the_sun_is_up: Kyoko and Moko from Skip Beat standing inside a heart shape, smiling cutely at each other. (skip beat - so adorable and gay)
In my last post on SSRune, I talked about how both societies portrayed in the series have their own narrow expectations about how young women should behave, and how the Queen contest throws our heroines into conflict with those restrictive ideals. But this pressure to conform doesn’t just harm the girls individually; it also drives a rift in their friendship, as each feels jealousy for the other’s desirable traits. Vanilla in particular starts out admiring Chocolat’s courage, reminiscing about how Chocolat was her only friend back home and would always protect and stick up for her, but that admiration quickly turns to bitter envy, leading Vanilla to turn to the Dark Side in a desperate bid to gain the confidence she desires.

Vanilla: I’ve always envied Chocolat-chan, who acts like a real queen. I finally realize my hatred toward her. Things between us can never be the way they used to be. [...] Everyone loved Chocolat-chan. Pranks, jokes, and big laughs... I was never good at any of them. [...] I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. So I can’t let anyone else have that position. To be the queen... that’s the only place I have left to belong.

Which leads into another big theme of Sugar Sugar Rune: Chocolat and Vanilla’s fight to maintain their friendship, even as the Queen contest does its best to tear them apart. This is a theme we see a lot in fiction and real life: in a patriarchal society, women learn to prioritize Getting A Man over everything else, which forces them to compete with other women (since desirable men are a finite resource), making it difficult to maintain any kind of female bonds or solidarity. In fact, you could interpret the Queen contest as a big metaphor for Life Under Patriarchy: In intensely male-dominated societies, the only way for a woman to gain power is by Getting A Man — seducing him, marrying him, being his mistress, or otherwise using sex to manipulate him into doing your bidding. Chocolat and Vanilla are competing for a position of power, but that power is only attainable by G-rated-ly seducing boys.

Whoever wins, or whoever becomes the queen, we will be friends forever. )
the_sun_is_up: Twilight Sparkle reading a book. (mlp - happiness is a good book)
At first glance, Sugar Sugar Rune by Moyoco Anno is your typical Cute Witch tale. Best friends Chocolat and Vanilla are young witches-in-training and candidates to become Queen of the Magical World. They travel to Earth in order to collect hearts by getting boys to fall for them and then extracting those feelings of love in the form of heart-shaped crystals. Whoever collects the most hearts will become the next Queen.

So yes, this is a society that chooses its supreme leader based on how many boyfriends she can bag. If this sounds like a terrible idea to you, don’t worry: the author is very much in agreement.

What follows is a surprisingly intelligent and complex fantasy series that examines what happens when you pit two best friends against each other in a competition for power and popularity, a competition in which their chances of winning hinge almost entirely on their ability to conform to narrow-minded and restrictive gender norms. And it does so while also providing us with a pair of fleshed-out relatable heroines, a richly imaginative non-standard fantasy world, and Anno’s lovely josei-esque artwork.

The first hurdle that our deliciously-named heroines face is that the Magic World and the Human World have very different ideas of how a woman is supposed to act. Headstrong, confident, and aggressive, Chocolat was very popular in the Magic World where those traits are prized and admired, so she’s bewildered when all the human boys in her class find her too intimidating and avoid her like the plague. Shy, timid, and clumsy, Vanilla’s social life languished in the Magic World, but on Earth, her moeblob appeal makes her an instant boy-magnet.

Be true to yourself — it sounds great, but... )

My thoughts on this series are too lengthy to fit in one post, so: To be continued...
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
The Magic Idol Singer genre is primarily a realm of lightweight escapism: It takes a career that only sounds great in theory (being a pop singer), scrubs away all the ugly, seedy, soulless, and exploitative elements of the job, and presents us with an idealized fantasy of what we wish pop stardom was like. For the first several episodes, Creamy Mami fits this bill; it's just a big ball of fluff. But then in Episode 13, it gets... interesting.

