Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Snow, Shapeshifters, and Spooky Castles

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The reviews and recommendations continue! This time round we have two different flavours of fantastical political intrigue and a gorgeously Gothic exploration of identity and freedom. Continue reading

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Land of the Lustrous as a Story About Burnout

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You ever feel like you can finish the things you need to do if you just pump yourself full of coffee or energy drink? You ever feel like you’d get more done if you just… didn’t sleep? Like you’d type much faster if you had fingers made of gold alloy? Like you’d be able to fit exercise into your schedule if you had super-fast legs? Like you’d become someone truly impressive and valuable if you just… transcended your mortal form and became a super-powerful being that no one could ever think of as useless?

No? Not even a little bit? C’mon, maybe just a little bit. Continue reading

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Be the Cowboy: June ’19 Roundup

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Can’t believe I willingly, unprompted, used the word “methodology” in a blog post about superheroes and cowboys. It just slipped in. I kind of want to kick myself in the ankles.

On the blog this month:

Strange, but Familiar: Fun with Intertextuality in Fate/Apocrypha – a look at the action-packed spinoff’s playful use of its relationship to other texts, be they myths or other Fate bits.

Assassins, Outlaws, and Narratives of Autonomy and Vulnerability – one part fan studies, one part analysis of gendered tropes, one part cowboy, and one part me holding up a hand-painted sign that says “Bucky Barnes deserved better”.

On Anime Feminist:

Not “Just a Phase”: How Bloom Into You Challenges Common Yuri Tropes – I return to AniFem to organise my feels about Sayaka’s mini-arc, and the playful and heartwarming way it challenges old tropes.

In exciting news, that article was translated into Japanese over on this website!

Around the web:

Elementary‘s Portrayal of Platonic Love is a Revelation – I’ve been rewatching/catching up on this show recently, so it was especially nice to see an article that hits on one of my favourite things about it: Sherlock and Joan’s plot-central, life-affirming, beautiful complicated friendship, which stays a friendship when so many other shows like it invest in a romantic “will they or won’t they?” for their emotional stakes.

The Beginner’s Guide to Yuri Manga – looking to get into manga about girls falling for each other? Here’s a quick roundup of The Good Stuff currently available in English.

5 SFF Books That Introduce Aromanticism Well and 5 SFF Books That Introduce Asexuality Well – as part of her ongoing research/analysis of the aro-ace spectrum in fiction, Lynn E. O’Connacht compiles some lists of speculative fiction that she feels get it right.

14 YA Authors on the Queer Books That Changed Their Lives – another Pride Month recommendation list, this time with a very personal touch.

AniFem Recommends – as well as their seasonal recs, the AniFem team has now compiled (the start of) an overall list of recommendations. In fact, not just one list, but three, depending on what exactly you’re looking for!

The Forgotten Trans History of the Wild West – Atlas Obscura always brings fun little glimpses of bigger historical research, and this provides a neat peak into the lives of gender diverse folks who roamed the American West in its heyday.

Speaking of fun glimpses into history, this is currently my favourite account:

Plus, this thread that dives into a close reading of The Hunger Games, exploring the potential of Katniss as an aromantic and/or asexual character!

Also, just as a general recommendation, oh my gosh Bastille’s new album gave me so many emotions please give it a listen if you like their stuff

And so June comes to a close. See you all next time, and as always take care!

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Assassins, Outlaws, and Narratives of Autonomy and Vulnerability

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Sometimes emotional impact comes at you from sources you don’t expect. For example, did I ever tell you about how that cowboy game by the people who made GTA came out of nowhere and made me cry, introducing me to a protagonist who swiftly became one of my favourite characters? No? Okay, well, let’s talk about that.

