Baccano! Vol. 2: All Aboard, We’re Going to Hell

baccano vol 2Off the bat, this book is a bit of an oddball to review. Baccano! volume two is a completely new story to the self-contained first instalment, leaving New York and detailing the terrible adventure that takes place when a cacophony of robbers, mafioso, terrorists, and a monster of urban myth all find themselves trapped together on the same cross-continental train. It’s also the first of a two-parter, but it doesn’t drop its “to be continued” halfway through the story: it delivers the train safely (relatively speaking) to the station, and some characters out of the sprawling cast to their destination… and promises to loop back and retell the same sequence of events but from different perspectives in volume three. This is a slightly befuddling creative choice, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t create intrigue. And in the end, effective intrigue among all that larger-than-life chaos is what makes Baccano! good.

So, while volume two—The Grand Punk Railroad: Local—is very much and very deliberately not the whole story, let’s barrel ahead with Isaac-and-Miria-like gusto and talk about the pieces of the puzzle that we did experience. It sure is something, let me tell you. Continue reading

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Flip Flap, Flip Flap: September ’17 Roundup

flip flap

Hey Alex, how do you produce So Much Content?

Well, the first and easiest answer is that if I’m not writing and creating content I will literally dissolve.

The second and possibly less unsettling answer is that most posts are scheduled at least a month in advance, so generally I’m not actually churning out five whole posts each four-week period (to use this month as an example). My AniFem piece was also in the editing pipeline for a couple of months (due to a combination of the editors being uber busy with convention season and the piece going through a rigorous and amazing editing process. Seriously, Caitlin and Dee are powerful and work very hard to make the articles that go up the best they can be!) so the only posts I generally write the month of publication are for Lady Geek Girl, since those are pitched on a monthly basis.

That said, I’m still working hard to write the posts to put in the queue for the next few months, so maybe I do end up writing an equivalent of five posts every four-week period… it would depend on the period in question, what else I have going on, et cetera. This ties neatly back into the first answer.

You’re writing about a helluva lot of anime these days, aren’t you?

Jeez, I sure am. There are a couple of factors behind this: first, that anime is so very, deliciously accessible these days with the rise of legal streaming sites. It’s such a blessed change from even five years ago! I’m also much more plugged into the anime blogging community than I have been before, so I can keep an eye out for recommendations of what exactly to try out. Bobbing in a pool of writers publishing fun and insightful articles about anime also inspires me to do the same, and of course watching and thinking about anime gives me potential pitches for both AniFem (obviously) and Lady Geek Girl (where I am one of a small fraction of weebs on the writing staff, which means anime reviews and discussion are a less common angle and subject matter, so I can safely pitch knowing it’s less likely to have been written about before).

The last reason is that I’ve been doing a lot of reading, reading, reading this year, so visual media has been the way to go when I’m trying to unwind! (Yes, I know, I have the subtitles to read, but it’s a wholly different experience)

Is it difficult balancing a thesis with blogging for fun and writing for other websites?

You just have to manage your time well. Again, if I’m not writing I will become a puddle of a human being, so having that drive definitely helps. For the love of goodness don’t sign up for any kind of higher degree if you don’t love reading a lot and writing a lot.

Alex you dweeb, are you just writing gay mythology fanfiction for your thesis? How did you get away with this?

Well, yes and no. As I said in my three-minute presentation I’m responding to Campbell’s assumptions and other scholars’ critique of his work with a “reimagining” of an old story: an original narrative in its own world that borrows The Hero’s Journey structure, rather than a direct retelling of a myth but with the hero’s gender simply switched out. As well as giving me more wriggle-room to build the world and the supporting cast around the point this project is trying to make, this is basically so readers don’t need to know the myth it’s based on to understand and enjoy the story. Obviously it’s being written to come parcelled with the academic exegesis explaining all the research and intent behind it, but it’s also super important that it’s just an engaging and accessible story. With heroic lesbians!