Okay, actually it gets creepy and gross, but it does so in a way that's very interesting to media over-analyzers like myself.

At the start of the episode, Yuu ducks into a House of Mirrors at the local amusement park, transforms into Creamy Mami, and runs off to her latest gig. What she doesn't yet realize is that her magic combined with those mirrors to create a doppelganger of her — an eeeeevil doppelganger. Soon enough, the evil fake Mami is wreaking all sorts of havoc and tarnishing the real Mami's good name.

What kind of devilish mischief is she getting up to you ask? Well, first she announces in an interview that she's in love with her production company's president, Shingo, and then she poses for a bunch of titillating semi-nude photos. You might be wondering what's so bad about that. Well my friends, it's time to talk about Contractual Purity.

Remember when Miley Cyrus posed for those semi-nude photos in Vanity Fair, and everyone freaked out because she's supposed to be this pure, wholesome Disney child? Well from what I've read, Japanese idol singers have it even worse than that, partially due to the whole moe aesthetic, which was a thing even back before the term "moe" was coined. The Japanese idol singer, in general, is supposed to be perfectly pure, innocent, and virginal. Some singers even have contracts that forbid them from dating, such as that chick from AKB48 who shaved her head and tearfully apologized to her fans after she was caught breaking the "no boyfriends" rule. That happened this year by the way. Why did she feel the need to grovel like that? Because she ruined her fans' ability to fantasize about her being an innocent virgin with not a single sex-related thought in her head; therefore she had utterly failed as an idol.

Of course, being a fluffy and conservative kids' show, Creamy Mami is not going to rock the boat on this issue. The show is very much in agreement that the fake Mami is eeeeeeevil for sullying her purity-sue image with hints of sexuality. Just look at this conversation between her and Toshio, the heroine's love interest who's smitten with Mami, at an autograph signing:

Toshio: If possible, I hope you don't appear on those [Playboy-esque] magazines again. I really don't like that.
Fake Mami: Oh that. I wondered if I should have gone halfway or not...
Toshio: Huh?
Fake Mami: That's right, I actually wanted to strip down even more. But the cameraman said this is the first time and so...
Toshio: It's not that. As a fan, I want to appreciate Mami-chan's innocent image.
Fake Mami: Oh jeeze! That's such an old way of thinking!
Toshio: It may be a little old but... we as fans...
Crowd of Male Fans: (loudly chanting) That's right, that's right.
Fake Mami: Could you all please behave. I'm not your doll.

She's right, she's not their doll. But the show clearly expects us to disagree with her and to sympathize with Toshio. We're supposed to agree that Mami owes it to Toshio and the other male fans to stay pure and not do anything that might shatter their fantasies of her. We're supposed to disagree with the fake Mami's (accurate) claims that contractual purity is an out-dated idea. And we're supposed to agree with the real Mami later on when she begs the fake Mami not to "destroy fans' dreams."

That last line — "I'm not your doll" — is especially telling, because fake Mami is asserting her independence, and the show clearly thinks this is a bad thing. That article from the Atlantic notes that in addition to being pure and innocent, idols are supposed to be submissive and obedient: the goal is to make each fan feel "like he or she has the power to make them more popular. To maintain this illusion of control, members of the group can't do anything to show they are independent from fans." The fake Mami isn't villainous just because she posed for cheesecake shots and admitted being attracted to a man; she's villainous because she acted of her own free will and refused to be bossed around by her fans' entitlement complexes.

Writing this post has made me realize: The whole "little girl uses magic to become an idol singer" concept is so fitting, and in such a twisted way. After all, what are idol singers but post-pubescent girls and women who pretend to behave like pre-pubescent children. What better way to create the perfect idol singer than to take an elementary-schooler and give her the body of a teenager? If she's still mentally at an age where she thinks boys have cooties, you won't even need those "no dating" clauses to keep her in line.
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
*sigh* Time to paint a big target on my chest. Time for you to bring out all your rotten fruit. Because seriously, no one wants to hear this. Nobody wants to hear about why Madoka Magica sucks because everyone fucking adores this show. Its fandom is massive and rabid and I’d have to be pretty stupid to invite their wrath. Oh well.

