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branchandroot: butterfly on a desk with a world in a bottle (butterfly glass desk)
Another Three Weeks post.

This is an interesting topic, for me, because I tend to watch the debates over it from more than one viewpoint at once. On the one hand, I'll enter cheerfully into the vociferous debates over what effect different types and amounts of other languages in English fic has. On the other, I have observed that the amount and type are both, functionally, beside the fandom point.

In fandom function terms, Japanese in an English language fic serves as a shibboleth and a sign-post. It says "this is a fic from the anime/manga fandom family" and gives notice thereby what the author's likely target audience is--and also what tropes may be showing up in the story. To be sure, those tropes are often very unexpected to fans from the domestic fandom family, so the marker function is actually a pretty important one.

In marker terms, what I think of as first generation fan usage may actually serve the purpose best. This type of usage is characterized by using such Japanese as can be easily parsed out of a subtitled show by those with no previous knowledge of the language: demo, hai, nani, etc. There's no pressing translational quandary attached to these; indeed, they're some of the simplest words to translate directly. By that token, they are easily understood from the context of the English sentence they're embedded in and don't require any linguistic acumen at all. They serve the shibboleth function purely and without impeding reading comprehension.

I can't actually stand reading stories written with this in them, but I nevertheless recognize that it has a valid function and serves it very well.

Second generation usage is what most of us argue over these days. )

Bottom line: it isn't going away, and there exists no actual standard by which any of us can justifiably demand that everyone do it our way. Deal with it.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
Three Weeks for Dreamwidth: Favorite pairing/character archetypes? :D Are you more fond of rival!slash or best friends turn lovers or master/servant or....?

The easy answer is: yes, please, all of the above!

I certainly do have a major kink for captain/lieutenant pairs, especially the ones where the "captain" is delicate looking and apparently sweet and the "lieutenant" is the brawny and/or stolid type. Yukimura/Sanada, Byakuya/Renji, Kazuki/Juubei, Tsuna/Xanxus. This set up only works for me, of course, when the "captain" is actually a galactic grade badass; otherwise there wouldn't be nearly such tasty tension and chemistry. If the "lieutenant" is secretly a total squish, this is a bonus, but I'm also entirely good with the trope of a "lieutenant" who feels a deep and abiding need to compete with and strive to equal his "captain".

For broadly similar reasons, I love me some rival!slash. I like the intensity with which rivals focus on each other, especially in sports manga. ES21 was a very good series for this. Roy and Ed, my gateway pairing as it were, were kind of six of captain!kink, half a dozen of rival!slash.

Of course, I'm also very fond of best-friend relationships, like Roy and Hughes. I'll write those both ways, turning sexual and not. Again, it's the intensity of the relationship that matters.

This section cut for discussion of sib-cest )

At bottom, I write a whole lot of "how does this relationship work?" fic. When I set out to write about Roy and Hawkeye, it was driven on the one hand by "what would the politics actually look like next" and on the other by "how would these two actually go about becoming something other than a working relationship?". When Em and I started brainstorming how to subvert and recuperate the women of KHR, a lot of my focus was on "what choices would Kyouko and Haru make when precipitated into this new world, what compromises would they reach with the people they love?". When I went to write about the AU where Seien inherits the throne, the framework was family as much as politics, and it wouldn't have been nearly as powerful is Shouka weren't more Seien's father than the Emperor ever was.

And what I like to read are stories that will give me fodder for that kind of thing.
branchandroot: a lotus (lotus)
So I was reading around lately about Egyptian concepts of the soul, and it made a few things make, possibly, more sense.

First the cosmology and speculation. )

And now we get to the fandom applications of this.

The cosmology of Egypt did not go in for reincarnation.2 Literary adoptions, eg Yuugi-ou, tend to ignore this. But consider the concept of ka and ib and ba in comparison with the Buddhist concept of five skandha, aspects or modes of existence, which, translating loosely here, make up a particular instance of being which is neither divorced from nor identical to the previous instance. Using the former to shed light on the latter, we may have a helpful way to think about how reincarnation or rebirth are sometimes presented in anime and manga.

