Premise: Fifteen-year-old Morgan nearly drowns one night, but is saved by a beautiful selkie. Convinced that she’s dreaming, Morgan smooches her right on the mouth—and is shocked when said selkie then turns up on her doorstep the next morning, very real and ready to confess her love. This throws a spanner in Morgan’s plans to lay low and stay firmly closeted until she can graduate and leave her tiny island town. But maybe the magic seal-girl from the sea isn’t the only one able to undergo a transformation…
Rainbow rep: an f/f romance, a lesbian protagonist coming to terms with her identity
Content considerations: characters being outed (in a low-stakes, ultimately supportive environment); characters nearly drowning
Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel The Girl From the Sea is absolutely gorgeous, visually and emotionally. It’s a sweet supernatural romance that, despite its magical aspects, stays very grounded in the emotional reality of being fifteen: ducking your head and trying to get by while expectations hover over you like a flock of hungry seagulls.
Ever notice how November is always flurrying with nominations and announcements and fancy curated lists of “best XYZ of the year”? I respect the efficiency, but you’re not fooling me. 2021 ain’t over yet. There’s one month left in this sucker and I’m going to spend each day of it the best that I can!
That said, my “best XYZ of the year” posts are scheduled for a few weeks away. So look forward to those! In the meantime, enjoy what I, and others, put out into the world this past 30 days:
Bonus bookchats: I dip my toes into Discworld with (the very good) Monstrous Regiment, munch and crunch through The Heartbreak Bakery (feat. my cat, who decided to sit in the middle of the open book like it was made only as a pillow for him), and get spooked by the Hometown Haunts anthology.
Around the web
Dinotopia was a pivotal childhood favourite of mine and I NEVER KNEW it had a weird but deeply charming adventure game adaptation. Simone shines a spotlight on this forgotten fossil of the FMV era.
What can a deep look at the MCU tell us about how Hollywood tells stories about war (and love, and glory, and destiny) and what does that have to do with the surreal and haunting works of Russian arthouse filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky? There’s a connection here, I promise. Let Ms Fish take you on a scholarly and magical journey.
It is Possible for Eternals to Be Both Diverse and Bad – the latest MCU movie has its most inclusive casting yet, a milestone that makes criticisms of it hard to hear. But what if the film itself isn’t that great? Gita Jackson unpacks how these two facets can and should co-exist, and Disney cannot use diversity as a shield to legitimate critique.
The Importance of Centring Black Fans when Discussing Yasuke – Yasuke is, in theory, a really cool series that does a lot to advance Black representation in anime and brings a lesser-known historical hero to light. Except the show doesn’t do that (at least not as well as it could). Kerine Wint examines its failures to its lead character, and how these were often overlooked by non-Black reviewers.
Will the Perfect Men’s Dress Ever Exist – and Would Men Wear It? – non-female celebrities are increasingly trekking up red carpets in gowns, prompting the question if “dresses for dudes” are coming into fashion. Lydia Edwards (author of the fantastic historical costume guide How to Read a Dress!) explores this, pointing out that our current concept of “masculine” fashion is relatively recent and by no means universal or immovable.
The Uncanny Reality of Virtual Homecomings – how games as a medium let us explore strange places that should be familiar, namely the eerie childhood homes and hometowns featured in titles in Night in the Woods and Gone Home.
Cowboy Bebop – Live Action – did I mention last time that I always enjoy Steve’s reviews? This provides a succinct snapshot of everything that’s a bit off about Netflix’s new spin on the anime classic.
The song stuck in my head this month is Z Berg’s ‘All Out of Tears’, a breakup song with some hypnotic mime action going on in the music vid.
And that’s all for now, folks—see you on the flipside for the final posts of 2021!
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.
I have a new scholarly paper out, published and free to read in the International Journal of Young Adult Literature!
Malinda Lo has been an invaluable voice in the emerging field of queer YA fiction, both for her accessible statistics on the representation of LGBTQIA+ identities in traditional publishing, and for the content of her novels. Her fictional works place sapphic protagonists into genre narratives – sci-fi, fairy tale, thriller – that are traditionally presumed to be the realm of straight heroes. But the queer rebellion in Lo’s writing goes beyond simply casting queer characters into genres and roles that have historically been considered heteronarrative: Lo’s work is an example of what I define here as ‘queer narrative play’, a process of deliberately and visibly troubling, tweaking, and upturning readers’ expectations of the roles and functions of queer characters within recognisable genre frameworks, deftly challenging the historical binary that has existed between ‘mainstream’ genre fiction and ‘marginal’ queer coming-of-age stories.
Following from Tzvetan Todorov’s suggestion that “genres function as ‘horizons of expectation’”, this paper will explore how Lo’s body of work playfully challenges the traditional representation of LGBTQIA+ characters in a variety of methods; from creating speculative worlds that remove the need for narratives such as the coming-out story, to drawing readers’ attention to tragic queer tropes in order to make later subversions of them visible. Queer narrative play is an example of the ways in which contemporary YA writers may enact a rebellious conversation between author and reader, creating playful and progressive new works by reshaping the pre-existing materials of literary expectations, and Lo’s work makes for a stellar example of the craft.
