Thursday, August 30, 2018

Comic Girls is underwhelming (Anime Review)

I kept hearing good things about Comic Girls. After watching it, there's nothing terribly awful about the show, but there's very little that's engaging either.

It's the story of four high-school girls who are all manga artists, ranging from the just-debuted to the serialized, and who find themselves living together in a dorm specifically designed to support aspiring manga artists. The show itself is, I think, supposed to be a cute girls doing cute things cutely show - ie slice of life. Comparables would be something like Minami-ke, K-on, New Game, and A Place Further Than the Universe (all of which are far superior).

Unfortunately, the show is just not well done. The writing is bland, with very little humor. The characters are mostly bland (other than the gender non-conforming Tsubasa) or annoying like the "lead" heroine Kaos who is not a very good mangaka and spends all her time crying, whining, or stressing about not being very good. Not exactly endearing.

The art is pretty terrible. The color scheme is all over the place, visually distracting. The character designs range from bland to annoying, with every hair color imaginable (not necessarily a problem in and of itself, but definitely a problem given the overall too-much-ness of the use of color in the backgrounds). There were also some definitely sloppy moments in the art. One was so egregious, I had to create this series of screen-shots to demonstrate. Basically, the characters in the background of the scene are not proportionately foreshortened and therefore look too tiny. It's subtle at first but follow me:

Here's the original scene. Koyume and Kaos (seated on the floor) just look too tiny to me, particularly Koyume on the left (Kaos is supposed to be tiny compared to the others)

To test this, I drew lines to the vanishing point using furniture that was parallel to the walls, while not perfectly drawn backgrounds, the vanishing point for the walls and furniture was at least relatively consistent. So then I took Koyume and simply raised her up into the vanishing lines of Ruki (in blue on the left). Ruki's vanishing lines were drawn from her head and bottom to the room's vanishing point. At first, it doesn't look like Koyume is out of proportion, but look closer and you'll see it's not her bottom, but actually her thighs that are on Ruki's bottom vanishing point, ie too small.

In this one, I've increased the size of Koyume so that her head and bottom match Ruki's vanishing lines from her head and bottom. It's subtle, but...

Her's what happens when we place the new, larger Koyume back on the ground. Compare to the first picture. Looks better doesn't it? There are things like this throughout the whole series. 
So the writing isn't funny, it's a cute girls doing cute things cutely show so I wasn't expecting much plot (and there isn't), and the art was pretty bad. What about it's depiction of the manga industry? Well, there's a little of that, and a little of the technical work, particularly when the other girls help one of them out as assistants. But compared to Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun which, while also being an amazing satire of shoujo, had some pretty good technical chops, Comic Girls is pretty minimal on industry depth. Also, compared to New Game, a really good, all-female work place, slice of life show - set in the video game industry - Comic Girls comes up lacking. New Game really did a decent job of tracking aspects of how a game is put together and does it with winning characters, particularly the lead (the weakest character in Comic Girls) and some good humor with crisp art.

Okay, so we don't have much about the industry as a selling point. What about the characters? There are four main characters. Our lead is Kaos. She's tiny, she is drawn (and unfortunately acts) much younger than a high-school freshmen. She's not really talented, cries about it all the time, is voiced like an annoying little kid, and simply isn't endearing. We don't really want to fight for her. We do get some sense that she's either attracted to girls or simply turned on by girl-on-girl action, hard to know. But it's not developed or used as anything other than for an occasional side comment. We get no backstory and no character development to speak of. She whines and cries up through the final moments of the last episode.

Her roommate is Koyume. At first she can't draw guys. Eventually she finds herself attracted to Tsubasa, another mangaka in the house, and even though Tsubasa is a girl, Koyume now has someone to base her male characters on (problem solved). Nice to see a little bit of hinted-at yuri done casually. Through much of the show, I was proud that the writers and animators depicted Koyume as slightly not-thin, a bit curvy. She was always depicted eating, but never shy about her body, and in fact her curves were complimented by the other girls. When posing for one of Ruki's manga, we even see her belly hanging a bit over her underwear line, you know, like a real gosh-darn person! So nice to see other body types represented and praised in anime! BUT, they ruined it in one episode where for some reason the writers decide that she's going to struggle fitting into clothes, she imagines herself fat and unable to draw because of it, and then goes on all sorts of diets and exercise, loses weight, which kills her mood, and she goes back to drawing once she goes back to eating. It was a weird episode of mixed messages that undid the good that was previously done. In addition, Koyume doesn't really have a personality other than being hungry, sort of in love with Tsubasa, and really kind and friendly. Boring; and we learn nothing about her throughout the show.

Ruki appears to be the put-together, sensible one. However, it turns out she's accidentally good at drawing really "pervy" (as they describe it) manga. So even though she's clean cut, she's pretty much always drawing sex scenes. This leads to some nice embarrassments and a few jokes. She has some potential as a character. But ultimately, we don't learn anything about her either. That's it. She's nice, smart, kind, thoughtful, draws sexy manga. The end.

Then, we get to Tsubasa. The only interesting character in the whole thing. Wonderfully voice acted, Tsubasa is a girl who draws Shounen manga, cosplays, likes to see herself as the strong hero, has a princely vibe with the other girls (we totally get why Koyume swoons over her) and has a somewhat funny backstory of coming from a rich family where she has to pretend she still has long hair and wear dresses even though normally she wears neutral or boy-ish clothing and has short hair. She's kind and sweet but in a take-charge, protector sort of way, she's quite frequently the glue to scenes or whole episodes and is by far the strongest written character in the show. She ultimately seems to be the only one with any sense about her. I wish we had more of her.

Basically, it's a pretty middling show. Not awful, not hard to watch, just not much to speak of either. So to conclude this review, I've tried to catalog every funny line in the entire 12 episode series. I've decided not to give you the background on each line, so enjoy them for what they're worth. Sadly, there were many episodes without a single funny line. But maybe, if you find these inherently funny, you'll want to watch the show despite my critique.

"Flowers are blooming in the battle scene."

"The protagonists of my manga get stung by bugs a lot."

"I want to be scolded by the beautiful teacher too."

"You're so nervous. You must've been through some really scary things. You're such a failure!"

"Just color this cute little bunny instead."

"Oh so it's a computer chair."

"Then I have nothing to worry about...except everything!"

"...or the day my doggy died back home, I kept drawing pervy manga, even though I was crying."

"I don't want to ever forget this view from today. The blue sky, the white clouds, and... Rukki's sketchbook being washed away by the waves."

"I also got a sudden request for an illustration, or not. But my manuscript...actually doesn't have a  date...My cold...is actually all better now...My leg...Yes, my leg hurts..."

"Not to mention, Senpai isn't a ghost to begin with, so that's just rude!"

"The flawless teacher has a thing for kneecaps."

"Manga artists pretty much make a living doing something shameful. We're all a disgrace!"

"Is this a pen?"

"Is the perviest thing you can think of a panty shot, Kaos-sensei?"

"Are you still asleep? This isn't so bad..."

