On paper, Laid-Back Camp and Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles sound quite similar. They’re both slice-of-life shows about girls with niche interests or hobbies, portrayed in loving detail—camping and ramen noodles, respectively. Each series also has a small ensemble cast headed by two standout main characters: a quiet, withdrawn girl with the greatest dedication to the special interest that is the subject of the show, and a more outgoing, effervescent girl who wants to be closer to her.
Alike as their premises may sound, the two shows go in very different directions in regards to this central relationship. In Laid-Back Camp, the main characters’ relationship develops over the course of the series and the show becomes a rewarding story about female closeness; Ms. Koizumi, on the other hand, sticks to the status quo established in its premiere, which creates a stale and repetitive story that perpetuates negative tropes about queer women along the way.
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Everyone has a “brand” in their fiction, and the longer I think about it the more my brands seems to be “magical and metaphor-heavy queer girls’ coming-of-age stories” and “anything that messes with genre in a meaningful and interesting way”. Fortunately for me, this seems to be Kunihiko Ikuhara’s brand as well, as seen most obviously in Revolutionary Girl Utena and his more recent work Yurikuma Arashi. Both stories begin framed very obviously within a certain genre, only to have those familiar genre framings interrupted… and then the story itself becomes about dismantling that genre and pointing out how restrictive it can be.
Spoilers for the end of both series (including Adolescence of Utena) ahead! Continue reading
Pop Team Epic blasted onto our screens at the start of the winter 2018 season and has been confusing and amusing viewers ever since. It’s fast-paced, surreal, absurd, a little crude, entrenched in pop culture, and just plain ridiculous. It stars Popuko and Pipimi, a pair of schoolgirls who, in taking this wild and wacky spotlight, step into a role not often given to girls in comedy. Self-aware as the show is, the characterisation of Pop Team Epic’s leading ladies serves as a sort of metatextual raised middle finger to the concept that girls should be cute rather than funny.
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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
Recovery of an MMO Junkie is a bit of a misleading title. Looking at this romantic comedy by name and genre alone, it seems at first to be about its geeky protagonist, Morioka Moriko, getting pried away from her addiction to online games and finding happiness (and perhaps some good ol’ romance) in the real world. Instead, MMO Junkie gives us a story about finding happiness and fulfillment through online games, using their safe zone of community and anonymity as a foothold to regain emotional confidence. More importantly, it gives us Moriko herself, a complex, flawed, and likable female protagonist who provides valuable representation for adult women with geeky interests, as well as a moving personal story about anxiety and recovery.
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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