It makes sense that, when the times were desperate enough, when the people were frenzied enough, at a certain point we went past praying to deities and started to build them instead.
Premise: Godolia maintains its military might with the Windups: giant mechs piloted by cybernetically-enhanced soldiers, capable of wiping out entire towns should they not comply. But godlike robots are still made of nuts and bolts, and their greatest threat remains the rebel Gearbreakers who can climb inside and take them apart. Eris is a Gearbreaker, and thinks she’s met her mortal enemy when she comes face to face with Windup pilot Sona. But Sona is a war orphan like Eris, and has infiltrated the pilot program to try and dismantle Godolia from within.
Rainbow rep: a central f/f romance, queer side characters
Content considerations: non-detailed torture scenes; parental death; child soldiers; copious injuries described in fairly gnarly detail; the horrors of war in general
Gearbreakers kicks ass. That is really the only adequate way I can convey the impression that Zoe Hana Mikuta’s debut novel left on me. I’m talking gorgeous, evocative writing. I’m talking complex, vicious, and lovable protagonists. I’m talking metal-wrenching ass-kicking heart-stopping fight scenes. I’m talking girls falling in love. I’m talking giant robots. Giant robots. I was initially sceptical that mecha, as visual a genre as it is, would translate into prose, but not only did it translate, but the high-octane action was relatively easy to follow, and conveyed a fantastic sense of scale, terror, and unrestrained Cool Factor.
Good morning to you all on this Halloween day, at the end of a month that’s been as exciting and harrowing as a haunted house. It’s a busy time of year and I’m wearing a lot of different professional hats, switching rapidly between them. A valuable lesson I’ll impart onto anyone who’s listening is that sometimes you just need to take an afternoon nap. Seriously, it will work wonders. Cats have the right idea!
Anime Feminist Recommendations of Summer 2021 – there wasn’t much to spotlight (especially since Aquatope isn’t yet finished) but there were a few gems worth your time. Read my rec for the extremely charming Love Live! Superstar!! and the rest of the team’s thoughts!
Bonus book chats: read me trying to pick apart the gay space-magic puzzle box that is Harrow the Ninth in real time!
Dear Evan Hansen wants to tell a meaningful story about mental health (supposedly) but does so in such a clumsy way that it becomes ethically reprehensible as well as generally badly-written. A deep dive into where this falls as a movie and as an adaptation of a musical! Hooray!
Long before our current era of live-action adaptations of animated works, there was Scooby Doo—a movie that worked surprisingly well, hinging on a few key factors that this essayist lays out.
A heartfelt but baffled retrospective on Love Never Dies, stage show sequel to Phantom of the Opera (I went to see that Melbourne 2011 show, did you know? Stuff’s good).
All Murder, No Sex: Why “Upper YA” Does Not Equal “Sexy YA” – the “age appropriateness” of a book is often determined by its level of sexual content, meaning that a book with one queer makeout session may rate higher than a book with several gory murder scenes. Finn Longman explores the oxymorons of this from both an ace perspective and a writer’s perspective.
Content Warning: animal death in a hunting context
What’s it about? Three members of the undead—the ghost of a grumpy scholar, a warrior skeleton, and a mummified priestess—find a human baby in the ruins of a city. They name him Will and adopt him as their own, teaching him magic, folklore, and fighting skills as he grows; preparing him for some sort of secret destiny the boy isn’t yet aware of. But the boy has something he’s not telling his undead parents, too: he was reborn into this world from a different one, and has hazy memories of a past life.
I’ll get this part out of the way first: there is something a little odd about a child character with the memories and cognitive abilities of an adult, even if Faraway Paladin doesn’t make this weird in the way that other shows do. There are no horny babies here, just toddlers waxing poetic about living a better life in an eloquent interior monologue and a young protagonist who is conveniently precocious because he’s drawing on knowledge from his adult life.
My knee-jerk reaction is to ask if the reincarnation aspect of this isekai is only there to give our hero a leg up and help make him extra smart and special, but that might not be fair. Faraway Paladin seems, even just from this first episode, to be a pretty grounded and competent fantasy series. It’s tropey in fun ways without swimming in cliché, quietly setting up the deeper machinations that surround our hero without overtly smelling of a silly power fantasy. This premiere isn’t keen to rush into the heart of the action and show Will being a cool badass holy warrior. It’s content to draw us in slowly, focusing on the relationship between Will and his undead guardians.
What’s it about? Manaka is happy as a member of the embroidery club, but on a whim decides to attend a trial day for the school’s ice hockey team, taking her friends with her.
PuraOre! opens in the frantic final moments of an international ice hockey game, throwing the audience into some high-octane sporting action. Then, when the team for Japan wins, the… scene transitions into an idol-concert-style musical number, with the players dancing and singing on the ice. Decorative flame cannons go off, confetti falls, and the show transitions, again, to an ordinary school scene.
In the space of about six minutes, you can see these girls aggressively win a hockey game on the world stage, perform a perfectly choreographed dance, and sit down to talk about snacks in a club room. Now that’s what I call a genre mashup!