So there you have it. These lines did bring a smile back as I thought about the context of each, it's just unfortunate than in a 12 episode comedy/slice-of-life series, these are the ONLY funny moments. Mix that with mediocre art, no character development, and nothing else of interest, and it's just sort of boring. Comic Girls: 5/10

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno is a sympathetic and mature Josei manga (Manga Review)

In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno
I owe Hideaki Anno my life. It sounds a little extreme to say it, but it's true. The creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion and the director of Kare Kano amongst others single handedly helped me survive my worst period of depression. He doesn't know it, but he has my (and my family's) undying thanks.

So when I found out that his wife, Moyoco Anno, is a mangaka, I was more than curious about her works. Although I found her through her husband, her career certainly stands on its own, and I'm sorry I didn't discover her until now. The first of her works I picked up was In Clothes Called Fat. I settled on this for two reasons: one, the cover artwork is startling and affecting. Two, because it is one of her more available titles in the U.S and a single-volume story.

It's the story of a woman who is not skinny, dating a man for 8 years who likes that about her, and is bullied at work by the skinny bitches, one ring-leader in particular. 

The artwork is fluid in a way that will be comfortable to readers of American graphic novels but distinct from the commercialized forms of manga more typical of what is translated for the American market. It's wonderful how especially in the last year (although this is a 2014 publication) we've seen a much broader representation of the Japanese manga oeuvre translated into English giving readers a greater understanding of the visual variety within the whole of manga. It's about time and that's thanks to the ever growing market for manga in the U.S. (maybe as readers from the 90s age into adults and new younger readers catch on) and that makes me happy on many levels.

I have never been overweight, or even close. So I don't pretend to review this work from a direct personal perspective, but more from a sympathetic one. I have been bullied, a lot when I was younger. But also as someone who never fit comfortably in their own skin, who looked in a mirror and saw a stranger looking back, who couldn't find a groove with other people in social situations, and who has turned to food for comfort or release, or any number of other reasons other than sustenance, I can empathize with much of this story. As I imagine, many people can. I say that because I hope that people who have never struggled with weight or an eating disorder also read this.

That being said, In Clothes Called Fat doesn't provide any answers. This is no self-help book, there is no perfect, clean ending; this isn't a rom-com. This would be closer to a more painful, and intimate, slice-of-life story than anything. It doesn't really resolve much. We are left to ponder that our lead character is likely to experience ups and downs throughout the rest of her life and wish her the best in surrounding herself with people who genuinely like her as a person so that she may experience some healing. But we can't even be sure of that.

We get some glimpses into her childhood, some understanding of a few parts of her adult life, but not enough to be an arm-chair psychologist, nor should we. Anno doesn't want us uncovering the answers in her text or art just as she's not interested in giving us those answers. This is a story of a human going through a painful human thing, told simply and with relatively spare, but powerful art. 

In Clothes Called Fat also isn't perfect. I felt that one of the side characters, someone who comes to our lead's aid at work was a little too off-the-beaten-path, it broke some realism for me. I also wondered how much of the primary antagonist's actions (the work bully) I should view as real, or more metaphorical for what our lead feels and perceives. If I judged this work as purely realistic, then some of the characterizations were a bit over-dramatized. But if each character is both person and reflection of our lead's inner-emotions/perceptions, then that vividness makes more sense. Personally, I would have liked the story to be a bit subtler and more meditative, maybe even more psychologically robust, but that's me. 

Overall, this is a work adults should read. I think it falls squarely in the Josei genre as it's geared for adults and for people sympathetic and interested in the adult female experience. I would not be comfortable letting my 14-year-old read this yet. The art is perfect for it, with plenty of curves in the linework which emphasizes the lead's own perceptions of her body in contrast to how others see her. However, the storytelling doesn't have as much depth or nuance as I would have loved in the topic and that holds the score back slightly. This is a strong 7/10.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Links for Breakfast

Happy Sunday! I'll have at least one manga and one anime review coming this week. But to tide you over, here are some great reads from elsewhere on the internet:

I try not to get political on this blog, BUT, this was too funny not to post (and as an educator, I shared it with many of my colleagues). It compares Betsy Devos' education policy to her architectural and interior design sense: https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/8/6/17654434/betsy-devos-yacht-mcmansion-hell

I love miniatures. It reminded me of the Thorne Miniatures at the Chicago Institute of Art. Beautiful: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/memory-in-miniature

This is parenting: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/this-6-year-old-ordered-dollar350-worth-of-barbies-from-amazon-here%E2%80%99s-what-her-parents-did-with-them/ar-BBMjZMD?li=BBnbcA1&ocid=mailsignout

Another critical appraisal of Love Simon that speaks to the challenges both my daughter and I experienced watching it: https://electricliterature.com/love-simon-makes-being-a-gay-teen-seem-normal-and-thats-where-it-fails-4bdea8308327

Some great writing advice: https://electricliterature.com/10-questions-about-teaching-writing-with-lynn-steger-strong-41e07a302bee

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Friday, August 24, 2018

The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien gives us an honest to goodness REAL young woman to root for (Book Review)

The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien
My old, used, yellowing copy
I find books to read by reading lists of books that people think I should read. I like reading what other people consider their best or favorite books. Reading why they like them tends to help me make an accurate determination of whether I should read it (particularly when they talk about the author's craft). Somewhere along the way a list I encountered mentioned The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien. I'd never heard or her, but now that I have, I've already bought several more of her works.

The Country Girls is part of a trilogy of books including The Lonely Girl and Girls in their Married Bliss. For some reason, the three titles together remind me of the way Laura Ingalls Wilder titled her books and gives me a nice warm feeling. That bit of unrelated randomness aside, I'll start with reviewing The Country Girls but I will most definitely read the other two and post my thoughts here as I do.

The Country Girls is the story of Caithleen and her friend Baba, teens in Ireland at some indiscriminate point after WWII. It was written in 1960 and apparently banned in Ireland before ultimately winning awards. When I've talked other times on this blog as well as in my day job in education about the way we've neglected female authors, queer authors, authors of color, and authors from non-English speaking countries in our children's education, this book serves as a perfect example of what gets lost. Here we have an honest depiction of a real teen girl's internal and external life written by a female author and somehow I had never heard of this before I was in my late thirties (not okay). It's the story of a real teenager with all the imperfections, foibles, follies, stupid decisions, horrors, joys, and in-betweens that go along with that time in life. A time in life that gets celerated in boys, both in the real world and in literature, and nearly forgotten, or crudely drawn, for young women. Combine that importance with an easy writing style that makes the book a pleasure to read, and you have a truly valuable literary experience that should have a place in our young adults' education, personal libraries, and minds.

I won't get into the plot details, but suffice it to say Caithleen comes from a poor farming family with a drunk father who looses money on frivolous things. The book also presents a range of people she comes into contact with, a tragedy, and moving from grade-school to high-school and a little bit beyond. We also spend time with Baba, who is not necessarily a very nice person, but who serves as a very real anchor point for Caithleen throughout.

