Audience

Although it’s not something I recommend writers think about too much during the early creative side of building a story, audience is very important when you get close to the publishing side of things. But just because your story has a natural, intended audience, doesn’t always mean that will be it’s exclusive audience.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about audience. Or, more specifically, the weirdness of liking something that’s not aimed at you.

Recently, I’ve fallen back in love with the anime Dragon Ball Z. Even if you’re not into anime, you’ve likely heard of this show (or seen some of the art), because it was one of the early powerhouse franchises when anime was first sweeping the American airwaves back in the 90s and aughts. Back in the day, you only had a few options for anime on tv, and one of the most “mature” (aka aimed more at teenagers) was Dragon Ball Z. It was about heroic warriors defeating grand villains in dramatic one-off stands, often on other planets, and usually involving a good amount of comic relief and ridiculous abilities. It was campy, macho, and at least a little self-aware. And 12 year old Lucy was absolutely obsessed with it.

The cast of Dragon Ball Z, in ulter-dramatic epic poses, close-up montage shot.

Yeah, this.

I never expected 3o-year-old Lucy to be able to still care about it.

I am not now, and have never been, the intended audience for this show. It’s aimed at boys in the child-to-teen range, and prides itself on being badass, tough, and occasionally gross. These are not normally things that I like, and I’m always kind of stumped when pressed to explain what I like about it. Sure, at this point nostalgia plays a heavy roll, but I wasn’t any more into those things when I was 12 than I am now (possibly less so).

I guess the easiest explanation is that at the time it delivered all the other things that drew me to anime: grand, overarching plot; characters who were allowed to grow and change with the show; nuanced approaches to the concept of good and evil. It gave me in a cartoon the kind of complex stories I was used to only finding in books.

Now, I’m no stranger to liking things that are not expressly aimed at me. Steven Universe is one of my favorite shows, and it’s definitely not aimed at 30-year-olds (although, I could go on and on about this show, and probably will at some point). I read a lot of YA literature, despite being now nearly twice as old as most of the characters. But I feel especially weird when it comes to DBZ. I don’t know if it’s the gendered thing. It is very aggressively aimed at guys. But I like super hero stuff, which has essentially the same audience.

I think it comes back to some habitual embarrassment about anime. When I was a teen, it was just coming into its own as a medium in America, and most people thought anime was either A) only for little kids (because it was animation), or B) porn (because the fact that there was anime porn pretty much traumatized everyone who was expecting option A). Anyone who knew better, but wasn’t actually in to it, just thought it was nerdy in the extreme. Which, maybe it was. I guess as a teen I got used to either having to defend my love for a show, or just pretend I didn’t care about it. Like a true hipster, I learned to love things ironically before it was cool, because that was easiest.

Well, I’ve been trying to get better at loving things unironically, but it’s hard with DBZ, because it seems so completely opposite to how I think of myself. I mean, I still love Sailor Moon, and I can see how it influenced me as a writer. I have no idea how DBZ influenced me, and that’s a weird feeling.

I think some of it does come back to how much of a boy show it was. Even at the time, I felt like it was something I shouldn’t be watching. Not because it was any sillier than Sailor Moon, but because it wasn’t for me. In reality of course, girls watched DBZ and boys watched Sailor Moon (and everyone watched Pokemon), because that was what we had to watch, and because both were compelling and fun in their own ways.

Still, whenever I see art or merchandise for the show, I’m reminded how much it’s not targeted to me. Often when I hear guys talk about it online or at conventions, I’m reminded how much it isn’t targeted to me. And the show is actively sexist; from the lack of female characters to the creepy sexualization of what few woman there are.

It’s a weirdly alienating feeling. It’s probably also a very privileged feeling, as it’s not that hard to find things that are aimed at me.

Actually, lets talk about that. Most of the things I like are not aimed at me. Sure, there are things aimed at women in their late twenties and early thirties. They’re mostly romantic comedies. I enjoy a good rom-com as much as the next person, but I’m not really drawn to them. Be it literature or movies, I like things that are a little darker, a little rowdier. And sometimes, a little more juvenile. But as a white woman who dates men, it’s not like I’m being ignored as a demographic, and it’s pretty easy to find characters who look like me who I can at least somewhat relate to. There are certainly many people who are more ignored by pop culture than I am.

