What are We Talking About When We Talk About “Good Representation”?

The opposite of the stereotype has long been thought of as “the positive image,” and yet it may well be that positive images also deal in stereotypes and with far more disastrous effects. Furthermore, a cinema of positive images is simply not a very interesting cinema.

Jack Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p.185

In my review of Iggy & Ace, I comment on how much I love the messiness of the gay characters, even declaring that “We need more stories about women like” Iggy, the toxic and co-dependent lesbian dealing poorly with her trauma and dragging her best friend into the bad habits he’s trying to break. This might seem like an odd thing to say. Surely Iggy is a bad representation of lesbians, if she’s such a transparently awful and unhealthy person? Well, that depends on how you define “bad representation”. She’s not a good person, but her writing is extremely good. She has flaws enough that she feels, unflinchingly, like a human being.

That being said, I can see why you’d flinch. There’s been enough problematic depictions of gay characters over the years that contemporary creators might feel a lingering anxiety: my characters can’t do anything bad, and nothing bad can happen to them. They have to be good, they have to be happy—to make up for history. They have to be good representation.

But what are we really asking for, when we ask for “good queer rep”? Much like “is this piece of fiction feminist?”, the question “is this good representation?” doesn’t actually have a single concrete yes-or-no answer. It can be tempting, though, especially in the quickfire, hot-take-filled landscape of social media discourse, to search for one.

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Playing with Genre and Queer Narrative in the Novels of Malinda Lo

I have a new scholarly paper out, published and free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature!

Abstract:

Malinda Lo has been an invaluable voice in the emerging field of queer YA fiction, both for her accessible statistics on the representation of LGBTQIA+ identities in traditional publishing, and for the content of her novels. Her fictional works place sapphic protagonists into genre narratives – sci-fi, fairy tale, thriller – that are traditionally presumed to be the realm of straight heroes. But the queer rebellion in Lo’s writing goes beyond simply casting queer characters into genres and roles that have historically been considered heteronarrative: Lo’s work is an example of what I define here as ‘queer narrative play’, a process of deliberately and visibly troubling, tweaking, and upturning readers’ expectations of the roles and functions of queer characters within recognisable genre frameworks, deftly challenging the historical binary that has existed between ‘mainstream’ genre fiction and ‘marginal’ queer coming-of-age stories.

Following from Tzvetan Todorov’s suggestion that “genres function as ‘horizons of expectation’”, this paper will explore how Lo’s body of work playfully challenges the traditional representation of LGBTQIA+ characters in a variety of methods; from creating speculative worlds that remove the need for narratives such as the coming-out story, to drawing readers’ attention to tragic queer tropes in order to make later subversions of them visible. Queer narrative play is an example of the ways in which contemporary YA writers may enact a rebellious conversation between author and reader, creating playful and progressive new works by reshaping the pre-existing materials of literary expectations, and Lo’s work makes for a stellar example of the craft.

Read and download the full text here!

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General Feminist-Friendly Manga Recommendations

Want to take a break from watching and find something to read? Here’s a piping-hot batch of feminist-friendly titles hot out the oven for our dear readers!

Read why I think you should check out Witch Hat Atelier—and read the rest of my team’s hard work—here!

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Queer YA Spotlight: Gearbreakers

It makes sense that, when the times were desperate enough, when the people were frenzied enough, at a certain point we went past praying to deities and started to build them instead.

Premise: Godolia maintains its military might with the Windups: giant mechs piloted by cybernetically-enhanced soldiers, capable of wiping out entire towns should they not comply. But godlike robots are still made of nuts and bolts, and their greatest threat remains the rebel Gearbreakers who can climb inside and take them apart. Eris is a Gearbreaker, and thinks she’s met her mortal enemy when she comes face to face with Windup pilot Sona. But Sona is a war orphan like Eris, and has infiltrated the pilot program to try and dismantle Godolia from within.

