Back to School (In More Ways Than One)

An image of an empty library, with the title of the post over-layed.

Last summer, June 2019, I quite my job as a marketer (and occasional customer-service-representative) for a small company, and went back to school. This week, I begin my second year in a Business degree program. I’m planning to major in marketing, but am getting a lot of basic training in accounting, financing, and management along the way. It’s been an good program so far, and should only get better as I am able to take higher level classes.

Of course, that’s not the most interesting thing about this year.

Spring term, as the Covid-19 pandemic went from theoretical to pervasive, I got my first taste of remote learning. Before this, I did have a little experience with online classes, from both perspectives. I worked as a teaching assistant for a few online classes back in grad school (around 2011), and my first term back at school last summer included two online classes. But these classes felt very different.

Some of it was the panic in the air, as students and teachers alike scrambled to make the best of a chaotic, painful situation. Some of it was the suddenness. Sure, online classes are nothing new, but most teachers had maybe two weeks notice before they were suddenly online teachers…some of whom had never taught online before. My classes actually went really smoothly, but many of my classmates had less stellar experiences.

All of my classes had a live check-in of some kind or another; one had fully live lectures. Now I know the term for these are “synchronous classes”–where you meet online at a specific time, as opposed to just watching recorded lectures and posting in message boards at your leisure. I found this much easier to handle than the “asynchronous” classes I’d participated in, and it really helped it feel like a class that was worth my time and money.

When I went back to school, I knew it would be different than my previous degrees, but I had no idea how different. I probably still don’t.

This blog has been quiet, and I’m sure my return to school has something to do with that. But, I haven’t been completely idle! I find I only have so much creative energy in me at any given time, and I’ve been making the most of it.

Podcasting

I plan to make a whole post (or two) about this, but the most envirgorating thing I’ve been doing over the last year and a half is podcasting with my friend Robin. We currently have two podcasts!

CLAMPcast in Wonderland is a retrospective on the works of manga superstar group CLAMP, where we discuss their publications from the last thirty years, and the influence they had on us as teens and now as adult creators.

In April we started a second podcast, Write for Me, Write for You, which focuses on (you guessed it) writing. Robin and I are each committed to finishing [at least the first draft of] a book in 2020, and this podcast chronicles that journey. In each episode, we also tackle different challenges that writers face, bringing our experiences in publishing and comics to the table.

The Great Ouran Analysis

Some of you may remember this blog series I started…in like 2017. In it, I analyze the anime Ouran High School Host Club episode by episode. It never got past five episodes, but I’ve been re-writing the original posts, and should be continuing the series this fall. After all the analysis we do in our CLAMP podcast, I feel like my voice has really grown, and I can tackle this series with new insight. Well, and it’s fun.

Check it out with the intro post (it should be interesting even if you’re not an anime fan).

Writing

I’d feel really horrible if this wasn’t on the list somewhere. I’ve been working through a few different WIPs, and trying to get back into the habit of daily writing (with mixed success). The podcast has helped give me a focus and a deadline, and I’m currently about a fourth of the way through a story about a school’s D&D club. Still figuring it out, but I like the direction it’s going. It’s YA, of course, and pretty queer.

Thank you for sticking with this little blog as my voice changes and my focus shifts. I still consider this my home-base, and I have no plans to abandon it, even if I may get sidetracked occasionally. I decided to go back to school so that I could pursue the things I love, and my blog and writing are both a big part of that. Here’s to many years ahead!

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2. Teacups

This is part of The Great Ouran Analysis. If you missed it, check out my introductory post first. And beware, there will be spoilers ahead.

Episode 2: The Job of a High School Host!

THE PLOT

Although we met all these delightful characters in the first episode, Episode 2 is where we really get to see the club in action. Haruhi’s a full-time host now, and everyone in the club is aware that she’s a girl (although the rest of the school is still none the wiser). However, although she’s a somewhat willing participant, she’s still not very attached to this strange club.

