Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Love*Com Continued

Aaaand it looks like the author of Love*Com intends to do exactly what I feared by making her characters conform to gender norms despite their "flaws" of being too tall and too short. Awesome. Well at least I made it to Volume 3 without getting disgusted?

I was initially intrigued by the entrance of Risa's childhood friend Haruka, a boy with a girl's name who liked girls' things and was always getting picked on. I happen to like girly-boys very much, but manga is never, ever kind to them. Anyway, Haruka developed a crush/obsession with Risa because she always saved him as a child. He confesses this to her, but right as this happens a dog comes up and scares them. Ootani comes out of nowhere and saves them, yelling about how Risa is still a woman even if she's a giant and still needs to be protected. And Haruka ends up saying that even though Ootani is short, he's still manly and that he himself must become more manly so he can protect Risa like a good heteronormative couple.


Well, it's still not bad enough for me to entirely put down, but it's not looking good. I'll keep on reading to see if it redeems itself or just gets worse. Stay tuned for more updates. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Review: Love★Com

Something you may not know about me yet (but you could probably guess): I am not a fan of shoujo. I was a pretty butch kid growing up, and I preferred the manga directed towards men because of their epic storylines, epic battles and epic friendships. Romance has never been my thing, and unfortunately that is the target of most (if not all) shoujo manga. However, I've lately realized that if I'm going to have a go at manga from a feminist perspective, I have to read the things that are targeted toward women and girls. So I'm embarking on an epic quest to find a shoujo manga that (a) has a good, believable love story and (b) has a good strong female protagonist.

My first foray into this wilderness was the first volume of Love*Com, or Lovely Complex by Nakahara Aya. The premise is promising enough: the budding highschool romance between a girl who is too tall and a guy who is too short. The title comes from the complexes that each of them have about their heights. The protagonist, Risa, is rejected by boys because she is too tall and therefore "too masculine," while her friend Ootani has a similar problem with being too short. They argue constantly (a sure sign of romance to come for shoujo manga, somehow... I guess all that annoying highschool sexual tension), and consider each other enemies until they both find a common goal—each one likes the friend of the other. So they conspire to help each other get dates with the other people. Of course this scheme fails miserably, and Risa comes out realizing that she and Ootani are actually very similar, sharing the same interests, hobbies and love of adventure. And oh no, could this be... LOVE???????? I'm sure they'll get that far maybe 17 volumes later, but oh well.

So far I'm actually moderately enjoying this. I really like Risa's design, and she ends up making some hilarious facial expressions. Ootani is also ridiculously cute and effeminate looking despite his constant wish to be seen as "a man." I actually have some hopes for this though, because the manga revolves around two people who don't really fit well into the assigned gender roles. Of course the mangaka could easily destroy this by having them happily become a "man" and a "woman" by the end of the manga, resolving their conflicts by having them fit in with standards of femininity and masculinity, rather than realize how useless those categories are in the first place. For now I will continue, however warily.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Link Rec: The Decline of the Empowered Female in One Piece

Sorry I haven't posted at all in quite a while! I've been ridiculously busy this semester, as it's my last semester as an undergraduate and I have a thesis to complete. I don't have any completed posts to give you, so I'll link you to this really fascinating essay by bevinbaka about one of my favorite characters in all of Japanese comics, Nami from One Piece

Beware, there are spoilers for up to the last completed arc so if you haven't read it and plan to, you might want to hold off on reading this until you catch up!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Target Women: Vampires

In light of my recent post about Vampire Knight, I thought I'd post the most recent Target Women episode by Sarah Haskins, the comedic light of my and Maggie's lives.

In case you're unfamiliar with it, Target Women is Sarah Haskins' segment on Current TV's Infomania, which comes on every Thursday at 10 on Current. You can also watch all of her episodes at

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quick Review: The Scar (2002)

I know it's taboo to review a book before you're done with it, but I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to one of the best fantasy/sci-fi books I have ever read. China Mieville's The Scar is not only a fantastic piece of literature, but it has one of my favorite female protagonists in a fantasy/sci-fi book so far.