One of the most recent and notable examples isn't, strictly speaking, anime at all, but Avatar: The Last Airbender takes a lot of sources from Asian cosmology as well as art, and can be folded in. So consider the way different incarnations of the Avatar are presented. They do not form a single existence--each life/individuality is distinct from the next, to the point that different incarnations can meet and talk as individuals. If we discard the unitary notion of soul/self and instead look at this through the lens of multiple soul-parts, such as ib and ba, this actually makes plenty of sense.3 The "incarnations" are, as it were, ba, and remain after death/dissolution as something remarkably similar to akh (the re-unification of ba and ka after death).

I have, as yet, found no references in Buddhist (or Taoist, or Shinto) cosmology to such lingering instances; in fact, what I have found would appear rather to militate against such a thing. But clearly the idea is entrenched in popular consciousness.

Some other examples of this basic premise: Pandora hearts, Card Captor Sakura, Fullmetal Alchemist depending on how you interpret the homunculi, Inu Yasha.

1. That is to say, it was builders "really" doing the building, but they acted in the role of the king/priests, took on that iru or ba, and therefore were considered to be the king/priests for that time. This is, necessarily, speculative, but personally I agree that it makes all kinds of sense, considering the mythology.

2. No, really, they didn't. Please don't link me to crystalinks or theosophy et al. If you read reputable sources, you will find that reincarnation was attributed to Egyptians by Greek thinkers who didn't quite get the whole deal with the divergent aspects and evolution of the soul.

3. Note that I am not suggesting Egyptian and Buddhist cosmology are identical, or even that they have a direct philosophical connection. I would not be surprised if this were the case, but I do not, personally, know of any evidence of this. I'm just saying the basic notion of the soul is similar and obviously pops up in a lot of places.
branchandroot: maiko dancing on red (Hien)

So, having read 33 and 34, I think I have a better handle on Ruru.

Spoilers, of course )
branchandroot: Shio, character for salt (salt)
This one looked like fun.

If you're interested I'll pick three of your fandoms for which you can answer the following questions:

01: What got you into this fandom in the first place?
02: Do you think you'll stay in this fandom or eventually move on?
03: Favorite episodes/books/movies/etc.?
04: Do you participate in this fandom (fanfiction, graphics, discussions)?
05: Do you think that more people should get into this fandom?

[personal profile] dancing_serpent gave me Angel Sanctuary, Eyeshield 21 and Katekyou Hitman Reborn.

On we go )
branchandroot: Saitou looking considering (Saitou considering)

I finally got around to finishing up my watching of the Kuroshitsuji anime.

Eh. )

So, in general, I thought the anime was fun in places and not dreadful, but I definitely won't be re-watching it.

Want another manga issue now, please.
branchandroot: maiko dancing on red (Hien)

I’ve just finished mainlining Monochrome Factor. (This is all Vathara’s fault.) I suspect I may actually get this one in the domestic release, to have them for rereads. I’m mildly agonized that the manga is progressing so slowly (only six volumes in several years), but it’s still worth the read.

Spoilers follow.

The plot is fairly standard “save the world by fighting monsters and the Other Side who is sending them” fare. Hung on the plot, however, are some very tasty character dynamics. We have the hero (kind of), Akira, who’s a pretty-boy slacker thug, kind of like Ichigo redrawn as a gen-x cliche, and the reincarnation of a high spiritual entity. Only he doesn’t remember a lick of it. We have his dippy boy sidekick, Kengo, who can get a bit annoying but is probably the nicest person in the whole cast. We have the amazingly non-token-like girl, Aya, a prefect, disciplinary committee, kendo club (I think Hibari would like her) who smacks sense into Akira because she’s the one who actually gets how important this all is and what fighting spirit is all about. We have Akira and Kengo’s older buddy Kou, the hentai who tries to grope Aya and gets righteously beaten up for it and who is, incidentally, the otherworldly liege man of Akira’s past self. We have our anti-hero (kind of) Shirogane, the counterpart high spiritual entity who drags Akira into all this, most likely has an agenda of his own, and really, really demonstrates the adage “it’s always the nice ones you have to watch out for”. Also with long, long silver hair, just to round off the tastiness.