The episode opens as Haruhi rushes to be on time for club, only to open the doors and find a tropical oasis waiting for her instead of the usual room. All the hosts dress for the occasion in Balinese-inspired outfits, except for Haruhi, who prefers to stick with her seasonally-appropriate school uniform.

Today, Haruhi encounters a new client, Kasugazaki Kanako. Although she’s most recently been Tamaki’s client, Kanako has a history of switching between hosts (while most clients stick with the same host), and Haruhi is her new favorite. Seemingly jealous of this development, Tamaki announces that Haruhi should stop dressing as a boy—insisting that he wants to see her as she used to be, with long hair and a girl’s school uniform. Of course, this would make it difficult to pay off her debt to the club, since she’s able to make much more hosting than just doing chores. When Haruhi is also resistant to attending the dance the club is planning for the end of the week, Tamaki proclaims that if Haruhi doesn’t learn to waltz in time, he’ll reveal her gender to the school.

For the rest of the week, Kanako teaches Haruhi to waltz, and Haruhi notices that Kanako has an especial affection for fine china. It turns out that Kanako was betrothed at a young age to Suzushima Toru, the heir to a china supplier. However, the two have drifted apart, and he’s going to be studying abroad soon. Once Haruhi and the rest of the club realize this, Tamaki announces they must enact a new strategy, because the club exists to bring happiness to women. Despite her smile, Kanako is not happy.

The night of the dance arrives, and all their usual clients have turned out for a chance to dance with the hosts, and win the ultimate prize at the end of the night: whoever is crowned “queen” of the dance will receive a kiss on the cheek from the “king”, Tamaki. Haruhi’s usual clients are eager to dance with her, but Kanako snatches her up first—only just before she is literally snatched up by Mori and Honey, and carted to the back room to be part of their plan. They (the twins and Kyouya) have sent a love letter to Toru, and they need Haruhi to meet him in disguise and pretend to be a girl who has fallen for him. She complies, and Toru tells her that he can’t return her feelings—there’s already a girl he likes, but that girl deserves someone much more confident and impressive than him, so he’s working on bettering himself.

Haruhi has a wonderful way of being blunt, and she wastes no time telling Toru he’s being selfish, and that if he likes this girl, there’s no reason he shouldn’t tell her now, so they can grow and change together. Meanwhile, Tamaki has led Kanako away from the party and arranged for her to catch them talking. Although she doesn’t hear their conversation, Kanako is clearly emotional at seeing Toru with a girl (alone in a dark room, no less), and runs off crying. Fortunately, Toru follows her.

The couple makes it outside, and the hosts shine spotlights down on them, announcing that they get to have the last dance. Toru asks Kanako to dance with him, tells her he has always loved her, and proposes to her.

All that’s left is to resolve this kiss issue, and the twins announce that Kanako is the queen—but there’s been a change! Now, the winner gets a kiss on the cheek from Haruhi, instead of Tamaki. Honey points out that this might be Haruhi’s first kiss, and Tamaki rushes to stop it, but he trips and ends up pushing Haruhi into Kanako, causing a chaste kiss on the cheek to become a real kiss on the lips. And that’s how Haruhi’s first kiss ends up being with a girl.

SYMBOLISM

This episode has a lot of symbols, including some old favorites.  The blinking arrows from the first episode return, this time highlighting the bananas the twins are eating in one shot, and their empty hands a moment later. Of course, seconds later, Tamaki trips on a banana peel, forcing Haruhi to kiss Kanako. Like in the first episode, the arrows point out danger—but only to the audience. It’s a way of building tension, without interrupting the flow of the episode.

Most of our symbols are visual, but this next one is a bit different. In the first episode, Tamaki made a few throw-away lines comparing himself to Haruhi’s father. This was as he was training her to be a host, before he knew she was a girl, and really felt like a minor part of the narrative. However, in this episode he calls himself “Father,” and whines to “Mother”—whom they assume to be Kyouya, based on his position within the club—when Haruhi uses masculine speech. We’re starting to see a pattern develop, and this family-play is likely to come up again.

