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.
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(You all thought I’d forgotten about these, didn’t you?)
There’s a running joke I’ve seen in the MCU fandom: why are the Iron Man sequels simply Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 as opposed to having subtitles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Thor: The Dark World? Well, because that would imply they were about something other than Iron Man. This speaks of an understanding of Tony Stark’s narcissism (as if he has reached through the fourth wall, tapped an executive on the shoulder and demanded full billing) but is also true, in a way: of all the MCU line-up so far, the Iron Man movies function the best as movies about a person.
Maybe this was why they were so successful, and kicked off the franchise properly—they serve as a good character study, of a character some of us knew already and others were being introduced to for the first time. There are plenty of explosions and robots in the mix too, of course, but what we want at the heart of our stories are characters to follow and peer at. That’s why Iron Man 3 happened even after Iron Man 2 was complained about so much: we still wanted more Tony Stark. Even if the story around him is a cluster-mess, it’s the hero behind the mask at the centrepoint of all the madness that we’re really interested in, and everything else is secondary to a certain degree.
Whether it’s due to writing or directing or the timeless magic that is Robert Downer Jr. I do not know, but Tony is by far the most compelling character in the Avengers and Co, possibly because we’re given a full look into his messy mind and get to watch it and the human attached progress through a character arc. Tony is not the same man at the end of the third movie as he is at the start of the first, and all along the way he’s consistently flawed and believable. Which may sound funny considering he’s the “charming genius billionaire” fantasy in human form with a snazzy beard stuck on. But they start with that and they take it down, bit by bit, until we see what Tony’s really made of underneath all that. Which the suit is a lovely metaphor for, come to think of it. Continue reading
For the love of God, someone send Nick Fury after Sherlock Holmes.
What are you smirking about, you life ruiner
I have no problem with characters that are terrible, or even just irritating, people. Lots of characters that I enjoy immensely in fiction are people I would either outright avoid or attempt to sucker punch if I met them in real life. It’s why I love villains, and antiheroes, and made-up people whose diabolical behaviour, snark and flaws I can study in a detached sense. But only to a certain point, and that point is where these characters start actually getting called, as they say, on their crap.
When a villain or antagonist acts awfully, we know it’s not alright because they’re portrayed as the villain and (hopefully and presumably) defeated or at least confronted by the hero or protagonist. Their blatant assholery or people manipulation or flat-out evil is pointed out as a bad thing and within the story world it’s brought to justice. The problem arises when these negative traits appear in the heroes of a story, and the story then goes ahead to treat this bad behaviour as, sub-textually or otherwise, the morally right thing. Protagonists will be rude or downright horrid to other characters, make a mess of things and act, whether in sweeping gestures or in everyday circumstances, in ways that we as members of a polite society are pretty sure we shouldn’t if we want to be accepted and not spurned, or at least complained about when we can’t hear.
Yet, these characters will go on like this undeterred because they make up for their behaviour by doing things no other character can do with whatever main character power-up they have, and thus they’re never (or at least very rarely) reprimanded for the things they do, in more ways than one. If the other characters just brush it off, it’s cemented as an okay thing to do in-world, and from a meta perspective, this character is still being portrayed as the hero of the story for all their awfulness, and thus the message being beamed to the audience is that this is the right and proper thing. And that makes me grind my teeth. Continue reading
Let’s talk about utopias, giant robots and pop culture.
There’s been much talk surrounding the recent hit Pacific Rim, and how, in all its giant-alien-clobbering awesomeness it was very quick to be dismissed as a shallow creation by critics. Fair enough, I suppose, Pacific Rim isn’t exactly an award winning struggle with the Great Themes and overall the movie was pretty simple, especially in terms of its black and white morality (humans = good guys, giant poisonous aliens = not so much). It’s a lot of fun, plain old monster fighting fun, not exactly gritty, dark or deep. But here is the question: must it be, in order to be accredited any artistic merit?
Apart from, of course, the awesome characters, worldbuilding and immensely creative design of the whole thing, you could argue that one of the big appeals of Pacific Rim is that it’s an optimistic science fiction, where humans and their inventions and relationships actually end up saving the world instead of trashing it. Raleigh and Mako, the main Jaeger team, could be given the title of the heroes of the movie and could convincingly hold onto it, being heroes in the regular sense of wanting to save people, do good and being genuinely likeable characters along the way.
They aren’t twisted or cynical or even snarky, and they don’t have fathoms of shadowy depth and inner turmoil. Neither of them is Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne in terms of dark, brooding complexity, but rather than making them immediately seem shallow and boring it made them part of the overall enjoyability of the movie. Perhaps, if nothing else, it’s because they stood out of the crowd. Continue reading
Look out Thor there’s an attempt at widening the demographic stuck to your chest!
I gripe and grumble a lot about romance on here, and I just want you all to know that I do not actually hate it. I am not a pointy-nosed cynic with a shrivelled soul and a vendetta against any film that isn’t black-and-white and so artistic it’s incomprehensible, and any book that isn’t a first edition, weighty philosophical tome of mournfulness and dry social commentary from at least a hundred years ago. I am not only a modern movie buff and reader of things with shiny covers but a giant bloody sap, and I adore the love story in all its incarnations. I just hate it when it’s done badly.
Within the fictional realm you can barely budge an inch without bumping into some semblance of a romantic plotline. Love is a universal human theme, one of those few, bizarre and magical natural occurrences that manages to be common as mud but still unique every time it appears. Love stories are everywhere because they resonate—by and large, love is something that everyone can relate to (in some way or form), so we form an immediate empathetic connection. They’re pretty great, really.
But. But, but, but. We are so in love with love that we feel the need to put it everywhere, even where it doesn’t belong. Are we in our own obnoxious stage of our relationship with romance where everything must relate back to the object of our desire, whether it’s really relevant or not? We can’t shut up about it and, though the infatuation is endearing, it’s starting to annoy our friends. And ‘our friends’, for the purposes of this post, means this blogger. Continue reading