One thing I promised myself when I started this document is that I’d write about this series. After all, I love Baccano so much, it shouldn’t be that hard to just continue that same thread of language, right? Those words are the ones I put down in 2018, after I finished putting the first draft of my Baccano document together, thinking it would be swift and simple to follow up with words about Durarara!!
It’s not often people approach me and suggest anime to me. I’m pretty fidgety about anime these days, because I watch it subbed (for no reason I can adequately explain) and I don’t like watching TV shows I can’t watch while I work on other things. Still, it was in Netflix, it was easy to get, and what they hey, it looked kinda interesting so let’s check out this anime.
It opens with a character losing a poker hand based on an Amazing Hand, which is a huge red flag for me about people not knowing how poker works. This was not an auspicious beginning for a series that I later heard described as Death Note For Money.
In music theory there’s this understood idea that brasses sound heroic and powerful, and strings sound gentle and feminine, a theory reinforced by years of musicology in theatre. What happened is when movies were new, and attaching music to characters in a particular way moved out of the Musical and into just telling stories, a sort of language of music got started.
We already had it that brass music sounded powerful and forceful and heroic – something that John Phillip Sousa sort of ran into the ground as a theme. By comparison, strings sounded delicate and Not Like Brass, so the formed an obvious counterpart for the fragile and the frail. Then over several thousand movies and repeated use of these two ideas in movies where boys were strong and girls were objects, we wound up where we are now, where despite never actually being true, horns ‘sound masculine’ and strings ‘sound feminine.’
I mean, think about this: What’s the Superman theme sound like?
Anyway, this means that when we reach back into earlier, pre-movie theatrics, though, we still now see that same coding. The association with the music extends beyond the media it’s in. Now, marches that predate movies are seen as ‘masculine’ because the movie comes with them. This is the power of the archetype, where when you’re seen as relating to a thing, it doesn’t really matter what you are doing, because it’ll all be seen in relationship to the archetype.
What does this have to do with Sonic The Hedgehog?
Shut up I’m getting there.
The point is, movies wound up this way because they were being slowly but steadily built for bigger and bigger markets. The more people you want to get involved, the more you lean on those archetypes, on a frame of reference. Brassy heroic music is, archetypally, masculine, and so, when you want to signal a masculine dude, you use brassy heroic music. This means that lots of this media is full of signals that are more about telling you A Thing Is A Way It Is Because It Is The Way It Is. An archetype is, basically, lots of reinforcing, circular story stuff. It doesn’t have meaning of itself – it’s just a way of signalling a thing should be sort of like these other things.
And now we get to Sonic The Hedgehog, the media franchise. We’re not talking about the game character – Sonic doesn’t really belong to games any more. When you’re talking about cultural impact, Sonic’s been in twenty five years of comics, three manga series, six books, and five television series, with a live-action CGI movie in the works being financed by a man who’s also repsonsible for the XXX and Fast and the Furious franchise. Sonic is a transmedia property, and matters more as being Sonic than he matters as a game entity. And despite all of this, this enormous spread of media representation, when you go looking for an answer to the question who is Sonic the Hedgehog you don’t find anything, really.
You get an archetype.
But that archetype gives us structure – and that gives us a place to look at the Sonic the Hedgeverse.
What then, is Sonic? What archetypally remains around this character? Well, he’s a Cool Hero. He’s edgy, in a very generic, mid-90s kind of way, in that he thumbs his nose at authority, he likes speed and going fast and doens’t like rules, man, but at the same time you know he’ll never blow off something that matters because that plays against being a hero, so what you’re left with is this character who is simultaneously unreliable but also very reliable. This is reflected in Sonic’s writeup on Wikipedia, composed of multiple sources, saying that Sonic is
…”like the wind”: a drifter who lives as he wants, and makes life a series of events and adventures. Sonic hates oppression and staunchly defends freedom. Although he is mostly quick-witted and easygoing, he has a short temper and is often impatient with slower things. Sonic is a habitual daredevil hedgehog who is honest, loyal to friends, keeps his promises, and dislikes tears. In times of crisis, he focuses intensely on the challenge as if his personality had undergone an astonishing change.
If you sit down and cross out those sentences that mean nothing like ‘makes life a series of events,’ you’re left with a loose drifter without any fixed goal who is a staunch defender of freedom who always stands by his friends, easygoing until he doesn’t have to be, patient unless he’s not and is like the wind except he also always keeps his promises. In essence, there’s nothing there, but despite that you can still say you know something of who Sonic is. It’s even there in his visual coding – red, white and blue. Sonic is a Bold Hero Guy.
