Category: Media

I’m a media studies graduate and with that comes a raftload of tools that I’m repeatedly told aren’t actually useful for anything, to which I counter that I like using them and enjoy the experience of applying those tools to all the media around me I partake in and therefore my life is enriched and overflowing with wonderful experiences of interconnectivity. By this point the other person has usually wandered off. Anyway, this is the category for anything that I think of as being connected to ‘media’, whether it’s a type (like TV, music, movies or so on), a brand (like Disney! Hi Disney!). This category also covers my weekly critical engagement column-type-thing currently called Story Pile.

The Cataphasis of Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime is an art movement that has encapsulated thousands of different competing threads and there’s no true centralising canon because it’s fragmented across all sorts of cultural anchor points. Australians of my age that are into anime so often got started because Aggro’s Cartoon Connection screened Sailor Moon, the ABC screened Astro Boy, Cheez TV screened Teknoman and SBS, in the late 90s, screened Neon Genesis Evangelion, meaning that those four anime are sometimes seen as ‘common ground’ topics. Common ground for one age bracket in one country, and even then, only sometimes.

There are some events that can be looked upon, in the english-speaking anime fandom, though, in terms of their impact on shared cultural spaces, typically conventions, but also just, anime releases that somehow managed to be widespread enough at the right time that they became foundation to the conversation. The big three of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. Evangelion movies. Fullmetal Alchemist, then Fullmetal Alchemist again. A collection of trans girls and boys and nonbinary people that can trace a lineage from Ranma 1/2 through to Kampfer and Haku and Soul Eater and maybe a few tracing lines to Vandread.

There is a category of people I can annoy enormously by responding to a Touhou picture with which anime is this from?

There’s only so much room for any given series to suck up a lot of the oxygen in the fandom space. You can’t typically have five or six ‘big name’ anime that ‘everyone’ has an opinion on. One of those ‘event’ Anime, that rose, became incredibly prominent, and then deformed the culture at large, becoming one of the rings in the tree trunk that is this strange cultural enclaves, was the enormous franchise known as Haruhi Suzumiya.

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Story Pile: The Hork-Bajir Chronicles

Hey, remember how I gave that list, ‘five reasons you shouldn’t read Animorphs?’ The ways that the books aren’t necessarily fully transitive to your experiences now, and that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily take my love of the series to heart and follow through on it? Maybe then I should follow that up with a good way to ease yourself into the story, or some sort of reading list that skips awkward bits?

Or, and hear me out, I could talk about one book in the franchise, that occurs near the tail end of it, and is both the earliest point in the narrative and a standalone science fiction story and a deep lore dive that features no human characters at all.

Let’s do that one.

Let’s do the incomprehensible one.

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T-shirt: Quiet Voice

I thought a lot about this month’s shirt.

I mean, it’s the me month right? Am I going to put a logo on a shirt that you can put out there that shows off like… me? That seems weird. Plus, my current setup is a little… let’s say it’s branding obtuse. Like, go on and ask me what ‘press dot exe’ means sometime, except Shelf, who knows.

Anyway, I thought at first about making some kind of logo for myself, then I did a few dumb deep-cut jokes about game logos and then I thought about making fan merch for a game that obviously a lot of people care about but which is completely unrecognisable to even other fans.

Also, it’s the Me Month. So I wanted it to be really easy.

I actually wound up making three designs today (today!). I also almost mad a fan-design for Carcer, based on a drawing a friend made of a spooky ghost. But that’s their art, not mine, and so that got scrapped. Maybe some of those other designs will come up later. The fine thing, the most important thing:

I really wanted this month’s shirt to be easy.

Like, if I was going to do something for myself, today, I think it’d be giving myself a break.

So I made something that gives me nostalgia and which I know will probably never sell a second copy.

 

Here’s the design! It’s a 3.5 inch diskette and that is my handwriting. It’s meant to be like the disk that Johnny used to get the game in the book of the same name – complete with the fading text. It’s just a simple, small little thing, it wasn’t hard to make, and it reminds me of something that I care about a lot.

It also has a message that has more and more become part of my life. We’re the only people going to be saving us. It’s not coming from space and all.

Here it is on a shirt.

You can get it over on Redbubble.

