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
Credit to Tom Gauld
Every text I’ve read that has anything to do with genre study dedicates at least a few paragraphs to the disclaimer that genre is slippery, arbitrary, and, while a useful tool for analysis, kind of a pain in the ass. This pain is only made worse if we take this system of categories to be Holy Doctrine rather than something we made up to make talking about stories easier. So, okay, maybe genre isn’t fake. When I say genre is “made up” I mean genre is “socially constructed”, rather than “not real”. Here, Brian Attebery says it better:
Both literary studies and folklore are built on the idea of genres, rather as biology is built on categories, from kingdom to species, reflecting morphological similarity and common descent. However, unlike, say, raptors and perching birds, different genres do not exist until someone imagines them.
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
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
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
I thought of her as a goddess once…
–Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 38 ‘The Ends of the World’
It’s a rough lot, being a woman in a fictional world, especially if your world is one built on the unambiguous lesson-teaching foundations of the fairy tale or the symbolism-laden slippery slope of myth. Either way, job options are scarce and you will inevitably end up in a symbolic or supporting role that props up the heroism of the main male character, be he Hero or Prince. This is something Revolutionary Girl Utena knows well, and goes to great measures to critique: first by showing a fairy tale maiden who aspires to be a Prince herself, and second by showing a fairy tale maiden who remains trapped within the expected archetypes of her genre and who is having literally the worst time in the world because of it.
Strap in, gang. It’s time for me to organise my thoughts on Anthy and what we learn about her in Episode 34, through the framework of theories of myth and how the show uses and then breaks them down. Absolute mega spoilers to follow. Continue reading
Look… your teen years are confusing as hell. In many cases I think dousing coming of age stories in magic and metaphor actually helps us comprehend them, which is perhaps why we as storytellers love structures like The Hero’s Journey so much, and also perhaps why Revolutionary Girl Utena so loves dealing in the abstract. The show’s first arc gives us the story not just of our hero Utena’s first steps into the strange dreamlike world of the duelling society, but her first clumsy steps into the world of young adulthood: the First Threshold she has to cross and the necessary first defeat that she has to go through on her personal Hero’s Journey. Just as ol’ Joe Campbell says heroes and mythic figures have to die to be reborn, so does childhood have to “die” to let said heroes grow towards maturity. For our hero Utena this first death/rebirth takes place at the climax of the Student Council Arc, and includes facing all the terrors of sexual maturity, self-identification, and the sad truth that comforting as they are, fairy tale tropes cannot always be applied to real life, and sometimes the “handsome prince” is a manipulative sack of dicks that you need to challenge to a swordfight. Continue reading