Anyway, everything’s a little bit fanfiction, and there’s nothing wrong with that–in fact, it’s a perfectly valid form of creative response in the field of academia (though obviously you have to make sure your copyright stuff is all in order. Ancient myths written down by monks: not such a big deal. Contemporary fiction: have a long talk with your supervisor first). I have a barrel full of sources talking about how revision of myths, fairy tales, and other familiar cultural stories for the purpose of reflecting or inviting cultural change is a much-loved and progressive practice, but since I’m miraculously still excited to talk about this project rather than exhausted with it, I’ll save all that for another post.

You finished watching both Flip Flappers and Revolutionary Girl Utena this month. Have you overdosed on metaphor-laden queer coming of age story?

…just a little bit

You didn’t get sick this month! Congratulations!

Don’t jinx it!!

anguishhh

On the blog:

Baccano! vol. 1: Live Forever or Die Trying (in which I read a light novel for the first time. People get shot)

The Death of Innocence and Rebirth of the Hero in Revolutionary Girl Utena (in which I realise that Utena is exactly my jam in so many thematic ways)

On AniFem:

Adding Salt to Sweet Vanilla: The Complex Women of ToraDora! (in which you were incorrect if you thought I’d finished having thoughts and feelings about this show and these characters)

On Lady Geek Girl:

The Garden of Words: A Masterpiece, But Did It Have to Be a Love Story? (well? Did it???)

Magical Mondays: A Journey Inside the Mind with Madoka Magica and Flip Flappers (in which two magical girl series delve into the inner worlds of their characters and results may vary)

Cool Links

I have never watched The Big Bang Theory, so it’s nice to have someone else so eloquently explain why the whole vibe of it upsets me so much:

Here, Cracked argues that Game of Thrones has finally been screwed over by the conflicting laws of genre it’s trying to play with

Here, a lovely personal piece about anime, personal growth and nostalgia

Here, The Fandomentals discuss and define “superhero fatigue” and ponder that Wonder Woman’s success was probably because it was, finally, something different, in having a woman in its starring role of course but also by attempting to be optimistic in a world of Nolan-esque Batmen, hitting this particular nail on the head:

Here’s the thing, grimdark for the sake of “edginess” is a privilege. Our own reality has become quite bleak over the years and most of us have to deal with some sort of oppression, hate, or prejudice. Pretending to live in a Crapsack World is no longer that fun or relevant. But stories? Stories are more relevant than ever. They’re a powerful tool to keep us going in times like these, to resist and refill our hearts with hope and positivity.

Here, a reflection on non-binary identity and the magical girl genre: “If gender isn’t binary, then being magical isn’t either”

Here, a post about hunting for ace representation in the media you love (and maybe, just maybe, finding it in My Love Story!)

Here, Artemis and Watson continue their slog through the series voted Worst Anime Ever with the baffling concept of Vampire Holmes

And here, a post about three different food-focussed series and how to strike the perfect balance between being a story about delicious edible goods and a story about people

Alas, I don’t have any new podcasts to recommend this month, but Chatty AF suffered through both Netflix’s Death Note and Neo Yokio to come out with some great discussion and insight that is definitely worth a listen to. Travis and Theresa were also particularly adorable in the Shmanners episode about eloping.

As always, take care out there everybody. Stay safe, stay hydrated, stay rad.

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The Death of Innocence and Rebirth of the Hero in Revolutionary Girl Utena

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Look… your teen years are confusing as hell. In many cases I think dousing coming of age stories in magic and metaphor actually helps us comprehend them, which is perhaps why we as storytellers love structures like The Hero’s Journey so much, and also perhaps why Revolutionary Girl Utena so loves dealing in the abstract. The show’s first arc gives us the story not just of our hero Utena’s first steps into the strange dreamlike world of the duelling society, but her first clumsy steps into the world of young adulthood: the First Threshold she has to cross and the necessary first defeat that she has to go through on her personal Hero’s Journey. Just as ol’ Joe Campbell says heroes and mythic figures have to die to be reborn, so does childhood have to “die” to let said heroes grow towards maturity. For our hero Utena this first death/rebirth takes place at the climax of the Student Council Arc, and includes facing all the terrors of sexual maturity, self-identification, and the sad truth that comforting as they are, fairy tale tropes cannot always be applied to real life, and sometimes the “handsome prince” is a manipulative sack of dicks that you need to challenge to a swordfight. Continue reading

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A Journey Inside the Mind with Madoka Magica and Flip Flappers

flip flappers rabbit dreamworld

Have you ever wondered exactly what’s going on inside your friends’ heads? Of course you have. Have you ever wanted to take a surreal and frightening journey inside the physical manifestation of your friends’ thoughts, feelings, and worries? Maybe? No? Well, in these two series, you can!