5 Five Iron Frenzy Songs That Made People Mad

It’s no great secret that I love the band Five Iron Frenzy. I often give them such lofty praise as ‘the one good Christian band,’ or ‘great ska’ or ‘the one thing that stuck with me from church.’ But did you knooooowwww that they aren’t, in fact, popular? or rather, that in the spaces they’re from, they have this habit of annoying people?

Come along, check it out, and enjoy learning about just some of the ways that a Christian Ska band from Colorado managed to piss off lots of people in the superstructure that meant they got to be something as niche as an internationally famous Christian ska band at all.

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Transformers: Dinobot

When we talk about characters in the Transformers franchise – we, I say, like you’re taking part in this conversation. When I, when I bring them up unprompted, when I talk about The Transformers, there’s a sort of corpus of ‘the main characters’ that represent the typical, classic forms. I don’t need to explain who Optimus Prime is, because he’s Optimus fucking Prime. I like talking about the groups and characters that have an idea I find interesting, which the media doesn’t necessarily carry out. It’s stuff like the way that Blades is clearly holding himself together through caring for his found family (which annoyingly has two cops), or the way that the Stunticons can be read as a group of trans girls waiting to escape an abusive father figure.

What’s a rarity, then, is where the character as depicted in the media they’re from is just, like, no, that’s it, that’s the tweet. That’s the thing I like. The character as depicted, in the story, is a good character and I like them.

Such is the case with Beast Wars’ Dinobot.

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5 Things In Robotech That Still Rattle Around In My Head

What, didn’t I just Story Pile about Robotech? Yes I did and in that I told you nothing about the actual stuff that happened in Robotech that I loved. I told you about how Robotech doesn’t exist, and how it’s embarrassing to be a fan of it.

Fuck that, here’s stuff from Robotech that lives in my head rent free whenever I think about the sci-fi Epic. Context? No, you don’t get context. Now buckle up and jam on your thinking caps.

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Story Pile: Robotech

It is challenging to know one of your favourite things is so aggressively mediocre.

This music, this opening, set the standard in my child mind for what epic truly represented. This opening that starts with a clearly damaged, recovered piece of footage, then switches constantly between different arcs of the story, showing characters who, at the start of the series aren’t even born. Three generations of a narrative collected in the opening, and in an 85-episode show, screened weekly if I got to catch all the episodes, some of these story beats were a literal year away.

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Who You Are In Bleach (It’s Always A Sword)

The Bleach respecter has logged on.

Okay, so basically there’s a thing in shounen anime how every one of them, more or less, has a thing that means ‘hey, here’s the reason people have a special ability.’ Whether it’s the Devil Fruit from One Piece, the Special Grade Curses from Jujutsu Kaisen, or the special Jutsu from Naruto. Kamen Rider Drivers, X-Men Mutations, Stands, Kwamis, they’re there to explain why Some People have the cool special powers and Some Other People don’t.

In Bleach, the ‘thing’ was a sword. The term for it is your Zanpakuto, but c’mon.

It’s a sword.

These swords aren’t just, you know, a sword, they’re a real sword (hhhnnnnnn I dunno) made out of your soul. It’s not a device with its own personality or traits, it’s something that was Inside Of You All Along (which I guess means Anthy Himemiya was a Soul Reaper?), and the way it works reflects something of who you are. There are three forms this sword can take (basically).

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Story Pile: Only You Can Save Mankind

Johnny Maxwell is an extremely ordinary 12 year old child in 1995. He goes to school, he struggles with homework, he pirates videogames cracked by his nerdier friend Wobbler, and he avoids his parents shouting at each other by submerging himself in the glow of his screen. And it’s all going perfectly well for him as he plays his way through Wing Commander 2 Only You Can Save Mankind until one afternoon, the Kilrathi Screewee reach out to talk to him.

And they want to surrender.

This isn’t part of the game, at least, as far as anyone else has said. It’s not anything that Wobbler’s seen. It’s not in the manual. And back in the day, videogames sometimes did things you didn’t expect, for really specific, interesting reasons and there wasn’t some sort of online compendium you could pop open to check out all the details of how these games work.

And that means that Johnny is confronted by a mystery that may just be a really interesting thing a game does.

Or maybe something else.

