World-Building a Queer Paradise in My Next Life as a Villainess

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! has quickly become renowned as something of a bisexual power fantasy. Its protagonist, Catarina Claes, is transported to a fantasy world in which she finds herself at the centre of a multi-gender love triangle—or perhaps love octagon is the better term—and the series treats this perfectly matter-of-factly.

Never does the narrative, or any of the characters, bat an eye at the fact that girls and boys fall for Catarina (and that, even if she can’t quite put a name to her feelings, Catarina herself seems equally flustered by attention from both). In fact, the way characters interact, background details, and the general framing of the narrative all add up to make the world of Villainess itself seem oddly, and refreshingly, queer-friendly. 

In speculative fiction, there is still an ongoing convention that fantasy worlds that take inspiration and aesthetics from history must include real-world prejudices or erase certain groups entirely in the name of a certain vision of “historical accuracy.” The truth is, fantasy world-building is a chance for writers to play with convention and provide escape from those prejudices, and imagine a world of their own making where they do not exist. At a glance, the setting of Villainess could be such a place. 

Read the full article on AniFem!

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In Which Adulthood is a Construct and Rent-a-Girlfriend is Compelling

Every now and then I come across a show I am just… compelled to write about, a series that strikes a chord somewhere deep in my brain that simply must be noted down. Something in the narrative rings oddly true about life, youth, relationships, or some combination of all three; sends a resonant note that I simply have to pick apart and answer, often with far too many words at a time to be reasonable.

I didn’t necessarily expect that show to be this one, but here we are, and I have some thoughts about relationships, the markers of Adulthood, and how all that crap’s 100% made up… and how I think there’s a message about this sneaking through the heart of this bawdy drama-comedy.

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The Comfy-Pants Freelance Dance: July ’20 Roundup

Good morning. Life is still weird. But I Produced Plenty of Content this month (hurrah for short term goals, I sing, as my thesis frowns at me from across the room)! Check it out below…

On The Conversation

Queer young adult fiction isn’t all gloomy realism. Here are 5 uplifting books to get you started – want to hear about my thesis topic in 800 words or less, and want some tasty book recommendations? Look no further!

If you’re not familiar, The Convo is a site that aims to make Big Academic Ideas accessible and easily readable (which is very much a sentiment I can agree with). I’ve followed it for a long time so it’s super exciting to get something on there.

I also talked about this on the radio! Skip to 46:35 here and 135:06 here to listen to me saying words with my voice!

On Anime Feminist

I joined the team for premiere reviews this season, and it surely was an adventure!

Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! – Episode 1 – in an introvert’s nightmare, a Manic Pixie Nightmare Gremlin of a girl attempts to improve her classmate’s social life. It was Not Great. But the review is entertaining!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – Episode 1 – Fake Dating shenanigans ensue when a mopey college student hires a sweet lady to be his girlfriend for a few hours, only for the act to extend when they’re mistaken for a real couple by an army of gossiping grandmas. Zany, potentially disastrous, and just a little (well, maybe a lot) horny.

Mr Love: Queen’s Choice – Episode 1 – a fast-paced otome adaptation where all the men are the exact same kind of pretty, and one of them spends the whole episode floating in midair. Not the genre for me, but might be your brand of bonkers if you like superpowers-among-us sci-fi.

Content round the web

Ben G. Thomas’ series introduces, and then dives deep into, the art-and-science hybrid field that is “spec zoo”, which involves the design and study of creatures from alternate pasts or possible evolutionary futures. I hadn’t heard of it before this, but it’s truly fascinating.

Crunchyroll’s Tim Lyu takes a (deep, and pretty comprehensive) dive into the evolution of the magical girl genre over time, mapping the development of the tropes we associate so strongly with it today (this chronology does end on something of a downer, though… surely someone’s making a non-parody, non-gritty magical girl show in the 2020s? Can we bring ’em back?)

The world is a strange and stressful place. Slip away from harsh reality for half an hour and watch this model-maker construct beautiful dioramas featuring lovingly carved sea beasties.

Is Demisexuality Just a Word for “People Who Don’t Do Hookups”? – short answer: no! Long answer: this whole article, which provides a pretty nuanced introduction to the orientation.

Art for Trying Times: How a Philosopher Found Solace Playing Red Dead Redemption 2 – an exploration of the game’s bittersweet melancholy, and its thematic undercurrents about the persistence of memory (see, The Conversation’s great. If you frame it academically, they even let you talk about your Cowboy Feels).