Hell even I like this show. Mostly. But goddamn it, every time I see some reviewer gush over how amazing and perfect it is, it gives me an eye twitch.

Today it was JesuOtaku. I watched her review of PMMM, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a good review and you should watch it, but when she got to the end of the review and started praising the narrative and inevitably gave the show 4 stars out of 4, I just got... eye-twitchy. It was the same feeling I got when I saw Zac Bertschy gave PMMM full marks across the board. These two in particular are both reviewers who tend to have little patience for weepy pandery moe dramas, and yet here they are, watching yet another weepy pandery moe drama and... giving it a glowing review??

So over two years after seeing it for the first time, and after working on this post off-and-on for god knows how long, here’s me, giving my take on this universally beloved show and why I think it’s pretty good but certainly not great and brought down by some pretty glaring flaws.

First off, we have to ask ourselves: why does Madoka Magica exist? Or more specifically: who is it for?

At its core, PMMM is a moe drama just like Uta Kata and Elfen Lied, and the purpose of shows like these is to:

a) present us with a bunch of cute innocent young girls

and

b) beat them with the angsty stick until they cry, thus turning them into adorable helpless woobies that the target audience of adult men can fantasize about hugging and/or boning.

Moe, Agency, Victimhood, Sexism, and Faust )

Writing this post has made me rather depressed, because I really really want to like Madoka Magica. Scratch that, I do like Madoka Magica. Mostly. Because for the most part, it’s a really good show. Art direction, animation styles, cinematography, soundtrack, voice acting — all are absolutely fantastic. I even like a lot of its ideas and some of the execution, and I think it could have been a really brilliant, landmark show. But the core themes and the way it handles them are so damn skeevy that I just... I can’t. I look at this show, and all I feel is disappointment.

And that’s why, whenever I see some intelligent thoughtful reviewer give this thing a perfect score, I feel the need to punch something.

Edit: Whoops, forgot to include my favorite quote about Madoka, from somebody else on Dreamwidth:

It is a work designed to punish its female protagonists for caring and to blame them for their beliefs; everything in it was written with murder in its eyes.

Yep, pretty much. I still like it, but yeah, ick.
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
So how about that bandwagon I recently jumped on? :D

Attack on Titan, aka Shingeki no Kyoujin, is an up-and-coming shonen manga by Hajime Isayama, and when I say "up-and-coming," I mean that it out-sold the top-selling volume of Bleach last year. The story is set in a world that's been overrun by people-eating giants and the last remnants of humanity live cloistered away in a triple-walled city. Fortunately the walls are tall and strong enough to keep the giants out for a hundred years, at which point a much bigger giant shows up, kicks a hole in the outer wall, and lets all its shorter friends into the city to run amok. Our hero, Eren, narrowly escapes the carnage but not before witnessing his mother get eaten by a Titan. Vowing revenge, he decides to join the military; fast-forward five years, and he's done just that. Cue badass fight scenes, inspirational speeches, and lots of bloody gruesome death.

You'd be forgiven for mistaking AoT for a seinen manga — this series is dark with a capital "grim." I've heard it accurately classified as a hybrid of fighting shonen and horror, and the latter is extremely effective in its execution. They say the simplest ideas are the best; AoT takes a very simple idea (giants who eat people) and runs with it.

