A Farewell to Fearless Defenders

Several months ago now, we reviewed the first issue of Fearless Defenders, the all-female team book written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by Will Sliney. The book was recently canceled, and last Wednesday, the final issue appeared in comic shops.

You’ll notice I didn’t say ‘a fond farewell’ in the title. Well, that’ll be because I had a very strained relationship with this book. In theory, I was very excited for it when it was announced. Fearless Defenders predated X-MenMarvel’s other all-ladies team book, by several months, and I wished the best for it and from it; I really did. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver.

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Fanfiction Fridays: This summer vacation story is better than yours.

So I’m a pretty big fan of Welcome To Night Vale just in general. It’s pretty great. And one of the things I love about it is that, even though it’s already more diverse than most media, it isn’t afraid to continue adding in more intersectional diversity. I guess they figure haters gonna hate.

And Night Vale fanfiction is no stranger to this philosophy—the fanfic I’ve found has suggested such additions to canon as Carlos being trans*, Cecil being nonbinary, and the faceless woman who lives in your house being Old Woman Josie’s girlfriend from high school.

How I Survived My Summer Vacation, by Tamika Flynn, Age 12 3/4 is a gem among stories of this sort, and besides being intersectionally awesome, has got superb writing to boot.

by cactuartamer on tumblr

fanart for this story by cactuartamer on tumblr

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Movie

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones01Sadly—or thankfully, depending on whichever you prefer—this book-to-movie adaptation hasn’t been doing very well. And unfortunately its author, Cassandra Clare, has been at the center of some controversy, most notably accusations of plagiarism. City of Bones follows the fifteen-year-old Clary—played here by twenty-four-year-old Lily Collins, because how big is a nine-year gap, really?—who, after witnessing a murder, is drawn into a world of magic and demons.

It turns out that the murder victim was a demon, and his killer, Jace, is a Shadowhunter, a person who fights demons using magical runes and awesome swords, because swords look cool. When Clary’s mother goes missing and Clary finds herself about to be killed by one of the demons who took her, Jace comes to her rescue. Clary discovers that her mother used to be a Shadowhunter as well, and that her mother had stolen and hid a very powerful relic called the Mortal Cup, capable of turning normal people into the half-angel, half-human Shadowhunters. Thus starts our plot to find Clary’s mother and the Mortal Cup, and this also marks the beginnings of an epic romance between Jace and Clary.

All in all, it doesn’t surprise me that this movie seems to have bombed, however disappointed I am that that’s the case. I’d say that this movie is a fairly decent adaptation of the first book in The Mortal Instruments series. The problem here is that the books are terrible, and they made a really terrible movie. So why am I sad that it’s not doing well?

Well, there are a number of reasons. For starters, it features a female protagonist, and we don’t get a lot of those. It has queer characters, who I thought were some of the most well written characters in the books. And it has a twist in the romance that I thought could have been very well done and unique.

Spoilers for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones after the jump.

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Are we ever gonna get some queer representation in superhero movies?

Superhero movies are starting to become ubiquitous, whether they’re done by DC, exist in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, or belong to one of the other companies that holds rights to Marvel characters. In the next few years alone we’ve got Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Ant-Man, Avengers 2, Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, a Fantastic Four reboot in the works, a Justice League movie on the table, rumors about other DC projects, and the as-of-yet unrevealed MCU Phase 3 films. There’s also the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show premiering in the fall and Arrow, which will be back for a second season.

Upcoming-Marvel-Superhero-Movies2And as of right now, not a single one of those things includes a queer character.

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Let Saika Tell You About Homestuck: Act 6

fourkids1So you’ve finally read Acts 1–5 of Homestuck. You’ve successfully learned over a dozen main characters names, habits, and personalities, absorbed a new working vocabulary including terms like ‘capchalogue’ and ‘alchemiter’, come to terms with a polyamorous alien romance system, and finally got your brains to stop leaking out your ears after Cascade. What’s next?

Act 6, nooksniffer. Buckle up.

Actually, first, there’s Intermission 2, which is just one flash. Unbuckle. Go watch it. Come back. Buckle back up. Are you ready? Good.