Caithleen is the heroine that we have needed in that she is not perfect, nor presented in some idealized fashion, nor a manic dream pixie, nor an angel sullied by the horrors of men (think Tess). This isn't some author's belief about what a woman should be. This is a woman author talking about what a young woman is. How literature has missed this (or at least sorely under represented and taught those that do exist). Caithleen has wonderful qualities, and she also has flaws. She makes some good decisions and she makes some bad ones (often in concert with Baba). She has a heart that sends her into some interesting directions with a man that she aught not to have much to do with and yet the stakes are kept comparatively low. And every last moment is utterly believable (Sorry, Martha, for stealing your favorite word, but it worked here!).

This isn't a book of big things, big stories, and big plot. Nor is it a book of big emotions, big revelations, or big ideas. This is a book about a very real person doing very real things that at the time simply weren't talked about (making it ground-breaking in the 1960s) that for some reason still feels like we aren't talking about now, almost 60 years later. It still feels ground-breaking to have a novel, featuring a teenage girl, who does and thinks the things teenagers do and doesn't pathologize, romanticize, or deify the actions or the girl doing them. Caithleen is relatable to any teen now and to anyone who happened to be a teen at some prior point in their lives.

I think back to all the books and movies about teens that simply cannot seem to understand how a teenage girl actually is in the world (ahem, I'm looking at you Paper Towns) and thankful for the occasional one that gets it right (Thirteen - although, thankfully this isn't every teen girl's story either or we'd all be in trouble). (I also think about all the male artists and animators who draw women as if they haven't ever actually seen one - I mean come'on, how can you take Lauren Mayberry and Haley Williams, two of the most beautiful and talented women, and make them look that disfigured?). Anyway, I digress. The Country Girls is a book that effortlessly presents a real young woman's life and perspectives without any over-dramatization.

The only real flaw I found was that it ended too soon for me. My version runs 175 pages and feels longer than a novella and shorter than a novel and the ending doesn't feel fulfilling as a conclusion to a novel. However, knowing that Caithleen's story continues in two more novels gives me hope that the three together will feel more complete. For anyone reading it without the luxury of knowing that two more would be written, the ending could be both jarringly swift and open-ended enough to cause frustration. I wonder if she had always planned for it to be a trilogy?

This book is a solid 7/10 and that score is low only because of the incomplete feeling of the book's rapid and unfinished-feeling ending. After reading the other two in the series, it is quite possible that the collective score would approach an 8 or even a 9 as the writing, characters, emotions, and purpose of the books is certainly worthy of being considered a classic.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Wandering Son Volume 2 finally arrives!

Somehow this is so fitting to be the 50th post on this blog. Today, my copy of Wandering Son volume 2 finally arrived. It's been a long search for a copy.

Here's the details if you don't know: Wandering Son is a landmark LGBTQ manga by Takako Shimura (also from Sweet Blue Flowers) that features trans and gender-non-conforming lead and side characters in the most beautiful, sensitive, honest story. When it was picked up by Fantagraphics for release in the US it got a hardcover release with gorgeous paper. Unfortunately, only the first 8 volumes were ever translated and released. However, you can catch much of the second arc in the anime version.

Unfortunately, it was already out of print by the time I discovered it and so I read it only in the copies that I could find for reasonable prices used. Sadly, volume 2 was always way out of my price range, recently hitting hundreds of dollars on Amazon and Ebay. The more I looked into this, it seemed there was an unspoken pricing unison happening where every seller was selling it for nearly the same price and all for crazy sums. What gives?

However, I was patient, and every week I would check all the sites including the amazing bookfinder.com which if you don't already use, you should! One day, I saw the price on a whole bunch had dropped to less than $100. My first temptation was to buy a copy then, but I thought to myself "I bet they lowered the price because no one was buying them at the sky-high prices, I bet if I wait, it will keep going down." Well, sure enough it did, to the point where I got it for barely above cover price. I decided I couldn't wait any longer and didn't want to miss my chance even if the price did continue to drop. (I noticed today, that it was already back up to about $15 more than I paid)

Well, today it arrived! I'm so happy to be able to finally read the whole thing. Having volumes 1, 3-8 but not 2 was jarring and now I can read the whole (at least what has been published) story (and watch the anime for the conclusion). I hope you already have your copies, but if not, the prices are reasonable (and if they aren't, just keep searching!) Also, I'm sure if your library doesn't have a copy you can get it through inter-library loan (an underutilized service). Here's some pics of my joy:

Wandering son by Takako Shimura
Just out of the mail, in pretty great condition other than a bent corner.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura
So hard to tell, but the paper is thick with a great tooth to it. Very high quality.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura
Here they are on my shelf, reunited, volumes 1-8! (Notice Sweet Blue Flowers,
Honey & Clover and others)

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bloom Into You Volume 1 is forgettable, bland, and maybe a bit disingenuous (Manga Review)


Yuu and Nanami from Bloom Into You Volume 1Finally catching up on a yuri manga series that I'd been putting off reading, Bloom Into You by Nakatani Nio and published in the US by Seven Seas. One of the biggest reasons I didn't jump to read it right away was the cover art, I could tell it just wasn't my style. It's more cute than realistic and I tend to like a very "traditional" shoujo aesthetic in manga art. The cover style is indicative of the internal art, which while well-done, just doesn't do it for me. It doesn't distract me though, so it's not a big deal, but it's not a selling point either.

Bloom Into You Volume 1 introduces us to High School freshmen Yuu who half-heartedly volunteers to help the student council where she meets Nanami, a fellow student council member. Nearly right off the bat, Nanami confesses to being in love with Yuu. Yuu has been clear to herself and others that she's just not really thinking about love, it just doesn't seem to be on her radar. The title then suggests that over time she will "bloom" and fall in love with Nanami.

I've got some problems with this setup, and I think I might tread on some controversial ground here, so please presume that I mean the best if I do misspeak. Also, please feel free to help me straighten out my thoughts, but here goes: I'm not sure that in a society like Japan's, that tends to be pretty closed and skeptical of the LGBTQ community, that a high-school girl would confess to someone she's barely just met and who has shown no signs of interest at all. It's also pretty forward of Nanami to kiss Yuu especially given that Yuu has done nothing to indicate reciprocal feelings. If a man did this, we would definitely be off-put, but somehow it doesn't read that way here, why?

Here's where I'm going to get a bit controversial, bear with me. Given the title and the suggestion that Yuu will "bloom" into having feelings for Nanami, we get a familiar trope in the yuri scene that is a little concerning to me. Why does it just so happen that the girl who gets confessed to, who has no interest in love at all, will actually happen to be lesbian or bi by the end of the series (I'm assume that she eventually falls for Nanami)? It seems a bit convenient that Nanami would confess to someone who ultimately turns out to like girls as well.

The flip side: why do I consider that strange at all? If a guy confessed to a girl and she rejected him at first, we wouldn't presume it was because she didn't like guys so why am I presuming that Yuu doesn't like girls just because she doesn't reciprocate to Nanami right off the bat? Does this speak to an underlying subconscious bias I harbor about what is "normal" or the "default" (straight)?  I'm not proud that this subconscious bias might be coming into play, but I also feel protective of the LGBTQ community and don't want real people's true selves to be diminished by wishy-washy narratives.