The most noticeable symbol in this episode is a teacup. Toru is the heir to a china supplier, and Kanako shows her devotion to him by her knowledge of fine china, specifically the tea sets the Host Club has been purchasing at his recommendation. However, tea cups feature more abstractly, as well. Where the first episode had the row of light bulks, episode 2 has shots of Kanako sitting alone in a ride very reminiscent of the Mad Tea Party Ride at Disneyland. The ride is dark, and she’s sitting alone in one of the giant teacup seats. However, once she and Toru reconcile, the ride lights up, and Kanako is shown happily rejoicing as the ride twirls her around.

CHARACTER GROWTH

We’re still in the beginning of this series, and since we’re still being introduced to these characters, our attachment to them really lives or dies based on these first few episodes. Episode 2 is a great opportunity to show how the characters play against each other, and it rises to that challenge fairly well.

HARUHI

Haruhi retains the qualities that drew us to her in the first episode. She has a big heart, and does seem to care about people once she gets to know them and their circumstances, but is not terribly outgoing just for her own sake. She’s very resistant to the idea of the dance party, and only agrees to go to the dance when Tamaki threatens to reveal her gender and demote her back to doing chores for the club.

She is not bothered by her gender presentation—though she is bothered when Tamaki reveals a blown-up picture of her in middle school, which he has had framed. But she does seem more at ease in a suit than when they put her in a dress (she complains that her face feels heavy in makeup, and the shoes are uncomfortable). Although nothing comes of Tamaki’s threat to reveal her identity (and really, not much tension is built around it), it does serve as a reminder that Haruhi’s tenure as a host does rely on her identity remaining a secret.

Haruhi is also incredibly blunt, and doesn’t care for artifice. She’s not impressed by the tropical oasis the hosts have set up in the club room, and isn’t interested in the dance party at all. In fact, the only times she shows any interest is when she realizes the dance’s catering will include “ootoro” (fancy [and expensive] tuna), and when she gets invested in Kanako’s troubles.

Haruhi isn’t heartless, she’s pragmatic. She doesn’t care about appearance or reputation, but she does care about people. Fortunately, it seems like the rest of the club does, too.

TAMAKI

From the beginning, Tamaki has insisted that the point of the club is to make girls happy, and in this episode, he shows that he cares more about the happiness of his clients than about the prestige of keeping them. Although Haruhi is the first one to observe Kanako and Toru’s connection, and Kyouya is the one to connect the dots, Tamaki seizes on this as a problem the Host Club must solve. Making girls happy, then, doesn’t end at serving tea and providing frivolous escapes from reality.

Although the episode ultimately drops the threat of revealing Haruhi’s gender, it can’t be ignored that Tamaki goes pretty hard on this at one point. He’s blown up a picture of Haruhi with long hair (without her permission), and is very bothered by her using masculine language. Like in the first episode, he refers to himself as her father, and assumes a protective attitude when he tries to keep her from giving up her first kiss. It seems obvious that he’s attracted to her, but he’s not acting on it the way you might expect from a gorgeous, flirty rich boy. Despite his protestations, he does seem to treat her as “one of the boys,” including her in shenanigans and attempting to order her around the way he would the rest of the hosts.

Whatever his feelings are for Haruhi, it’s clear Tamaki isn’t quite sure of them yet himself.

KYOUYA

From the get-go, Kyouya has been presented as the power behind the throne, and certainly the one who seems the most organized. He keeps records on students (which is how he knew Haruhi’s gender before anyone else did, and how he knew about Kanako and Toru even though he didn’t mention it until it came up), and seems to be more observant than the other characters; in the first episode, he made an aside to the viewers about Tamaki’s reaction to Haruhi (“could this be the beginnings of love?”). 

In this episode, we see that he also can deftly manipulate Tamaki. Haruhi calls him the “Shadow King” (in reference to Tamaki calling himself “King”) after she learns that the Balinese-theme was entirely due to Kyouya leaving a brochure on Bali out where Tamaki could find it. Tamaki also calls him “Mother” in the family dynamic he is building for the club. As a unit, he and Tamaki control the goings-on of the Host Club; even if they’re not entirely united as they do it.