 

I’m going to spoil chunks of the rest of the book, though not exactly how it concludes. If you want to go read the book, it’s on Audible, it’s on Amazon, it’s on Google Books, and I like it a lot. It is however, a book extraordinarily of its time. It’s a book from 1995 about a twelve year old, playing videogames back when Amiga and Amstrad and Macintosh were all names to mention in the same breath. It’s also a book from when Terry Pratchett himself just didn’t understand women so well, and that means there are moments when a major character who’s a girl says some stuff that’s…

Well.

It’s very ‘precocious 12 year old’s vision of sexism,’ and that can make her feel pretty embarrassing to look back on now, especially because there are ways in which the story goes out of its way to prove her wrong. Like, it’s not like it makes the story markedly worseBut at the same time there’s a tragic kind of missed opportunity: That the story could have still kept what was important to Johnny while also showing more nuance and depth for the girl character.

Who I’m not naming, because it’s? It’s complicated?

Anyway. I like this book a lot and I’d like to recommend it, but with the caveats that it’s a white guy from 1995 writing about videogames and is a bit of a thicko about some of the topics he handles. Just stuff that hasn’t aged great.

Nonetheless, after this, there be spoilers.

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The Man From Social Media Came Round

The man from social media came round to “check up,” he said, “on what we wanted”
I looked at my partner, thought awhile, and replied, “Just the usual I suppose
Pictures of dogs, some stuff to feel cultural, some videogame deals, stream or two,
but like, not of any shitlords”
He nodded

“Spiritually,” he asked, “do you have any spiritual needs, longings?”
I knew sort of what he was getting at, and I knew too I had to avoid being noticed
“Well I mean I don’t really think about it much,”
I said, as I tried not to start yelling about how the pope sucks arse
He nodded

“I could always use coronavirus updates,” I said, thinking maybe that’s what he wanted
“You know, just something to mix up the anxiety between rent cheques”
He ticked a box and looked up at me
“I see”
“Well,” I said, “I guess I’d like to know about how my friends’ jobs are doing” tick, “and their kids’ schoolwork,” tick, “um, parties, sort of,” he ticked, silent
“You know, all that stuff”

He turned to the next page “and… huge and deviant sexual longings?”
“That’s the AD, mate,” I said
But he went “Yeah, okay, I’ll be back with that form tomorrow
Politics?”
“Really fuckin’ interested, honestly, like, why can’t they ban the nazis-”
“Ah, well, we’ll put that as ‘yes.’ Music?”
“MP3 collection that’s still got weird filenames from napster”
“Poetry?”
“I mean, I read it, but I don’t own any books”
“How much stuff do you think you buy based on promoted tweets?”
“Uh.”
Tick.
“What do you think of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry?”
“Couldn’t give a fuck, mate”
“lol,” he said. “lmao, even.”
“Yeah, mate.”

He asked me to sign, and complete a capcha, telling me it was non-obligatory,
You know, for the purposes of verification only,
Next morning we got on the feed all we wanted, except for the Meghan Markle stuff


Original Text from TISM’sThe Man From Popular Culture Came Round.

Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Read Animorphs

There are two possible responses, I figure, from reading that title. The first is wait, what’s Animorphs? In which case I’m reminded that my fear that I talk too much about my interests is in fact, wrong. The other is hey, hang on, Talen, I thought you loved Animorphs, what gives?

What give is that I think that a good idea can stand up to scrutiny, and media is a series of communications between you and the people who made it, and the other people who consume it. The appeal of Animorphs, is, to me, a given: Rather, I think I’d like to be able to seriously make a case for why someone shouldn’t necessarily immediately love this series as I do.

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Story Pile: Black Books

Black Books is a short British TV series, available on Netflix and other less reputable streaming services, that was made in 2000 through to 2004. It means that this series is twenty years old and oh goodness me I am old now.

The series Black Books follows the … let’s be very generous and say ‘life’ of Bernard Black, a second hand bookstore owner in London who hates his job and hates his customers and hates having to do his taxes and hates restocking. It is, on a very deep level, an entire sitcom oriented around the story of a misanthropic shopfront owner, which may read as very true to life if you’ve ever encountered this kind of shopowner. Now, he’d be content to just boil away in his horribleness on his own, occasionally prodded into activity by his ‘friend’ next door, Fran, but then one day, circumstances bring Manny Bianco, a bohemian accountant into his life shortly before an incident of violent assault by some skinheads.

