Throwback Thursdays: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the story’s frightening relevance in Trump’s America has led to a resurgence of interest in the original book. I read it back in high school, but watching a couple episodes of the show rekindled my interest in reading it again. Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to listen to a copy of the audio book. Atwood’s magnificent prose delivers a chilling, timely tale of a world where women have lost all control over their own lives and bodies. Despite its 1985 publication date, the book engages with numerous issues that remain relevant today, especially in light of current events.

Warning for discussions of slavery and rape below. And, of course, spoilers through the very end of The Handmaid’s Tale novel.

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The Lucky 10,000: The X-Files

Here I am again! As a reminder, this series reviews shows that all geeks are ‘supposed to be’ familiar with, when that’s not always the case, and lets you know if you really should care about them. This time around, I’m looking at The X-Files.

The X-Files follows the story of FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in their work on the titular X-files, a department where the FBI sends the cases they deem ‘unsolvable by standard means’. Basically, the cases deal with problems that are paranormal or extraterrestrial in origin. Mulder has devoted his life to the X-Files because he hopes that by working on them he can find his sister, who was abducted by aliens when they were children. Scully, a medical doctor and scientific thinker, is originally assigned to the department to temper Mulder’s passion and discredit his work. They discover that the United States’ government is neck-deep in a conspiracy with extraterrestrials, but constantly struggle to find conclusve evidence to prove it.

(From here on there be spoilers.)

That was one of my first problems with the show. No matter what happened, not matter how many people inside and outside the FBI they convinced of their theories, Mulder and Scully were always left knowing they were right but with no way to prove it. This happening once or twice makes it a show that isn’t afraid to have a sad ending. This happening all the time makes it a show that enjoys trolling its viewers.

The other problems I had with the show were centered around Scully’s character. First of all, eventually she and Mulder develop feelings for each other, making their six-plus season platonic relationship romantic. Honestly I thought this was poorly handled—I only rarely felt any real romance between the two, and as soon as they were thrown together they were pulled apart.

That was the other big issue I had with this show. Yes, Mulder’s obsession with the X-files is centered around his sister being taken, and he eventually loses the rest of his family. But nearly all of the show’s plot points are based around something being taken from Scully. She is abducted. Her ability to reproduce is taken. She is forced to question her faith. Her sister is killed. Her father dies. She is diagnosed with terminal cancer. She is mystically impregnated, and then forced to give away her baby for its own protection. She falls in love with Mulder, and he is forced out of the FBI and into hiding so they can’t be together. Nine seasons and two movies later, Scully doesn’t seem to have gained anything significant from her times on the X-Files besides the experience of being there and a few friends.

The roots for a mostly procedural paranormal show like Supernatural are definitely clear in this show (And SPN boasts some X-Files alums like Grandpa Samuel Campbell who was A.D. Walter Skinner—I liked him better as Skinner, actually—and Bobby’s hunter friend Rufus Turner, who played Mr. X; Crowley even has a villain role in one episode), and the first several seasons are pretty solid in my opinion. But the last two seasons were really just bad, I thought, and shoehorned in some new characters to make up for the fact that David Duchovny (Mulder) hadn’t signed on as more than a guest star for the last two seasons. They lost the thread of the really compelling alien plotline and focused on something they didn’t really have a handle on, and the final two-hour episode was only exciting in the last ten minutes or so.

I won’t stop interested parties from seeking out The X-Files. But I can only half-heartedly recommend the show to sci-fi geeks—I’ve seen better.

Manga Mondays: Trinity Blood

Hey all! It’s been, hell, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a Manga Mondays around here, but for the good of all I sat down yesterday and re-read all of the Trinity Blood manga I own just so we could talk about it.

Explaining the plot of Trinity Blood is a bit tricksy. You see, the manga is based on a set of light novels, and an anime exists as well, and each of them differ slightly. But the manga is the one I’m familiar with (I’ve never read the novels, and it’s been years since I watched the anime), and this is Manga Monday, not light novel Monday, so I’ll do my best to sum it up.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic Eurasia, divided into human and Methuselah empires. The Methuselah are a long-lived alien species whose traits and habits strongly resemble the human vampire myth, but the story makes it clear that calling a Methuselah a vampire conveys ignorance and/or xenophobia. Humans (mostly led by the Vatican, which controls most of Western Europe) and Methuselah (whose empire is based more in what was once western Russia and Eastern Europe) have held an uneasy peace for centuries, since the apocalyptic events that coincided with the Methuselah’s arrival.