Late last year, my housemate brought home Red Dead Redemption 2 (winning the local trivia contest in the process, but that’s an extremely powerful story for another day), and the game–and its player-character, gunslinger Arthur Morgan–quickly stole the hearts of everyone in the house. A natural response to a new interest in this digital age was to peek into social media’s fandom spaces to see what was there, and when I did, I was met with a wave of adoration for Arthur as a character. This took some different forms for different people, of course, but spending enough time following discussions about the game I soon recognised a recurring pattern: a lot of people were drawn to him on a personal level, and not only enjoyed him as a protagonist/thought he was cool/thought he was a bit hunky, people empathised with him in ways that many of them (myself included) found pleasantly surprising. And I thought “hey, this feels… a little familiar.”

It wasn’t until conversations about Bucky Barnes—alias The Winter Soldier—began to resurface in the wake of Avengers: Endgame that the neurons connected. Bucky was, and is, an immensely popular character, particularly after his appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the heyday of the fandom interest in that movie, a whole string of posts, tags, and conversations popped up observing that maybe so many people, especially people who weren’t (cis) dudes, were latching onto this character because something about his narrative, his construction of identity, and the things that happen to him, felt familiar on a strangely personal level. So what exactly was at the heart of this?

It would be easy enough to say this is another case of “fangirls like handsome gun man” (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with liking the handsome gun man, we’re all out here just trying to drag some enjoyment out of the media hellscape), but that feels in this case like a superficial take that misses a core part of the appeal of these characters. Women (and fans raised, socialised, and/or otherwise socially perceived as women/girls; a distinction I want to make because I know a lot of NB and trans folks who like these characters too) don’t just like these fictional men, they connected with them, on a level that I feel has a few similarities worth talking about. Again, “handsome gun man” is a superficial take: both Arthur and Bucky are presented on surface level as traditionally masculine images of cool-factor, but have personal narratives (and sometimes place in the narrative) about autonomy and vulnerability, themes that are usually associated with the feminine.

[There will be spoilers for both stories within, and, as a content warning, some discussion of abuse and violence] Continue reading

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Not “Just a Phase”: How Bloom Into You challenges common yuri tropes

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Trying to figure out how romance works when you’re a teenager—especially a teenager who isn’t heterosexual—can be a befuddling mess, and few shows I’ve seen capture that like last year’s Bloom Into You. The yuri series captures the ups and downs of self-exploration, relationships, and identity, but it also has a lot of metatextual commentary about romance as a genre woven into its coming-of-age story.

Media—be it novels, manga, love songs, or movies—presents a certain set of common tropes that informs much of our idea about love and what it should look like. Bloom Into You interrogates these tropes and their potentially harmful influence, especially on young people, making it a story that provides important queer representation in fiction as well as talking aboutrepresentation in fiction within the story itself.

The narrative (and this thematic undercurrent) mostly focuses on main couple Yuu and Touko, and there is plenty to talk about there, but today I want to explore the character of Sayaka.

Read the full piece on AniFem!

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Strange but Familiar: Fun with Intertextuality in Fate/Apocrypha

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I’m sometimes asked where one should start when diving into the (ever-growing) behemoth that is the Fate franchise, and, as a sub-question, if the Netflix-nested Fate/Apocrypha is a suitable jumping-in point. The answer to that question is that there is no wrong answer*, and if the epic-action-adventure tone and structure of Apocrypha is the one that most calls to you, go for it! I would say, however, that while it can probably stand on its own as a fantasy action thrill ride, the series does have an added layer of enjoyment if you’re familiar with other, earlier works in the storyworld. It’s a spinoff, for one thing, a canon alternate universe based on a “what if?” that diverts from the original formula. Even beyond the premise, though, Fate/Apocrypha’s bread and butter is intertextuality—it revels in its connectedness to other stories, making use of familiar aspects and then playing with expectations for all sorts of purposes within the show. Spoilers ahead! Continue reading

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May ’19 Roundup

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This has been a weird couple of months to be on social media: two massive pop cultural events, Avengers: Endgame and the final season of Game of Thrones both happened, and I wasn’t directly involved with either them. And yet I could still, quite effectively, absorb what was going on by osmosis. Exhausting, exhilarating osmosis. Oh, the thinkpieces. Oh, the reaction threads. Oh, the memes, and the memes that sprung from thinkpieces and other people’s reactions, and the memes that sprung from those, all in an endless spiral. Chaos is a Twitter feed. That’s what that recurring line from the show is, right? Tyrion definitely said that at one point.