While there are some bobbles starting out, as the characters are settling into their narrative relationships to one another, they develop very nicely. Akira and Kengo are unspeakably teenage boy like and have fist fights to show their affection. Aya is clearly not a romantic interest of anyone yet, which makes my heart sing even when she isn’t very competently slicing up the landscape with a sword. The tension between Akira and Shirogane, made up of the secrets Shirogane keeps, the way he cares for Akira, the almost-student-mentor bond they develop, and the yet unknown relationship Shirogane had with Ryuuko, Akira’s past self, is simply delicious. It’s garnished delightfully with the tension between Shirogane and Kou, neither of them trusting the other with Akira but both bound to a sort of alliance through Akira.

And there’s a totally psychotic villain and at least one character on his side whose allegiance and actions are shrouded in mystery, which always makes things interesting.

The anime, alas is utter trash. I say this with great woe, because Suwabe Junichi voices Shirogane, and I was hoping for better. But no, not only does it devolve into total crack (I mean, overtops tenipuri level crack), not only does it make Shirogane into a wuss and Aya into a wimp (unforgivable), it entirely reorganizes the storyline into dreadfully cliche sentai shenanigans and thereby surgically removes all the dramatic tension. It cranks up Akira and Shirogane’s relationship to bona fide BL, though without any real emotional or even eyecandy payoff, but after the delicate tension between them that the manga sustains it’s way too slapstick to do anything but roll one’s eye s over.

So read the manga, don’t touch the anime.

branchandroot: Saitou looking considering (Saitou considering)

Having cheerfully spoiled myself for the anime ending of Kuroshitsuji, I’m afraid I will probably be dissatisfied with it.

Spoilers ensue )

So if those things have been altered in the anime Ciel, I don't think I'll find him nearly as fascinating. And if they haven't been altered, then the ending won't fit at all, which is always distressing.
branchandroot: two hands drawing each other (drawing each other)

You know, the more I think about it, the more I think the second series Yuugi-ou anime is the truest to Takahashi’s eventual intent.

Well, minus the filler arcs that roll back character development.

But reading the latter two thirds of the manga, I’m convinced that Takahashi didn’t actually know where he wanted to go for the first third. That he hadn’t yet decided exactly who or what the puzzle spirit was. It wasn’t until he hit on the card game that he really locked in and started to create a coherent meta-story. That’s the point at which the games stop being so deadly a case of instant karma, the weighing-and-testing aspect of them becomes more a matter of trial by combat, and the whole story becomes less ambiguous-horror and more typical shounen-fight.

It shows in the drawing style, too. Styles always change over time, of course, but the early manga puzzle spirit is drawn scary. He looks like he’s absolutely psychotic. Once past the crossover of Death-T, he becomes far more classically shounen-heroic.

So when the second series anime starts with the cards, reduces the early games (and the grievousness of their results), skips Death-T and re-casts Kaiba’s entry into events in the “trial by combat” pattern that the later manga established, that may actually be the truest interpretation of Takahashi’s project.

I still wish, wistfully, that they had kept Ogata Megumi as the voice of the puzzle spirit, though.

branchandroot: Ed looking hopeful (Ed hopeful)

So it looks as though free, official streams is the up and coming anime distribution mode.

Not only do we have the experiment at Crunchyroll.net, the new Fullmetal Alchemist series is being streamed, subbed, a bit less than a week after each episode airs, at Funimation.com. Having watched it, I think it may be worth waiting a few days for. The quality of translation is actually higher than the fansubs that came out more quickly. (And thank goodness the commercial concerns have finally figured out that sub fans tend to prefer minimal ‘cultural translation’.)

Presumably this is supposed to pay for itself via advertising, kind of like network television, and also provide a market draw for the permanent media (download and dvd) sales. I hope it works out, because this seems to me to be a very positive direction for anime distribution to take. Certainly the approach of licensing for permanent media distributed months or years after the series airs and is fansubbed has signally, and predictably, failed. A prompt, high quality, free release in a medium not easily recordable, certainly not at anything approaching original quality, followed by reasonably prompt sale of individual episodes alongside dvd collections has certainly worked for domestic television shows. I see no reason it shouldn’t work as well for anime.