Lets take Steven Universe again. I’m not saying it’s the be-all-end-all of television, but I love this show. More than I’ve loved any piece of popular culture in a long time. And it’s not aimed at me. It’s definitely aimed at kids, but it feels like it was written just for me. It plays with gender norms, bucks heteronormativity, and is full of awesome, diverse, interesting ladies. It’s also got kind, intelligent, complex men. It makes me feel a little bit better about humanity.

I think a big reason Steven Universe clicks for me is it feels like I could have written it. Or one of my friends could have. More and more, I’m finding things that are written by my generation, by people who were influenced by the things that influenced me, and there’s something so awesome about that. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Steven Universe definitely has some DBZ influences in it. Also Sailor Moon, and Revolutionary Girl Utena (and I hear Transformers, but I can’t speak to that). Basically, it’s by my people, so it’s not that surprisingly that I would fall in love with it.

That doesn’t really solve my frustration over DBZ, though. It just brings it around again.

I guess I’m not going to come to any conclusions here, but as a writer, I think it’s important to remember that there are probably more audiences out there than I’m thinking about. Even if I’m aiming for this specific idea of a person (maybe a little bit like me, or a while lot different), I can’t predict who my story will resinate with. I can’t control who will find it and love it, and that’s a good thing. I just wish more shows recognized their varied audience. I’ve been let down by Dragon Ball before, and I will be again, because I’m really not on their minds. But I’m still here, and I’m still watching.

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The Cemetery

I realized it had been far too long since I posted any recent writing!

This is a small excerpt from one of my works-in-progress. It’s gone by many different names, but the current working title is Echoes. This takes place in the first chapter, and is based off of a cemetery that I used to go to as a kid.

If you like comparisons, I posted a scene from a much earlier draft back in 2010, about a eerie school at night, and it’s still available here. I also have some early marketing copy from when I used this for a project in grad school.

The Cemetery

It’s September, and although the days are still hotter than I would like, the evenings have begun to cool off enough that I really should have brought a sweater. I don’t turn back, though. You couldn’t pay me to go back there right now.

The night is chill, but its clear, a relative rarity in the Pacific Northwest, even in the summer. The sky stretches out above me, the stars only slightly dulled by the light from downtown off to the West, and I feel like I could fall into the sky if I stood there long enough. I squeeze my camera, trying to imagine how to capture that feeling on film.

After my house, the streets are eerily quiet. There’s no one else in sight, and it feels like I’m not just alone on the street, but alone in the world, it’s so quiet. That waiting quiet of midnight in the suburbs. Continue reading

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Power Couples for the Win! Dragon Ball Super Episode 99

(Transferred over from my Tumblr…minor spoilers and stuff)

I got a tad ranty last time I talked about Dragon Ball Super, but this time they actually did something well! In episode 99, they managed to produce a kind of awesome example of how you can write a healthy power dynamic between men and women.

So Krillin and 18 are married at this point, with an adorable daughter, but Super has been generous enough to actually let 18 do stuff in this current tournament arc (unlike pretty much every other female that has gotten married–I’m looking at you, Videl). She’s not only been supportive of her husband, she’s gotten an acceptable amount of development herself, and one of the highlights of this arc for me has been getting to see their dynamic at play. Well, they got to shine for a part of this episode, and for a few glorious moments, everything was right in the world.

While fighting baddies and generally kicking ass and taking names in the battle royale, 18 nearly got kicked out of the ring. Krillin rescued her and blasted them back to safety, carrying her in his arms in full Superman/damsel-in-distress mode…but it actually wasn’t terrible. Why? Here was, basically, their exchange:

Him: Whoa, honey, you normally don’t get distracted so easily

Her: (with a smirk instead of dewy eyes) Oh, shut up, you.

It was adorable. Neither was weakened by the exchange, and neither came out “on top.” Krillin may have saved the day (for the time being), but it wasn’t because 18 needed saving as a weak female–it was just one fighter helping out their teammate, with some added warm-fuzzies from their relationship. It’s a small moment, but its actually a great example of how to write characters helping each other while keeping them on even footing (power-dynamic-wise), and subverting some tropes while you’re at at.

Of course, the other characters instantly grumbled about how she ruined the moment, I guess by not being a submissive dewy-eyed damsel, and the episode kind of took a turn for the worst (and it could be argued that Krillin got punished for not being manly enough in this moment), but I don’t care. I’m taking this as a win. For now.