Here's my concern: Is it okay to assume that Yuu will fall in love with Nanami simply because Nanami pays her a lot of attention? I worry that this might give fuel to those who insist (wrongly) on asserting that sexual orientation is a choice. Where there's no indication that Yuu has ever had an interest in girls or even self-doubts about anything related, the fact that she'll fall in love just because of Nanami's effort feels concerning. However, this is supposition, because I haven't read the next volumes and maybe the author will write a convincing emotionally-true arc for Yuu's coming out.

Yet, I'm still concerned and looking at some other Yuri manga might illuminate those concerns. For example, how is this set-up different than the one in Sweet Blue Flowers? On a couple levels: 1) in SBFs Akira really does struggle with her sexuality and we hear her inner monologue as she asks the questions about just what type of feelings she has for Fumi; 2) Fumi and Akira have a long history together that suggests that at least Fumi's love had time to develop - in Bloom into You, Nanami confesses multiple times and steals that kiss without really knowing much about Yuu at all; 3) SBFs leaves the ending somewhat unresolved, but also gives us a lot to ponder about Akira's sexuality and potential asexuality, and how that might come into play when deciding who to partner with; I don't get the sense that we'll get that level of nuance and complexity in Bloom Into You.

Let's look at how Bloom Into You compares to Kase-san (Kase-san and Morning Glories, etc...). In Kase-san, we have two girls and we learn from each of them that they've been watching the other person. They take time to get to know each other and become friends and they each give the other plenty of signs that there is attraction to warrant the eventual confessions (and the requisite coming-out that this entails, perhaps unfairly so, for those who are part of the LGBTQ community). This too is strikingly different than Bloom Into You which again features a confession to a near stranger, which means letting Yuu know that Nanami is gay which would not be easy to admit in Japan (and most of the US as well) even though Yuu has given no signals that she might even potentially reciprocate. Despite the lack of reciprocation, Nanami continues to force her feelings on Yuu.

So my concern with how this story starts is that one girl randomly confesses to a near perfect stranger who has no discernible interest in girls nor has ever seemed to sense anything "different" about herself and yet we're all but predestined to see them eventually get into a relationship with each other. This can be cute and rewarding at a superficial level and that's okay. But I do worry that it cheapens the experience of people in the LGBTQ community and the much more complex narratives of their real lives.  

Overall it's as if someone took a generic shoujo manga with a boy who falls for a girl and decided it should be two girls. I hope one day that we arrive in a society where we have that level of narrative acceptance where that story doesn't strike me as contrived when it's girl and girl. But given the social stigmas, the complexity of coming out, the complexity of self-realization, the relative imbalance numerically between those who are "straight" and those who are gay/lesbian/bi/pan, and the unrealistic nature in general of someone in high-school confessing to a near stranger, I felt that this set-up rang hollow.

All that aside, the actual story was also pretty non-descript. We don't really get to know much about either character, although we get the sense that Nanami is more complex than her tall, athletic, perfect, dark-haired stock look would attest. We also get a couple of nice lines that show the author has some writing chops. But between the bland artwork, no real character depth, a forgettable supporting cast, and a random confession between near strangers, it isn't a real strong start. Not awful, not disagreeable, and has some charm, but not amazing by any stretch.

So where will Bloom Into You go in successive volumes? Will it pull together a rough and somewhat bland start into a winning and heart-felt narrative? Will we come to know the characters and thus care about what happens? Will Yuu's eventual (probable) falling in love with Nanami make emotional sense with what we know about real human beings, or will it be perfunctory because it's been predetermined by the type of story this is? I'll let you know.

Bloom Into You Volume 1 gets a 6/10, maybe worth checking out if you like yuri, especially of the shoujo variety, but don't expect to be blown away.  It's cute, but not special in any way.


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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Flip flappers animators cross the line and ruin what could have been a great show (Anime Review)

Flip Flappers Cocona and Papika
Cocona and Papika

I'd heard about Flip Flappers for a while but continued to resist watching it. When I opened it up on Crunchyroll last week I remembered why. When looking at the art they chose to promote it, it appears highly sexualized. Thankfully, overall, that turned out to be a mis-representation of the show and yet it also is an interesting clue into what this show really is and who it is for.

The entire time I was watching Flip Flappers I had one recurrent question: Is this a children's show or an adult show? It is certainly not unusual in anime to have an adult show with middle-school aged characters, but more often than not I was pleasantly surprised that Flip Flappers actually seemed to be a show for children about children. Mostly, it had the right mix of fun, action, irrepressible characters, and an art style that supported a child-age demographic. However, there were some concerning aberrations from this.

Every so often in the show, a choice by the animators would have me questioning whether Flip Flappers really was an anime for children. Not in the same way that the nearly unrivaled Puella Magi Madoka Magica did, because that was clearly meant as a subversive take on the magical girl genre for older audiences, and it succeeded incredibly at that. No, this was more like: here's a nice happy-go-lucky kids show and don't look too close but here's some middle-school girl crotch for you, or here's a robot making lecherous advances on nearly naked women, or here's a completely unnecessary shower scene, or a phallic looking joystick in a mecha being squeezed by a girl in a close-up shot, or this character's power comes from her upper thigh, or WHAT THE HELL IS SHE WEARING? (Yeah, I'm talking to you, third child that appears out of nowhere in the last few episodes - I mean, it's skimpier than underwear in the front and we get regular butt crack - NOT OKAY).

So the fact that Crunchyroll used promo art that shows clear middle-school girl cleavage/side-boob on a show that is 99% pure tells us that the 1% that isn't pure is exactly who this show is really for. That doesn't mean real kids can't enjoy it, and it doesn't mean honorable adults can't watch it, so long as we're doing it with a critical eye. Let's look quickly at the differences between the art in the show and the promotional art:

Flip Flappers Cocona and Papika
Here's a shot from early in the series. Cute, modest, fun!
Flip Flappers promo art
Here's the promotional art used on Crunchyroll. Notice the side-boob,
they're wet in water, the high slits on the thighs, etc...
Flip Flappers Cocona Papika and Yayaka
Here's a shot from the show.
flip flappers box set art
And here's the box set, also with art that looks nothing like the
series and is clearly meant to further sexualize the characters.

 What message does it send when we let a robot (who we can assume is male) have several instances of making google-eyed faces at scantily clad women? Instead of those costumes being female empowerment choices made by individual women based on how they want to present themselves, it becomes clear that the costume choices were made by animators for the purpose of titillation. There can be no excusing or hand-wringing, or plausible deniability on the grounds that there is nothing objectively wrong about skin and naked bodies other than what puritanical society has created because now you have put in a robot who leers at them. We now understand, through his surrogacy, that we should leer too. We have now just instructed every male (young or old) who watches this show that women can be objectified and we've instructed every female (young or old) who watches this show that times still haven't changed and they still must be afraid for their bodies around men who cannot be asked to control their most animal instincts. Stupid writers/animators.