For those who want to watch these versions, bookmark the show page.

branchandroot: Pacifica mightily puzzled (Pacifica eeeh)

There are times when I really wonder about Amano, and this issue was one of them.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

She had an opportunity to do some really good character interaction and development, here, and she made it about halfway. Bianchi, as the voice of older experience, provides a frame for the idiocy the boys have recently been displaying; through her eyes we see all the younger characters in perspective, with sympathy for their emotional dilemmas and uncertainties but also a clear understanding that they are acting foolishly and immaturely. Through Bianchi’s prodding, Tsuna actually gets his head out of his ass and realizes that he’s been very selfish in his attempts to ’shelter’ the girls, and tells Kyouko what’s going on. Kyouko, in her turn, provides some much needed insight into the relation between Tsuna and his box. This is all lovely, and pretty sophisticated narrative.

Unfortunately, it’s undercut by the other things going on this issue.

The most bizarre one is the juxtaposition of explicit fanservice, in The Bath Scene, with Bianchi’s mature-person explanation. The combination of the wound over Chrome’s back and the shot of her bare ass was especially peculiar. Through the whole thing, over against the emotional and psychological complications, we have the kind of deliberate full-body nudity shots one expects to find at the start of an ecchi manga. The text-subtext clash was weird and distracting, and I have to wonder why Amano chose that particular setting and emphasis. Bathing scenes can be done in a non-fanservice way easily enough. Why did this moment of wisdom and insight need to be so explicitly sexualized, hm?

Then there’s the girls’ reaction to Bianchi’s explanation, which boils down to “Yes, the boys are being selfish and immature, but they’re manly to do so; let’s not try to hold them accountable any more and instead continue to enable their domestic helplessness”. Once again, the girls’ actions get used as comedy and not to actually spur significant action or development. Bianchi has to lie about what’s really happening to spark Tsuna’s realizations, which has the structural effect of emphasizing only his emotional growth. This badly undercut Kyouko’s display of insight regarding the Vongola box; I was very disappointed, because her character deserves better than to be a two dimensional yamato nadeshiko.

I didn’t find the aforementioned domestic helplessness particularly amusing, either. The reinforcement of exclusive gendered spheres makes me gag. The events of this issue would make a perfect set-up for allowing both the boys and the girls to learn and contribute a little something across those lines, but I do not, for one instant, believe Amano will take the opportunity. The way she handled this issue indicates nothing but a desire to wear the main characters even deeper into their gendered segregation.

Amano, get a grip on your Issues, please.

branchandroot: veiled lady on green (Ryokufuu)

*contemplative* I am unsure quite what I think.

The visual style is very similar but more… flexible? It definitely partakes more of the manga Arakawa-version superdeformed style, which I’m not really partial to. I’ll have to see if the animated style really takes with me or not. The detail of the motion is definitely a plus, though.

I can get used to Miki doing Musting. He and Ohkawa both have that flex to their voicing of Mustang, so there’s a reasonable continuity. The one major difference touches on the one thing I’m very unsure of, though.

The characters aren’t as sharp. At least in this pilot episode, neither Ed nor Roy have the edge that the first series provided. A big part of that is the script; there’s just more slapstick going on. And I loved that edge, it was probably the thing that topped the list of “why I totally love this show”.

So, while I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see the manga storyline animated (supposing that is the goal), I don’t know if I will be as wildly in love with this second series as I was the first. I will hope otherwise, but we shall just have to see.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

I keep contemplating how the younger KHR characters got to their TYL selves, and what they are at that age and I think I want to jot this down.

Gokudera: Gokudera calms down as time goes on. This does not mean he becomes any less heart-bound to Tsuna, but as he becomes more confident of and secure in his place in the Family he stops needing to yell about it. The point at which Tsuna confirms that Gokudera is his right hand is the true turning point for this. As he calms, Gokudera becomes more efficient, his edge shows more clearly, and he starts to solidify a reputation quite separate from his old one of ‘feral punk’, one of absolute loyalty to Tsuna and his wishes and of complete incorruptibility–the Vongola’s feared right hand, as Gamma says. Given the ruthlessness we see in, for example, 61, I suspect that Gokudera becomes extremely dangerous as he becomes cooler and more effective, and that it is, in large part, only Tsuna’s kindness that restrains him.

