Category Archives: Things We Need to Stop Doing

What are We Talking About When We Talk About “Good Representation”?

The opposite of the stereotype has long been thought of as “the positive image,” and yet it may well be that positive images also deal in stereotypes and with far more disastrous effects. Furthermore, a cinema of positive images is simply not a very interesting cinema.

Jack Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p.185

In my review of Iggy & Ace, I comment on how much I love the messiness of the gay characters, even declaring that “We need more stories about women like” Iggy, the toxic and co-dependent lesbian dealing poorly with her trauma and dragging her best friend into the bad habits he’s trying to break. This might seem like an odd thing to say. Surely Iggy is a bad representation of lesbians, if she’s such a transparently awful and unhealthy person? Well, that depends on how you define “bad representation”. She’s not a good person, but her writing is extremely good. She has flaws enough that she feels, unflinchingly, like a human being.

That being said, I can see why you’d flinch. There’s been enough problematic depictions of gay characters over the years that contemporary creators might feel a lingering anxiety: my characters can’t do anything bad, and nothing bad can happen to them. They have to be good, they have to be happy—to make up for history. They have to be good representation.

But what are we really asking for, when we ask for “good queer rep”? Much like “is this piece of fiction feminist?”, the question “is this good representation?” doesn’t actually have a single concrete yes-or-no answer. It can be tempting, though, especially in the quickfire, hot-take-filled landscape of social media discourse, to search for one.

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Convenient Monsters: The Problem with Frill and Wonder Egg Priority’s Take on Trauma

Content Warning: Discussion of domestic abuse, sexual violence, sexual harassment, suicide

Spoilers for Wonder Egg Priority

Wonder Egg Priority is a series about society’s “monsters,” its early episodes intent on addressing the many all-too-real abuses and social pressures faced by teenage girls through a lens of dreamlike metaphor. As the story progresses, however, the script’s critique of predatory adults and systemic violence takes a sharp pivot. By the time the curtain falls, what Wonder Egg ends up suggesting is that the root of all evil is a single, vindictive individual: a rogue AI in the form of a young woman who is somehow encouraging girls to commit suicide. 

Just as the dreamscape Wonder Killers provide a convenient and killable representation of the issues that harm young people, the writers of the show invent a convenient “monster” and pin the blame for those very issues on her. As a result, a lot of the nuance in the series’ treatment of trauma and suicide is lost.

Read the full article on AniFem!

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Rotten Eggs and Adult Agendas: How Girlhood is Constructed in Wonder Egg Priority

Content warning: this post contains discussion of suicide, sexual assault, and the sexualisation of minors

Wonder Egg Priority was a show devoted to exploring the traumas and troubles of youth, often in ways that resonated with an unexpected raw, powerful tenderness. This is part of why so many viewers were shocked and disgusted when the latter parts of the show, and particularly the finale, dropped plot twists and “reveals” that displayed a deep disdain and lack of empathy for its teenaged cast. What on earth happened, that a story so interested in the issues affecting young women was suddenly so eager to turn around and declare that young women are manipulative, shrewish, and destructive to themselves and to everyone around them? For a show so ready to speak loftily about Adolescence (the concept), it seems, in the end, to have very little sympathy for adolescents (the people).

In the AniFem podcast discussing the highs and lows of this series, I suggested that the unforgiving prickliness of the finale might have something to do with the gap between writing for teenagers and writing about teenagers. I tossed around a couple of ideas I’ve come across in my work studying children’s and young adult fiction, and I want to take this post to unpack some of them further.

Chiefly, this idea of the “hidden adult” peeking through every text, and how the biases, agendas, and ideals of those adults are revealed when we examine how they construct their young characters and their stories. Because hoo boy, does the construction—and destruction—of characters like Frill, Koito, and ultimately protagonist Ai, make some statements about how this screenwriter sees young women. Looking at this provides some insight into where and how this show went so horribly wrong.

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In Which Rent-a-Girlfriend Goes Off the Rails

There is a special sort of sting in disappointment. If a story—be it a book, TV show, movie, video game, what have you—is just bad, you can let it slip from your mind. You may have your gripes with it, but in some greater sense it will glide away from you like oil and water. A story that seemed like it was going to be good, held promise, wormed its way into your imagination and your heart… a story like that turning out bad gives you a unique kind of injury. Especially when you wrote a very public article telling people that you reckoned it had potential. Multiple articles, even.

Given that I wrote that big post speculating on Rent-a-Girlfriend’s potential, it feels like I should return to it and perform a post-mortem of sorts. Now, this is not me “walking back” my previous reviews or analysis. I maintain that the first few episodes genuinely compelled me, and genuinely presented a space in which to play with some really interesting ideas. Which, again, is why the show’s dedication to not doing any of the things that I suggested could be really interesting, is so very annoying.