However, that was 1% of the show. What about the other 99%? Well, it was okay. Not as great as the potential plot setup would suggest, but probably worth watching. Cocona is a middle-school student who meets the manic-pixie-dream-girl (yes, it's still a thing) Papika and enters a strange parallel universe called Pure Illusion with her to find fragments of something that will apparently grant them wishes. Cocona intermittently questions why she's doing this, given that they really can get hurt. But I wondered why Cocona doesn't question the strange and dark Mr. Salt who is their boss and why she would work for his organization, Flip Flap, without proof that they're the "good guys?" Especially when it turns out her best friend Yayaka (maybe the best character in the series) is working for another faction. How does she know Yayaka isn't with the good guys and Papika is with the bad guys? The only real conclusion I can draw is that Cocona is somehow infatuated with Papika in a way she has yet to admit to herself.

That's actually the context in which I first heard about Flip Flappers, as a yuri-baiting experience. Without spoiling anything too much, there are certainly plenty of moments when Papika seems to express genuine love, leaning slightly towards the romantic (if only vaguely) for Cocona. Cocona barely seems to want to be real friends, until she gets jealous, that is. However, other than occasionally telling each other they love each other and a little hand holding, there is no yuri. Sadly, very little of their connection with each other gets explored. We are given historical information by the end that cements their connection, but not a lot of actual day-to-day interactions that would suggest a growing friendship or even an eventual romantic one. This writing too suggests more of a children's show than a developed adult show.

I did love the hand-drawn aesthetic of the art. It's not all full of CGI, even in the action scenes. I like that it looks like a cartoon. I have to admit too that Papika is completely winning as a character, you just can't help but want to follow her. I also like that Cocona's grandmother is in a wheelchair, we see so few people with disabilities in any show, let alone in anime. I'm not a huge magical girl fan, but at least the monster-of-the-week thing here was more of "universe-of-the-week" and so the adventures were a bit more varied. I do think the transformation scenes were also a bit too risquรฉ if this is a children's cartoon (as in, they should already have underwear on during the transformation - but no, alas, here they are naked and then the underwear appears in a full-screen butt shot, sigh).

So what do we really have in Flip Flappers? Some good magical girl adventures, a couple good characters, interesting art, a family plot that I won't give away that drives the end of the story and has some interesting nuggets, but overall a show that doesn't really explore any significant emotional connections or growth. Relationships are very superficially established and yet the final arc hinges on believing these relationships are that intense. It wasn't a bad show, it might even have been a good show, but it wasn't a great show, and yet it COULD have been. It was sooooo close.

If I were rating this as a kid's show, I'd give it a 7/10 (it would be higher if not for the sexualization). But rating it as an adult show, I think I need to give it a 5.5/10 for its lack of depth and for the subtle, not-so-subtle, adult sexualizing of middle-schoolers that crops up at points. I mean, imagine if stuff like that cropped up in Fineas and Ferb? Never would happen, so why is this okay in anime? It's not. We don't have to excuse it and I won't even call it culturally-bound because cultures are allowed to change and it's time to stop sexualizing youth in anime.

Where we can hopefully excuse an adult viewer as a critical viewer who can separate out any value a show might have from its problematic points. But we cannot assume that children are critical consumers of media and imagery. Therefore, this exposure to sexualization and the male gaze places these developmentally fragile children in harm's way (both girls and boys who are each learning different things about how the world works from these exposures).

Skin and nudity aren't the problem. There is nothing objectively wrong or sexual about the human body. It is the overt use of props, clothes, imagery, and actions that directly call for sexual arousal or that hint at the legacies of pervasive male dominance and loss of sexual and bodily agency by women that must be seriously rethought. I'd love to see an edit of Flip Flappers where those issues are removed. They are so few overall in the show, but broke the spell for me each time and truly ruined my experience with this show.

For a great, and slightly different take on this series, that still references some of the same critical problems, check out this review on www.anime-evo.net: http://www.anime-evo.net/2016/12/30/flip-flappers-13-series-finale-review/

Here's a fascinating look at Flip Flappers from an animator's view of how it fails to provide emotional expression in the facial animation: https://wavemotioncannon.com/2016/12/20/how-flip-flappers-gets-expressions-wrong/


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Monday, August 13, 2018

Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey uses beautiful poetry to reveal the moral failings of Odysseus (Book Review)


I had never read The Odyssey, the Homeric Greek epic detailing Odysseus' travels back to Ithaca from the Trojan War. In my college classics class I read the Aeneid instead and honestly, even though I knew a few stories from The Odyssey (the sirens, the cyclops), I just wasn't that interested. What changed was an article about Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey. It was about a year and a half ago (I ultimately got the book for Christmas 2017 and just read it now) that I read about Emily Wilson being the first female translator of The Odyssey into English and that her translation was supposedly an attempt to render the text in a way that captured more of the nuance of Greek meaning with less  white, European, maleness plastered on top as had been the norm for several thousands of years worth of translations.

That alone would probably have been enough to pique my interest, however, in the article (lost to me now, probably in Smithsonian magazine or maybe this one at Vox), they quoted her translation of the first line: "Tell me about a complicated man." And proceeded to discuss just how startling a change that was from prior translations. Not only would this be perhaps a more balanced, maybe faithful (maybe not) translation, but it would also contain something of nuance that was missing from many others.

I didn't know much, certainly not what I know now, about Odysseus, but it is clear that not only was he a complicated man, but that he was living in a time whose norms of behavior present significant challenges for us now when deciding just how to represent this epic and whether it still holds value. Is it considered a classic simply because it is old? Is it a classic because there are values within it that we still want to cherish (perhaps much much less so in this translation)? Is it a classic because of its beautiful writing (perhaps much much more so in her translation)? Should its revered place in the cannon of western literature be rethought in light of modern values (probably, along with many other traditional works of literature we foist on our children in school rather than the providing them access to the rich and varied literature of a wider human diaspora that is out there)?

The easy part of this review, then, is discussing the translation itself. What Emily Wilson has accomplished is breathtaking. She has chosen to translate The Odyssey into Iambic Pentameter, perhaps best known as the rhythm of Shakespeare. This was a brilliant decision for at least two reasons: 1) it is a lyrical meter without being sentimental, and 2) it is a comfortable meter for many in the western audience who would be familiar with Shakespeare's rhythms and the unrhymed verse as well as far less comfortable reading something in the original dactylic hexameter. Readers are transported into a literate and artful mindset simply through the meter thus reducing the need for the words themselves to provoke that framework in the reader.

But her verse goes far beyond the meter. Her language is clear, simple (without being simplistic), and direct so that the reader never has to search for meaning in such a way as to break the narrative or emotional power of the scene. Nor does she add any artifice or affectation in order to "make" it seem more epic or grand; it does not need that, as a world-and-heavens spanning saga filled with gods and monsters (and men who are monstrous) it is epic in scope and story.