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CDs vs Music


This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about…CDs. Not albums, not music, but CDs. Physical CDs. 

Or more specifically: how few of them I have these days.

CDs used to be a necessity. Like tapes and records before them, they were required in order to, you know, listen to music. But these days, I almost never buy CDs. I mean, what’s the point, really? It’ll only be useful for the five minutes it takes to download the music onto my computer, and from then on, the CD is useless. I don’t even have a CD player anymore, other than my computer. If I’m listening to music, it’s on my iPod, or through Pandora (or even Youtube). If I really need to own it and have it on hand, I download it from iTunes.

And that makes me think: the CDs I have are kind of extra special, aren’t they?

So, I wanted to do a quick survey of the CDs I do still own, discounting any that aren’t actually in my room.

Mostly, I have stuff that is super indie. Hank Green and the Perfect Strangers. The Doubleclicks. Some indie singles I’ve picked up at cons.

Then, there are my Vienna Teng CDs, which date back from college, but are beloved enough that I’ve kept them around.

And finally, I have some musical soundtracks, because I can usually pick them up for cheap at used stores; cheaper than if I downloaded them.

And finally, Hamilton, because…well, because Hamilton.

I guess my conclusion is that I buy/keep CDs when I really care about a band or show, or if it’s the cheaper option.

But I’m left with a dilemma. The Steven Universe soundtrack finally came out this month, and I instantly bought it in iTunes. But I kind of want the physical CD, too….

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I’ll just be over here spitting fire about Dragon Ball Super episode 89…

(Transferred over from my Tumblr…Spoiler alert or whatever but it’s not about plot)

Maybe later I’ll write up some detailed critique on my blog, but right now I just want to be Mad.

So, Dragon Ball has a long, torrid history of not being great to its female characters. I (like probably many fans) tend to excuse that as it being from a different era. After all, the 80s and 90s were a long time ago. Surely the writers now would treat women better, right?

Apparently not.

This was a long time coming, and I’m not actually surprised, just deeply disappointed. I would like a thing I love to be better to me.

Quick recap: Goku is gathering fighters, including Tien and Roshi. They’re hanging out at Tien’s dojo, so Goku goes there, and stumbles into a dumb plot wherein a girl Tien used to know shows up to challenge him, gets systematically creeped on by Roshi, and no one does anything.

Of fucking course no one does anything. Because this show, full of strong characters we’re supposed to look up to, can never bother to actually defend women and stop perverted assholes from assaulting them.

To be clear: I’m not mad that the perverted assholes exist, necessarily. They’re a cliche of shonen stories, which are known for raunchy humor, and just, whatever. But our heroes are supposed to be better than that.

Sure, Goku’s an oblivious moron and I don’t expect him to suddenly become this defender of women, but there are so many ways to have him shut this bullshit down, while staying in character and maintaining the tone. It doesn’t have to be a Lesson. It can still be goofy, raunchy Dragon Ball, but just maybe don’t have your main character fucking back out of the room where a perverted old man is alone with a clearly-protesting woman.

It’s not like the show is trying to tell us what Roshi’s doing is right, but it’s also not telling us that it’s behavior we should take any steps to stop, either. It’s played off as harmless perversion; dirty old men will be dirty old men, after all. But is it harmless?

Actions speak louder than words, and from the beginning this series has shown through its actions that women and girls should expect men to ogle and assault them, and the good guys in their lives won’t do anything to stop it.

It’s in character. It’s not unexpected and I shouldn’t be surprised…but it’s fucking disappointing every damn time.

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5: Alone Together

mainpicThis is a part of the Great Ouran Analysis, an ongoing, episode-by-episode critical analysis I’m doing of the anime Ouran High School Host Club. If you’re just tuning in, I recommend you start with the introduction post.

Episode 5: The Twins Fight!

Yay, it’s finally time for the twins! As you’ve noticed, I’ve been putting them off for awhile, because they’ve mostly been in the background so far. While the twins are often instigators of the plot (usually at the cajoling of Tamaki or Kyouya), this is the first episodes where we’re able to really get a sense of them as characters. Individual characters.