The horror works well for several reasons. Firstly, the gore. In my experience, graphic violence is usually a detriment in a horror series because it's unsubtle, gross rather than scary, and often gives me the sneaking suspicion that the author is secretly getting off on it. AoT doesn't lovingly zoom in on the gore, but nor does it shy away from it. It just kind of bluntly plops it down in front of you. In the many scenes of Titans eating people, the Titans never treat the human body with any kind of respect or sanctity; they don't neatly swallow us whole or even bother to kill us humanely before chowing down. Instead they tend to treat us like candy bars with legs, calmly grabbing one and biting off whichever end is closest. This casual indifference is a lot more terrifying than if the Titans were to gleefully torture us like trapped insects; we really are nothing more than snacks to them, and this refusal to treat humans as "special" is reflected in how the gore is presented to the audience.

Secondly, the series has a strong element of cosmic horror to it. Humanity is a very small fish in a big incomprehensible pond full of nigh-indestructible sharks that vastly out-gun and probably out-number them. Reclaiming even the smallest amount of land from the Titans is laughably impossible — the best humanity can hope for is to just keep them at bay. And at least in Berserk, the monstrous Apostles had a human-like intelligence and could have a coherent conversation with you while they were trying to eat you. The Titans never speak, they can't be reasoned or connected with, and they give no explanation for their actions. The fact that they look humanoid makes their alien behavior even creepier. Worse still, the humans can't even figure out why the Titans are attacking. We know they survived just fine for 100 years with minimal access to human flesh, so they clearly don't need to eat us, but they never prey on wildlife — they specifically target humans. What do they want from us!? Are we just tasty?

Thirdly, this series has got to be the most trigger-happy manga I've ever read, possibly even moreso than Berserk! There's a palpable sense of dread permeating the whole story, a sense of "oh shit-balls we are sooooo fucked," and that's due in large part to the fact that whenever a Titan shows up, characters die and they die a lot. Background characters die, speaking characters die, secondary characters die — hell, the first volume ends with the hero getting eaten (he gets better). Nobody is safe in this world except for the three leads, maybe. It's like AoT is trying to make up for all those years of Bleach and Naruto refusing to kill anyone. Furthermore, the character deaths are often sudden, senseless, and in vain. There's this chilling scene early in Vol. 1 when a brigade returns from an expedition, having lost 80% of their soldiers in battle, and the mother of one of the fallen practically begs the captain to reassure her that her son died heroically, or that his death at least helped further humanity's cause, and he's forced to admit to her that absolutely nothing was accomplished on their expedition and her son's death was completely pointless. Just human lives down the drain.

As for characters, our heroes are a trio of teenage soldiers consisting of: Eren, the impulsive protagonist driven by REVENGE and a desire to free humanity from its cage and explore the outside world; Mikasa, the stoic hyper-skilled badass who's determined to protect Eren from harm, sometimes at the cost of her better judgement; and Armin, the brainy Non-Action Guy to Mikasa's Action Girl, who spends most of the time being horribly traumatized by all the carnage going on around him. Armin's especially sympathetic because he's painfully aware of just how useless he is in a fight, and his facial expressions aptly sum up the overall tone of the series. *TRAUMA FACE*

Speaking of Mikasa, AoT immediately got into my good books by offering up plenty of genderwin. Nenena already did a post outlining the really basic gender-equal stuff AoT does, which can be summarized as a) no Smurfette Principle, b) unisex military uniforms, c) variety of personality types amongst the ladies, and d) women are just as likely as men to die horribly, but their deaths aren't creepily sexualized. Also, when Isayama did a cover page of Mikasa in a bikini, he drew her with magnificent abs.

There are a couple of flaws to the series, though. Most noticeably, the art kind of sucks. It's still good enough to carry the horror, but I look forward to Isayama improving his skills as the series progresses. Also, the downside of all that horror-inducing character death is that most of the secondaries don't have much chance to get character development or even make much of an impression before they become Titan-chow. Again, I'm guessing this will improve in later volumes.
the_sun_is_up: Yahtzee's speech bubble has been censored by a black bar that has the text "horrible things" written on it. (zero p - horrible things)
Prompted by the MG Project, I've been buying and reading a lot of shojo manga lately. This is unusual for me because I usually approach reading shojo with the same caution I'd use when defusing a bomb. However the Magical Girl genre tends to be on the friendlier, less brain-bleach-necessitating side of shojo, and indeed I've been enjoying myself a lot as I plowed through assorted volumes of Sugar Sugar Rune, Shugo Chara, Sailor V, and Mermaid Melody.