This ran rather long )
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

I finally went and hunted up those last five uncollected chapters of X. Dear me, it really does end on a cliff-hanger, doesn’t it?

It also, however, prompted me to come back around to my occasional speculation about how X might end and what, exactly, Kamui’s true wish is supposed to be. After all, in the last panel he seems right on the edge of maybe, finally, articulating it, though in all likelihood this is just another CLAMP tease.

Spoilers ahead, obviously, supposing you can say that of something that’s six years old and no new material in sight.

The last few issues emphasize, repeatedly, Fuuma’s words to Karen: if it’s wrong to kill people because of the pain it causes, why do people so easily forget the most important thing? He even thinks that the Seals themselves have forgotten it. Now, using CLAMP-logic, which is always a dicey proposition but still, and taking into account what Fuuma says to Kamui about his belief being his truth, it seems that we should turn this around. The question is the answer. If life is precious, then the most important thing should be… life. The life that no one seems to be paying much attention to. One’s own life. If life is precious, and the pain of those left behind is critical, then it is everyone’s first duty to guard their own lives.

This would certainly march with the statement that Kamui can never defeat Fuuma until he realizes what his true wish is: not to save Fuuma, but to live, to save himself. You notice that, even just before the major battle, Kamui is still hesitant to fight for his own wishes, on his own behalf. It’s belabored over and over. If Fuuma is trying to make Kamui realize this, it also makes sense of why Fuuma constantly threatens Kamui’s life but never actually kills him.

This does not actually clarify the ending in any way. It suggests that Kamui will realize his wish, and that Fuuma will grant it, because that’s what he does. But it leaves Fuuma’s own wish up in the air, and we still don’t know what form granting Kamui’s wish may take in a world where the apocalypse is merrily under way. In particular, it still leaves up in the air the question of exactly what the “icy cold” influence on Fuuma is. Kakyou speaks of doubled selves and the Dragon of Earth being undefeatable and eternal for as long as there is a Dragon of Heaven, and this may hint that the influence is, in fact, Kamui’s shadow self. If so, then part of the ending will almost certainly be Kamui reclaiming that part of himself. It also seems possible that he will, maybe even as part of his true wish, repudiate his role as “kamui”, thereby freeing Fuuma also. This might even be the one thing that will alter the foretold future. It does seem likely, given the various statements about the killing sorrow of the one who loves left after a death, that Fuuma’s wish is for Kamui to bloody well wake up and want to live so Fuuma can let him, which would point them toward breaking out of the foreordained Heaven-Earth dichotomy.

Given that the series is on hold due to fears that the direness of the ending will, in the current climate, affect readers badly, I suspect there is no reset button to be had, here, either way. I expect they will, however, stop short of actual apocalypse, while leaving ruins and lots of dead people; it’s the CLAMP thing to do. For similar reasons I also suspect the responsibility for actually fixing or destroying the world will fall to all of humanity, rather than the single savior/destroyer.

For some further ruminations, which I pretty much agree with, visit As You Wish.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

I just recently read a post to one of the comms I browse, from someone who was a ways into the Fruits Basket manga and wanted to know whether Yuki ever gets to be less of an asshole (translating fairly freely) and whether the angst ever lets up. This reminded me of all my Issues with FB, and rather than burden the poor woman’s post with extraneous stuff, I went to write up a proper post of my own.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

Having finally slogged through to the end of the manga, I find that, yes, there really is a reason I left off two thirds of the way through, the first time around.

It isn’t the characters, who I quite like, by and large. It isn’t even the plot per se, though I do think that Yuki’s romantic plot was done a severe disservice. If his new romantic interest had received the same development as his new boy buddy I might well feel differently, but she didn’t.

No, the part that really gets my goat is twofold. One is the whirlwind of heteronormativity at the ned, foreclosing any possibility of expressing the homoeroticism that is waved in our faces all the way through, or even just continuing to dangle the possibility. Two is the lack of consequences.