Kyouya is calculating, with a mind to business. He suggests that an “accident” at the end would make the dance party more thrilling, and the twins decide to swap Haruhi’s kiss for Tamaki’s as the prize at the end of the night. Of course, this “accident” could be interpreted multiple ways. Was it Tamaki tripping and pushing the two girls into a full kiss? It seems like what Kyouya meant was for Kanako to happen upon Toru with another woman (Haruhi in disguise), a misunderstanding that led them to share their true feelings. Although he didn’t care enough to follow up on their history himself, Kyouya is invested in their outcome along with the rest of the club, and he even helps the twins write the “love letter” that lures Toru to meet with Haruhi.

Although I’m sure this made the party more entertaining and dramatic for the guests, it almost surely removed a frequent client from their list—Kanako herself says that her host-hopping days are over, so presumably she will no longer be attending the Host Club. Just going by the numbers, it’s not good business to eliminate regular clients. But Kyouya still acted in the best interests of Kanako (and the desires of Tamaki), not necessarily the financial interests of the club.

THE TWINS

Still acting as a unit, the twins were even more mischievous in this episode. They basically act as Tamaki’s lackeys, albeit not in a submissive way. It seems clear that they are “down to clown” for exactly as long as their interests align with his. They enjoy pushing people’s buttons—especially Tamaki’s, perhaps because he’s so easy to manipulate (as we saw with Kyouya). 

They are involved in the entire episode, but mostly in side rolls. They do Haruhi’s makeup, help write the love letter that Toru receives, and generally assist with the plot to get Kanako and Toru back together. But their biggest role is in the end, when they announce that the queen will get a kiss from Haruhi instead of Tamaki—and potentially sabotage Tamaki with a banana peel, causing him to trip and push Haruhi into Kanako. It’s unclear whether the peel was planted intentionally (it’s in their hands in one shot, and gone in the next), but it certainly seems like a thing the twins would do, whether they foresaw the outcome or not.

We still are only really seeing the twins as a unit. Although they fluctuate between speaking in unison and speaking one at a time, they’re always making statements together. 

HONEY & MORI

Like the twins, Honey and Mori mostly act in service to the plot, and they act as a unit. They’re involved, but not to the level of Haruhi or Tamaki, or even the twins. However, they act as a grounding force. When Kyouya and the twins are pointing out Toru’s characteristics (mostly in a harsh way), Honey summarizes with “Toru’s a good boy, isn’t he?” and Mori agrees. It gives the feeling that, if they are involved in the club’s shenanigans, those shenanigans must be for a good reason.

MOVING ALONG…

All in all, this episode serves as a good introduction to the club, for both us and Haruhi. We know we can expect elaborate scenery, and we know that, ultimately, Tamaki and the other hosts really do care about the happiness of their guests. Most times, that involves pleasant conversation over tea, but apparently sometimes it also involves elaborate match-making schemes.

They’re also not easily fooled. Just like in the first episode, when the hosts were fully aware that Haruhi was being bullied, they don’t take Kanako’s host-hopping at face value. They see that her cavalier attitude is really covering up an insecurity, and they work to help her.

Next time we’ll get to know even more about these characters, and get to see a test of Haruhi’s devotion to the club, in Episode 3: Beware the Physical Exam!

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1: The Door Opens

This is part of The Great Ouran Analysis. If you missed it, check out my introductory post first. And beware, there will be spoilers ahead.

Episode 1: Starting Today, You Are a Host

THE PLOT

The first episode of Ouran High School Host Club opens with a studious, frumpy student, Fujioka Haruhi, trying to find a place to study in their luxurious private school (the titular Ouran Academy). All the libraries on campus are full of chatting students, but when they try the abandoned 3rd Music Room, they stumble into the Host Club: a group of attractive boys that are ready to entertain bored [usually female] students in the most extravagant way possible. Before Haruhi can escape, they accidentally break an expensive vase, and are roped into doing odd-jobs for the club to pay off the incredible sum of money that Haruhi’s family would never be able to afford. When the club members discover that, despite their sloppy attire, Haruhi actually cleans up well, they are upgraded to a “rookie host”, and soon discover they’re a bit of a natural when it comes to entertaining their guests over tea. They quickly charm the girls (and Tamaki) with a story about their later mother, and how they feel close to her by recreating her old recipes.