The story starts off in the city of Istavan in Hungary, on the border of the two empires, where Sister Esther Blanchett, a young nun, is betrayed by her best friend and falls in with a priest from the Vatican’s special forces in order to stop the traitor. Political, emotional, and dramatic tensions mount as her former friend plots to set off total war between the Vatican and the Methuselah. After diffusing her former friend’s first attempt, Esther follows the priest, Father Abel Nightroad, back to the Vatican, where she is trained to be a part of the special forces as well.

Abel is a great character, a textbook crouching moron hidden badass who loves humans and tries to embrace pacifism despite his dark secret: he is a genetic experiment, a bloodsucking creature called a Crusnik who feeds on Methuselahs, developed during the first interspecies war as an ultimate weapon for the humans. Most of the time he’s a goofy, clumsy guy who flirts with literally everyone (even the robot priest) and takes 13 sugars in his tea; but fuck with him, give him a reason to release the nanomachine controls on his Crusnik form, and he’ll end you.

Esther is, after re-reading this series, one of my favorite manga heroines. She’s never oversexualized or objectified. She and Abel, save for a few instances when they’d just met, have a relationship that is wonderfully, relievingly platonic (yay for realistic male-female friendships!). She often gets herself into sticky or dangerous situations, but she almost always saves herself (and others, at times) rather than needing to be rescued. She is fiery, caring, and noble, a good on-the-fly strategist and a loyal friend, but also flawed in different ways. She is often naive; she has to train hard to become a skilled marksman; and when she learns Abel’s secret, she is realistically and understandably terrified of him and has a difficult time overcoming this fear to restore their friendship.

This was one of the things that, weirdly, really made me happy about her characterization. When you find out that one of your good friends is hiding a terrible monster, especially when it’s something you’ve been trained to fear, hate, and kill, inside himself, it’s unrealistic that a person will just shrug the revelation off and move on with being friends with no issues. (This was one of my biggest beefs with the Blue Exorcist anime.)

The series is also full of other strong female characters, both human and Methuselah: Esther and Abel’s boss, Cardinal Caterina Sforza, is a caring but stern administrator and a genius at political scheming. The Empress of the Methuselah is a loving and maternal figure who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and kick ass when the situation calls for it. Lady Astarothe is a low-ranking Methuselah noble who’s loyal, intelligent, a skilled warrior, and comfortable with her body. (But seriously on the topic of objectification, this series is really wonderfully non-objectifying while not being afraid of the female form—there’s an entire scene where Astarothe and Esther talk in the bath, and even though that meant ten or so pages filled with boobs, the scene wasn’t portrayed in a sexually titillating (/badpun) way—they just happened to be in the bath, and thus there was nudity.) The rest of the cast, both female and male, are a bevy of interesting, unique, and well-developed characters as well.

The story also has a lot of interesting religious aspects and themes. Any divergences from current Catholic doctrine or practice (female cardinals, militaristic special forces populated by priests and nuns, robot priests, and boy popes) I personally forgive, because considering the story is set 900 years in the future a hell of a lot of things could have changed. Abel and his family are both named after and obvious callbacks to creation-myth characters: Abel, Cain, Seth, and Lilith. Other character names are obvious callbacks to notorious Catholic leaders of the past—Caterina and her brothers, a bishop and the Pope, have the surname Sforza, a family closely tied to the Borgias in medieval/Renaissance Italy.

There are also interesting race-related themes, regarding intolerance, fear, and hatred of those who are unlike ourselves. That’s another reason I liked Esther—although she grows to accept humans and Methuselah for their character rather than making judgments about their species, we see that she has to work through her preformed prejudices in order to do so. I found this far more realistic; if she’d started out as a girl from a border town growing up around fear of ‘vampires’ for her entire life, and then the second she met a real one she immediately befriended them, it would reek of Mary Suedom to me.