Fiction provides us with a unique opportunity to see into the minds of others, in that we get to live out other people’s stories and lives and see the world through their point of view for a time. Fantasy and sci-fi elements that allow us to literally see into and interact with the minds of characters, such as the dream-diving in Paprika and Inception, take this a step further. Through literally venturing into a physical manifestation of another character’s mind, you can learn a lot about them that they may not show you on the surface, such as hidden insecurities and secret memories. And sure, as a writer you could get the same information across in a dream sequence that lets the audience see inside that character’s mind for a scene, but the act of physically entering someone else’s mental landscape is what I want to talk about today. It lets the other characters, rather than solely the audience, learn what’s going on in the subject character’s head, and does so in a way that also moves the plot forward and provides a physical adventure at the same time.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Flip Flappers are two series that, via magic, give their characters the opportunity to explore their co-cast members’ inner worlds, sending them all down a proverbial rabbit hole into surreal, symbolism-heavy, and often frightening landscapes that teach them (and the audience) something about their peers that they couldn’t have known before. The two series use a lot of the same tools, artistically speaking, but the consequences and emotional outcome of their heroes’ journeys into each other’s mindscapes is very different in each case.

Dream-dive to Lady Geek Girl for the full article!

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Adding Salt to Sweet Vanilla: The Complex Women of ToraDora!

ToraDora 1

ToraDora! tells a story about the bizarre tangled intricacies of teenage love, complete with matchmaker plots, zany schemes, and an increasingly convoluted love quadrangle that’s played for both comedy and drama. It also tells a story about how everyone has issues, inner turmoil, and inner selves that they keep concealed, usually with the intention of preserving a certain image of themselves for the people around them.

It starts small by introducing the audience to protagonist Ryuji, who most of his classmates assume is a delinquent because he has “the eyes of a killer” but is actually a studious, quiet, and compassionate boy. This makes him a neat foil to his classmate Taiga, who at first glance is small, cute, and unthreatening, but has an aggressive temper. These two outcasts prove that outward appearances can be deceptive, but as they become friends and agree to help set the other up with their respective love interest, this theme of outward persona versus inner personality deepens and becomes much more poignant.

Head to AniFem for the full article!

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Baccano! Vol. 1: Live Forever or Die Trying

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Firo continues to look angry and/or confused in every single illustration he appears in

You know me, I’m a sucker for a fictional jaunt through the Jazz Age, and if there are compelling characters and supernatural shenanigans, all the better. The Baccano! anime stole my heart and blew my mind when I watched it many years ago, drawing me into a madcap world of gangsters, con artists, alchemists, and eccentric thieves all caught up in one big interlocking adventure—think Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels but set in Prohibition-era America and revolving around the elixir of immortality (not that everyone who gets sucked into this chaotic caper knows this…). Intrigued to see how the exhausting but exhilarating nature of the TV series translated onto the page, I recently picked up the first volume of the novels it was based on, and spiralled back down into this world of jazzy, magical nonsense, kind of falling in love with it all over again in the process. Continue reading

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The Garden of Words: A Masterpiece, But Did It Have to Be a Love Story?

garden of words

The Garden of Words came out in 2013, and for four straight years my Tumblr dash has been scattered with gifs celebrating the beautiful scenery and animation in the film. But apart from how pretty it was, I didn’t actually know anything about the plot of this iconic movie, so when I saw it on AnimeLab, I decided to dive in and investigate. Sure enough, it’s an absolutely gorgeous film that should 100% be celebrated as an achievement in animation, atmosphere, and visual storytelling about the way human lives connect. It was kind of spoiled for me by an unexpected case of compulsory heterosexuality, but hey, you can’t have everything…

Head to Lady Geek Girl for the full post!

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