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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

In this gender reader: how to discuss nonbinary genders in Japanese, gross anime tropes, a shôjo manga release and a 20th anniversary, and more!

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Image: Chihiro from Spirited Away runs through the town as the spirits come out to go to the bathhouse

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Over the summer, I had the chance to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Seattle Art Museum. This was my first time seeing any of her work in person, and it was well worth getting a new membership for me and my partner.

These photos focus on the art that was not the Infinity Mirror Rooms, since you can’t really take a quick photo without getting yourself in it, too. Photos of the Infinity Mirror Rooms can be found on the SAM website, though.

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Poster for Brides to Be, which shows two brides on a wedding cake; the right side of the cake and bride on the right are being swept away in the wind; the bride on the left is holding onto her.

Queer horror in the Pacific Northwest? Heck yes.

Brides to Be (2016) is a film based on the short film Together Foreverin which Robin and Jenna get engaged. The original film is not a horror film, but the sequel, in which Robin, Jenna, and Jenna’s best friend Nate try to set up for the wedding, definitely is. This is a haunted house film as well as a love story, and I really enjoyed getting to see a film with queer heroines, especially two queer femmes who look like the queer femmes I know in the PNW. Also, that twinkle-light aesthetic is how I want my apartment to look 24-7.

Some spoilers ahead.

As much as I enjoyed the director’s genre-bending, queer-positive film, I feel like the narrative could have been tighter. There were a lot of plot holes and unexplained sequences, including

-Whenever Jenna or Robin has an ghostly episode, which is roughly every 15 minutes, why do they just move on as if nothing is wrong?

-Why are Robin, Jenna, and Nate there at the site alone overnight? Is the venue a B&B or does it only have two rooms? Where are all the other guests? (This isn’t an elopement with a photo shoot–we’re told there are guests and that it’s a “big wedding.”)

-Jenna is having trouble writing her vows; she confides in Nate that feels like Robin is so with-it and together and that she can’t be like that. This is never followed up on or explained–is Jenna estranged from her family? Out of work or working an unsatisfactory job? Is she out and supported in her community? Does she have other friends besides Robin and Nate? Does she compare herself to Robin? Does Robin make her feel bad for not having a supportive family and community or not achieving her personal or professional goals? We don’t ever see or hear about Jenna’s problems, or, if not problems, low self-esteem or anxiety/depression to really make her fears seem real.

-Literally WTF is the timeline here–I know the sun goes down at like 4:30 in the winter, but how did we go from brunch doughnuts to driving in the day to a night that lasts forever, in which the three have time to check in, try to set up the entire venue themselves because Gordon didn’t do anything and has no help, have a nighttime photo shoot, have sex, have showers, explore the house, have multiple naps, drink, etc?

Major spoilers below.

Whose horror?

One point of interest in this film is who is suspect and who is the site of horror. In films made by and for straight cis people, queerness and queer/trans people’s bodies are the site of horror–think Silence of the Lambs, Sleepaway Camp, and Valley of the Dolls 2. In Brides to Be, straight people, specifically straight cis men, are the site of horror. Part of it is the constant wondering about discrimination–is Gordon, the venue event planner, actually sick or is it because the wedding party is two brides? Is Bob, the replacement planner/caretaker, creeping on Jenna and Robin because he’s the creepy caretaker or because he fetishizes queer women? Is Nate’s betrayal because he’s always loved Jenna still childhood and she chose another woman instead of him (fucking cry me a river, Nate) or because the house is haunted? Is it sapphophobia or ghosts?

Even though we see the house possess Jenna and Robin as well to a lesser degree, we never find out if Nate’s and Gordon’s treatment of them is queerphobia and how much is the house. And that’s honestly the reality we queer and trans folks live in. People who discriminate against us and murder us don’t always just tell us, which makes it easier for violence against LGBTQ folks to not get labelled as a hate crime and makes intent in queer/transphobic interactions hard to prove.

Also, I was super confused by Nate’s treatment of Jenna because I assumed he was a gay friend (who ARE straight people?) right up until Robin and Jenna told him he’d meet a nice girl; so then I assumed he was bi because I want to believe that bi friends respect each other’s relationships. Clearly I read into that differently than what the creators intended.

All in all, Brides to Be feels like an important film in the beginning of a new age of queer horror–one in which we are the heroes and in which maybe, just maybe, our love can conquer all. Or at least fight off ghosts.

*It’s never stated explicitly in the film whether Robin and Jenna identify as lesbian, bi, or queer, so it may also be the case that Jenna isn’t attracted to men at all.

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Annihilation! Annihilation! Annihilation!

 

Back in 2015, I reviewed The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. In the first novel, the twelfth expedition to Area X, which has been cut off from the rest of the continent for 30 years, is lead by a five-woman team: the biologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor, the psychologist, and the linguist. Their mission: avoid contamination and survey the mysterious area from the lighthouse to the camp to the tunnel. Or is it a tower?

 

Alex Garland will be directing the film adaption.

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GET OUT posterHappy Halloween, spooky readers! Feminist Halloween is back for our 4th annual review of horror media and Halloween culture. I didn’t watch as many new horror films this year because I wasn’t really interested in anything that came out (It, Mother!). I mean, we’re also living in a high-key political horror story right now but OKAY.

The one horror film I did see this year was Get Out, which is one of the most densely and well crafted films I’ve seen in a long time. 