Magical Girls as Metaphor: Why Coded Queer Narratives Still Have Value – much of the conversation around queer fiction can centre on direct representation, but there is still power in narratives that may not be explicit, but resonate with a LGBTQIA+ audience in their themes and structures.

And of course, do read the rest of the premiere reviews! The pickings are a little slim this season, but the team has put out some great work.

That wraps us up for now—take care, everyone!

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Queer young adult fiction isn’t all gloomy realism. Here are 5 uplifting books to get you started

Early ventures in queer young adult (YA) fiction followed certain conventions: they tended to be set in the contemporary world and their narratives focused on coming out, bullying, heartbreak or fighting for acceptance. Most unfortunately, these stories also have a long history of ending in tragedy.

There is absolutely a place for stories that address the often harsh reality of being queer in a heteronormative world. However, this history has left many adolescents (and adults!) under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella calling out for stories that break this mould.

Read the whole article on The Conversation!

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Premiere Review: Mr Love: Queen’s Choice

What’s it about? Ever since Our Protagonist inherited the Miracle TV production company from her father, she’s been working hard to find enough material to keep it afloat. When she gets a lead about an ongoing mystery involving strange disappearances and people with supernatural powers, it might just be the boost the program needs.

The opening shots of this episode involve a girl nearly getting hit by a truck. “Hold on,” I said to myself, in all seriousness. “I didn’t know this was an isekai.”

It’s not; but only because Our Protagonist is rescued by a mysterious boy who seems to have stopped time for just long enough to scoop her up and carry her to safety. If this fellow hadn’t intervened, I can only presume that Our Protagonist would have been whisked away to be reborn in another world. As it is, she gets to stay home, and the fantasy in Mr Love: Queen’s Choice is of the more urban variety.

Read the whole piece on AniFem!

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Premiere Review: Rent-a-Girlfriend

What’s it about? Deliriously lonely after being dumped by his first ever girlfriend, twenty-year-old Kinoshita Kazuya spontaneously downloads the app Diamond, where you can pay for dates with a girl of your choice. The fake dating routine threatens to extend beyond the paid time slot, however, when he and his rented girlfriend are mistaken for a real couple by their respective grandmothers.

“Shenanigans,” with a capital S, seems to be the name of the game in this premiere. There are gossipy grandmas. There is slapstick comedy. There is the sort of improvised corny cuteness that you would only find under the banner of the fake dating trope. There is a scene where our love interests—who of course, don’t actually love each other, don’t be ridiculous—have to suddenly hide and thus they end up squashed together in a compromising position. Because of course they do. Right out the gate, Rent-a-Girlfriend seems to be a comedy of errors with a horny streak… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything meaningful to say, necessarily.

Read the whole piece on AniFem!

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Premiere Review: Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!

What’s it about? Every time Uzaki Hana sees her classmate Sakurai Shinichi on campus, he’s on his own—whether he’s gaming, studying, or taking a nap on a bench. Frustrated by his lack of a social life, Uzaki takes it upon herself to drag her old friend out of his shell.

For some, I’m sure that the premise of this series is a fantasy: the idea of a peppy, cute young woman who has unwavering dedication to your personal betterment, and who will stop at nothing to make sure you’re experiencing life to the fullest instead of staying stuck in your comfort zone. For me, as an introvert, this setup is closer to nightmarish.

Read the whole piece on AniFem!

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May ’20 Roundup (and the “Oh My God I Have So Much Writing to Do” Hiatus)

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In the words of one of the great commentators of our times, “everything happens so much”. I hate to do it, but between research, thesis writing, Exciting Career Stuff, and, well… [gestures to the world at large] my queue of blog articles has run dry, and I think it’s sensible that I take a break and come back fresh with my brain switched on, rather than trying to fill the space with writing that may not be that good. The plan at current is to take June off and return in July, but we shall see how things pan out. I will, of course, still be saying words into the void over on Twitter.

Stay safe out there, everyone, and take care of yourselves and of each other. I know I sign off with some variation of that every time, but it feels more pressing than ever.

On the blog this month

Fate, a Retelling About Retellings (and Stickin’ It To the System) – a dive into metaphor, magic, and metallurgy starring Fate/Stay Night‘s protagonist Shirou, and how his personal arc spearheads a story about disrupting old patterns and upending harmful traditions.

The Power of Magic and Whimsy in Queer Stories – a musing on the importance of quieter, more personal fantasy tales that let their queer protagonists just be, starring the wonderful Euphoria Kids.

Bonus academia!