Perhaps the highest height of poetry is when the words disappear and are effortless in the beauty of their choosing and Emily Wilson's text does this magnificently. Does she write poetry for fun? I'd be curious to see her original works if she does, because to accomplish this translation, she would have to have an artist's soul. This is not a dry and academic translation, nor as said before, is it one of unnecessary flourishes. Let me be clear then, it is worth reading if for no other reason than the joy of reading beautiful text. That is often my reason for loving a book, when I love the author's prose. Emily Wilson has done that with a stale old Greek epic and it deserves to be the translation people read if they decide the tale is worth their time (for a good additional look at her textual decisions,go here).

And therein is the challenge, the complexity, of The Odyssey. Probably no clearer before than in her new version, Odysseus is an asshole. Not because she makes him out to be, not because she warps her text or the stories narrative to frame him as such. But because of her clear and plain (but beautiful) words, it becomes painfully obvious that Odysseus's actions do not deserve our adulation or our emulation.

He is not a hero, although he has been praised as such for thousands of years. He is a man who filled with greed and hubris and privilege and self-import makes dozens upon dozens of terrible decisions, decisions for which so many others lose their lives (I'm thinking of all his poor men), and in the end, although he doesn't have it easy, he still comes out alive, married, wealthy, and in power. What should we make of someone who exemplifies every basic fault of decency and yet has thousands of years of hero-worship venerating him? Yes indeed, this is the story of a complicated man and our complicated values for men.

This was The Odyssey I didn't know. I knew he lashed himself to the ship's mast so the sirens couldn't tempt him. I didn't know it was done so that he didn't have to put wax in his ears like his crew. Why didn't he? Because he is deemed "special" and so the gods allow him to hear the sirens beautiful song even though his crew is not special enough to be given that opportunity.

I knew of his daring escape from the cyclops by hiding under the bellies of sheep, but I did not know that he didn't have any need to get his men eaten by the cyclops in the first-place. Had he not been so hell-bent on proving his manhood by looking for treasure and boasting of protection by the gods those men would be alive.

What about the Odysseus who spent years with two different divine women, clearly sleeping with them the whole time, instead of more fervently attempting to return to his wife? Why doesn't anyone fault his infidelity when, as we will discuss later, women are held to a far different standard? What about the Odysseus who makes mention of sacking various towns along his early route home, including raping and murdering the women, simply to gain more treasure to bring back to his already heaping piles (piles that sustain multitudes of lascivious suitors for 20 years)? It is presented in the epic as if this were: a) a norm and b) something praiseworthy. Yes, the rape, slaughter, and robbery of innocent civilians as a basis for Odysseus legendary status in his time and ours says a lot.

Then, there are all the various missions, excursions, and other dangers he puts his men through on the return trip. These are undertaken only because Odysseus is there, only because he is deemed special, but because he is cursed to suffer every one of his men must die on his account. Why is he so special that others must die so that only he may make it home?

I would be remise to not discuss the famous scene where, upon finally returning to Ithaca, he, his son, and two farm-hands kill the suitors who have squandered his wealth while trying to marry his wife. I certainly am not a fan of ruthless murder, but perhaps I can forgive it in the context of a thousands of years old story if those were the traditional criminal penalties for what the suitors had done. However, it is made plainly clear by Odysseus himself that what he did was wrong and that he must flee for his life for having committed those murders. Only the intervention of Zues, himself, reconciles the Ithacans to allow Odysseus to live, and remain their king. He is allowed a free pass for his murderous, illegal act, because he is "exceptional."

But of course, no one mourns the slave women he slaughters. It is unclear, as it is described in different language at different parts of Emily Wilson's text, whether the women have slept willingly or were raped by the suitors, but either way, Odysseus has them summarily executed by hanging and everyone is okay with this, men and women alike.

There are many situations in life where  we could take an historical/cultural lens to understand the context of one's actions, however we need not take that lens in order to excuse them and champion this person now. So while murdering rich men was wrong, murdering enslaved women was apparently not. By continually perpetuating the belief that Odysseus is one of "our" great heroes, we are sanctioning his actions as emblematic of heroism. I see no need to continue to reinforce that viewpoint. Odysseus is an asshole, a misogynist, and frankly, with the lies, warped beliefs about himself, nationalism and other horrible characteristics, reminds me much more of a certain, sick, current US president than any hero I can think of.

And so this complicated man, if we are to continue using The Odysssey as a foundational text in western literature, must be presented as such in our discourse. He should not be studied uncritically, or the textual qualities of the writing be divorced from his actions and the plot. He is not a hero and never was one. He is a rich, spoiled, privileged, misogynistic, boastful, lying, murderer.

What value then does The Odyssey have if we view its main character through that lens? Well, we thankfully have Emily Wilson's beautiful poetry. Without that, I really would have been happy to have never read The Odyssey.  Now, I must reconcile a new complication (Thanks, Emily!), what to do with a beautifully written text with a problematic (and unlikable) lead character and (both stupid and horrid) plot that weaves a story with no sound moral compass, thus leaving me unfulfilled from a narrative standpoint? (Go here for a good conversation with Emily Wilson about her views on Penelope as less of a feminist icon than we might hope for).

Emily Wilson's translation is an easy 9/10, however, the story is a clear 3/10 ("unacceptable moral content") and so rendering an overall rating of this work is nearly impossible. You'll need to decide where you place your value as a reader in order to evaluate whether you should read this or not: on beautiful text and writing or narrative engagement and value-alignment within a story. I'm glad I read it if only for her poetry, the only uncomplicated thing about this very complicated epic.


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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hatsu Haru (Hatsu*Haru) volume 1 is exactly what you'd want in a shoujo manga (manga review)

Hatsuharu vol. 1
Well, it's pretty much what I wanted anyway! :) I'm not sure how I stumbled on it, probably a recommendation from Amazon, but Hatsu Haru (styled Hatsu*Haru) volume 1 was just recently published by Yen Press and so I picked it up spontaneously, not knowing anything about it other than the genre. Glad I did, it's a perfect summer read.

According to amazon this is book 1 of 4 in the series and I'm definitely going to get the second one, so stay tuned. As for the story, Kai is your typical, beautiful ladies' man of a high-schooler. Riko was a transfer student when he was younger and they've often been in the same classes. She's popular with the girls as being both cute and confident but she takes out all her aggression on Kai for various stupid things he does. He can't even see her as a girl, she's just someone getting in the way of his flirting with the other girls.

With this setup, you have two options readers: 1) you're eyes are rolling back in your head because it's like "not another one of these stupid setups, it's the same as 1,000 others" or 2) "yay! pretty boy falls for cute but aggressive girl" and you want to read it. Well, I'm in camp # 2 which means, I like stories of pretty people falling in love and blushing a lot. I'm just not that complicated.

Turns out Riko is in love with the student teacher who's been her neighbor for years and who she believes only looks at her like a little sister. Kai falls for Riko when he sees the face she makes looking at the teacher in the distance. He then cares for her when she's sick at home and is smitten. The only question will be how (not if, because this is shoujo, right?) they'll end up together. That's volume 1, a nice and simple start to the series.