Haruhi proceeds to follow instructions through most of the episode, as Tamaki and the twins encourage and deride them. When they purchase instant coffee instead of coffee beans, the hosts and their guests are intrigued by this “commoner coffee,” and make Haruhi serve it to them. For the most part, Haruhi is well-received, with their “lowly” background being considered a novelty. However, one of Tamaki’s guests is anything but supportive, and when Haruhi continues to capture attention, she throws Haruhi’s bag into a fountain, and, when Haruhi points out that she’s acting like she’s jealous, she accuses Haruhi of attacking her.

Fortunately, the hosts are more observant than they look. The twins splash water over her, and Tamaki reveals that she was the one bullying Haruhi. She’s kicked out of the club, and told never to return.

There’s still a catch, though. Although everyone assumed Haruhi to be male, she is actually female. Throughout the first episode, the club members all discover her “secret”, but Haruhi isn’t terribly bothered by this. By the end of the episode, she decides to keep up the ruse so she can continue working as a host to pay off her debt to the club, and the show is born.

If you’ve not watched much anime, this is going to seem like a pretty strange premise to you, but it’s actually a bit of a cliché in shojo stories. As I discussed in the intro post, Ouran is set up as a light satire of many popular tropes from its era, among them the notion of a commoner at a rich private school, and a heroine who is cross-dressing to blend in among male students. However, Ouran takes a few steps to distinguish itself from other series, even if this first episode.

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The Great Ouran Analysis: Introduction

When you open the door at the end of the North corridor, in the third music room, you’ll enter…the Host Club!

Today, I’d like to start a bit of a project. I’ve been in love with the anime Ouran High School Host Club for a long time, and well, we’re gonna talk about it. A lot.

The manga, written and drawn by Hatori Bisco, ran in LaLa Magazine from 2002 to 2010, and in the midst of that, in 2006, Studio Bones released a 26 episode anime series.

I was unaware of the manga at the time, even though it was released in the US starting in 2005, but watched the anime when it was still coming out in Japan in 2006, and fell in love.

On its surface, it did not look like something I would like; certainly not something I would fall in love with, and revisit on and off for the next decade+. When I discovered it in 2006, I was between my first and second years of college, and although I felt so much older than the characters, we were really only separated by a few years. I was still trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be, like a number of the characters. And more than that, I was struggling with the idea of “girly” media.

Ouran is undeniably aimed at a female audience, but it’s more self-aware (and, frankly, better-produced) than a lot of other shojo series of the era. I wasn’t used to seeing shows as they aired in Japan (remember, this was before simulcasts or streaming servicesif you lived outside Japan and wanted to watch the latest anime, you or someone you knew had to be comfortable with torrenting). The animation was so fresh and crisp.

This was a show aimed at girls that I also felt was intelligent and carefully-crafted enough that I, a “intellectual woman,” could feel comfortable loving it. Whether I was loving it despite or because of the “girly” elements could be left unsaid.

It has been over ten years, and I still love it, for the girly aspects as well as the symbolism and quality of production. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

INTRODUCING: OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB

In a nutshell, Ouran High School Host Club is a shojo series about a club devoted to entertaining guests, at a rich private school, with a female protagonist and a set of attractive male characters in a reverse-harem format. It follows the antics of the club members as they struggle with growing up, coming into their own identifies, and learning to be a part of their world. The main theme of the series is: be who you are, and do something you love.

