May 14, 2020 · 8:31 am
Fate is a story where a bunch of retellings of myths are jammed together and sent to bounce off each other like pinballs—where would be the fun if it didn’t get meta about the nature of retelling myth? Obviously you can see a lot of examples of this in the Heroic Spirits themselves: heroes reflecting on the way their story has been passed down, what impact they’ve had on the world, and all sorts of fun themes to do with legacy, tradition, and the nature of transformative storytelling. A Heroic Spirit, after all, is a myth given form and agency. Would they do things differently, if they could, with their new knowledge? Challenge the patterns of their past? Or would they stick to the “canon”?
I love when Fate plays around with this, but it doesn’t just happen with the kings and knights and monster-slayers: one of the best embodiments of this theme is Shirou, the original protagonist who started all of this, and who burst into the scene ready to break and remake the patterns embedded in the worldbuilding around him. Continue reading →
June 6, 2019 · 8:31 am
I’m sometimes asked where one should start when diving into the (ever-growing) behemoth that is the Fate franchise, and, as a sub-question, if the Netflix-nested Fate/Apocrypha is a suitable jumping-in point. The answer to that question is that there is no wrong answer*, and if the epic-action-adventure tone and structure of Apocrypha is the one that most calls to you, go for it! I would say, however, that while it can probably stand on its own as a fantasy action thrill ride, the series does have an added layer of enjoyment if you’re familiar with other, earlier works in the storyworld. It’s a spinoff, for one thing, a canon alternate universe based on a “what if?” that diverts from the original formula. Even beyond the premise, though, Fate/Apocrypha’s bread and butter is intertextuality—it revels in its connectedness to other stories, making use of familiar aspects and then playing with expectations for all sorts of purposes within the show. Spoilers ahead! Continue reading →
March 14, 2019 · 8:39 am
The Kara no Kyoukai movies (aka The Garden of Sinners) are a series of haunting, violent supernatural mysteries involving murderous ghosts, vengeful psychics, and a girl who can see Death… not that you would guess that from the first film’s opening scene. The first few moments of movie number one drop the audience not in a spooky cold open or tense action sequence, but instead into a quiet scene featuring two people hanging out in a small brightly-lit apartment. One of them has been to the convenience store and bought the other some ice cream he thought she’d like. They chat about the ice cream. The conversation is mundane and slightly bickery without underlying malice, giving the audience the impression that these two characters have known each other for a while. It’s only after this very domestic sequence that the narrative gives us a glimpse of ghostly goings-on, and then the opening credits roll.
In a lot of ways, this is a weird choice for the opening minutes of a gritty urban fantasy. Surely the first scene of your story ought to set up expectations for the audience: what genre are we in? What’s the tone? What’s the focus? What are we in for, as we settle in for the next however many minutes of screentime? This opening scene with Shiki and Mikiya hanging out in the flat is very slow and quiet, and does very little to establish any genre conventions that would locate the series anywhere near mystery or horror—in fact, if you hit play not knowing anything about the films, you might guess that you were watching some sort of quaint relationship drama and be very shocked by the appearance of murder and ghosts. And… unconventional as it might seem, you would be absolutely right. Continue reading →
July 5, 2018 · 8:05 am
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 →
April 22, 2017 · 12:03 pm
One of the first things Yuri Katsuki does onscreen is cry. His establishing character moment is him weeping uncontrollably in a bathroom, the picture of vulnerability and hopelessness, after doing badly at the Grand Prix. And he doesn’t stop crying, either—his tears, and his anxiety, return time and again over the series, and while he eventually learns to handle this anxiety as his confidence is nurtured, the narrative never really presents this emotion and his expression of it as a bad thing or a weakness. Yuri is a highly expressive, emotional young man, and the show he’s in lets him be that. And that’s quite a rare thing to see in fiction, let alone from the protagonist of a sports anime—surely one of the most manly genres out there, given that they’re all about feats of physical prowess!
It seems paradoxical to have the protagonist of something in the action genre—be it sports or superheroes—cry, because crying is, well, such a non-masculine and non-heroic trait. Journalist Ben Blatt recently released the findings of a study on word use in books, which found that, among other things, women were commonly described as “sobbing” but men almost never were, especially when the novel in question was written by a man. The study suggests that “Male authors seem, consciously or not, to hold that if ‘real men don’t cry,’ then ‘fictional men don’t sob’.”