Let me tell you some of my favorite things. The protagonist is a middle-aged female linguist named Bellis Coldwine. She is somewhat detached, very guarded and highly intelligent. She has several lovers throughout the book and has no intention of marrying or falling in love. She is a normal human, no super powers. She is not beautiful, in fact she is barely even physically described. Are you in love yet? God, I am.

Also, Mieville drops these fabulously subtle hints about gender inequalities in the city of her birth. She publishes her work as B. Coldwine, a move that she calls a "harmless little piece of obfuscation"  so that people won't judge her work by her gender. Another character, Uther Doul, describes gender relations in Bellis' home city of New Crobuzon as "A certain sacralization of women. A contempt masked as adoration." Of course, Mieville is commenting on the status of gender relations in his home city of London, the model for the steampunk New Crobuzon. These statements make Bellis's character so much more intriguing for me, now that I know that she comes from a society like mine in which women aren't exactly given a fair shake. They also garner more respect for Mr. Mieville, as it lets me know that he is in touch with some of the subtleties of my issues.

The fact that Mieville even writes of gender issues in a book not entirely about gender issues has me in love. I wasn't expecting a particularly feminist read here, and I was oh so pleasantly surprised. There are many other reasons to check out this book even beside the female protagonist. Mieville is a highly inventive writer, a master at race creation and civilization building (he has an MA in social anthropology) and knows how to construct a great plot. Also there's a character in there with tentacles and gills, so I'd probably be reading this if it were a treatise on chauvinism. I can't help it, I just love me some octopuses. Over and out!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Manga Review: Vampire Knight(ヴァンパイア騎士 )

So I've decided to take a quick look at a comic that has recently taken the shoujo world by storm: Vampire Knight. As Maggie can tell you, vampire stories have seen a huge uprising recently in YA Lit (Twilight, Vampire Kisses, etc.), television (True Blood is the new one on HBO), and film (the recent film adaptation of Twilight), so it's no wonder that a manga with a title like Vampire Knight would be flying off the shelves. I should preface this post with a disclaimer: I don't like vampire stories. As a whole I find them rather contrived, as they all rest on that popular "she's a girl, he's a vampire" dilemma wherein he has to hold in his raging urge to rip her throat out  (read: man lust) to preserve her innocence (read: virginity) all in the midst of fierce sexual tension (read: high school brand hormones). However, I figured I would look into this one to see if it had any new play on the tired out gender cliches. And I'll go ahead and tell you, the short answer is no.

The main protagonist is Yuuki ("gentle princess"... ugh) Cross, the spunky and clumsy yet caring, innocent and unknowingly super hot adopted daughter of the Cross Academy's headmaster. The academy is made up of a Day Class for normal, human students and a Night Class for the vampire students, who are all really hot. The head of the vampire class is really really hot Kaname Kuran (seeing a pattern?), a "pure blood" vampire who happened to save Yuuki from a mean, ugly vampire when she was little. The other protagonist is Zero Kiryuu, Yuuki's angsty (hot) childhood friend who is totally in love with her who also happens to be a vampire, because he was bitten by one when a "pure blood" vampire killed his whole family...whew. I wish I were making this up, I really do. Zero is my least favorite type of character: the hot friend who secretly loves the girl, is super protective of her but a huge dick to her face. And of course, I am betting 5 bucks right now that this is the guy she will end up with.

For the first, oh, fourteen chapters, Yuuki is the only notable female character in the manga. I am serious. There is one other girl who has like seven lines, which are all about how she hates Yuuki and wants to bone Kaname. So the manga has already fantastically failed The Bechdel Test. What else? Yuuki has little to no agency in the entire manga. Typical of vampire stories, she is constantly in dangerous situations from which she needs to be saved by Zero or Kaname, only to have her savior slather all over her neck and then push her away so he can hate himself for giving in to his raging lust. She has a fighting stick but she never, ever uses it, or else it is knocked out of her hand in the first five seconds so that she can get slathered on by her attacker before getting slathered on by her saviour. Because of the sexual implications of vampirism, every dangerous encounter that Yuuki has is colored by the possibility of rape, and basically every safe encounter she has with Kaname or Zero is sexual. Sometimes there is some uncomfortable blurring between the two. So far, the manga is a complete fantasy for women who want to surrender to hot guys who are mean to them.