Then I read Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne and I was like "Oh yeah, that's why I hardly ever read shojo. BECAUSE IT IS FREQUENTLY HORRIBLE."

I picked up this title because I'd heard that Arina Tanemura's work tends to be among the more angsty, dark, and subversive in the Magical Girl genre, and KKJ in particular had some later plot twists that really intrigued me. And Tanemura's art is quite good, even if her art style is the most terrifying goddamn thing I've ever seen. It's like shojo on steroids. THE EYES. THEY ARE TOO BIG.

Having finished the series, I find KKJ frustrating because it's such a mixed bag. In fact, I'll break it down:

As a Magical Girl story, it's quite good.
As an epic womance between a magical girl and her muggle bff, or between a magical girl and her mascot mentor, it's also pretty good.
As a het romance, it is freaking awful.

At this point, I'm going to dive into spoiler territory because I can't rant properly otherwise.

KKJ as a het romance — making me throw my book at the wall a lot )

In short, the het romance portion of KKJ is up to its eyeballs in everything I absolutely despise about shojo, which really soured the whole experience for me.

This post is getting long, so next time I'll talk about all the things that KKJ does right, especially in the vein of Dark And Subversive Magical Girl Narratives and Ladies Talking To Each Other And Being Ambiguously Gay.
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
While reading the news today, I found out something very surprising: I am now pregnant.

What's that you say? I'm a pathetic single nerd who lives at a women's college you say? Lesbian pregnancy only exists in bad fanfic and Minecraft you say? Well fuck you, this is AMERICA, the land of opportunity, where you don't even need to have sex to get knocked up. Even virgins can get pregnant here! And by "here" I mean "in the state of Arizona," which is continuing its quest to replace Texas as the most loathed state in the union by passing a new anti-abortion law that defines life as beginning 2 weeks before conception.

Actually as bad as that sounds, the batshit insane pregnant-before-sex stipulation is the least awful part of this law: go here to read a full run-down of all the horrible stuff this thing does.

However, Texas isn't going to take this lying down. It also passed an anti-abortion law two months ago, one of those emotionally manipulative ones that forces a pregnant person to watch a sonogram and hear their doctor describe their fetus. Not only is this cruel to the average unplanned-pregnancy abortion candidate, it's especially cruel to women who want to be pregnant and give birth, but feel compelled to abort because their fetus turns out to have terrible birth defects. You can read one such woman's account of how this law made her ordeal exponentially more painful here.

Guys, I just don't understand this. How has the anti-abortion side gained so much ground in the last few years? What changed since Roe v. Wade that made us start sliding backward at such a drastic rate? And what the fuck is rotten in the state of Arizona? Seems like all the really bad laws are coming from them these days.
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
I always feel bad for posting about depressing stuff on this blog. It's bad enough that I had to hear about the depressing stuff, but now I'm inflicting on you guys as well, like passing on a cold virus. But if I don't write about it, then I just end up stewing over it and making myself more angry. Bleh.

Depressing stuff du jour: I stumbled across a 2-year-old news story about a woman who was fired from her elementary school teaching job after she admitted in a Huffington Post op-ed piece that she had spent one year as a sex worker prior to entering the teaching profession. She didn't tell her students about her past as a sex worker. She didn't fill their innocent heads with sordid tales of whore-dom. She just mentioned it in an op-ed piece, and she signed her name to it because she wanted to demonstrate that she was unashamed of her past. As a result, the Mayor of New York City personally requested that she be fired, no other school district would hire her, and a media frenzy ensued that invaded every aspect of her private life.