Rainbow rep: a central f/f romance, queer side characters

Content considerations: non-detailed torture scenes; parental death; child soldiers; copious injuries described in fairly gnarly detail; the horrors of war in general

Gearbreakers kicks ass. That is really the only adequate way I can convey the impression that Zoe Hana Mikuta’s debut novel left on me. I’m talking gorgeous, evocative writing. I’m talking complex, vicious, and lovable protagonists. I’m talking metal-wrenching ass-kicking heart-stopping fight scenes. I’m talking girls falling in love. I’m talking giant robots. Giant robots. I was initially sceptical that mecha, as visual a genre as it is, would translate into prose, but not only did it translate, but the high-octane action was relatively easy to follow, and conveyed a fantastic sense of scale, terror, and unrestrained Cool Factor.

Gearbreakers kicks ass.

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Thanks For the Animes, Even If They Weren’t So Great: October ’21 Roundup

Good morning to you all on this Halloween day, at the end of a month that’s been as exciting and harrowing as a haunted house. It’s a busy time of year and I’m wearing a lot of different professional hats, switching rapidly between them. A valuable lesson I’ll impart onto anyone who’s listening is that sometimes you just need to take an afternoon nap. Seriously, it will work wonders. Cats have the right idea!

On AniFem

Waccha PriMagi! – Episode 1 – a candy-coloured magical girl adventure based on a rhythm game

Mieruko-chan – Episode 1 – a disquieting horror-comedy sprinkled with fan service that only adds to the uncanniness

Banished From the Hero’s Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside – Episode 1 – a clunky fantasy based around, well, exactly what the title tells you!

PuraOre! ~Pride of Orange~ Episode 1 – a show earnestly trying to be a sports anime, idol anime, and a slice-of-life hobby anime all at once, and not really succeeding

The Faraway Paladin – Episode 1 – a slow and character-focused fantasy premiere about a boy and his monster family

Anime Feminist Recommendations of Summer 2021 – there wasn’t much to spotlight (especially since Aquatope isn’t yet finished) but there were a few gems worth your time. Read my rec for the extremely charming Love Live! Superstar!! and the rest of the team’s thoughts!

Bonus book chats: read me trying to pick apart the gay space-magic puzzle box that is Harrow the Ninth in real time!

Web entertainment

Dear Evan Hansen wants to tell a meaningful story about mental health (supposedly) but does so in such a clumsy way that it becomes ethically reprehensible as well as generally badly-written. A deep dive into where this falls as a movie and as an adaptation of a musical! Hooray!

Long before our current era of live-action adaptations of animated works, there was Scooby Doo—a movie that worked surprisingly well, hinging on a few key factors that this essayist lays out.

A heartfelt but baffled retrospective on Love Never Dies, stage show sequel to Phantom of the Opera (I went to see that Melbourne 2011 show, did you know? Stuff’s good).

All Murder, No Sex: Why “Upper YA” Does Not Equal “Sexy YA” – the “age appropriateness” of a book is often determined by its level of sexual content, meaning that a book with one queer makeout session may rate higher than a book with several gory murder scenes. Finn Longman explores the oxymorons of this from both an ace perspective and a writer’s perspective.

Midnight Mass: Spoiler, the Church is the Real Monster – an eloquent review of the new Netflix horror series, with particular focus on how its storytelling condemns the predatory nature of Catholic institutions while also strongly understanding faith.

Mieruko-chan Episodes 1 – 3 – I always enjoy Steve’s episodic breakdowns, and this review captures the eerie appeal of the series and its genre riffs.

Thread: a group of famous YA authors started (and promptly dropped) a project combining NFTs and crowd-sourced writing. It sounds as ridiculous as you’d expect and this sums it up well:

This month’s head-stuck song is Montaigne’s anthem for beleaguered fantasy heroes everywhere.

And that’s all they wrote. See you in a few days when regular posting resumes!

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AniFem’s Summer 2021 Recommendations

This summer’s recs are definitely a case of quality over quantity. But there are some offerings definitely worth your time!

Read the full post here!

