Category Archives: Archetypes and Genre

Swan Maidens, Dragon Maids, and Screwing with Gendered Expectations

dragonmaid1

Gather round, gang! Like I did a few posts ago with The Cauldron of Story, it’s time to take some literary theory I’ve come across in my research and apply it to modern media—in this case, Barbara Fass Leavy’s weighty and extensive discussion of folklore about supernatural marriages, and an overtly cute anime about a dragon who is also a maid.

[Hey, if you’re viewing this in the WordPress reader, please jump to the actual blog page and check out my sweet new banner by Jess Rose! And take a gander at her other stuff too–she’s just opened commissions, winky face]

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Filed under And I Think That's Neat, Archetypes and Genre

The Problem with the Dark Magical Girl Genre

Sad Homura

Magical Girl Raising Project finished airing a few months ago, drawing its Battle Royale-esque death game to a close with most of its young, frill-clad, magical girl cast dead. It’s the expected outcome of anything that comes with that formula, but it’s an incredibly grim way to describe a magical girl show—shows that are, traditionally, at their hearts all about girls banding together to support each other and saving the world with the power of love and friendship. Murder and despair are normally nowhere near the magical girl archetype, but that’s changing in some recent and disturbing developments.

Read the full post on Anime Feminist!

Author’s notes: WOOHOO! This piece has been in development for a long time owing to both AniFem still growing and getting onto its feet as a website, and owing to the amount of tireless and passionate editing and re-outlining it was put through in collaboration with Caitlin and AniFem’s editor in cheif, the stellar Amelia Cook. The result is the beautiful analytical 3,000+ word beastie you see before you, which I have to say I’m immensely proud of.

In the Patreon link to this post, AniFem says “We’ve linked to Alex’s work on The Afictionado before, and this definitely won’t be her last piece for Anime Feminist!” which a) fills me with all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings of a “senpai noticed me” variety, and b) has me excited to get on board and contribute to this website more as it grows. Watch this space!

Never laid eyes on AniFem before? Here are some of my favourite pieces:

“Your Name”: Body-swaps beyond ecchi punchlines by Hannah Collins, a review and picking-apart of the blockbuster Your Name.

Straight Guys!!! on ICE by Amelia Cook, a look into Yuri!!! on ICE’s references to actual queer skaters and queer culture, and (in the wake of episode 7) lamenting  the fact that homophobic fans were bending over backwards to deny the “gayness” of Yuri and Victor’s relationship, and lamenting that LGBTQ+ fans had to bend over backwards in turn to try and justify their stance.

Force Him, Not Me! Rape culture in shoujo romance by Amelia Cook. Well, the title really says it all–an in-depth analysis of Kiss Him, Not Me! and the incredibly skeevy “romance” tropes it has been playing into of late, and what that means for the genre.

She and Her Cat and her story by Dee, a heartstring-tugging review of She and Her Cat.

Why aren’t problematic translations fixed? by Amelia Cook (if you couldn’t tell by now, she’s both editor in chief and a writing juggernaut), in which I drag my hands down my face and ask why the hell the supposedly progressive American industry would bend sideways to take implied gay out of Dragon Maid (and other such examples).

And the one that started it all, How fan service can attract or repel an audience, and how to tell the difference by Lauren Orsini. Interesting and on-point thoughts.

Also, their podcast about Utena was super fun, even if I myself haven’t watched the show yet. Looking forward to seeing what else Chatty AF covers in future!

 

 

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Filed under Archetypes and Genre, Things We Need to Stop Doing

The Art of Being Self-Aware

Let’s say you’re writing a horror story set in what’s meant to be the real world—that’s a world where horror stories exist, right? So it stands to reason that your characters might have seen some of these horror movies or shows. As a storyteller you have to make the choice whether to have your characters say, upon walking into an abandoned abattoir full of meat hooks, “Hey, this is the kind of place where people usually get horribly murdered in horror stories!” And once you’ve done that, you need to make the choice to either fulfil the expectation that a knowing audience will have, or not to fulfil it, thus demonstrating the story’s awareness of the genre it exists in and playing with the tropes you, your characters, and the audience know are going to come up. It’s a multi-layered delightful mess, and is sometimes done better than others.