One is made most obvious in the person of Akito, who is insane the whole way through until the very last moment but is miraculously restored to sanity by having one person offer friendship. Okay, that’s actually kind of par for the course, because Tohru is Kwan Yin. Squared. But as soon as she’s sane she is, well, she. All of her insane actions are paired with her male guise, and all of her sane ones are paired with a ‘return’ to femininity. Indeed, when she comes to apologize to the Juunishi, she is in a formal girl’s kimono, and they seem equally and equivalently stunned by both those things, which I find narratively significant. She isn’t the only representative, though. Every single ambiguously sexualized male is firmly paired off at the very end, one after another: Ayame with Mine, Shigure with feminized Akito, Hatori with Mayuko, Hatsuharu with Rin, Yuki with Machi, Ritsu with Mitsuru. Indeed, every single major character is paired off, sometimes resulting in bizarrely random happily-ever-afters such as Hanajima and Kazuma. It’s a downright heteronormative panic.

I find two more pernicious, actually, and two is the deeper reason I just can’t read Fruits Basket with pleasure. These characters do absolutely horrible things to each other, most especially Akito, but also others, notably Shigure and Yuki. And there are no consequences to this. The manga does make it clear that, in most cases, the characters are passing the buck, acting out of pain that they have endured previously. But they don’t act toward the authors of that pain, or even take constructive flight from its source; no, they take it out on the defenseless. Akito tortures Yuki. Yuki beats up and taunts Kyou. Shigure ‘teases’ anyone around him who isn’t fast enough to guard themselves, notably Ritsu, Tohru and his editor, and has absolutely zero care for the genuine distress he causes.

This might be very realistic, but frankly I find such realism exceedingly emotionally and ethically unsatisfying.

The theme is carried right through to the end, where we find that the Cat has been cursed for centuries on end for the dire sin of… being right. Being the only one with its head screwed on straight, the only one who has the wisdom to not want the co-dependent reincarnation cycle that the God offers.

And in the end, no one calls anyone on any of these actions. The God et al flit off into the spiritual beyond and we never even find whether they learned better. Yuki never gets a boot to the head over Kyou (or, more significantly, never has anyone whose opinion he cares for tell him that what he did was wrong). Akito winds up with Shigure, and while I admit they probably deserve each other, they are presented at the very end as a suddenly, miraculously happy couple. No one even apologizes for the wrong they do, aside from Akito’s blanket and somewhat token apology, but Poof! the magic wand of All Better descends anyway.

And I don’t believe it. I can’t. The narrative work hasn’t been done to convince me, to satisfy me. So it leaves a very nasty aftertaste instead.

Wherefore, I suppose my response to the initial post that got me thinking could be summed up as : not so much. Give me Utena and  Sailor Moon any day, or even Fushigi Yuugi and CLAMP for pity’s sake. Tohru in particular and FB in general are a classic example of the reactionary as it emerges from Japanese culture and I never get on well with that.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

Sounds like it should be the title of a children’s book.

At any rate, I’ve become increasingly convinced that Uni is the same person as her mother.

The account of why contains spoilers, of course )
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So there are a handful of posts lately about femslash and the technically conservative trends in that genre. It made me think about my own femslash stories (well, actually, it made me think about the western-media vs anime/manga fandom divide, and how never the twain shall meet even for the sake of being able to read more girl-on-girl stories, and how the western-media side is defining the whole genre of femslash as western-media over against yuri when the anime/manga side is more likely to want to use both, terms and conventions alike, and that this exclusion/division pisses me off personally, but after that it made me think about my own stories), and, indeed, I note a pattern. The ones that work with canon-possible pairings are little bits of fairly isolated fluff or smut. The ones I think are really kick-ass are the ones that do weird stuff like crossing canons. I still think the Une/Hawkeye was one of the best I’ve ever written.

I think part of the reason for this trend in my own writing is that the f/f pairings tend to have hidden stories. You have to dig for them, for the possibilities, for the way these two women might interact. Rukia/Orihime, for example, has marvelous possibilities, but none of them are obvious because the two of them don’t interact enough in canon to create a strong template. Most of my m/m, on the other hand, comes out of dynamics that are pretty much shoved up the viewer/reader’s nose.

Given this, you’d think that a fandom like Utena would be the one to produce reams of f/f, but… really not so much. And when I try to imagine Utena/Anthy stories, I have to admit, I get lost. I could write fluff, I could write smut, but how to write actual plot when I’m already drowning in glorious, glorious plot in the source? It’s like trying to write Julia/Spike. So there’s the other extreme: not hidden stories but huge, wide, deep stories. It’s hard to find a place to start with either.