It’s a show that does a lot of weird stuff without spending a lot of money on doing weird stuff. You’re more likely to get weird people saying weird things than special effects, but it does a good job of showing off those weird things.

Black Books is one of those small-cast, small-season British comedy shows that leaves the more sitcom-oriented viewers wondering where the rest of the show went – you can watch all eighteen episodes and think ‘oh that was a short season,’ only to find that was the whole show.

It’s really good, it’s funny, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and you’ll see, if you watch it, a small who’s who of British comedy people from twenty years ago, people who have since moved on to do solo shows or more prominent roles on their own. Particularly there’s the excellent Bill Bailey’s Guide To The Orchestra, which should be available for free on Youtube at the moment. Dylan Moran’s done solo shows and Tamsyn Grieg went on to lead Green Wing. Great stuff all.

 

Sooooo…

We’re done, right?

Right?

Weeeeellll…

Content Warning: Transphobes

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The Circumbendibus of Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime is an art movement that has encapsulated thousands of different competing threads and there’s no true centralising canon because it’s fragmented across all sorts of cultural anchor points. Australians of my age that are into anime so often got started because Aggro’s Cartoon Connection screened Sailor Moon, the ABC screened Astro Boy, Cheez TV screened Teknoman and SBS, in the late 90s, screened Neon Genesis Evangelion, meaning that those four anime are sometimes seen as ‘common ground’ topics. Common ground for one age bracket in one country, and even then, only sometimes.

There are some events that can be looked upon, in the english-speaking anime fandom, though, in terms of their impact on shared cultural spaces, typically conventions, but also just, anime releases that somehow managed to be widespread enough at the right time that they became foundation to the conversation. The big three of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. Evangelion movies. Fullmetal Alchemist, then Fullmetal Alchemist again. A collection of trans girls and boys and nonbinary people that can trace a lineage from Ranma 1/2 through to Kampfer and Haku and Soul Eater and maybe a few tracing lines to Vandread.

There is a category of people I can annoy enormously by responding to a Touhou picture with which anime is this from?

There’s only so much room for any given series to suck up a lot of the oxygen in the fandom space. You can’t typically have five or six ‘big name’ anime that ‘everyone’ has an opinion on. One of those ‘event’ Anime, that rose, became incredibly prominent, and then deformed the culture at large, becoming one of the rings in the tree trunk that is this strange cultural enclaves, was the enormous franchise known as Haruhi Suzumiya.

Continue reading

Story Pile: The Muddle-Headed Wombat

There are fifteen books that could be called Muddle-headed Wombat books. They have such titles as The Muddle-Headed Wombat And The Invention and The Muddle-Headed Wombat Is Very Bad. They are all pretty simple and formulaic narratives following the central character of Wombat, who is muddle-headed, his best friend Tabby, who is convinced that nobody in the world has suffered like him, and his other best friend, Mouse, who is a Mouse.

The stories follow a pretty consistent pattern: Wombat gets an idea inspired by some passing fancy or local event, and tries to get involved, gets it all a bit wrong because he’s a bit stupid, the friends have a bit of a tiff because someone is being a jerk, and then they sort it out by communicating and forgiving one another for their very understandable limitations. They all go home and have lemonade, or a tea cake, or something.

It’s all very low-stakes high-emotion narrative, because it’s aimed at five year olds, but it has a sort of easygoing charm that makes it easy to enjoy as an older reader. Oh, the plots aren’t interesting, not in a truly complex way, but there’s a lot to be said about the way that the stories put weight on finding fault and blame – there’s a lot of effort put in the way the stories flow that the story seldom treats accidents or happenstance as a get out clause for a character being a dickhead to someone else.

Iiiii love this character. I love the illustrations, I love the language, I love the charming simplicity of it all, and I love the way the stories breeze on by. I love the people who respond to this character by laughing and remembering his silly phrases or the way he fell about and kicked his fat little legs in the air. It’s so wombatty with Wombat’s stubbornness and his near indestructibility meaning that he’s not in danger of harm as much as he is in danger of upsetting someone or being upset. It’s a story full of feelings!

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T-shirt: Did You Check The Subject Outline, Sci Fi Version

First up, the design:

I have a shirt like this already, which I wore to my first of one of two classes this year. When I did, students all reacted positively to it, and I am an absolute sucker for even the most modest elements of praise. And so, here’s another familiar design that builds on this same joke.