[mildest spoilers, all major spoilers are in the links section]

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In this Gender Reader: reporting sexual assault in Japan; anti-chikan pins; capturing LGBTQI lives in photography; Japanese actresses discuss white-washing in Ghost in the Shell, and more:

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“Matsunaga crowdsourced designs for badges intended to deter men from groping schoolgirls” [Shiori Ito/Al Jazeera]

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After a long hiatus, Japan Gender Reader is back! We’ve got queer stats, queer ice skaters, Yayoi Kusama’s art coming to the US, and more:

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The installation, “Infinity Mirrored Room — Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden . (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

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The bimonthly Gender Reader will be back eventually, but for now, a slightly different reader focusing on the upcoming anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which gave the US military the authority to forcibly relocate more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. In this reader: Allegiance the musical is having an encore; Japanese Americans speak out against the “Muslim registry”; fighting revisionist history; a new book about Fred Korematsu; and more.

According to a comment on the Densho Facebook page, this is Kyoko Shima, who was incarcerated in the Rohwer Camp. Her sign reads “Locked up by U.S. Prez 1942-1946 / Never Again!”

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In our final section of our series, we take a look at shojo manga in North America.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Origins of Shojo Manga
Part 3: Riyoko Ikeda (Part 1)
Part 4: Moto Hagio
Part 5: Keiko Takemiya
Part 6: Interlude: The Rose of Versailles Franchise
Part 7: Riyoko Ikeda and The Influence of The Rose of Versailles, 1990s
Part 8: Riyoko Ikeda and The Influence of The Rose of Versailles, 2000s

Shojo manga (and the animated adaptations of these manga) have had a strong cultural impact on recent generations of fans in the United States and Canada. During the past fifteen years, fan discussions and fannish artistic production have nourished diverse interests in Japanese cultural products, which are beginning to exert a stronger influence on mainstream geek media.

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Screen cap of Steven Universe of a desk with a copy of a Sailor Moon manga on it. Although the lamp is supposed to be the character Cookie Cat, it has a striking resemblance to Luna the cat from Sailor Moon and Chibiusa’s balloon “Luna P.”

 In 2002, the now-defunct manga publisher Tokyopop launched a program it called “Global Manga,” which was kicked off by the Rising Stars of Manga talent competition. The winning entries were published in a volume of the same physical dimensions as the publisher’s Japanese manga titles, and there were eventually eight volumes of The Rising Stars of Manga, with the last appearing in the summer of 2008. During this time, certain winners were encouraged to submit proposals to Tokyopop, which published their work as OEL, or “original English language,” manga. Because Tokyopop’s bestselling titles where shojo manga, about half of their OEL manga were characterized as shojo as well.

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Cover art of M. Alice Legrow’s Bizenghast, with an image of Dinah as a violin playing herself.

One of Tokyopop’s most commercially successful original OEL manga titles was M. Alice LeGrow’s eight-volume series Bizenghast, which, like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, is a shojo story with shonen elements. LeGrow’s story takes the adorable mascot creatures, monsters-of-the-week, cute costumes, adoring and beautiful young men, and powerful female villains of Japanese manga for girls and transplants them into the small Massachusetts community of Bizenghast, which becomes an Edgar Allan Poe-ified Gothic wonderland after dark. The art style combines the huge eyes and wide panels of fan-favorite shojo manga like Cardcaptor Sakura and Fruits Basket with steampunk Art Deco motifs and Edward Gorey-style line etchings. The artistic and narrative conventions of manga and the stylizations of Western fantasy are so blended and intermixed that it’s impossible to tell whether Bizenghast is a manga with American influences or a graphic novel with Japanese influences.

As Tokyopop began its decline in 2008, an imprint called Yen Press rose to fill the void. The publisher’s magazine Yen Plus solicited reader contributions, which resulted in both one-shot and continuing OEL manga appearing within the pages of the magazine. These titles were written and drawn by women and featured clear shojo stylizations. In addition, Yen Press’s parent company Hachette began releasing manga adaptations of some of its biggest young adult properties, including Gossip Girl, Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series, and Twilight. All of these manga adaptations are imbued with a strong shojo feel.

What Yen Press seemed to be jumping on was the idea that manga could reach an audience of young women (and young-at-heart women) who may have felt excluded from traditionally male-centered genres like action comics and science fiction. These female readers increasingly came equipped with access to online and in-person fandom networks, which could help ensure the longevity and profitability of any given franchise, as was famously the case with Star Trek and Harry Potter.

As a result of the creation and growth of an audience for shojo manga in North America, it’s easy to see a definite shojo influence on mainstream entertainment media. One of the most interesting incarnations of this trend is Cartoon Network’s animated television series Adventure Time, whose producers have actively scouted young talent from places like comic conventions and fannish art sharing websites such as Tumblr. A number of these artists are women from the generation that grew up reading and watching shōjo series such as Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, and easily identifiable references to these titles occasionally pop up in the show. As a result, Rebecca Sugar, a former storyboard artist for Adventure Time, was given a green light by Cartoon Network to create a magical boy show, Steven Universe, which features all manner of references to anime, manga, and video game culture. Since its first season aired in 2013, Steven Universe has received an overwhelming amount of support from both Adventure Time fans and the enormous shojo anime and manga fanbase on Tumblr.

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Promotional image for Steven Universe with Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl–and Steven!

Seeing better representation of diverse female characters in shojo manga has encouraged more young women outside of Japan to seek careers in comics and animation. In the future, we will probably see an even stronger embrace of shojo-related narrative influences, art styles, and fandom cultures as the members of the Adventure Time and Steven Universe generation start coming out with their own work. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of shojo manga, which continues to be as vibrant, appealing, and supportive of a diversity of female and gender-nonconforming identities as it was in the 1970s.   

This panel and series of essays is copyright Kathryn Hemmann and L.M. Zoller 2015-16 and was originally presented as the panel “The Sparkling World of 1970s Shojo Manga” at Geek Girl Con 2015.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (2016) was an experience which left me feeling both disappointed and somehow queerer. Let me explain.

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Image of Laverne Cox’s spider-web leggings with the text #RockyHorror and #DontDreamItBeIt

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