One big discussion that sprung from these two big to-dos was the question of “shocking” your audience with a twisty-turny plot they couldn’t predict. I even chimed in! I may well make that into a Big Post at some point, but there are my thoughts for now. I promise I wrote that out because I genuinely find the study of genre interesting and not just because, well, everyone else had a take fresh out of the oven, so I felt the need to have one as well. It’s quite fascinating, really, to be part of a social climate that so actively dives into discussion and dissection of culture and media on such a large scale. Does it become exhausting sometimes? Yes, especially when these Big Events happen in quick succession of one another. But it’s also exciting to wander among a field rich with analysis, with people genuinely interrogating why a story fell flat, or why it felt good, or why we should maybe take a look at the consumer and marketing culture around fiction.

Now I can see I lived through what is likely to go down in media history as one of the biggest months in pop culture engagement. I was there, Gandalf. There were so many memes.

On the blog:

Of Cosmic Stakes and Personal Stories (Spider Verse, Infinity War, and Others) – in which I return to the theme of “character stories are more engaging than Big Stakes” this time through the lens of Into the Spider Verse, which called to me significantly more than a certain other crossover movie.

Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Unicorns, University, and the Underworld – featuring The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myth and Magic, Every Heart a Doorway, and Songs That Sound Like Blood. (Additional note: I have now also read Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the prequel to Every Heart, and it also blew me away. Just in case you want a bonus recommendation!)

Around the webzone (get it? Web? Because Spider-Man?):

Avengers: Endgame Didn’t Earn Its Big “Girl Power” Moment – speaking of Endgame takes… here’s one from someone who wasn’t mightily impressed with the franchise’s performative attempt at feminism. It’s all very well to have a big splash-page-style lineup of all your lady heroes, but it rings a little hollow when they don’t get the same weight in the plot as the men in their lives.

How the Straight Agenda Ruined Avengers: Endgame – continuing to speak of, this article articulates well how characters are parceled off into traditionally, normative “happy endings” of wives and kids, which, in many cases, feels unearned, out of place, or downright contradictory to the rest of their arcs up to this point (you can’t just leave Bucky in the dirt!! Who do you people think you are??)

8 Decades of SFF with Low, Intimate Stakes – also fitting nicely with the theme of my superhero post, here is a bundle of speculative fiction recommendations that focus on smaller, more character-driven stories rather than quests to save the universe.

You Can’t Change Your Favourite Pop Culture – But You Can Change the Way You Engage With It – alongside Endgame, the other hot ticket finale this month was Game of Thrones, which sparked some… discourse, to say the least. But, as this article gets into, you can not enjoy a piece of media without demanding that it be remade to suit you.

A Decade of LGBTQ YA Since Ash – as well as writing real good books, Malinda Lo gathers annual statistics on queer YA in the publishing industry. Ten years after Ash hit the shelves, she gathers those stats into one post to see how far things have come since then. She also has another great post looking at the stats of award-winners over the past years, tracking who is represented as well as providing some insight into how these awards work… and if these awards provide any real notion of what a “good” queer book is in the first place.

And this month, podcasts recommendations are back!

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Shedunnit is a podcast that digs into The Golden Age of Crime Fiction, examining the tropes, history, and context of famous detective novels from authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. What is the cultural significance of Miss Marple being an unmarried woman? What role does food (and a new public understanding of poisons) play in detective fiction? Where and how can we find queer subtext in these books? How were the “rules” of a good mystery codified? The answers to all these are fascinating, and beautifully produced, featuring plenty of interviews with historical experts and avid readers.

A short one this time round, but there it is! Take care everyone!

 

 

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