I'm only fourteen chapters in (and I'm impressed I got this far), but I think I will continue because apparently a new girl is about to enter the scene. If she is what I predict (an evil, beautiful but ultimately innocuous rival), I will certainly throw the thing down in disgust. If not, maybe I'll be back to report some more. For now, I'm giving myself a break from bad shoujo and reading some China Mieville. Goodnight everyone.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Movie Review: 交霊 (Séance) [2000]

Halloween is coming! 

And seeing as it is my favorite holiday, I'm doing a few reviews of horror films to celebrate the spookiness. I'm a minor horror geek, in that I have a love for gore flicks but they are by no means my passion. Horror geekdom (like the rest of geek culture) is still largely a male-dominated area (though in my experience, some of the most hardcore fans of the genre are women). The reason women typically stay away probably has less to do with the fact that it's "scary," and more to do with the American slasher flick's origins as a backlash to the second-wave feminist movement. Everyone knows the stereotypes; the "slut" (read: sexually-empowered woman) is always the first to die while the virgin is always the heroine. The intersection of sexual mores and gore has resulted in a recent surge of "torture porn," in which a sexualized female body is mutilated and dismantled. With all this fun stuff, it's no wonder that women tend to stay away from the genre. Even so, the horror genre holds a certain attraction over me. Like science fiction, I think the horror genre is fertile ground for exploring societal phobias. The film I am about to review is a great example of this fact.

As part of our October Horror-thon, my boyfriend and I recently watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2000 film, Séance. The film revolves around a husband and wife who are drawn into a kidnapping plot that results in the death of an innocent young girl. The main character, Junco, is a dissatisfied housewife with psychic powers who holds séances for grieving families. When a kidnapped young girl shows up at the couple's house, the couple decides to use the situation to their own advantage. Junco, in an attempt to legitimize her skills as a psychic, leads the cops along a fake trail while hiding the child in her home. When the child mysteriously dies, the couple is besieged by the child's angry spirit and creepiness ensues.

Kurosawa's film exemplifies a universal paranoia concerning shifting gender roles in the home.  In the beginning of the film, the husband is the bread-winner—a sound engineer for a TV station—while Junco stays at home. Junco repeatedly expresses her dissatisfaction with housewifery. She tries to enter the work force, but her psychic powers allow her to see disturbing visions surrounding customers at work so she quits and returns home. Dissatisfied and out of options, Junco jumps at the opportunity to prove herself as a psychic when 
the kidnapped child appears at her house. If she were to attain respectability among the police, her name would be disseminated in the news and she would never be in want of paying clientele. It is this possibility that drives her to concoct the bizarre plan that leads to the child's death. 

It is strange to me that such a reasonable desire would result in the death of a child. Children are often used to make a moral point in film, or function as a film's moral center. If this film is to be read similarly, the death of the child would indicate that Junco's desire is morally wrong. Furthermore, I want to note that the film couple is childless. In Japanese culture (as well as in American), there is a societal expectation for couples to have children (for instance: try to recall a heterosexual thirty-something married couple portrayed in a film that has no children, and no explanation as to why they don't have children). Couples who do not choose to have children can even be regarded as "selfish," as if their disinterest in children is correlated with their interest in themselves. Keeping these conventions in mind, it is easy to see the subtext: Junco's desire to enter the workforce is selfish and morally corrupt. If she had been content with her present life, the child would have survived, and the metaphorical film "family" would have remained intact.

I don't mean to assign this viewpoint to Kurosawa himself. The screenplay was adapted from a 1961 novel by British writer Mark McShane entitled Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Because I'm not familiar with the book, I can't say for sure exactly what Kurosawa changed. Regardless, the film presents a perfect example of the social fear surrounding shifting gender roles in the home. By seeking her own power Junco upsets the balance of the film "household," resulting in the death of her husband and "child."