My personal take on this trope-wise trope is that if you’re going to glance knowingly at your audience through the fourth wall, you may as well attempt to play with their expectations. True, it can just be a self-congratulatory wink from author to audience, but it can change the kind of story you’re telling and make it fun and fresh. If your horror story protagonist knows a lot about the horror genre, they probably wouldn’t walk into an abandoned abattoir in the first place. And, in the realm of anime romance, as are the two examples I’m looking at today, awareness of the formulae that romances usually follow can actually twist and break them and lead you down a much more engaging story. Or not. Let’s discuss: Continue reading

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Everything is Connected and Everything is Fanfiction: The Cauldron of Story Theory

conspiracy

Canon has been slow roasted at 225 and carved for juicy bits

Now-famous tags on an AO3 work

Once upon a time in his essay On Fairy Tales, fantasy’s grandpa J.R.R. Tolkien laid out the idea of the Cauldron of Story. The Cauldron of Story (or the less epic name Tolkien also gives it, the Pot of Soup) is the idea that the collective imagination is bubbling away in a hypothetical pot full of every major story that’s ever been told. If something captures people enough—be it a particular character, a historical event, a tale or an archetype–it is added to the Pot to be stirred around, taking on the flavours already in the Pot and adding its own new taste as well. When you ladle out a new bowl of soup to tell a new story, you’re scooping up elements, ingredients and flavours of things long-since added to the big Cauldron—whether you intend to or not. Continue reading

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The Hero’s Journey, Abridged and with Gifs (Part Three)

I realise that last time I totally forgot about the Atonement with the Father chapter, for which I apologise. But, well, the title is fairly self-explanatory—there’s a father figure, there’s some conflict, be it low-key emotional like him not supporting your dream to be an inventor, or something more epic like getting mad about that time you drove his sun god chariot and set everything on fire. You resolve it somehow. Freud is probably there.

Now, your archetypal Hero has left home, been through a hell of a time, and now it’s time to return, completing the cycle, and filling in the last leg of their adventure…

The Magic Flight

escape

So you have The Ultimate Boon, and it’s time to come home. If Your Hero was destined for greatness and their quest was supported by, say, the gods, their journey home to renew and help the ordinary world will be smooth and wonderful. A neat example of this is Disney’s Moana—once Moana has restored the heart of Te Fiti and thus restored balance and life to the sea, Te Fiti rewards her by magic-ing her a new boat and sending her on her way. (As well as drawing heavily from mythology, Moana is very cool in that she has quite a traditional heroic arc, in that she is a warrior king who crosses into the world of the supernatural, has all sorts of adventures with monsters and trickster gods, then returns to her people wiser and stronger to govern them—which is also a traditionally male heroic arc, but I’m already writing a whole post gushing about how nifty it is that that’s been gender-flipped, so for now I digress). Continue reading

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The Hero’s Journey, Abridged and with Gifs (Part Two)

Last time we examined the first act of the story where Your Hero leaves the proverbial nest, steps into the realm of adventure, and gets their ass symbolically and/or literally handed to them. Now it’s time for the second part of the archetypal epic tale as Campbell outlines it, starting with…

The Road of Trials

testing

This is the fun bit, because it’s the bit where The Hero has to do a bunch of cool stuff in their realm of supernatural adventure. It’s where your epic quests and grand deeds usually go, and before you get to the quests that mark the (often tragic) end of the story, you can just set Your Hero on some zany hijinks that prove their worth as A Hero and are generally entertaining. A common motif is doing impossible tasks—that aren’t impossible because your hero is The Hero—to fight for their love. Often this is your classic Boy Does a Thing and Wins the Princess tale, but Campbell brings up the gender-swapped example of Psyche and Cupid. Psyche wants to date Cupid, you see, but Cupid’s mother Venus (or Aphrodite, mother of Eros, in their Greek versions), is having none of this, and says “Sure, you can take my son to the ancient Roman equivalent of the drive-in movies, just do these totally achievable little tasks for me first.” Continue reading

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The Hero’s Journey, Abridged and with Gifs (Part One)

A while back, a dude named Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces where he presented the idea that most myths, legends, folk tales and stories are all inherently dealing with the same themes and telling the same tale. He drew this up in a map of The Hero’s Journey, which has been adopted as a nigh-essential tool for story mapping and writing ever since, and details the archetypes that run through a lot of powerful stories from all around the world. It ties nicely into the screenwriting Three Act Structure, which is also a really useful tool for writing stories and character arcs effectively, so they’re both worth studying if you’re interested in knowing what, by tried and true practice going back many thousands of years, seems to make a good story. This archetypal map is the foundation for my thesis, so this post is mostly me trying to get my head around my research, but this stuff is fascinating and a really useful writing tool, so I’m sticking it here for anyone who needs a quick-and-dirty guide.

Campbell divides The Hero’s Journey into three parts: separation, where “the hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder”, initiation, where “fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won”, and return, where “the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” It’s all strongly tied into rites of passage, coming of age narratives, and a whole lot of Freudian stuff, because this was written in 1949 when people at large still thought Freud was a good idea. I think Campbell has an Oedipus Complex Complex because he brings it up so damned often.

In any case, here are the (first few) elements of the Hero’s Journey as Campbell outlines them, which are easy to recognise in both modern and ancient media: Continue reading

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