Here it is, check it out on models:

You can buy this design on Redbubble with Blue Text, Yellow Text,White Text, and Black Text.

The Tragedy of Big Willie

There’s this song. It’s called Big Willie Broke Jail.

Song’s pretty cool, I like it, I like some of the subtle details about it – like this is about a community being deputised to deal with a dangerous criminal, rather than about ‘the cops’ doing it. It’s got a good rhythm to it, and if I, an uneducated person on the matter, might call it ‘Mexican.’ This is the earliest version by a guy called Gus Backus, who is primarily known nowadays as a Schlager singer in Germany. He passed away in 2019.

I don’t like this version, not really? It’s a recording from the 1960s, and it shows – the mixing makes him sound kinda ‘soft’ and underwater, his enunciation isn’t quite my style, and while the music is fun, it’s a bit simple-sounding? I don’t mean to sound like I know how to do better, but I just know I like music that feels a bit more like the people involved are having fun. Definitely a 1960s country song style.

And now, unbelievably, Content Warning: some mentions of child sexual assault.

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Story Pile: Ascendance of a Bookworm

It’s something of a meme that ‘light novel series’ is a subgenre of anime that throws up some warning signs. It shouldn’t – after all, two of my favourite anime of all time are both from light novels, but traditionally the field of light novels are known as being primarily harem or isekai anime, often being quickly produced to cash in on recognisable or marketable characters. Often these characters have some particular visual motif that makes them very recognisable and makes for good merch opportunities. Well, Ascendance of a Bookworm is an anime that started its life as a series of light novels, and it is an isekai, and it features a recognisable main character who has a lot of good merch opportunities.

It’s just that she’s also five.

The premise! Urano Mototsu, college nerd and bibliophile dies in a hilarious bookshelf-collapsing incident during an earthquake. Upon her death, she wakes up in a new body, in a fantasy kingdom, which should be considered rather rad, except Urano was not someone who lusted after adventure in fantasy kingdoms, she lusted after books which are pointedly absent in this fantasy kingdom, and her new body, Myne, is also five years old.

What you then follow is a sequence of narratives about a five year old girl personally trying to catapult herself up the tech tree in order to have access to books, even if she has to prompt industrial revolutions to do it.

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The Calidity of Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime is an art movement that has encapsulated thousands of different competing threads and there’s no true centralising canon because it’s fragmented across all sorts of cultural anchor points. Australians of my age that are into anime so often got started because the ABC screened Astro Boy and Twins of Destiny, Cheez TV brought us Dragonball Z and SBS, in the late 90s, screened Neon Genesis Evangelion, meaning that those anime are sometimes seen as ‘common ground’ topics. Common ground for one age bracket in one country, and even then, only sometimes.

There are some events that can be looked upon, in the english-speaking anime fandom, though, in terms of their impact on shared cultural spaces, typically conventions, but also just, anime releases that somehow managed to be widespread enough at the right time that they became foundation to the conversation. The big three of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. Evangelion movies. Fullmetal Alchemist, then Fullmetal Alchemist again. A collection of trans girls and boys and nonbinary people that can trace a lineage from Ranma 1/2 through to Kampfer and Haku and Soul Eater and maybe a few tracing lines to Vandread.

There is a category of people I can annoy enormously by sharing a Rozen Maiden picture with DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU DESU etcetera.

There’s only so much room for any given series to suck up a lot of the oxygen in the fandom space. You can’t typically have five or six ‘big name’ anime that ‘everyone’ has an opinion on. One of those ‘event’ Anime, that rose, became incredibly prominent, and then deformed the culture at large, becoming one of the rings in the tree trunk that is this strange cultural enclaves, was the enormous franchise known as Haruhi Suzumiya.

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Story Pile: Until This Shakes Apart

Five Iron Frenzy are one of the few remnants of my Christian upbringing I am in any way fond of. Even the hymns I respond to I don’t like, but Five Iron Frenzy are the rare example of a Christian band that are primarily a good band.

They also were in the habit of getting into trouble with the conventional Christian media landscape that presented the hegemony. You might wonder, hey, how does a Christian ska band do something to annoy the people printing their CDs and distributing them?