The art of Trinity Blood is beautiful and the storytelling is clever, funny, and flows very well to me. Unfortunately this series was licensed in the US by Tokyopop, which went under last summer, so only the first dozen or so volumes of this ongoing series are available in English. Despite that, however, it’s definitely worth checking out. Give it a look and tell me if you liked it as much as I do! (Athough feel free to write less—good gorram I wrote a freaking novel here…)

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Christianity in Anime

As with any situation where some people try to represent a tradition they don’t really know that much about, the Japanese are pretty ace at reimagining Christianity in the weirdest of ways. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know America does the same thing when they make every Buddhist monk a master of kung fu or something, I know as far as Christianity is concerned Christians have some of the least space historically to complain about appropriation, but that’s not what I’m gonna focus on today.)

Christianity first came to southern Japan with the first merchants during the European age of exploration, circa the 17th century. The Japanese government had finally restabilized itself following the Warring States era, and the ruling Tokugawa family decided that the foreigners’ religion (among other foreigner things) was a threat to the nation, and implemented a closed-borders policy, where no foreigners went in and no Japanese went out. Part of this policy made being a Christian a capital offense. This went on for over two and a half centuries, until the Tokugawa regime was toppled, America bullied Japan into reopening, and a new government was established. To this day, the population of Christians in Japan is about 1% of the total number of Japanese.

tl;dr: Historically and currently, Japan doesn’t have a lot of Christians and the Japanese in general (yay sweeping generalizations) don’t really get or care about getting a grasp on the meat of the doctrine, since they mostly all follow a vaguely atheist mix of Buddhism and Shintoism.

In part, because of the fact that Christianity isn’t really understood, there are a lot of really crazy anime that involve Christianity since it can make a theoretically great backdrop for anything with a supernatural plot. You may remember my Manga Mondays review of Hellsing? Well, it’s my honor to start there.

Hellsing’s main characters are English Protestants fighting vampires, and good god are they bloodthirsty, but not as bloodthirsty as the amoral and nigh-sociopathic forces of the

Catholic Church’s Division XIII, the Iscariot unit. They are basically a holdover from the most vicious and brutal of Crusaders—willing to kill anything—human or supernatural—that doesn’t profess the Catholic faith. At one point in the story, the Pope (who may or may not be JPII) gives permission for actual Catholic crusader armies to level London, as the first step in a Reconquista of the heathen Protestant islands. Yikes. The Church is by no means perfect, but I’m pretty sure that the Vatican does not have legions of crack soldiers for this sort of purpose.

Also, there’s, y’know, the gun.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about religious life. For example, Sister Esther of Trinity Blood and Sister Rosette of Chrono Crusade both have romantic interests in their male companions, Father Abel, a priest, and Chrono, a demon, respectively. Rosette’s also drawn in a super fetishistic way—thigh highs and garter belts under that habit? Of course there are. Trinity Blood also goes against current Catholic doctrine with a female Cardinal, but Caterina’s so badass that I don’t give any bothers about that.

In Rurouni Kenshin filler as well as in Samurai Champloo, the main characters encounter secret Christian groups in southern Japan, and they often wield plans to take over Japan like real Christian groups wielded rosaries.

A particularly strange case is that of Saiyuki—the story is based on a founding myth of Mahayana Buddhism, for cripe’s sake, and the main character is a Buddhist priest, but in the anime at least, we see statues of the Virgin Mary protecting a town from demons in a way that nothing Buddhist can.

And there are dozens of anime, mostly romantic (they’re a particularly common setting for shoujo-ai like Maria-sama ga Miteru) that are set in Catholic schools, but where the chapels are more of a place for a dramatic scene change than a place for worship.

I could go on for a long time, here. But I won’t. There are certainly anime that represent Christianity more reasonably. In the new anime Kids on the Slope/Sakamichi no Apollon, the main character moves to Kyushu and the friends he makes are Christians. In general, he has a typical Japanese reaction—he doesn’t get it, but he doesn’t resent them or try to convert them or anything either. They just happen to be Christian, with no guns, demons, or corny, chaste, and over-dramatic girls-love involved. To be fair, this is a slice of life anime and most of the rest I mentioned are fantasy in some way, but nevertheless, it was a breath of fresh air to see it.