Then, too, most of the hooks, the suggestive situations, the shoved-up-your nose, well canon doesn’t give us much of that for the girls. Fraught relationships, competition, saving each other, about the only place I find that is in some, not all, shoujo and it’s always accompanied by such relentless, centralized het romance that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. Consider, for example, Sailor Moon or Fushigi Yuugi. We can step around the boys, the same way slash steps around the girls, but we have to step wider because they’re taking up more space.

And so I come back to the weird stuff: not the huge stories, not the hidden stories, but the stories that don’t exist at all yet, the hooks that can be created if you’re willing to ignore common sense. Utena/Anthy is hard, so what about Anthy/Lain instead? If Miaka is hard to separate from Tamahome, what about Yui and Shuurei? Orihime could probably do with a good lecture from Sakura about how the healer has a duty to guard herself.

A few of those get my brain loosened up, get me thinking about how, actually, if Daley just pounced Leon, then I bet Linna would take her opportunity, and Priss, with both hands. How Ami is really the best answer to Makoto’s constant boy trouble. How age seems to mean nothing to shinigami and therefore I could totally get something going with Unohana and Orihime.

Settling for the simple answers seem to be part of what hobbles femslash and/or yuri, at least for me–a weird sort of inverse of pairing wars, in which cleaving to the obvious pairings leads, not to war, but to silence. The odd possibilities seem much richer.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

Okay, so I’ve been rewatching Meine Liebe, mostly thanks to Phoebe’s yuletide story.  And the other night I got to the end of Weider, with the fraught face-off between heros and villains.  And, at the moment of peak tension, the Headmaster returns.  There is a burst of orchestral “here I come to save the day” music, and the large doors are pushed slowly open, and there he is, all backlit and savior-esque.

And his every fat ringlet curl is bouncing in dramatic slow motion.

I had to pause the file until I could stop laughing. It took a while.

The fact that even this does not make me love the series any less should be all the recommendation anyone could want.

Also, this time around, I noticed how hot Nicholas is (Lui’s kind-of counterpart, the commoner-Strahl group leader with the green eyes).  I feel called to write some fic for him.  Possibly for him and Lui, because Nicholas enunciates his admiration of Our Heros and the logic behind it so clearly, and I think that probably makes Lui twitch when loyalty is directed at him.  *grins*

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

Reading Naruto, of late, I feel like I’m reading Death Note all over again. As Ohba did, Kishimoto has drastically altered the structure and themes of the story he is telling, halfway through. And, as with DN, I like the first part better.

The first part of Naruto dealt with personal growth and the formation of personal and communal bonds. It dealt with children learning their own strength and, perhaps even moreso, each other’s strength. It also had vivid characters with engaging stories, dramatic enough to be exciting and regular enough to relate to easily, who carried these themes. The team that we follow all through the first part has a wonderfully high-tension relationship in Naruto and Sasuke plus the balance wheel of Sakura, who made it possible for them to operate as a team and thus keep bouncing off each other. It had shifting relationships and growing bonds of love and loyalty between the three of them, plus, for a bonus, the Sardonic Teacher in the form of Kakashi to serve as a commentator on their development.

I’m inclined to call the breakup of the team the first in a series of sharks this story jumped, but on reflection I think that, while true, this was not inevitable.  The development of the above themes actually lasted a bit past Sasuke’s departure. It would have been possible to preserve the momentum. Alas, that is not what Kishimoto chose to do.

Instead, the second half not only breaks up the team (which could have been a perfectly valid narrative move to spur further character growth) but it takes the focus away from their development and their relationships. Instead Naruto finds himself largely in isolation again, this time with the support of adults, cultivating his power.  It’s like his friends have only served to help manifest his solitary destiny, which is totally counter to the early themes.  Sakura seems to have an interesting storyline, from what little we see of it, but that’s the sticking point right there–we see so little of it. As for Sasuke… he has interesting things happening around him, but they seem to have absolutely zero impact on his character; he appears to have actually regressed and, while that too could have been turned into a useful narrative point, nothing is made of the fact.  Instead he’s just been bumped back as if none of his early development happened at all.  He, and Naruto to a large extent, have ceased to grow as characters; instead they just get glitzy new powers. The dynamic tension of their relationship has lapsed, and with it most of the zing of the series.