Well, there’s this thing with Five Iron Frenzy: They practice what they preach. They formed, they got repeatedly rebuked by Christians for their anti-corporate, pro-Native American, anti-revisonist Christianity stance. Basically, they made the right kind of enemies. Eventually, after having done what they wanted to do, and, rather than make demands of a band member who was facing a religious crisis, the group resolved to break up the band.

Then they gathered back together, for The Engine of a Thousand Plots through Kickstarter. And that was kinda a nice denoument on the band. That album had some reflections on what it’s like being a 1990s none-hit-wonders, about being in your forties doing a musical style that’s renowned for being immature, for being ultimately a bunch of gen-X nerds who love Millenial fans. It was a bit more mellow, a bit reflective, a bit sad. After Cheese of Nazareth, and Engine, I thought maybe that was going to be the farewell to music that the band had. They’d made their points, they’d shouted their rage, they’d changed what they could, and they were done.

Right?

In 2020, right at the tail of the year during lockdown, the band kickstarted and released another album, and…

No, turns out that they’re still mad and they’re still right.

This latest album, Until This Shakes Apart is, well, it’s more Five Iron Frenzy. It’s the best produced album they have, and turning forty-five has done a lot for the voices and talents involved. The vocals are clearer when they want to be and the writing of the lyrics is still that mix of thoughtful and angry I like.

The weird thing about recommending an album rather than a movie or a series is that it feels like it’s something I can just like, link to you, and share with you directly so you can decide what you think of it yourself.

Still, some of the songs and my thoughts on them:

  • In Through The Out Door, a piece about the cruelty and violence of conservative christianity in America, with its anti-immigrant, pro-corporate position.
  • So We Sing. Oh my god, they said ass. I kid you not, this is a big deal! The song is also a very real feeling of mortality in a space and style that tends towards being brief. As someone who feels 17 when he listens to their songs, hearing the song evoke Peter Pan rings true for me.
  • Tyrannis and Renegades both capture that same intense rage that they’ve always had against corporate entities.
  • Wildcat is a classic Christian story of looking at the life of someone who considers themselves outside their faith and yet what it gives them. Not wild about the message but undeniable that the character they outline is vivid.
  • Huerfano seems to be a song sung for a friend who was abused and bullied for being queer. Five Iron Frenzy have considered their role of enforcing queerphobia in their childhoods, and in older songs like Farenheit they reflect on what they know now.

Me, I recommend this album, I liked it a lot.

Slacktivism

Last month, Rush Limbaugh died. This isn’t important to the issue, though it is worth knowing that it is good that he died, because in terms of harm reduction, he was stopped from causing more immense harm. Also, it’s bad that he died, because he didn’t die, screaming, in pain, over the course of multiple years, as the evils of his life were revisited on him showing that there is a just god. That his obituary will not be officially concluded with the best phrases, ‘in a humiliating shitting incident,’ or ‘after having tazed himself repeatedly in the balls,’ is a crime against the idea of at least comedic justice itself. What I’m saying is that Rush Limbaugh’s death should have been a lot funnier or a lot more painful, and the fact it was neither indicates that we do not live in a just world.

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Why Garfield Can Be White

This all started with Elmo, of all things.

I don’t remember where it started, I don’t remember who started it. I want to blame Corey and Clay for putting the idea in my head. It’s a notion that can be expressed in big, complicated questioning ways, like, how is race as a socially construct aggregated in characters that can only represent that construct in social ways, or it can be simplified into is Elmo black?

(The answer by the way is, like, probably.)

Most recently, I asked about the characters from newspaper comics Garfield and Heathcliff: Are they black or white?

 

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Story Pile: Chess

Chess is a 1984-to-pretty-much-still-going-on-now musical made in part by the brains behind the band ABBA and Tim Rice. It is institutional in the world of musicals, one of those theatre productions that give a lot of people ‘favourite’ songs to do. It includes a well-known pop song, One Night in Bangkok, and the enormously popular look-I-can-belt song Nobody’s Side. It follows the narrative of basically three people across a set of chess games done for the sake of International Relations during the Reagan era of anticommunist nonsense.

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T-shirt: Candy Heart

First up, the design:

Candy hearts aren’t a thing here in Australia. But they are a thing that’s so American it’s a widespread meme, and I like the idea of them. I hope they taste nice. I bet they taste very plain and pastel, that kinda floral chalkiness, but not fizzy like a Fruit Tingle.

