I very recently started watching Star vs The Forces of Evil (no spoilers, please!) and was amused by an episode where Star needs to undo a spell she’s cast on Marco. She pulls out the wand’s manual, an ancient, crumbling tome filled with the wisdom of ages of wand users to consult, only to realize that all of their notes are so cryptic and poorly organized that it will take her ages to make any sense of them. This got me thinking about magical journals in general. A common staple of fantasy fiction is a magical guide to the world in question, typically in the form of some kind of handwritten diary or log. Sometimes a book is just a book; I can’t imagine, for example, that Newt’s finished version of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will be anything but a basic bestiary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, these books are often most compelling when they serve a greater purpose than simply as a how-to or a reference of some kind. By including these books in a layered way, we can add additional complexity to the stories we tell.
The newest season of RWBY was, in my opinion, one of the better seasons: the animation was beautiful and the characters continued to grow in impactful ways. There were unsurprisingly a few missteps, but one of these missteps almost ruined the entire season for me—and while it didn’t, it certainly took me out of a couple episodes. Before this season, RWBY didn’t offer too much in the ways of characters with physical disabilities, but the characters they did show were pretty badass. Torchwick’s right hand woman, Neo, managed to be intimidating, skilled, and infuriating (in a good, villain-y way) all without use of her voice, and Cinder’s companion, Mercury, used his prosthetic legs as naturally and dangerously as any trained warrior would. Their disabilities didn’t define either one or hold either of them back, it was just a part of who they were. Which is why I was disappointed and frustrated that in RWBY Season 4, the characters now learning how to live with their new physical disabilities weren’t given the same sort of narrative support — a problem most heinously shown through the character Yang.
In the absence of regular Steven Universe episodes, I decided to venture into the wide, wide world of its fanworks to fill the gem-shaped emptiness inside me. However, while I do love and support the canonical pairings in the show, I’m not super married to actively shipping anyone, and so I decided to see what I could find in the more gen fic space instead.
I was delighted to stumble upon this particular fic, which examines the sometimes contentious but ultimately loving relationship between Connie and her mother.
I finally had a chance to sit down and watch Season 4 of RWBY—something I was really looking forward to after how much I enjoyed the previous season. With everything seemingly in ruins, Season 3 left me wondering how Team RWBY and their friends would be left to pick up the pieces and Season 4 did not disappoint. Though not as action-packed as the season before it, Season 4 finally took some time to give both the main characters and the side characters some much needed development. However, some of these developments left me feeling a little confused and questioning why the writers took that path (and not in a good way). And while RWBY’s world continues to improve in terms of diversity, at times it felt like a mirror of the name of one of the season’s episodes: one step forward, two steps back.
In my grand tradition of rewatching old Scooby-Doo movies for this column, I sat down this week with yet another Saika family fave: Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. It’s been ages since I’d watched the movie, so much so that it’s possible that I’ve played the PS1 game based on it more recently than I’ve seen it.
So it was with almost fresh eyes that I turned back to this particular title in my teensy VHS collection. I have to say, upon rewatching, I found myself both amused and bemused, but never quite engaged enough to make this a fave like Zombie Island.
For many of us, Cowboy Bebop, as it notes in its opening credits, really did become “a new genre unto itself.” It was a formative anime experience and set a standard for animated television that in many ways continues to be that against which new shows are judged. It was hugely successful and for many people, in the West at least, served as an introduction into what anime was really capable of as a storytelling medium. It was also released during the late 90’s pop culture zeitgeist when the Internet was still relatively new and concepts like media inclusivity and cultural appropriation were just beginning to gain traction in the mainstream narrative.
So how does Cowboy Bebop hold up when exposed to modern criticism? Mostly pretty well. There’s some problematic stuff, obviously, but the universe in which Bebop is set offered a lot of creative freedom and some of that was used to explore social constructs and culture. It presents a vision of the future that is incredibly diverse and where humanity is living on other worlds, but where people are still just people. While there are tropes and shortcomings, some of that vision was ahead of its time and still holds water today.
While I consider myself an anime fan, I only count a surprisingly few anime titles among my all time favorites. One that definitely makes the cut is FLCL. It is almost impossible to explain what exactly FLCL actually is (though our own BrothaDom made a truly valiant effort); the show is legendarily rumored to be a byproduct of writer’s block, spawning from a handful of unfinished ideas that some anime all-stars had been batting around. While that may be at least somewhat apocryphal, it certainly explains much of the show’s signature production style. One interpretation for it all that I cannot help wanting to explore, however, is that the entire story is a parable about adolescent sexual and romantic coming of age.
Much of the plot is directly and explicitly just that: a coming-of-age story. It can be argued, though, that the more grandiose and surreal main story arc is all one giant metaphor for this as well. In addition to the protagonist Naota, almost every other key character (primarily the three women in Naota’s life: Haruko, Mamimi, and Eri) also deals with these themes and the extraordinary events that happen to them are all viewable as metaphorical (and/or metaphysical) extensions of those emotional struggles.
As the YA sci-fi and fantasy genres become more and more of a driving force in pop culture, FLCL is worth revisiting (again) for what it says about some of those same themes. It tells a complex and deeply layered yet easily relatable story about the nature of romantic and sexual self-discovery in a way that validates the emotions that young people (and everyone else) look to explore in this type of fiction; not only that, but it does so in a way that treats them with a sincerity that mainstream YA fiction sometimes tends to handle with melodrama and/or trivialization.
Trigger warning for underage sexual relationships below.