Fantastical fiction is an ideal space for working through complex real-world issues using the frame of allegory, metaphor, and a little bit of magic. Yurikuma Arashi is one such series, a step detached from reality but with something to say about real-world problems: broadly about bigotry and ignorance, but also more specifically about homophobia and the societal stigmas queer women face.
While the series’ constant and varied use of symbolism is sometimes flawed and problematic, its message also lands with considerable impact because it includes protagonists that belong to the marginalised group at the heart of its magical, metaphorical conflict. Namely, Yurikuma Arashi uses a fantasy setting, exaggeration, and abstract visuals to deliver a message about the prejudice that queer women face, and, for all its flaws, works doubly well because its main characters are themselves queer women.
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Fate truly is one of the most widespread and versatile franchises of our time. So which varied spinoff am I keeping up with? The even-higher-stakes supernatural battles of Fate/Apocrypha? The surreal and psychological sci-fi drama of Fate/Extra? The alternate-history-hopping adventure that is Fate/Grand Order?
No, I’m watching the cooking show. That’s where I’m at in my life.
Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family (affectionately nicknamed Fate/Stay for Dinner by some) is a series of shorts which involve the characters we know and love from Fate/Stay Night going about their daily business, in a setting where magic exists but any semblance of a Grail War seems to have been put on hold. Lancer is alive and well and works at the local markets, Caster is eagerly leaning into the domestic bliss she never got when she was married to Jason of the Argonauts, and the various sibling pairs who were once pitted against each other in a supernatural battle to the death are now awkwardly sharing lunch. At the heart of it all is our protagonist Shirou, and each episode is framed around a meal that he cooks for (and/or with) another character.
It might sound a little silly, especially as it exists in direct juxtaposition to many other dark and action-packed franchise entries coming out at the same time, including the very dark Heaven’s Feel movies which star the same core cast. But Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is not meant to be laughed at, least of all mean-spiritedly—we can even safely say it doesn’t feel like a parody series, because yes, Fate already has a parody series we can compare it to. It’s just nice, I think meant to offer some respite from the onslaught of drama and bloodshed in the rest of the franchise; a sort of officially sanctioned Domestic AU for fans to rest their weary heads on. And at the heart of this calming, healing series is, as I said, Shirou and his trusty apron. And we’re not supposed to laugh at this, either. Continue reading
I can pinpoint the moment when I started down the path to identifying the way I do now: an 18+ visual novel about incubi and succubi helped me realise that I was ace. It sounds quite ironic, but I promise it’s a positive story, as opposed to my having played a game with such terribly-written erotic scenes that I was put off the idea of sex forever (which, while that isn’t really how sexuality works, would be a reasonable response to some of the bad erotica out there). No, the game in question, Cute Demon Crashers, which I played for the first time back in 2015, is a sweet, gentle, fun little interactive story of loneliness and love demons, and one of the first pieces of media to explicitly say to me “you should only have sex if you want to.” Much of the world runs on the assumption that everyone does want to, which filters down into our fiction in many forms both benign and insidious. It was an assumption I had adopted into my own mindset and my own relationship, and it was an assumption that this indie game helped me realise did not fit me.
Read the whole piece over on The Asexual!
Boy Meets Boy is a sweet little story about the complications and shenanigans of adolescence and first love, set in a world so accepting of its LGBTQ+ youth that it broke genre. Critics and reviewers had no idea how to categorise this novel when talking about it. By all counts, it’s a contemporary YA romance: as author David Levithan himself described it, it’s a pretty simple “boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back” love story. The difference is, of course, that that plot is usually “boy meets girl”. It’s this queer twist on a recognisable formula, combined with the delightful unusualness of the story’s setting, that sent everyone into a headspin. This novel could not simply be labelled a YA love story—it had to be “fantasy” “utopian” or “magical realism”. The whole thing conjures up the mental image of an office full of reviewers clutching at their hair, staring into space, muttering “but the gay kids are happy—so it can’t be realistic fiction!” Continue reading
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.
Head to AniFem for the full post!