You can buy this design on Redbubble.

Story Pile: The Quintessential Quintuplets, Season 1

It wasn’t intentional by any measure but it turns out, to my surprise, that I became a fan of anime through the introductory template of the Harem Anime. For me, it was, in my early anime watching days, just a natural part of how anime worked where you’d have a character, then four or five people who really wanted to jump them. It was literally something that I think of as foundational to anime, because I mean, I watched Ranma 1/2 and then Tenchi Muyo and at that point that was my lens for how I thought the whole genre worked, and therefore I assumed that say, Sailor Moon must have harem stuff over there where I wasn’t watching in the episodes I missed. As a result, I watched a lot of harem anime, and it took me a long time to realise that the dynamics of a harem anime weren’t universal. Like, I didn’t realise that you weren’t ‘supposed’ to ship every Slayers character with Lina Inverse and I was equally surprised when there was a definite end to the relationship tangle in Ranma 1/2.

This genre tends to boil down to one [TARGET AUDIENCE GENDER] with a set of [THREE OR MORE] [TARGET AUDIENCE INTEREST GENDER WITH SPECIFIC DETAIL]s that want to [COMICAL INNUENDO INVOLVING RIDICULOUS WORD]. The template is that simple, but harem anime in particular have a few complications that come from what’s not common to them. Specifically, if you have three characters who can’t choose between one another, then all you’re looking at is a love triangle and those are kinda easier to resolve and much more about a small number of characters who relate to one another. A harem anime is instead about watching one character as they interact with a group of other characters, and ideally, it has something else going on like a sci fi story or an adventure or a fight tournament or just goddamn anything that isn’t just ‘which characters will get it in the end’ or it tends to get boring. They also tend to mix in some gimmick with the girls, either to add interest to the narrative or to sound the sirens about the author’s personal fetish.

With that said, welcome to Quintessential Quintuplets, an anime about one dude with a set of five hot girls with giant racks that want to ride his baloney pony. And you know the twist of this one?

They’re all related!

Wait, no, hold on, this is good, please, put down the broom!

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Buffy The Vampire Slayer Sucks At Enemies With Benefits

This started out so simply.

This article is a continuation on the concept from yesterday, where I described a trope, Enemies With Benefits. That article started out as ‘five romance tropes I like.’ Then I sort of reflected on what I’d written and went: Hang on, this is more about how much the alternatives suck.’

That led to me rewriting it as ‘five romance tropes I think are crap.’ And then when I was done I realised I’d just restated the same thing multiple times and one recurrent joke just kept taking over and eventually we came around to the fact that this one specific thing really pissed me off and I might as well make that the thing.

Then something happened in the news that made me a little 👀

CONTENT WARNING: I’m not going to be talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a full series. What follows this warning, immediately, is a second content warning about something I feel is relevant to the article but also kind of outlines what I’m not making the article about. That warning contains mentions of potential sexual impropriety and a celebrity who it seems sucks and you may not want to be here for that, even in a content warning.

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Enemies With Benefits

There is a trope I have sometimes referred to as enemies with benefits, where, to use simplified terms, a hero and a villain bang. Like that’s the simplified version of it, because it’s never just that simple. I also use it in the context of a relationship not just a single incident, so this isn’t your ‘I have you now my pretty’ peril style thing. It refers to a pair of characters who are opposed, perhaps even through violence, who nonetheless through colossal bad judgment, wind up having some kind of romantic or sexual (or both) relationship.

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Akane Tendo, Baudrillard’s Tsundere

There’s this idea I’ve talked about before, when I wrote about Ouran High School Hosts Club of The Simulacrum. The simulacrum is an idea covered under the concept of hyperreality. You don’t need to read that, but I want to use it as a place to start as we talk about something of a Smooch Month classic.

Who’s this?

Chances are if you’re a weeb my age, you’ll remember her as Akane Tendo.

And chances are good, you know her, and don’t know her. Not the real her, and there is a real her.

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Story Pile: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

You know it kinda amuses me how much I rubbish on webcomics when I keep doing story pile articles on webcomics that are either just good on their own, or that gave rise to other products I think are really good.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun is a 12 episode (and some OAVs) anime based on a gag-a-day 4koma webcomic of the same name. The premise is a high school girl named Chiyo Sakura confesses to her crush, and thanks to a reasonable (?) misunderstanding, he thinks she means she’s a fan of his work.