Once he’s the Bold Hero guy, everything else kinda falls around him. Tails becomes the Sidekick Boy, who has to be smaller and worse at everything than Protagonist Guy by default, so he can be rescued but also so he has some reason to aspire to being like Protagonist Guy. He can be sweet and kind (which aren’t edgy and cool), and he’s probably a tiny bit more femme than Protagonist Guy, in the vein of the nerdy friend. Tails fits this archetype pretty easily – he’s better than Sonic at machines, which builds in that ‘nerdy friend’ slot.
You can play this outwards; Knuckles is the voice of authority, with his stable position and opposition to Sonic because Sonic isn’t following the rules. There’s Amy Rose, the Good Girl who hangs around him and has an interest in him (which shows he’s desireable), but for some reason he never has to commit or dismiss this – Amy will want him regardless of what a doofus he is and she will usually be at fault for any discomfort he experiences. Rouge introduces a sexy other to Amy, again, a reflection of an image of Sonic, and then, finally… we get Shadow.
Note that up until now, none of the other major characters (Sorry, Big) introduced have been like Sonic. They’ve been explicitly unlike him – Shadow is the first opposite to Sonic (unless you count 1994’s Anti-Sonic The Hedgehog, which we don’t, and he didn’t come back as Scourge the hedgehog until 2011, well after Shadow’s appearance so don’t @ me). And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there is an identity that exists for the characters in movies and TV series like this. The place for a character who is the same type but not the same way. He is coded cool, but 00s edgy to 90s edgy, making him seem slicker, more fashionable, more aware, compared to Sonic’s suddenly oblivious-seeming 90s sort-of-surfer coolness. Shadow is angry, he is resentful, and that casts Sonic, for all of his quick temper, as almost a beach bum. What’s more, Sonic is surrounded by friends and is a celebrated hero – he’s the Protagonist Guy.
In a template where the Cool Guy is opposed by someone Equally Cool But More Distressed, we enter the cinematic tradition of The Other. He’s bad, but not that bad, he’s an opponent, but not a villain. That makes him a humanised Other, a character who stands to contrast with the hero (in a way that once, Knuckles did). The thing with The Other is, they take on a LOT of forms in different media, but if you’re queer, chances are your favourite character is a The Other. Camp LOVES them to bits.
In the greater narrative space of Sonic the Hedgehog, these characters are still mostly empty. They’re a description of a handful of traits in relationship to one another. In that space, Shadow the Hedgehog is a camp antagonist, an example of The Other, who can be – and sorta IS – All Queerness. What you see there is what you can pour into him.
Curious what you think of the permeability of shonen anime into the general consciousness, as seen in Everyone Making BNHA OCs. – Casey
First things first shonen anime is and has been part of the general consciousness for about thirty years now. My dad knows who Tobor the 8 Man was even if he didn’t, at the time know it was Anime, and Astro Boy is an institution world-wide. What’s more Goku, from Dragonball Z has the cultural cachet of Superman, which puts their general awareness in public attention around about the same level of, literally, Jesus Christ.
That said, there is something interesting about Boku No Hero Academia, a name that I feel it’d be a bit tired to make fun of at this point, and how it relates to Everyone Making BNHA OCs. Specifically, the thing that’s interesting isn’t that Everyone Is Making BNHA OCs…
… its that people feel okay talking abouti making BNHA OCs.
OCs are a really interestingly contentious part of culture. For a start, all creative characters both have them and don’t – the nature of all creative culture as a gigantic remix machine where things we experience become part of the things we create and how it’s all part of this greater framework generation and what we see as originality is really a shift in perspectives or a paradigmatic repositioning and oh god you’re falling asleep – but the other thing is, OCs are seen almost inextricably as embarassing. We use the joke ‘OC, do not steal’ as an inherent joke to describe something people shouldn’t care about, where the speaker is meant to care very much. The Sonic OC is a whole psychosexual bazaar at this point, something most people observe from the outside and awkwardly step around.
Fanart is an interesting mill of media where people often have very one-sided relationships with the work; they do not care about the artist and their opinions or input as much as they care about the other media work the artist invokes. Artists can use fanart as a stepping stone but there is a lot more fanart that goes nowhere than anything else, and the nature of the decontextualising internet means it’s often appreciated by people who have basically no connection to the artist, because they have connection to the media it flows from. Typically speaking, fanart is not a space to get creative – if there’s a character in a lineup from a show that didn’t come from the show, people will almost always see them as not appropriate.