Opalised Storytelling: A Review of A Fixed Place: The Long and Short of Story – TEXT reached out to me to review a new collection of poetry and short stories! It’s a little different from what I usually read, but I enjoyed it, and I think I pulled together and made it sound like I knew what I was talking about in the paper.

Bonus announcements!

I’m now officially listed as a contributions editor for AniFem! The site has been an amazing place to work with for the past three years (!) and I’m very much looking forward to being part of the moving wheels behind the scenes.

Web content

Yet another great digital authors’ panel, this one about the blending of magic and queer community in YA fantasy – featuring many books I really want to read!

Dom’s Lost in Adaptation series continues to be a delight, this time providing a charming and thoughtful dive into the 1996 Pride and Prejudice miniseries (with, as always, adequate amounts of costume skits alongside the literary analysis).

Trans Representation in YA Fiction is Changing, But How Much? – stats, author interviews, and personal stories build a picture of the current state of trans rep in young adult novels.

Allegory, Allegorier, Allegoriest: Visual Storytelling and Empathy in Revolutionary Girl Utena – Utena is full of notoriously bizarre spectacle, but the core of the stylistic narrative is empathy and love, and going in/rewatching with that in mind will give you a keener eye for the metaphors at play.

Joan of Arc, for Fascists and Feminists – good ol’ Jeanne d’Arc is one of the most fascinating cases, I think, of a historical character that’s consistently reinterpreted for the needs of the present (from medieval propaganda to 21st century mobile games), and this piece touches on the use of her image for two very different political perspectives.

How The Matrix Universalized a Trans Experience – and Helped Me Accept My Own – a post from last year looking at the trans themes woven into the first Matrix movie, always clear but only more prescient after the directors both came out.

The Rise of Magical Realism in Young Adult Fiction – how the hard-to-classify-but-always-very-cool genre of magical realism is appearing more and more in YA, and why those motifs of liminality and strangeness-yet-familiarity might uniquely suit that demographic.

In Video Game Stories, It’s Often Sidequests That Are the Most Meaningful – those quirky little character-focused missions where you step off the path of your Heroic Destiny to take a pause and help people have a lot of emotional reward, to the player and to the overall story.

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And here, for the first time in absolutely ages, is a podcast rec! You’re Dead To Me is a BBC-run (and crisply British) history show in which a historian and a comedian take a moderated journey together through a specialist topic, sometimes focused on an individual like Eleanor of Aquitaine, sometimes looking at a broader concept like The Ancient Olympics. Very fun and informative, with a nice touch of that Horrible Histories energy (the host is one of their writers, after all).

Everyone stay safe (as always, but with even more gusto than usual) and I’ll see you all in a while!

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The Power of Whimsy and Magic in Queer Stories

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Before the rose was there, the garden was full of moss. I started as a seed under it, waiting for the right time to sprout. Clover waited, and waited, and tended the garden, and didn’t listen to anyone who said she should give up. Moss, my other mother, she waited too. But Clover was the one who came out every morning and told me about her night, what she was planning on cooking that day, how Moss was going. […]

When my first two leaves emerged, Moss and Clover knew I would be okay.

I didn’t mean to be a strange baby made of plants, but it hasn’t caused any problems.

So begins Alison Evans’ Euphoria Kids, with the narrator, Iris, matter-of-factly regaling us with the tale of the beginning of their life: intermingled wordlessly with magic and a kind of dream-logic bizarreness, and intermingled effortlessly with queer love and affection. This sets the tone for the whole book: a dreamy, whimsical tale of understated magic that is almost rebelliously committed to letting its protagonists be. Continue reading

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Fate, a Retelling About Retellings (and About Stickin’ It to the System)

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Fate is a story where a bunch of retellings of myths are jammed together and sent to bounce off each other like pinballs—where would be the fun if it didn’t get meta about the nature of retelling myth? Obviously you can see a lot of examples of this in the Heroic Spirits themselves: heroes reflecting on the way their story has been passed down, what impact they’ve had on the world, and all sorts of fun themes to do with legacy, tradition, and the nature of transformative storytelling. A Heroic Spirit, after all, is a myth given form and agency. Would they do things differently, if they could, with their new knowledge? Challenge the patterns of their past? Or would they stick to the “canon”?

I love when Fate plays around with this, but it doesn’t just happen with the kings and knights and monster-slayers: one of the best embodiments of this theme is Shirou, the original protagonist who started all of this, and who burst into the scene ready to break and remake the patterns embedded in the worldbuilding around him. Continue reading

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