What other anime do you know of with weird religious overtones or themes, readers? Let me know in the comments. For now, though, that’s a wrap on this week’s Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus.

Tune in next time and get some religion!

Avatar: The Review of Korra

Hooo boy you guys am I excited. I finally had a chance to sit down and watch the first four episodes of Korra, and I am in such a happy place right now. (A big shout out to my bff Nakura for patiently fielding all my live-tweetesque response texts, which have conveniently allowed me to remember ALL my feels for your perusal.)


(Also, this comes at the perfect time, because since MLP ended last week I am fresh out of Saturday cartoons.)

Things I love about this show:

  • It’s not trying to be its predecessor. In fact, so far the only remaining living character from the previous series is Katara (WHO IS BECOME GRANGRAN).
  • I love Korra. She’s fiery and three-dimensional and impulsive and has got a hell of a temper and an authority problem. She reminds me a lot of Books 2-and-3 Katniss in that she has a lot of noble feelings about how to make the city better and an amazing ability to say just the right thing in press conferences. And best of all, people are talking about Korra in terms of her personality, her abilities, and her choices—NOT her looks.
  • The steampunkness of Republic City is awesome and not forced at all. It seems like a very natural progression from the original series’ technology.
  • Mako and Bolin are fun—they really strongly remind me of Zuko and Sokka (why mess with a character formula that works?) but not so much that they’re carbon copies. (How are they brothers, by the way, if one’s an Earthbender and one’s a Firebender? How do bender genetics work? Why is no one in Tenzin’s family a Waterbender?)
  • I like that the intro now has Kyoshi, Roku, Aang, and Korra in it now—a cool nod to Avatars past and present.
  • So many nods to fan things and geek things. I mean, Tenzin’s oldest daughter (ALSO MY FAVORITE—she reminds me of Kaede Kaburagi from Tiger & Bunny) straight up asks Katara what happened to Zuko’s mom (and is unfortunately cut off—curse you, writers)! And in the third episode when Korra is harrassing that Equalist, I got serious Monty Python vibes.

Other things I felt:

  • Amon needs to suck it up—Zuko was brutally burned all over his face by his own dad, and still sucked it up and became a better person.
  • I love the announcer with his super-corny announcer voice.
  • The Fire-ferrets’ eye colors all match their bending. So cheesy.
  • There’s gotta be a way to fix the taking away of bending. I saw a really well-thought-out explanation of how Amon’s anti-bending is different from Aang’s energybending and therefore reversible on tumblr, which I can link interested parties to.
  • I want to know if Toph actually married someone or if Lin Beifong was born out of Earthbending and sheer awesomeness.
  • I’m not sure how far I trust Asami. (I’m certainly pleased to have a second main female character even though it seems to foreshadows romantic pairoffs in a way I dislike.) She just seems very snakelike to me.
  • Mako’s eyebrows. Can we talk about them? They’re ridiculous.
  • I really hope in a ridiculous way that Amon is Son of Cabbages Guy, and he’s trying to get back against benders for generations of lost profit.

There is no connecting thread in this post. I just wanted to get out my thoughts. Have any of our dear readers been following Korra? What do you think?

Theatre Thursdays: A Trip to the Ballet

So I love the ballet.  (Going to it, that is – the extent of my dancing is an ability to do para para.) I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a very talented company, and also lucky enough to have a mom who’s had season tickets since before I could spell ballet. Because of all of these reasons, I was able to see their performance of Coppelia about a fortnight ago.

The production was, of course, lovely, and I greatly enjoyed it (I’m a sucker for the formulaic ways of classical ballet, and the company is truly excellent).

Coppelia is a ballet in three acts about a small town (German or Austrian, I think).  Anyway, there’s a young couple in love (Franz and Swanilda), a mysterious girl on a balcony (the tiitular Coppelia), and a grumpy old inventor (Dr. Coppelius). Franz, despite his love for Swanilda, is intrigued by the girl who sits on the Coppelius’ balcony every day, silently reading her book and paying no attention whatsoever to the outside world.  Swanilda, who’s a bit of a firebrand, gives her boyfriend all sorts of shit for swooning over this bookworm.  Dr. Coppelius thinks the whole town is a nuisance, caring more about his inventions (no one in the town knows exactly what he does).