Yet, BNHA has this strange phenomenon where people aren’t just making OCs for it, they’re also comfortable labelling them as such, sharing them, and then, within the framework of the series, using those characters to make fanart of the series. Here, check out this character, who I’m using to show off the way that powers in this really weird and interesting and cool universe could work out!
I don’t think BNHA is uniquely suited for this; you could have seen the same thing back in Ranma 1/2’s heyday, where characters all had ridiculous martial arts and possibly their own ridiculous magical spring. Heck, there was a ten year long roleplay thread on a newsgroup called GRIT that was just about people’s Ranma 1/2 OCs (at first – it spiralled off, as anything would).
What I find more interesting – what I find exciting – is that we’re at a point now where showing off your BNHA OC isn’t seen as inherently ridiculous. We’re reaching a place where when people say I care about this thing, and here is my inclusion in it, nobody says get that out of here. There is a welcoming in this concept space, and…
well, I find that exciting. I wonder how much stuff I’d love better, how much better I’d be at some things if I didn’t feel I was constantly being told I wasn’t good enough.
-which I have wasted time making look like an actual book, because it’s the afternoon and I’m not good at managing my life. This image then led to people who followed her asking why it’s not a real book. this then led to her, as a lark, making a light novel. This then led to her selling that light novel, and people liking it and people asking for more and –
Zandra’s a light novel author now.
It is very, very hard to not be jealous, I’m not gunna lie.
Zandra is enthusiastic, creative and energetic. She seeks to do things that make people happy and promote a kinder world that is more conducive to people being able to make good choices about what’s good for them. You should check out Zandra’s work.
As with Rachel and Clay before them, I once more turn to point to someone I know, and love, and care about, who hasn’t had a fair shake.
Melissa Elliott, two ls, two ts, is one of those people who, if the 17th century wasn’t just the most awful, would have been one of those academic thinker types we sit around now wondering where they find the time. She’s done infosec research, drawn comics, built a twitter brand, built videogame AI, done some work on videogames, reverse engineered some things, won a My Little Pwnie award for her work in information security –
Now, none of these are raging successes, by the standards we use to determine success. This is in part because none of us grew up in cultures that value artistic expression, and I know that moreso of Melissa’s upbringing because she and I shared a particular horrorshow that was American Fundamentalism. This is not an experience and a place that, let me tell you, does much to encourage the creative efforts of young women.
I am grateful this year that Melissa has been part of it – the whole way. I feel like a walking firework alongside her, where she needs some degree of quiet, some emotional space, and I, with my big loud idiot elbows smack into spaces that can distress her without even trying – but despite it, she still shares with me what she makes, and what she wants, and what she’s interested in, and that means a lot to me.
Incidentally, she hates card games, and that’s okay – because when I share what I do with my friends, I don’t do it because I want them to feel obligated they should like them.
If you’re actually interested in why I think this sucks, then here’s a fold and you can meet me on the other side. I’ll spoil some things about the manga and maybe, maybe, I’ll spoil something about the movie, if it warrants discussion.
Vandread was an anime that came out in the year 2000 and it’s a bit tricky to introduce because everything it is it’s also not quite. It’s a harem anime, but not quite. It’s a space giant robot anime, but not quite. It’s a science fiction anthology anime, but not quite. It’s about genders, but not quite, about relationships, but not quite, and about identity, but not quite. In a lot of ways, Vandread is a really confused piece, a gem of its time.
The premise of Vandread is – okay, hold on – there are these two planets of entirely gender-segregated populations reproducing through artificial means that been at war with one another for centuries because the men planet thinks the women planet eat liver and it’s all cast as a propoganda war, where our main character such as he is Hibiki is working in an awful factory job that dehumanises him. He stows away on the warship that holds a mecha he helped to build, to try and steal it, because he’s an idiot, and then Lesbian Pirates attack as the warship is about to go show off how great it is. A Space Accident ensues and the warship is swallowed in part by the pirate ship, which then becomes an Extremely Sweet Ship with three male prisoners on board – Hibiki, and two other guys from his own home culture, a doctor and a navigator. The ship is then flung out into the middle of nowhere and our cast have to work out what happened, why their cultures are the way they are, who they are and why some of the mecha and space-ships they have can now combine into a powerful Vandread Unit.
Oh yeah, the shapeshifting robot thing comes up, and there’s also these unidentified attackers who keep trying to kill them.
This is the first episode.