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Premiere Review | The Faraway Paladin

Content Warning: animal death in a hunting context

What’s it about? Three members of the undead—the ghost of a grumpy scholar, a warrior skeleton, and a mummified priestess—find a human baby in the ruins of a city. They name him Will and adopt him as their own, teaching him magic, folklore, and fighting skills as he grows; preparing him for some sort of secret destiny the boy isn’t yet aware of. But the boy has something he’s not telling his undead parents, too: he was reborn into this world from a different one, and has hazy memories of a past life.

I’ll get this part out of the way first: there is something a little odd about a child character with the memories and cognitive abilities of an adult, even if Faraway Paladin doesn’t make this weird in the way that other shows do. There are no horny babies here, just toddlers waxing poetic about living a better life in an eloquent interior monologue and a young protagonist who is conveniently precocious because he’s drawing on knowledge from his adult life.

My knee-jerk reaction is to ask if the reincarnation aspect of this isekai is only there to give our hero a leg up and help make him extra smart and special, but that might not be fair. Faraway Paladin seems, even just from this first episode, to be a pretty grounded and competent fantasy series. It’s tropey in fun ways without swimming in cliché, quietly setting up the deeper machinations that surround our hero without overtly smelling of a silly power fantasy. This premiere isn’t keen to rush into the heart of the action and show Will being a cool badass holy warrior. It’s content to draw us in slowly, focusing on the relationship between Will and his undead guardians.

Read my full review here!

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Premiere Review | PuraOre! ~Pride of Orange~

What’s it about? Manaka is happy as a member of the embroidery club, but on a whim decides to attend a trial day for the school’s ice hockey team, taking her friends with her.  

PuraOre! opens in the frantic final moments of an international ice hockey game, throwing the audience into some high-octane sporting action. Then, when the team for Japan wins, the… scene transitions into an idol-concert-style musical number, with the players dancing and singing on the ice. Decorative flame cannons go off, confetti falls, and the show transitions, again, to an ordinary school scene.

In the space of about six minutes, you can see these girls aggressively win a hockey game on the world stage, perform a perfectly choreographed dance, and sit down to talk about snacks in a club room. Now that’s what I call a genre mashup!

Read my full review here!

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Premiere Review | Banished From the Hero’s Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside

What’s it about? After being banished from the hero’s adventuring party, knight Gideon changes his name to Red and decides to live a quiet life in a countryside town.

These long light novel titles really do a lot of the heavy lifting, don’t they?

Conceptually, I love this emerging trend of “slow life” isekai. High fantasy is a genre that tends to be most associated with epic quests, grand battles, and high-stakes conflict. The idea of scaling all those familiar tropes down and offering the audience a more chilled-out, character-focused story that combines all the joys of a slice-of-life series with a magical setting, is fun.

This blend of elements is what endears me so much to shows like Restaurant to Another World and Flying Witch, and it’s what made me initially interested in this one. Particularly because the epic stakes and god-appointed warriors you might usually expect are present in the narrative, but they’ve been pushed over to the side. It provides a playful space to explore what the regular person is up to while the protagonists go about saving the world—a potential The Rest of Us Just Live Here type tale for a world drawing its inspiration from fantasy TTRPGs and video games.

Of course, a slow life show set in a fantasy world runs a dual risk: being too slow, and being a bad fantasy.

Read my full review here!

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Premiere Review | Mieruko-chan

Content Warning: grotesque ghostly horror, fanservice

What’s it about? Miko can see ghosts: horrifying, grotesque apparitions that appear throughout her house, her school, and her bus route home. Determined not to get further embroiled in any supernatural torment, Miko takes the advice of a paranormal TV show host and simply pretends she can’t see them.

I’ll be candid: from this premise, I’d assumed Mieruko-chan would be much more straightforwardly a zany comedy, juxtaposing the terrifying creatures of the beyond against Miko’s disinterest in engaging with them. But the pacing of this entire episode, and each individual apparition, leans way more on the horror aspect of this horror-comedy.

Read my full review here!

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