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Sexualized Saturdays: You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

[tw: discussions of transphobia in anime]

Also known as Trans Equals Gay, Anime Edition. Let TVTropes explain it for you better than I can:

In Real Life, being gay and being transgender are entirely separate, as they relate to two different things. Being gay relates to sexual attraction, and means being attracted to others of the same gender. Being trans relates to gender identity, and means identifying as a different gender from one’s assigned physical sex. This can be expressed (in a heavily oversimplified way) as being “a woman trapped in a man’s body” or vice versa. However, this distinction is all too often overlooked by straight cisgender writers wanting to insert a little LGBT-ness into their stories.

The root of this confusion is probably the heteronormative cultural attitude that “boys like girls and girls like boys” as a rule, and anything else is an “unnatural” aberration. Faced with the existence of gay people, using this assumption some might think the two are linked: “Well, the only reason these boys like other boys is because they want to be girls”. Similarly, in trying to understand transgender people, they might think “The only reason these boys want to be girls is because they like other boys.”

Japanese culture has a complicated relationship with queer characters in anime and manga to begin with. This is something I’ve touched on before. QUILTBAG anime characters tend to be smushed into a one-size-fits-all stereotype, where trans* and gay and genderfluid and bi and every other kind of character, especially if they present male, will act the same flamboyant way. Perhaps this is an attempt to force traditional gender roles on non-hetero characters and relationships; perhaps the writers just don’t know the difference. Either way, it’s the opposite of good, and has lead me to assume that like 90% of the queer male-assigned characters in anime are just gay guys written by writers who think gay equals trans. (For examples of this outside the characters in this post, see Leeron, Nuriko, Charlotte Coolhorne, that one gay character in InuYasha who they dubbed with a female voice…)

To add to that, fandom doesn’t help—the characters who do seem to be trans* are constantly misgendered by fandom in discussion, meta, fanfic, etc. Let’s look at these two characters from very popular shows. Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Captain Jack Harkness

Ladies and gentlefolk: Captain Jack Harkness.

Jack appears in two shows: Doctor Who and its anagrammatic spinoff Torchwood. He first appears in my favorite Nine two-parter, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and he is probably the closest thing current television has to a pansexual character.

Let’s talk about some common responses to the revelation of a pan (or at least bi) character on Who/Torchwood.

First, we have the people who reject Jack’s pansexuality because most of his romantic entanglements onscreen are with men. I think that doesn’t necessarily negate Jack’s sexuality; it just shows that the writers tend to overcompensate by saying ‘Look at all the men he sleeps with even though he also flirts with girls! Totally subversive sexually, yes?!’ I still hold that Jack is genuinely attracted to (at least) both genders (of humans)—I don’t think he discriminates by species either (as long as they’re sentient).

Then we have the other big double-whammy with Jack: the nature of his pansexuality and its performance. First of all, the Doctor introduces him, saying to Rose that 51st century people like Jack no longer conform to the little boxes that Rose knows. This could be sort of problematic in that it implies that eventually everyone will be pansexual, which is a weird thing to think about a group that makes up a minority of the queer population, let alone all of humanity. Let’s instead interpret it as saying that the stigma on sexual expression has been greatly reduced in the 51st century.

The other problem is that Jack is, right now, basically the face of Boe of pansexuality on TV, and he’s portrayed in much the way that society stereotypes non-monosexual people: hypersexual, not picky, and always on the make. This is just another example of two-dimensionalized queer characters on TV. Jack is conventionally attractive, and because he’s a dude his constant in-your-face sexuality is easy to play for laughs.

What are your thoughts about good ol’ Cap’n Jack, folks?

Sexualized Saturdays: Soifon

If you’re looking for romance in Bleach, you’re gonna be looking for a long time. Pretty much the only canon admission of feelings comes when Orihime says goodbye to a sleeping Ichigo before being taken away by Ulquiorra. But even though Ichigo himself is a whole separate can of worms when it comes to sexuality, today we’re going to look at one of Bleach’s most badass ladies: Soul Society’s Second Squad Captain Soifon.

Apparently-queer characters, are surprisingly a dime-a-dozen in Bleach, (Yumichika, Szayel and Ylforte, Charlotte Cuulhorne, Chizuru, Rose, Lisa, the list goes on) but barring a few noteworthy exceptions, they’re mostly predatory fruity stereotypes.