Vandread then follows an almost Star-Trekky kind of plot arc where they move from place to place, and each new episode brings a new problem they handle and learn a bit about the overarcing plot. Sometimes it’s a internal drama on the space-ship, Hibiki learning he’s a doofus, or sometimes it’s going to a new planet and finding out there’s a problem there. The plot on this one kind of unfolds, but it’s also much more of a story about a world as a concept than it is about anything the story wants to say with that.
For all that Vandread is a story about segregated genders, though, there are two really weird points to it – and they get a bit spoilery, so I’ll jump on the far side of a cut for that, so you can avoid it. Continue reading →
First up, some disclosure: This series, My Guild Leader Is A Demon is made by a friend of mine, 0xabad1dea. While I know I’m in the dedication of one of her books, I don’t think I’ve had any influence or involvement in this project, and I’ve not been paid for this piece.
There is potential that she might implement/reject some ideas I mention here, as the series is ongoing, but as far as I know, no such thing is expected to happen. Basically, if I say something here and it winds up being true in this series, assume 0xabad1dea was going to do it anyway.
My Guild Leader Is A Demon is a web-series/kinetic novel. There’s some consideration on my part as to whether to treat kinetic novels – storytelling which has no major interaction beyond ‘keep going’ – as a series or a videogame. In this case, 0xabad1dea has taken a full play of the game and put it up on Youtube, where you can watch it as a single video. Continue reading →
Hold up, time to complain about something deeply inconsequential.
Back in 1990, back when rebadging/retheming already-made anime with extremely minimal alterations to on-screen animation, Saban – yes them – picked up a Tatsunoko series and revamped it quickly and with minimal actual relation to the original material, resulting in a product that, uh… I guess the nice way to phrase it is it’d be a very different work.
Now I’m not going to talk about the remix culture of it, the thematic transformation, the characterisation of the adults doing the remake, the meta-awareness of its jokes, the winky way it handles the audience, the trans narrative inherent in an odd character decision, the plot arc about the extra rangers, or even the fact that the opening spells Samurai wrong, and nobody seemed to notice, but rather, this is about something I only just noticed recently.
This is Speedy Cerviche. Without getting too deep into it, he’s sort of the central character of the Samurai Pizza Cats. This is a series where characters commonly have punny names – Polly Ester, Jerry Atric, Seymour Cheese, for example. The thing is, for the longest time, I was convinced Speedy’s name, while pronounced ‘seh-vi-chey’ was spelled Service. I thought that was the joke. You know, his name put emphasis on the wrong syllables.
Well, turns out that no, his name is a reference to ceviche, which is a totally fine thing to reference but it’s somehow both more wide a reference and also not the really clever joke I always thought it was about ‘Speedy Service’ from a pizza delivery boy.
Okay, let’s clear up something I didn’t know when I bought this game. It’s not a visual novel, that vague term we use to describe a particular style of game with some choices and narrative, a sort of light, eroge-heritage RPG storytelling game. World End Economica is a kinetic novel, a strictly linear progression of text and images.
This makes reviewing it slightly challenging, because the argument about whether or not it is a game is an interesting one academically and unhelpful indeed socially. As it is, World End Economica is such a singularly focused experience, telling you that it’s technically a game isn’t a super helpful recommendation. As it’s such a pure narrative with a primary form of reading, it seems to me best to talk about the game as a story with a particularly interesting delivery method.
With that in mind, it’s a tiny bit of a deviance here; while this is definitely a Game Pile post, it’s definitely going to be reviewing this as more of a book or a movie than if I was going to recommend it as a game. Will that make a huge difference? Well, probably not. Anyway! Continue reading →
I didn’t realise it at the time, but much of my earliest anime experiences were comic romantic stories with a soap opera structure, often built around heavily marketed characters. After Ranma 1/2 and Inu-Yasha, two series for which I have varying degrees of passing, retrospective affection, I lost my taste for truly long-running series, especially ones where the core relationship dynamic was a relatively fixed pair of constants. A character dynamic that is unchanged or uninfluenced by the things surrounding it is less of a dynamic than it is a very static relationship, and while there is some joy to be had in reliable characterisation, I found a taste I did not well understand at the time for character development.
When a series has other elements going on, such as the shonen-action genre fare I’d known, there’s a lure to the writer to treat story elements as large blocks; a block of action, then a block of comedy, then some character development, then another block of action. This process hardly hurt those lighter, episodic and serialised series. As I grew older, though, this structure started to wear on me. This soap-TV series structure was designed to perpetuate rather than resolve. A series that didn’t have a plot-progressing storytelling device, like Evangelion‘s war against the angels or Mahoromantic‘s steadily impending doom made it all the more acute. When character development is made the focus of a story, it needs to be good, or the series isn’t good.