This episode was the first turning point for me. Up until this point, I kind of disliked Hikaru and Kaoru (and had trouble thinking of them as distinct entities). Sure, they were entertaining, but they felt too much like icky queer-baiting fanservice. Queer-baiting, if you haven’t encountered the term, is essentially the act of setting up characters as potentially gay to appeal to a portion of your audience, while never actually making them officially gay, and often while throwing in excuses and roadblocks to assure the rest of your audience that they’re straight. The show Sherlock is a great example. The term is used more for American media (from what I’ve seen), but works well for yaoi (aka guy-on-guy) fanservice in anime as well. “Fanservice” is, as you can probably guess, imagery and plot (and sometimes whole characters) thrown in entirely to entice a particular audience; in this case, straight women.

The twins explain their appeal pretty succinctly in this episode, so I’m just going to paraphrase. They’re basically a triple threat, playing into three potential straight-female fantasies:

  1. good looking gay boys
  2. the incest taboo, and the play between friend/more-than-friend sexual tension
  3. the idea of being part of a pretty-boy sandwich (or a dramatic love triangle)

We’re pretty used to thinking about these types of fantasies in the context of straight male porn, but women have these fantasies, too. Japan has different mores when it comes to sex and sexuality, and so anime tends to play up fantasies less abashedly than American media aimed at the same demographic. That’s one of the reasons many parents get kind of scared of anime; it’s more frank about sex than we’re used to dealing with. I’m not going to debate who’s right or wrong, or which culture has the healthier attitude, but know that characters like the twins are not unique to Ouran–at least, not as archetypes.

What makes the twins special is, of course, that they are also individual, fully-formed characters (I could argue the most fully-formed characters by the end of the series, but that’s a debate for much later).

We get our first hint of this by their voices. Now remember, I’ve only seen the Japanese, so I’m not sure how the dub handles it, but the original Japanese cast uses separate actors for the twins. You may not notice this right away, because they mostly speak in unison, but it becomes a lot clearer in this episode. Hikaru has a slightly deeper voice; Kaoru is a little more soft-spoken. As Haruhi says, Hikaru’s actions are about 10% meaner (or harsher) than Kaoru’s. Hikaru tends to play the dominant partner when they’re play-acting for customers (remember, Renge switched this up a bit in the previous episode). They also tend to part their bangs in a telling way, Hikaru on the right, Kaoru on the left, although they also use this to fool people. (I find the easiest way to tell them apart is their voices, but the hair usually works too)

Alright, I’ve rambled enough: lets talk about the actual episode. The twins are bored, and seize on an off-hand comment from Haruhi to launch into an episode-long quarrel. The legitimacy of the fight can be debated, but they definitely use it to entertain themselves, create some drama for their fans, and eventually convince Haruhi to promise to invite them over to her house.

Throughout the episode, we get very little of the fan-service-y twincest angle; most of the time, it’s just two brothers having a fight. This is refreshing and reassuring.

Now, the real crux of the episode comes from the very opening scene (which is also this week’s main symbol), where we see the twins as children, alone on a bench, hand’s clasped. We learn that people have always had trouble telling them apart, and they’ve used this to distance themselves from the rest of the world. They look down on other people, and consider them mostly beneath their notice, except as playthings. They’ve literally made it into a game that they play with customers; a rigged game that really no one can win, since it usually comes down to guessing. Haruhi is the first person who’s successfully been able to tell them apart; the first person who’s seen them as individuals. (Spoiler alert: this will come up again)

From the beginning, when Haruhi tells them apart, to the end, when we see Kaoru glance at his brother as they watch Haruhi walk away, Haruhi is shown as a disruptive force in their lives. She has broken through their defenses, without them realizing it, and has perhaps started a chain reaction. They are not alone together anymore.

This episode is far too short to give us more than a small glimpse into the twin’s characters, but it’s a promise that we will get more later. And I’m promising that too: they will get deeper episodes, and they will get them individually. Although they’re set up as playthings for our enjoyment, we will get to see these young men change throughout the series. Ouran High School Host Club is about growing up, about figuring out how you fit into the world, and Hikaru and Kaoru have a long way to go.

Other Observations:

  • Judging from the scene with Haruhi’s photoshopped images, Tamaki is still pretty set on wanting to make her all girly, despite all evidence to the contrary. He’s also super protective.
  • That said, Tamaki is also loyal and protective of his club fellow hosts, not just their customers. He has some insight into the twins’ characters, and, although we may be giving them more credit than they deserve, he seems legitimately concerned for them.
  • We got to meet Nekozawa in this episode! He’s a super fun character, and will come up again.
  • Renge’s still around–and now she has her own motor-powered platform, perfect for dramatic entrances.