Soifon, on the other hand, first appears as a proud and hardboiled assassin; after all, the Second Squad are the special forces of Soul Society. And then she fights Yoruichi, and it becomes clear that a lot of her hard outer shell is a side effect of being betrayed by someone she idolized. In a later flashback arc we see that Yoruichi was the first person to help Soifon out of her shell, and easily the first person that she could call a friend.

So noble, so beautiful and so terrifyingly strong. She was everything I ever wanted to be. I very strongly admired her. No, that feeling was beyond admiration. I worshipped her.”—Soifon, Chapter 159

But when Urahara and the shinigami who would become the Vaizards were framed, Yoruichi chose to stick with Urahara and go into hiding in the human world.

When Yoruichi and Soifon fight that first time, Soifon is ruthless, but when the topic of this abandonment is finally breached, the question Soifon asks, as she breaks down in tears, is: Why didn’t you take me with you?

“I was extremely disappointed in you! I hated you! I cursed you! I swore to arrest you one day with my own hands! Then to surpass you, I struggled.. gained strength… I will never forgive you, Yoruichi! For betraying my respect and trust I will never forgive you! Why… Why… Why didn’t you take me with you Yoruichi-sama?”—Soifon, Chapter 159

She cared deeply enough about Yoruichi that she would have thrown away her honor, and her rank, and her responsibilities just for the chance to stay by Yoruichi’s side.

From that fight forward, Soifon’s crush on Yoruichi is often played for laughs in the anime’s omakes; Yoruichi can turn into a black cat, so you see Soifon cuddling cat plushies, unselfconsciously submitting cat-adorned designs for Shinigami Women’s Association contests, and so on. But it’s pretty straightforwardly acknowledged that it is a crush. Soifon blushes and becomes uncharacteristically emotional around her mentor; she continues to be wildly jealous of and hateful toward Urahara and the fact that Yoruichi still seems to have chosen him over her. And although it may be obvious to everyone except Soifon herself, essential immortality (barring any mishaps or violent death) means she potentially has millenia to work herself up to an actual love confession.

This post sort of became more of a history of the Soifon/Yoruichi ship rather than solely focusing on Soifon’s sexuality. But I think it’s really impossible to talk about Soifon without discussing the most important figure in her life, and the fandom’s justification for suggesting she’s a lesbian. So dear readers, what do you think? Does the Second Squad’s leading lady carry a torch for her former captain, or is it strictly platonic? Let me know in the comments.

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Manga Mondays: Black Butler

Hooooboy. I’ve been wanting to write about Black Butler (or as some people might know it, Kuroshitsuji) for so long. I want to do it justice, because it’s one of my favorite manga of all time and one of the few consistently good manga that I follow.

So let’s do this crazy thing.

If you are an anime fan or have ever been to an anime convention, you have probably seen something related to this manga’s anime counterpart.  (It’s regained popularity recently because of a second season that premiered. Do not, I repeat, do not, watch the second season. It is bad for so many reasons. Read the manga instead. It is still ongoing, and it is awesome.)

The basic plot of Black Butler is this: someone killed a young boy’s parents and sold him into slavery. This boy sold his soul to a demon, payable upon his receiving revenge on said someone.  The demon became his butler in the meantime.

Seems sort of bleak, I know, and there are certainly some harsh truths and brutal actions revealed over the course of the story.  But 1) that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s nice to have an utilitarian antihero sometimes rather than a truth-and-justice-and-niceness-always typical manga-boy-lead.  And 2) the story can actually be heartwarming and/or hilarious at times.

The supporting cast is really a large part of what makes this a fabulous series. You may have heard of TVTropes Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass concept? (If not, educate yourself.) Most of Ciel (our main boy)’s staff and friends are the epitome of this trope, and display it in the most mindblowing of ways.  A bumbing housemaid becomes a sharpshooter, a cutesy girl is revealed as a killer swordswoman.  (Trying not to give away too many spoilers is hard…)

And as far as this blog’s overarching concerns are, well, concerned, Black Butler is one of those rare manga where you can find badass females in scores AND even a badass transgender death god, who is my absolute favorite character and go-to Black Butler cosplay, Grell Sutcliffe.