Do I take it as a personal slight that a show did not cater to my wants? No. It’s clearly not made for me, and that’s fine. But it’s worth returning to the scene of the crime and unpacking what exactly went so wrong, from my own perspective as a viewer (and I imagine this is perspective shared by more than a few people). If I can write a post about how much Riverdale annoyed me for sucking me in with a cool premise and then going off the shits, I can certainly write one about Rent-a-Girlfriend. Yes, those shows exist in the same category now.

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Stranger Things’ Problem with Female Friendships (and How Season Three Can Fix It, Please, For God’s Sake)

Stranger Things frens

The trailer for Stranger Things season three is out, and I am slightly bewildered by how much hype it instilled in me. For the promise of new even spookier monsters, sure; for the atrocious psychedelic magic of the ‘80s aesthetic, absolutely. But what has me most excited is not any of that but a few small character-based cuts: images of Eleven and Max hanging out, being friends. And why does that excite me so much? Because it (potentially) heralds a shift away from one of the most frustrating aspects of the series: for all its focus on relationships, Stranger Things has historically been really meh when it comes to depicting them between women. Continue reading

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Oh Riverdale, You Beautiful Neon-Lit Garbage Fire

Riverdale

Riverdale sure is… a show that I somehow watched approximately thirteen hours of. It is a fictional work of a slippery and frustrating breed: a show that hooks you, steals your heart, then tosses it lazily out a window as it spirals downwards into utterly disappointing muddiness. It is a work with an intriguing premise and a strong premiere, a work that got into my head and had me on the edge of my seat, gripped by the vivid visuals and the delightfully tangled mystery it seemed to promise. It is a work that ultimately wasted all this potential and ran away from the strong parts of its own story while making a long, drawn-out fart noise directly at me.

Riverdale is the breed of show that, though it’s lying somewhere in a dumpster puddle, still has your heart, having worked so hard and so well to win it, and so you can’t help but be enraged by this TV show that you might have otherwise just forgotten about.  Given that I have no knowledge of the comics, I can’t speak of Riverdale in terms of how it succeeds and fails as an Archie adaptation; but I can, and will, speak of Riverdale in terms of how it succeeds and fails in being a mystery-centred character drama. Continue reading

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Until Dawn and the Indestructible White Guy

Mike11

A while back, WB and I attempted what we called a Maximum Chaos playthrough of the game Until Dawn. Until Dawn is basically an interactive horror movie, presented cinematically but offering its players the chance to steer the story in different directions based on character interactions, decisions, and quick time events in action scenes. The Maximum Chaos run involves picking the most risky choices, starting as many fights between characters as possible, and not hitting any of the QTEs, leading to the most exciting, dramatic, and gory story possible. Given Until Dawn’s “anyone can die” premise, this leads to some interesting and brutal action. But, as we learned along the way, it also reveals that certain characters are quite literally indestructible no matter what your button-pressing and narrative choices inflict on them, and some are far too easy to damage, which leaves the game with some unfortunate implications.

Read the full post on Lady Geek Girl and Friends!

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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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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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Reincarnation Stories in YA and Eternal Silliness

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Man, I read a lot of crappy paranormal YA in high school.

The novel Elegy—coming out this year—is about how “in a small Australian town, the most epic love story of all time is unfolding…. again”. Two teenaged stepsiblings, Michael and Caitlin, turn out to be the reincarnated souls of every major tragic mythic love story of the past: Pyramus and Thisbe are named, Lancelot and Guinevere are highly implied, and many more are vaguely alluded to along with the sweeping mention that they have been gods, slaves, and rulers in the past. The novel’s decision to be deliberately and irritatingly vague about everything in place of actually building tension and mystery is a gripe for another day, because oh, I have so many gripes about this book, the biggest one being something that should by all means be an absolute dealbreaker in any romance, especially romance that crosses time and space, but somehow slipped through and got published:

I have no idea why Caitlin and Michael like each other.

In fact… they don’t. They spent their entire childhoods being standoffish with one another, largely due to Caitlin remembering that they’ve lived a thousand magical lifetimes before and Michael not, and the emotional gulf this created. Even once his powers emerge (because he has those) he and Caitlin quite blatantly don’t get on most of the time, until some magical moment of bizarreness happens and they… I don’t know, decide to embrace it? Their personalities don’t change, and indeed neither does much of their dynamic except that Michael is more open to accepting his powers and place in the universe, and so they fall back into the patterns of the past. They are deeply passionate and in love, as they have been many times before, as they are doomed to always be. Because there’s nothing more romantic than doom. Continue reading

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