I like Transformers now, and I like Starscream. Who’d have thought? And who’d have thought it would lead me down a tangent about the mythological archetype of the Trickster and the blurring of the gender binary within?
It’s the high heels, is what it is. The Transformers property I’ve grown attached to is the 2011-2013 animated series Transformers Prime, which WB got me into, and in which Starscream is rocking a pair of stilettos built in to his very mechanics. Many of the characters went through a design overhaul for Prime, most notably baddies like Soundwave, who is no longer a walking boombox that you can slot other Decepticons into; and Starscream, who’s now delightfully spindly and spiky compared to his earlier, blockier counterparts, and who now has better-looking legs than me complete with those wonderful heels. To me, this look conveys his character well—one glance at this robot and you can tell he’s bad news, but you can also tell what kind of bad news he is. Continue reading
As I’ve noted before, adolescence is weird. This is why, I think, we’re so fascinated by coming-of-age stories, and why we so enjoy framing them through magic, adventure, and metaphor, to make sense of this strange time of life while also exploring it in fun and interesting ways. The growth from the familiarity of childhood to the strange new realm of adulthood is often portrayed as a physical journey, but today I want to discuss when that growth is portrayed as an escape. The young heroes of these stories are trapped in false worlds that are comforting but somehow wrong, and revealed with the right self-awareness to be magic-laced and malign—places that the heroes ultimately must break free from if they wish to grow, progress, and find their true place in the world (and kiss the girls they want to kiss). Continue reading
This post is a modified version of a presentation I gave at the AAWP conference in South Australia at the end of November. I got a lot of positive feedback, which is very exciting since it was my first time being part of an event like that! Mostly, I’m just delighted they let me talk about cartoons. But hey, if you can wrap it in a scholarly framework, you can talk about whatever you please. It’s really rather wonderful. So without further ado…
I’ve talked a lot about The Hero’s Journey on this slice of the internet—one of the first posts I made applying my studies to pop culture was looking at Moana as a Hero figure, and one of the most recent was looking at Revolutionary Girl Utena. For some beautiful symmetry, I’ve brought the two together, to examine how they both work as critiques of Joseph Campbell’s model in their own ways, laying a challenge to the static image of The Hero and the gendered implications of Campbell’s text. One is a metatextual challenge, telling the story of a girl who just happens to be a Hero and silently asking the audience (and the pre-conceived assumptions they’re bringing into the cinema) “why not?”, and one is a much more direct in-text challenge that ends up tearing the whole business apart. Both are valid and both are effective, and both tell, in my opinion, really fun and interesting stories along the way.
But first, let’s look at The Hero’s Journey, and why it’s important that these contemporary stories are playing with this familiar model and critiquing it. Continue reading
I thought of her as a goddess once…
–Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 38 ‘The Ends of the World’
It’s a rough lot, being a woman in a fictional world, especially if your world is one built on the unambiguous lesson-teaching foundations of the fairy tale or the symbolism-laden slippery slope of myth. Either way, job options are scarce and you will inevitably end up in a symbolic or supporting role that props up the heroism of the main male character, be he Hero or Prince. This is something Revolutionary Girl Utena knows well, and goes to great measures to critique: first by showing a fairy tale maiden who aspires to be a Prince herself, and second by showing a fairy tale maiden who remains trapped within the expected archetypes of her genre and who is having literally the worst time in the world because of it.
Strap in, gang. It’s time for me to organise my thoughts on Anthy and what we learn about her in Episode 34, through the framework of theories of myth and how the show uses and then breaks them down. Absolute mega spoilers to follow. Continue reading
FLIP FLAPPERS is many things: a magical girl adventure through visually stunning fantasy lands, a multi-layered exploration of its characters and the nature of perception, a problematic fave, and a queer coming-of-age story about an insecure girl who’s just trying to figure herself out. The story follows Cocona, a (seemingly) ordinary girl who gets swept up in a quest to collect wish-granting “fragments” in Pure Illusion, a magical dream-space that changes to reflect the psyche of those who enter it.
Each visit to Pure Illusion is both a genre homage and a character exploration, often touching on themes of coming-of-age and the complicated business of sexual maturation. As part of this trend, Episode Five, “Pure Echo,” develops and explores our heroes and the trials of adolescence by throwing them into a world that combines Class S, a genre of sweet yuri romance, with horror. Now, what in the world could that strange combination be trying to tell us?
Head to AniFem for the full article!
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
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!