The morality of the actual decision to sell his soul is never really dealt with in the series, nor is the overarching theology in which there are demons (evil) and death gods (neutral) with whom to barter and converse but no complementary ‘good’ supernatural force. And on the topic of morality,  I mean, we as the audience are generally inclined to root for the Sebastian the amoral demon butler, who will maim, seduce, or kill anything that stands in the way of his master’s goals.

But it’s fun to read something that actually gives you food for thought once in a while.  So go read Black Butler: check out the intense storyline, the baller characters, the wild philosophical dilemmas, and the insanely beautiful art.  Oh yeah, did I mention that the art was insanely beautiful? Because if there is a manga out there that is more consistently pretty to look at than Black Butler (besides maybe Alichino) I will eat my fancy cardboard chainsaw/death scythe.

Manga Mondays: The Pervasive Queer Stereotypes of the Manga World

Hi folks! Believe it or not, I’m starting to run out of manga I’ve read recently enough to be comfortable reviewing them. (Being a college student tends to cut in on that pesky thing we call free time). So I’m going to put aside my weekly review for a bit and instead address an issue I’ve noticed in a lot of manga and anime that I frankly find troubling. Namely, how do manga writers portray queer characters?

The most pervasive view of the queer person in manga is the flirtatious, flamboyant gay man. The character is often portrayed as a classically masculine man (large and muscular, often hairy) who augments their appearance via drag, makeup, or traditionally feminine accessories. They talk in affected ways and are generally side characters that are seen as sexually predatory toward straight main characters but never as average sexual beings in normal relationships. Examples?

  • Grell Sutcliff, a transwoman in Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji, makes constant romantic overtures toward the butler Sebastian, who finds her attentions disgusting.
  • Leeron, an accomplished mechanic and scientist in Gurren Lagann, is shown constantly flirting with and winking at the hypermasculine Kamina, as well as the rest of the Gurren Brigade.
  • Charlotte Cuulhorne, one of Barragan’s fraccion in Bleach. During his one battle, he is consistently mocked and his appearance and actions played for laughs, sadly enough by one of the series’ only realistic (arguably) queer characters, Yumichika.
  • REBORN’s Lussuria is arguably badass, and predatory in a purely violent rather than sexual way, but is referred to as nee-san (older sister) and the ‘mother’ of the Varia (the hit squad of which he is a member).
  • Jakotsu, a villain in Inuyasha, is seen to be attracted to both Inuyasha and Kouga, but in a sadistic and twisted way. (And in the English dub of the anime, he was given a female voice actor to remove the ‘creepiness’ of having a gay guy crushing on the main character.)

And if they’re not predatory, they’re sexless. Look at the Black Order’s cook, Jerry, from D. Gray-man, in whose case I think a picture is worth a thousand words.

That is to say, I have no words.

So is there any hope?

It’s hard to say. A lot of people point to the thriving BL market as an example of Japan’s more progressive views of homosexuality, but the truth is that that genre tends to perpetuate traditional gender dynamics (aggressive top/seme, emotional and submissive bottom/uke) and tends to encourage rape apology. (“Deep down he really wanted to be aggressively kissed without warning!”)

And the yuri market, although it does often contain work that’s less sexualized and more directed at women, is still significantly tainted by the male gaze and conventional ideas of [two attractive ciswomen sexing = hot].

There are examples of queer characters who aren’t the threating ‘other’, but they’re few and far between. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune for example, have a committed relationship that is not the main focus of their show. Wandering Son, a more recent slice-of-life manga (and its anime adaptation) apparently (I haven’t read/watched it yet) treats transpeople in a respectful and thoughtful way by following two transgender children in middle school.

How can you make a difference? Well, it’s difficult when there’s a cultural and language barrier between an author and their concerned demographic. But we can try to change the American market by arguing with our wallets and our words. Support manga and anime that portray queer characters in a believable and thoughtful way by buying their works and merchandise. Go to the websites of publishing and anime distribution companies like Viz Media and Yen Press and FUNimation and Crunchyroll and let them know what you think and what you want to see.