One day upon leaving his house, the good Doctor drops his key.  Swanilda finds it, and she and her friends sneak into his house to see what exactly goes on there, what with all the mysterious bangs and explosions and whatnot. At the same time, Franz succumbs to curiosity and climbs up to Coppelia’s window.  To the group’s great amusement, they discover that Coppelius makes toys – life size dolls – and that the pretty girl in the window is no more than a pretty puppet.   Swanilda switches clothes with the doll and plays a trick on Coppelius when he returns, making him believe his beloved creation has come to life.  Eventually she grows tired of it, reveals the doll’s body behind a curtain, and she and her posse make their escape as Coppelius laments his persnickety-old-person forever-aloneness.

The entire third act is Franz and Swanilda’s wedding.  Yes, this is a classical ballet, and that is how it is done. There is corps dancing, there is a grand pas de deux, and curtain call.


There’s a lot to unpack when looking at ballet from a feminist perspective – the dedication to a purported ‘ideal’ body type; the superhero-comic-like double standard of males portraying a masculine power ideal while women portray a male’s sexual ideal; the annoying stereotype that any man dancing ballet is gay and any man attending ballet is either gay or really really wants to get some; and the stereotypical hetero fairy-tale-esque love story that ends with a happily-ever-after marriage.

However, I think it’s also worthwhile to point out that ballet is a venue where stories about women tend to take preference, where women’s roles are the ones that get top billing, and where, more often than not, the girls and women who are portrayed in these stories are imaginative adventurers with dreams and (like Swanilda) sassy, not-exactly-a-damsel-in-distress personalities.

What are your thoughts on ballet, dear readers?

Trailer Tuesdays: The Hunger Games

Lady Saika here, hijacking your regularly scheduled Trailer Tuesdays to talk about the upcoming Hunger Games movie.

First, the trailer:

So I hadn’t read the books yet the first time I saw this trailer, (although I did have a basic idea of the plot) and I thought it looked pretty interesting.  Now that I have read the books, I’d definitely say that this movie looks like it will be both baller and true to the book.  Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, in particular, seems to have that purely Katniss-y mix of naive hope and jaded determination down pat. And I love that they end the trailer with Rue’s four-note tune.

However, I has a curious, and this is it:  if the movie is as true to the book as it seems to be, how will it be able to scrape by with a PG-13 rating? The Hunger Games series is easily the most brutal series I’ve ever read, and even more people die (more children die) gory and horrific deaths in these three books than at the Battle of Hogwarts.  Hell, the climax of the first book features no less than two kids watching a third eaten alive by mutant wolves, and then almost committing joint suicide together.

Not that I want to watch that.  By no means do I want to actually see any of the brutal deaths happen. But I’d like to know how they scoot around it for the ratings.  And out of the three books, I liked Hunger Games the best, so I’m probably gonna go see this one.  And I’ll probably see Catching Fire, too, if the first is as good as it looks to be. (Mockingjay, on the other hand, pulled so many triggers I didn’t even know I had, that I’m not sure if I can sit through the third film, no matter how much they whitewash it.)

One thing that’s great about this series, though, is that it does have a strong female lead, and she has absolutely no time for romantic nonsense, she just wants to survive and get back to her family. That is a refreshing twist.  Hopefully you will enjoy this movie, dear readers – just be warned that it will probably be brutal, and you will cry.

Manga Mondays: Return to Labyrinth

The movie Labyrinth came out in 1986 and featured a young Jennifer Connelly, lots of dancing muppets, and David Bowie in hose that left little to the imagination. I don’t know what people thought of it back then (besides what Wikipedia tells me) because I was not yet alive, but I know that when I first saw it in high school, I thought it was great. What older sibling hasn’t wanted to wish their younger brother or sister away? And what teenage girl doesn’t wish an immortal fae David Bowie was in love with her? And yes, let’s be honest, outside of the rationalizing Sarah/Jareth shippers can do about their relationship, it is sort of creepy and rape-y. (“Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave”? That’s a bit much to ask, Jareth.) But this is not a review of the movie, but as it is Manga Mondays, a review of the manga sequel to the Labyrinth story published only a few years ago, entitled Return to Labyrinth.

Spoilers below the jump.

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