And that’s it for now! Next time we get some insight into Tamaki’s character in Episode 6: The Grade School Host is the Naughty Type!

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Hello, 2017

Alright, I realize that New Years posts are a bit of a cliche…but I think there’s something nice about having an excuse to assess your goals, and reflect on things. If it has to be a bit of a cliche, then so be it.

I try not to do “resolutions” because they seem too inflexible, but I like setting goals. I’ve been in a bit of a slump for the last year, and I think I could use some goals to liven things up. So, lets get to it!

Create More

This is my big goal for 2017. More specifically, to create things that I can share with people. I’ve done plenty of writing over the last few years, but everything is in very rough-draft format; I’ve not done anything that’s really polished enough to share with people. And that’s fine; those projects are coming along nicely, and I’m not unhappy about where they are. But I miss that joy of sharing projects with others.

On the blog, I’m going to continue the Great Ouran Analysis, because honestly that’s been a ton of fun, and we’re still just barely getting going. I got kind of derailed this Fall (work in retail, and you know the true pain of the Holiday Season), but I’m hoping to bring this series back and start updating more frequently.

Part of this is, I feel I’ve tried to compartmentalize myself a bit too much. I started this blog in grad school, in the height of my obsession with YA books (just as the genre was becoming a big, talked-about thing), and I still feel like this should be a book blog, primarily. But it’s not. It’s just not. I love books, and I love reading, but I haven’t felt much like reviewing things recently, and I’m not getting through books nearly as quickly as I was in grad school. That’s why I made the subtitle of this blog “with occasional detours into Movieland, Televisionland, and Gameland.” I want this to be a pop culture blog, and a bit of a catch-all for the things I care about. Now, I need to put my money where my mouth is, and actually blog about those things.

Write More [Often]

Ok, this could be part of “create more,” but I thought it deserved it’s on spot. I’m not concerned so much with quantity or quality; I’m concerned with frequency. My goal is to make daily writing a habit. I’ve challenged myself to write at least 300 words a day. That’s, like, 10 minutes a day. I really have no excuse for not doing that almost every day.

I don’t think writing daily is absolutely required to be a writer, but I’ve found that when I work on a project daily, even for just a little bit, it keeps my mind in the project. I don’t have to sit down and reread what I wrote during the last session; I can launch straight in where I was. It keeps me more consistent, and it keeps me mindful. That’s one of my favorite parts of Nanowrimo, and I want to be able to keep it up year-round, even just in small amounts. Of course, ideally I’ll end up writing more than 300 words most days, because usually starting is the hardest part.

Cook More

This is more of a personal goal, but I’ve been trying to assess my eating habits, and work on eating a better balance of all the good things. Not a diet per se, because I kind of hate diets, but just a focus on what I’m eating, not necessarily how much. The easiest way to control this is to cook more. I enjoy cooking when I get in the habit of it, but it quickly feels like a chore when I get home from work and just want to relax, sew, write, or get on with the things I need to get done. But it can be relaxing. And it can help save money. I’m tired of eating a steady diet of ramen, quesadillas, and leftovers.

I have two ways I’m going to tackle this goal. The first is that I’m going to push myself to cook new meals. I have this cookbook I love, the Healthy College Cookbook, and it’s great for healthy meals that are also pretty easy, and from what I’ve seen so far, pretty tasty. I’m going to try picking a new recipe a week, and see where we go from there.

The second thing I’m going to do is go to the damn grocery store once a week. I hate grocery shopping. The stores are always too busy, and the lines are always too long, and I get major stressed out when I don’t know where to look for something. But, it’s mainly big shopping trips that stress me out. If I go once a week, I’ll only be buying stuff for that week’s meals, and stocking up a bit on staples, but I should haven’t to do any huge, hour-long trips. Hopefully this will make it easier to cook (because I’ll always have enough ingredients on hand), and will help make both things more of a habit.

Well, that’s it for this year! Three goals that I think should be pretty easy to keep up. So far I’ve been doing really well on the daily writing; I usually miss a day a week, but I can handle those odds. We’ll see how the other things pan out!

 

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