The really sad thing is, I bet she could have gotten away with admitting her past and even signing her name if she had acted all like "Oh boo hoo, I only did it because I was desperate and I needed to feed my eight starving children but I hated every second of it and boo hoo prostitution is so horrible and I'm such a poor widdle victim." The only reason she got tarred and feathered so badly is because she had the nerve to not be ashamed. She broke society's rules of How Prostitutes Are Supposed To Act, so it didn't matter that she was a great teacher, it didn't matter that she had left sex work behind her and become a "wholesome" law-abiding member of society, it didn't matter that she'd never been convicted of any crime, nope, she's an evil whore and must be kept away from our kids.

I really have no patience for the people hand-wringing over how having an ex-prostitute for a teacher would corrupt kids. I shouldn't have to explain to anyone why that notion is fucking stupid. The only argument that has the least bit of merit is the one saying that she did something illegal, and we shouldn't be encouraging kids to break the law. Like, would you want an ex-con or an ex-drug dealer teaching your kids? Perhaps not. But to that argument, I would reply that illegal =/= immoral. There are plenty of people out there who have done illegal things because they believed the laws were unjust, and there have been plenty of unjust laws in this country's history.

Also, after reading the comments on the Salon article, I have this to say: I am getting extremely fucking sick of hearing people say "You should have known better" to someone who just got screwed over. Maybe it's because it reminds me of rape apologia — "You should have known better than to wear that skimpy outfit!" Because it's easy, isn't it? It's very easy to kick someone when they're down, it's easy to say "Har har, I'm smarter than you" to someone who is already very aware that they did something stupid that has now ruined their lives. But is it stupid? Is idealism now synonymous with stupidity? Does smug cynicism automatically make you smart? Because that's this woman's only crime: she was stupid enough to think that maybe the world was an awesome enough place that she could be honest about her life and not get raked over the coals for it. She was stupid enough to think that she wouldn't lose her whole career because of something completely unrelated to her job performance. She was stupid enough to think that hiding behind embarrassed anonymity was a bad idea because it would send a negative message. She was stupid enough to think that she could help debunk some toxic stereotypes about sex workers. She was stupid enough to think that she could do some good in the world. Yeah, what an idiot, am I right?

I say this as an admittedly very cynical person: You do not fucking sneer at someone because they had the gall to try and change the world for the better. You do not fucking punish someone or blame them for their misfortunes because they had the nerve to say "Hey, maybe the world is actually an okay place!" So to all those people going "What a dumbass, what was she thinking, she should have known how it would turn out": Y'all can just fuck right off.

Stories like this are what make me think that in feminism, prostitution is the last frontier. By which I mean: prostitution is the thing we're still going to be fighting for even after everything else has been fixed; prostitution is the thing that will be the hardest to change people's minds about, even moreso than rape. In the Salon article, the woman herself points out that a lot of the people who were getting up in her face and shaming her were fellow women, many of whom just couldn't understand how she could consider herself a feminist. Prostitution is something that a lot of women, even women who proudly identify as feminists, still consider shameful, wrong, and degrading, and so for a fellow woman to willingly consent to this shameful, wrong, degrading thing is unforgivable. We as a culture might be becoming more open-minded towards women who have sex and enjoy it, but there's something about women who have sex for money and enjoy it and choose that life, rather than being forced into it under tragic circumstances, that really brings out people's viciously Puritanical sides.

I feel I should also mention: After reading several articles on this subject, I did not see anyone mention the men that this woman serviced during her time as a sex worker. Not their names, not where they lived, nothing about their character or their professions. She lost her career and had her personal info smeared all over the internet. The men who hired her, the ones who participated in her illegal and "immoral" activities? No skin off their noses.

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the_sun_is_up: Panty from PSG wearing glasses. (Default)
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