Category Archives: Fun with Isms

Assassins, Outlaws, and Narratives of Autonomy and Vulnerability

sad bucky

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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Bloom Into You (and Me), a Story About How Representation is Important

Bloom Into You (11)

I talk a lot about how “representation in fiction is important”—it’s kind of the backbone of most of my writing, from my blog posts to my PhD, where it factors into both the creative element and the theoretical part behind it. It didn’t start out as a project about LGBTQIA+ rep, necessarily, but through everything I’ve done it’s leaned more and more in that direction, as a result of me following tangents I’m interested in and passionate about.

Early last year, my supervisor asked me why exactly this area was so important to me, trying to get to the heart of the matter. I think she asked me this for her benefit and mine—after all, you want to understand what makes your own project tick, and have a grip on exactly what your priorities are and why they are your priorities. The answer I ended up coming up with was a personal one that sort of surprised even me: I sidestepped the traditional “everyone deserves to see themselves represented in the media they consume” and instead said something like “queer rep is important to me because I think, had I seen more of it, my life might have gone quite differently.”

Oof! Wow! That’s baring my soul a little, hey? Let’s shrink back behind the comfortable shield of media analysis for a bit, and talk about Bloom Into You. Continue reading

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Rewriting the Script: Revue Starlight’s rejection of tragic queer tropes

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Fittingly for a series so inspired by theatre, Revue Starlight has quite a spectacular finale. Across its twelve-episode run, the musical, magical, swashbuckling school story explores themes of competition and rivalry, unfair systems, and love and friendship. It brings these all together in an ending that packs a wonderfully metatextual and rebellious punch, with its main characters Karen and Hikari (and the relationship between them) taking the lead.

You knew I wasn’t finished writing about this show. Read the full piece on AniFem!

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The Butterfly Effect: Player Agency and Trope Subversion in Life is Strange and Until Dawn

Well, I went and did it–after years of unshakable love-hate fascination with Life is Strange and Until Dawn, I’ve taken the leap into the fire and brought discussion of them into my work life. This video is a recorded version of the conference paper I presented last week in Perth, preserved for the ages and intended to be accessible to those who couldn’t be there to see it in person (which includes folks outside the academic field). I explore how branching, interactive stories give us the opportunity to mess around with tropes and genre conventions, and the weird Schrodinger’s Cat conundrum that these games can both play into historically harmful cliches and subvert them, and neither result is more “canon” than the other. Check it out if you’re interested!

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Warrior Women in the Workplace: Mythic Motifs in Dragon Pilot

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The women of Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan have a lot to deal with. The central premise of the show is that dragons exist and have been camouflaged from the general public throughout history—in the modern day, this means disguising them as planes. Only a special few can form the kind of bond it takes to “pilot” these mythical beasties, however. Dragon pilots are always, and have always been, women only; and they have to be chosen by the dragon itself.

Lady pilot and dragon also have to be emotionally and mentally in sync, sort of like how you have to be “Drift Compatible” to co-pilot in Pacific Rim, except that the characters in Pacific Rim are not swallowed whole by their mech-partners at any point. To add to the physical strain, the rigorous training, and the daily ordeal of being eaten, these dragon-attuned women have one more vital code they must adhere to to retain their prestigious position: they cannot, under any circumstances, fall in love, because that will bust the entire system and they will no longer be able to fly. It’s just the way it is, and always has been.

So the dragon pilots are exclusively women, have a “warrior” status, a special connection to nature, and are forbidden from falling in love lest they lose their power. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Dragon Pilot is playing around with some very old ideas. Continue reading

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Going Beyond Severance: Metaphorical and Literal Queerness in Yurikuma Arashi

Yurikuma Moon Girl and Forest Girl

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.

Head to AniFem for the full piece!

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