By the same token, one of the deepest themes of the first part was friendship and rivalry and what they mean and how they interact. That theme has disappeared. We have lingering references to it, but the actions of the characters show no urgency or plot-energy invested in the theme at all. Instead we have the growth of an historical theme, one that steps back and looks at the philosophical issues of ninja-dom in this universe. That could be interesting, but it isn’t what I want while the plot and character threads from the first half are still dangling around unfulfilled!

Really, Kishimoto should just have kept writing Naruto the way he was and spun off a completely different manga, probably focusing on Itachi, if he wanted to address the historical thread. They might have been crossed again later, and that could have made a fascinating maturation opportunity for the youngsters as they got older, but trying to do both in the same narrative space clearly isn’t going to work. And if this is, as is rumored, the fault of the Jump editors… then may the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits and may an unclean yak back into their linen closets and may they always have papercuts when they go to prepare vinegared rice.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So, thinking about odd characters.

For one, we have Xanxus. He’s presented to us as completely selfish and more than a little psychotic, and never shows regret for any of it. Then comes his defeat, more by Fate than by Tsuna, and he gets a Revelation scene. Normally a Revelation scene gives the audience the backstory of a villain and explains to us why they have done whatever dreadful things they’ve done. This may or may not be accompanied by repentance and may or may not affect the character’s final fate, but it generally secures some sympathy for their motivations. Only, in Xanxus’ case, his backstory makes it clear that he’s always been a selfish bastard, that he was arrogant and carelessly cruel and full of exactly the kind of pride that goes before a justified fall. Just to drive the nail in further, at the end of the Revelation, Xanxus affirms once again that he has no noble motives at all, he just wanted to be praised and elevated, to have the prop of a high position.

What this suggests about his character is that he has no real sense of self-worth. The Revelation shows his pride in his (supposedly) birth-given position, and, when he realizes the position isn’t his by birth after all, shows Xanxus himself saying that he’s actually lower than all those people he scorned and abused. This makes his motivation blindingly clear; if he has no other source of worth, then of course he would go to whatever lengths it took to reclaim a “rightful” position as the Ninth’s heir. But it also suggests that Xanxus has no belief in his own abilities and his strength is less in rage than in desperation, which makes him… well, rather pitiful.

Pitiful, but stubborn, because he utterly refuses Tsuna’s empathy and any redemption that might come out of accepting a worldview in which the Ninth genuinely loves him as a son. Instead he is explicitly preserved as someone among the Vongola who, despite defeat, does not accept Tsuna and will undoubtedly be trouble for him one way or another.

And then we have Iemitsu. He stands in a long line of shounen genre dads who are genius weirdos and useless as actual parents. Some examples of this include HxH’s Jinn, PoT’s Nanjirou, GB’s Kaizer, Naruto’s Fourth, Ranma’s Saotome; occasionally we see genius weirdos who are decent parents, such as IniD’s Bunta, or who can be argued either way, such as Bleach’s Isshin, but they are far less common. Normally, if they have any excuse it’s that they’re dead. Unusually, Iemitsu is given a really good reason to be a deadbeat dad: he has an extremely dangerous job that could easily spill over onto his wife and child if he stays with them, and we are shown first-hand evidence of how dangerous both when Xanxus and the Varia show up and in the death toll of the Future arc.

Iemitsu is shown to be dedicated to his job, to the Family before his family. He doesn’t try to get Tsuna out of it, when the putative Ninth’s orders place his child in life or death competition with practiced killers. He is the one who returns to Italy during those battles, to rescue the Ninth, leaving Tsuna in Reborn’s care. This demonstrates his faith in Tsuna’s strength, to be sure, but also an iron commitment to his duty above the natural reactions we might expect a father to have. He is not the usual sort of useless-genius parent.

Indeed, the complexity of both these characters and how they are deployed in the narrative are far more typical of seinen than shounen, and I find myself wondering if post60, at least, more deserves the seinen genre classification.

February 2019

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