Because he has work.

Because he’s a successful and renowned manga-ka who makes a girly shojo manga, and what ensues is Chiyo falling down into the gravity well that is Nozaki’s social space and the near constant commentary on how weird he is as a person, how weird his assistants are, and importantly, how weird Chiyo is by how all of these elements of the behaviour and personality of actual manga-ka are in some way, natural to her.

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Writing Polycules Is Tricky (And Interesting)

In a lot of media, a relationship is treated as a stable default middle to work from, and you can look to webcomics as a whole genre built around the idea where a relationship is either the stable end point you’re pursuing, or the stable middle ground from which all the shenanigans go. The Megatokyo Vs Ctrl-Alt-Delete spectrum, as it were. This pattern is true in most media too – with romantic comedies and family comedies being often two heads of the same horrible hydra, a creature that wants to show terrible people somehow redeemed by the credits when they get married, or lead off with a relationship that has clearly gone bad at some point as it pinwheels out of control. I didn’t need to make it a webcomic thing, but now you’re remembering that Megatokyo exists and it updated last week at least.

The banner still celebrates the webcomic being ten years old. Man, that whole fandom looks so strange from the outside. Still, good for them.

Anyway, I bring up Megatokyo because it is, first, funny to do so, but second because it feels like a wholly sincere artifact of this same concept space of storytelling in relationships that grew out of the 90s weebs who got into anime from a very specific place that probably featured Ranma 1/2 and Tenchi Muyo, the place where the harem anime was created and then immediately had its soul removed. In the very genesis of this is an entire generation of storytellers, often lonely and disaffected and creating in spaces without gatekeepers, made our own anime-inspired narratives that overwhelmingly still followed the idea that the story starts with no relationship and concludes when the relationship is obtained, and wow, we have some messed up views about women eh.

The thing is, one of the ideas that always got floated in these spaces was polyamory, second only to the horror of not straightness, which I kid you not, was cited as ‘cheap’ and ‘exploitative’ when introduced in serious discussions of fucking Ranma 1/2. Polyamory was seen as a cop-out answer, and was seen as untenable. After all, it either took the form of a bunch of girls who hated each other moving in together to live as Ranma’s wives, despite their animosity, or, suddenly and spontaneously falling in love with one another, which were both unrealistic outcomes.

This was literally all that was seen as the possibility of polyamory – and again, it was seen as the conclusion of the narrative. You couldn’t put those five characters under one roof! It would be a bad end to the story and they’d all fall apart! Terrible idea that!

I swear this month was not supposed to be so much about Ranma 1/2, but it’s a good grounding to work from. Because what I’m talking about here is in fact about how polycules, the cute term for polyamorous relationships, change assumptions about how you use relationships in media, based on the media you’re dealing with.

Specifically, writing polycules means that there’s just… stuff you kinda have to keep in mind. Characters in polyamorous relationships aren’t necessarily all going to pile into the same bed after the same 9-5 in the same house. Characters in polyamorous relationships don’t have this sort of media-sanctioned, pre-established trope-based ‘default space’ to work from. The binary monogamous pairing is so well worn that we can even signify the way characters interact with gestures and never need to explicate what their lives are like, but a poly relationship?

It’s inherently more complicated. Characters have always got an additional point of input and an additional observer. And that’s a good thing. It’s not that everyone should be in a polyamorous relationship in media work – that would be boring and silly and … let’s face it, would be used by a lot of media to just give the comedian boring man two hot girlfriends out of his league, ‘as a joke.’ But the thing is, fundamentally, polyamorous relationships, at least functioning ones rely on communication. You can’t just assume the two partners have nothing to do and will default to one another because there’s always at least one other person involved. They have to manage the way their lives intersect, who goes where and with what.

And that’s really interesting.

You get to see what people do with balancing commitments, and the thing is, you can do that. It’s not ‘well, I had to choose between A or B at some point, and B won, so A loses.’ That’s just such a… juvenile way to view relationships in any way, even in action narratives or jokey stories! Being in relationships is about communication and understanding, and relationships in media are handled well by giving characters reason to talk about things – why is this so hard to grasp as a bountiful field of exciting, interesting narrative?