if there’s a series there that sounds good!

And this month’s podcast rec is…

POL_HistoryofFun_Final_preview__1_.0

Polygon’s The History of Fun! More delightful social history, this time putting the magnifying glass over hobbies, games, and other things people do for fun, from the fraught path of Neopets to the surprising origins of roller derby (Victorian era marathons on wheels). It’s entertaining and educational, and of course packed full of nostalgia is that’s something you’re hankering for.

That’s all from me this time ’round. Take care out there everyone!

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