The art is great! It's detailed, beautiful, characters are discernible from each other (a problem I have with real faces too, so I'm particularly sensitive to this), brisk but clear action, lots of blushing, nice use of panel layouts, etc...really just very high quality and perfect for the genre. The character designs are winning with Riko being cute, petite, and strong with two ponytails (that hair-style showing some youth and lack of trying too hard) and Kai with his top buttons undone and lose long-ish hair being both sexy and cute (particularly the scene where his friends figure out what's going on and they liken him, with his blushing love, to a what baby deer looks like - so perfectly written I laughed out loud). The student-teacher has the requisite light hair and glasses making him look less attractive than he probably is (I'm sure we'll get a scene with his glasses off, and maybe shirtless at some point too!).

Volume 1 felt somewhat slim at first with only 4 chapters, but they are decently long chapters, so it clocks in at almost 200 pages. I'm not familiar with the mangaka's, Shizuki Fujisawa's, other works, so I had no idea what to expect, but the writing and art were both professional and interesting.

I don't expect this series to be ground-breaking, but I also don't need every series I read to be ground-breaking. Sometimes, you just want another version of the same old thing that made you happy before, and for volume 1, this was exactly it. If you like high-school romance shoujo where the outcome isn't in doubt and it's more about the blushing journey to get there, then this is a great first volume and I'm eager to read the rest of the story. 8/10 "highly recommended"

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Stop using the word "just" when writing fiction - FICTION WRITING THOUGHTS

I'm half-way through the "final" (in big quotes) round of edits on the big fiction writing project I've been working on for more than 3 1/2 years and I've been amazed at one recurrent thing I've had to fix in nearly every paragraph. The word "just."

Boy have I overused it, killed it, maimed it, demeaned it, and completely abused it. Let me make up an example of how I've been using it it so we're talking about it the same way. The work is basically being presented in script format, not intended to read like pure prose, so there is explanatory exposition for illustrators/animators, so the word "just" is coming up in those sections way too much. For example, I might say:

"So and so walks up to the other person. The other person just slowly opens her eyes, barely making explicit notice of so and so."

Catch it? There was that sneaky word "just." And it's in about every other line of exposition throughout 1200 pages of text! Yikes!

First things first, why was I using it at all? In order to decide how to edit it (and edit it out for the most part) I needed to really understand why it was such a default word for me. The answer proved to be simple. It was about the visual tone I had in my head. How the scene looked. How it played out. The pacing, the subtlety of movement and time and effort and lighting. It wasn't that something happened and bang, another thing happened, and then bang, another thing happened. There was a languid pace with beautiful warm sunset lighting. It was about the slow movements our bodies make. Things were "just" as in "just barely" or "ever so slightly" or "slowly" happening and I wanted to ensure that that mood and character movement was captured in the audience's mind as they read.

The dilemma was this: I am presenting a story for readers in script format when the readers were never really intended to read a script, but instead the intention was for them to read a finished comic or watch an animated show, but knowing those would never come to fruition, I still want to make the project available. My exposition, "staging," and directions to animators/illustrators had to serve a dual purpose of guiding those professionals (as imaginary as they are since I realize nothing will come of this) as well as holding enough value as meaningful prose to someone reading it in script format purely for pleasure. I found that the word "just" had become a quick way of providing information to all parties about the feel. Oh the feels!

Now that I understood why it was coming out naturally and effortlessly (like a word on Miralax), it was time to really rethink and get rid of the word "just" in my writing. It was being used way too often. I ultimately kept probably 1 in every 20 occurrences because occasionally it's a beautiful word to do the job. It couldn't be asked to do it alone though.

Here's what ended up happening. Probably (warning: statistics totally made up) about 75% of the time I realized I could simply cut it out and change nothing else in the sentence and it was unnecessary because the dialogue and other things around it implied enough because we're all human and we have imaginations and so we get a lot without needing to have it be explicit. The other 20% (because I kept about 5% of the "just"s) I ended up adding and rewording the exposition sections to add more sensory and emotional cues so that the pacing, lighting, feel, mood, emotion, movement were still explicit but without using the cheat word "just" to do the job.

I'm so glad I did this, but now I'll have to think about (or not) whether when I'm doing initial writing/drafting if I let the word come out on its own and rewrite later, or if I spend time during the initial writing consciously not using that crutch word from the start.

How about you? Any crutch words you use in your writing that bug the crap out of you when you read it later?

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CUTE NEWS - Converse to release Hello Kitty All-Star Sneakers!!!!!!!

Two of my all-time favorite things are coming together. Hello Kitty and Converse All-Star high-tops. Light pink, Hello Kitty face.....ahhhhhhhh >_< I'm not going to stop squeeing all day! August 16th is almost here! I'm pretty sure I'll be fighting with my daughter over who gets to order these. Too bad we aren't the same shoe size.




https://hellogiggles.com/fashion/hello-kitty-x-converse-launch/

https://www.sanrio.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Mushroom Girls in Love is a patriarchal hetero-normative oppressive travesty (Manga Review)


Mushroom Girls in Love sounded and looked like it might add some diversity to my yuri mix. If by diversity, we meant a poorly illustrated, even worse written, completely barren of emotion, no character development, and anti-humanistic, $13 waste of money, then yes, yes it did.

In case I wasn't clear, I didn't like it at all. I don't want to call it trash, because sometimes you need trashy fun. This was a jarringly sophomoric effort and I'm amazed it was picked up for an English translation given all the amazing manga out there that never has been.

The basic plot has us on a planet mostly covered with varying types of fungus and the sentient inhabitants are all women who are also fungus. They are divided into 24 nation-states with varying tribes within each. Each nation is ruled by a queen and royal family. There are varying classes of laborers in society as well as class-less, state-less nomadic traders who are on their own to survive.

Our story starts with the marriage of Arialla and Eriella (god help me if I didn't spell those right, because I'm not going upstairs to find the book to double check). One is a herder (of fungus cattle) and the other is a scribe. On the night of their wedding, they apparently have sex, or mate, or exchange spores, or something (I almost missed this intimacy because it consisted of one sentence in one panel that I only noticed after the next plot point when I went back to clarify). The next morning, they are shocked to find they are (sexually?) incompatible and Eriella has developed dry rot between her legs (seriously? I'm fairly sure this was written by a man if my internet sources are reliable, jeez dude!) and can no longer bear or make children by another woman.

Everyone in town wants them to get divorced because "what use is a woman if she can't bear you kids?" said people from another century and apparently also on this fungus planet. Arialla stands up and says she married for love and doesn't care. Then, with no real warning (other than like one other panel I almost missed because it involved Eriella as a child and I couldn't tell it was her) the 3rd princess of the royal family, who is also in love with Eriella, bribes Eriella's family to kidnap her, so that she can marry her instead. That kidnapping sets Arialla up on an adventure to save Eriella.

Before slogging through all the horrors of Mushroom Girls in Love, here's what was good about it: On a planet of all women (good) there were many ages represented from young to very old (good) and not everyone was drawn with a gorgeously perfect body and face (very good).  But that's it for positives.