And yet there’s Yuri, sobbing—and not the only man to do so in that show either. Granted, a lot of Yuri!!! on Ice plays with and strays from what we would consider “manly” (dancing, themes of love, throwing away strict conventions of gender presentation with Viktor’s long hair and flower crowns, etc.), but this departure from gendered expectations is still worth noting. Usually, the perception is that boys don’t cry. Crying is a sissy thing to do, an unmanly thing to do, a girly thing to do, and society says the accepted and desirable alternative is to bottle up your feelings or project them outwards onto other people. This is one of the neatest examples of toxic masculinity you can find: being emotional is somehow feminine, and, of course, that that makes it bad.
Head to Lady Geek Girl and Friends for the full article!
February 9, 2017 · 12:40 am
[This is a post about spoilers. It will contain spoilers]
Remember when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince first came out, and yelling “Snape kills Dumbledore!” being something like an evil meme? Something you would yell to ruin people’s lives, an attack reserved for the most devious of tricksters or most obnoxious of bullies? Wasn’t that a wild time? Do we still, collectively, feel that way about the tricky and weird business of “spoilers”? Continue reading →
November 24, 2016 · 12:25 am
What time is it? It’s time to think unreasonably deeply about Little Witch Academia’s worldbuilding and how it contributes to an ingrained trend of making heroic magical stories all about capitalism vs class structures!
So. Little Witch Academia follows the shenanigans of Akko Kagari at Luna Nova magical academy where she, inspired by an idol-style illusionist she’s been a fan of since childhood, is learning to become a witch. Naturally every Harry Potter story of hallowed halls, pointy hats and potion classes needs a Draco Malfoy, and this comes in the form of top student Diana Cavendish, who makes an intriguing remark in the second movie about how she is from a historic magic family and Akko is a nobody from some faraway place, and she’s making everybody look bad with her impudent ineptitude.
What we glean from this is that there’s a hierarchy, if not a straight up class system, in the world of witches—whether or not magical talent is actually passed down through the bloodline (a la Fate, which I’ll get to in a bit), there’s definitely an accepted social thing that families where multiple generations (the further back they go the better) have been practicing magic hold themselves in higher regard to first generation witches. But, as Akko shows by getting into the school in the first place, magical talent doesn’t seem to be something you are or are not born with in this universe. Supposedly if she, an ordinary girl from nowhere, can learn it, so can any pleb from the town… except that the townspeople hold a historic dislike for witches, to the point where they happily re-enact witch hunts as part of a parade every year. Perhaps, kicked down the social hierarchy by regular society, magic society formed their own social hierarchy to alienate those who represented the regular humans who spurned them? Continue reading →
September 29, 2016 · 12:11 am
Say what you will about the dodgy character work of Until Dawn, but the game has succeeded in one thing: it gave us a genuinely unsympathetic, unlikeable female character. Emily is almost universally disliked from the reactions I’ve seen outside my own friend group, with bloggers confessing they made certain decisions to deliberately put her at a disadvantage, playthrough-makers announcing they don’t really care if she dies and that they’d rather focus on saving her trodden-down boyfriend Matt, whom she’s horrible to, and everyone—including me, I regret to say—calling her a bitch at least once.
Listen, though: Emily is a bitch. She is basically packaged to be what society defines that as: she’s angry, petty, domineering, manipulative and self-serving, and is a vain young woman to top it off. Compared to other female characters in the game like the heroic Sam and the emotive, submissive (comparatively, anyway) Ashley, there’s very little incentive for the player to warm up to her. It’s Until Dawn’s lack of character depth and development, obviously, which leaves her only as the archetypal Bitch™ with no more layers to her (aside from a cryptic mention from Dr Hill that “an abundance in confidence can often mask a lack in confidence”) and contributes to so much hate and name-calling. But it could also be that nothing about Emily’s stubbornness, assertive attitude or anger is packaged in a way that’s appealing. There’s nothing cute about her anger, nothing about it that’s moulded into an attractive archetype… she’s just a terrible person. And I love that about her. Continue reading →
June 2, 2016 · 12:13 am
Hello darkness, my old friend, it’s time to talk about fan service, again. This time it’s the business of “equal” fan service, i.e., if a series is full of tantalising shots of female bodies for the straight male gaze, does it become less gross if it also includes tantalising shots of the male body for the straight female gaze? It’s more of a can-of-worms question than you might think. Continue reading →
December 7, 2015 · 12:01 am
There is no hope on the battlefield.
But there is a familiar little boy with ginger hair. Continue reading →