Let's start with the world-view.  In several text expositions between chapters, the author seemingly justifies a class-based, forced labor, monarchical, nearly lawless society where some people are nation-less and excluded and people can get killed with no repercussions for their assailants because the world has had "general peace" and "evil" hasn't really ever taken firm root. Uh huh. Seriously, that justification is provided for the basic enslavement and lack of autonomy of an entire planet of people. This is no utopia, nor is the author pushing any philosophical moral system, but he actually seems to be advocating for a pretty controlling, anti-autonomy, anti-agency world-view. He then tries to sell that philosophy as being okay because most people aren't complaining and it could be worse. Yuck.

Most of the classes in society are illiterate. A person is unable to ascend out of their class based on talent or effort or desire (although it is implied that maybe marrying into a different class would give you an option - but even this isn't clear). So pretty much like a caste system. And there are the class-less nomads who, being deprived of the identity tags the other tribes wear, are never able to join a tribe or nation-state. Yes, everyone in society is tagged to identify their nation and class. Where have we seen this before? Additionally, the queen and princesses all have the ability to kill people with a touch in what is described as part of their divine mandate to rule the others and they can kill whomever they want for any reason and no one really objects.

From there we get to the gender politics of this world. How can there be gender politics in an all-female world you ask? Easy, when the guy who wrote this says the gods used to be male and female, those who give birth are called mommy's and the ones who impregnate mommy's are called daddy's (still not sure if this is by spore or something more fun?). So what does this tell our LGBTQ readers about their own lives? Does it mean that people who use surrogates and sperm donors aren't really moms and dads? Does it mean you can't have two moms if one actually bears you and the other doesn't? Does it mean he's not your dad if he was born genetically female but identifies as male? Dear author, the language you chose to use conveys and reifies a dominant hetero-normative world-view. We even get a line about how only dads and kids go to school (which if I read it right, indicates that the mothers do the work while the kids and dads get to learn). Ah! I paid for this?

So going down from the world-view to the broader narrative of the story, there are at least two deaths that attract no emotion from the characters and provoke little from the reader (outside of being stunned that their deaths were for naught). The first is when the queen kills someone who disagrees with her. The second is when Eriella's family, in disguise, kills the wrong person when they meant to kill their daughter's wife (how f*d up is this family?). Arialla drags this dead body into her house, and then the body disappears from the very next panel. No one cries for her, no one says "an innocent bystander was killed this is a tragedy and injustice", nothing, it just isn't apparently important to the author. And no one ever gets in trouble for killing an innocent person either. Awful.

We also have nearly every side-character from multiple tribes and classes accepting bribes to do anything. They have no moral compass. Bribe them enough and they'll kill their own daughter's wife. Bribe them enough and they'll go against their own princess. Bribe them enough and they'll help you escape. Bribe them enough...no wonder no one complains about the bigger society, they're all morally bankrupt anyway (fungus in the brain? Brain rot? Better than the crotch rot that starts this story off - I mean, seriously?) .

Oh yeah, and they have guns too, and iron, and some random giant animals that aren't made of fungus. And did I mention they have guns and use them to kill people? Lots of random. There are plot holes and "plot vouchers" like this everywhere. Eriella just happens to have made a bunch of fake passes while she was laid up sick in bed allowing Arialla to travel between borders for the rescue. How convenient. Then the other two princesses decided to help Arialla whom they've never met, why? Eventually we're told they like "justice and love" even though they also like regnal backstabbing, corruption, and using their people to accomplish their sick goals.

 Then, for no reason, out of no-where, although recovering from her rot, Eriella is ridiculed as being a "handicap." It's the most randomly unnecessary panel in the whole story. I don't know if this was the translator or the original author choosing this term, but seriously, let's just slight people with disabilities while we're also slighting progressive gender and sexual representation, slighting personal-autonomy, championing all-powerful monarchs, and...

Later, in another sign of the author's inability to extend even the tiniest bit of emotional realism into the story, Erialla tells Arialla not to hate the 3rd princess (who had ordered the kidnapping, resulting in deaths, and the eventual need for the leads to abandon their former lives and families). Why wouldn't Eriella want her wife to be mad at the princess again? Who knows, everything in this is so slapdash.

So getting down to the character level now, the story's problems become insurmountable. For most of the book, the leads aren't even in it! They literally have a few random panels where they do nothing, say almost nothing, barely interact, reveal nothing of their personalities, or contribute to the narrative. The vast majority of time in this work is spent on everyone else doing things like scheming, murdering, kidnapping, plotting, bribing and explaining (not well). it's only in the final third of the volume where one of our two leads does anything. And all that is just a poorly plotted, written, and drawn set of random action scenes. We aren't given any advance notice that Arialla even has competent fighting abilities even though she takes on multiple baddies at once. We simply know nothing of either of the lead character's personalities and the quick flash-back meet-cute in the beginning is hardly a satisfactory way of developing audience care for the characters.

The whole time I was reading this, I kept being reminded of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (I love the movie far more than the manga, but I have read and own the entire manga and it is still infinitely better than Mushroom Girls). It has a world being overtaken by fungus, nostalgic art, a strong female lead, strong political, humanistic, and moral values, and a long complex action story. Unlike Nausicaa, Mushroom Girls in Love has mediocre art, no real plot, no high-minded values, no character development or growth, no real meaningful exposition outside of paragraphs of text between chapters, and a strange value/moral system being promoted. I really wish it hadn't evoked the comparison because it debases Nausicaa, an all too frequently neglected icon (the character and the work).

Speaking more to the art, it has a strange juxtaposition between a 1970s-1980s indie comic vibe and the contemporary prototypical commercial manga-style. The lead characters are pretty much drawn in a cute current style while the rest retains an older aesthetic. There is very rudimentary use of screen tones and the line art is not very engaging. Just very amateur looking in its presentation.

As for yuri, I hesitate to call it that. I don't believe that every story involving two girls or women in love is yuri. I think to be yuri is to satisfy some core values of exploring the complex and intimate relationships (good and bad) between women. A story about two women that does not explore any emotional depth isn't yuri in my mind (I'd be eager to hear what people think about this). I think this is a hetero-normative, patriarchal story that features an all women planet more as a schtick or plot device than as any actual empowerment narrative for women and LGBTQ rights or meaningful exploration of female/feminine relationships. We get a single kiss, no emotional interaction between the characters to speak of, very out-dated gender politics and an oppressive class-based society that gets justified as being okay.

So before rating this steaming pile of money and time-wasting pulp, could the problems be the results of a poor translation rather than the author? I don't know because sadly I don't speak Japanese (yet, it's certainly a life goal) so I haven't read it in the original text (have you? Let me know!). So with that one caveat, I'm giving this story a 3/10, which may be the lowest rating I've given out yet on this blog. I'm seriously thinking of reselling this volume on ebay because I don't know that I want it in my house.

For an alternate review of it (in the original Japanese), head over to Okazu.
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