Ouran is presented as a satire of the type of shojo series that were especially popular in the 90s and early 00s. Most notably, Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) which began its run as a manga in 1992, and was still running when Ouran began in 2002. Boys Over Flowers follows a girl who, despite being from a middle-class family, has enrolled in an elite private school, and has to contend with the eccentric behavior of a group of wealthy boys (known as the Four Flowers). It is one of the best-selling shojo mangas of all time, and has been adapted into an anime, as well multiple live-action tv shows and movies both in and outside of Japan. One of its most recent adaptations, Meteor Gardens, was produced in 2018 in China  and distributed in the US (among other places) as a Netflix Original. It was a big deal at the time, and it’s still a big deal now. 

Ouran adds another element that was also popular at the time: Haruhi, although female, ends up cross-dressing as a male student to be a host in the club, and at least some of the tension of the series revolves around whether or not her secret will be found out. 

WHAT IS SHOJO?

The term “shojo” comes from Japan, literally translates to “girl,” and is used in relation to manga and anime publishing to denote an intended audience: girls and young women.

Many famous anime series qualify as shojo series: Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Fruits Basket, and many others. Although the term technically just refers to an audience, there are a number of similar themes that tend to pop up between series (which, unsurprisingly, tend to follow expected gender norms). These series tend to be character driven more than plot driven, focus on high emotions, romance, and coming of age. Beyond that, they can be any genre, from high fantasy to slice-of-life high school drama. It’s a market, not a genre in and of itself, but it can often be used as short hand for romances.

The male equivalent, shonen, applies to series that are produced for boys, and encompasses such famous shows as Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Tenchi Muyo, and so forth. But, we’re not going to go into that here.

“HAREM” SHOWS

The term “harem,” used within anime and manga, describes a structure of show that was very popular in the 90s for shonen series, where you have one male character and a bevy of cute girl characters who are more or less presented as possible love-interests. The shojo equivalent, where you have one girl and an array of male love interests, is typically called a “reverse harem.” It’s usually more titillating than overtly sexual, but it really depends on the series itself, and the age of the intended audience.

HOST CLUBS

In the 1600s, Japan developed a nightlife entertainment that is often referred to as the “water trade” (mizu-shobai) or “floating world.” It gave rise to bathhouses and inns, as well as geisha tradition, and also more red-light entertainment. One of the modern evolutions is the hostess club, where a man will pay to be entertained (non-sexually) by women who work as hostesses. The equivalent, a host club where women pay to be entertained by male hosts, is also popular. These bars are a bit hard to envision for Westerners, because we don’t have an equivalent outside of strip clubs and sex work, but these bars can be quite chaste, with rules specifically banning touching or suggestive conversation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sex work, but this, certainly in relation to the high school club in the series, is not that.

The premise of this series is basically based on a pun: instead of the word “club” meaning a bar or dance club (as in, “let’s go clubbing”), it instead refers to a school club (as in “let’s go to chess club”). And thus, the series was born.

THE ANALYSIS [IS COMING]

I’ve been wanting to do a detailed analysis of this series since I first fell in love with it back in college, but, well, I never quite knew how to approach it. It’s so hard to tackle a whole television series; there’s just so much material to work with. After years of putting it on the back-burner, I decided that the best way to analyze it is the way I originally fell in love with it: one episode at a time.

I’m warning you now, there will be spoilers. As I’ll be looking at one episode at a time, chronologically, I’ll focus my analysis on that episode or preceding ones. So if you’re watching along episode by episode, I won’t spoil future plot developments, but I will spoil each episode as we get to it.

If you’re new to anime or manga, I will be defining terms as they come up, but this series relies a lot on an audience that is already familiar with the type of show the series is ostensibly parodying, so I’m going to have to get into the weeds a bit. If I skim over something that you’d like more information on, I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, or address things in a later post. Please, send me your feedback and questions!

Although I first watched this show through less-than-legal means, I do not support such actions in this day and age. We have so many ways to get our hands on anime now; if you can get it by legal means in your region, please do so! At the moment it is available in the US streaming on Netflix, digitally through Amazon Prime, and on DVD and Blu-ray from various sellers.

Ready? Join me in the next post for “Episode 1: Starting Today, You Are a Host!

This post has been edited from its original version, in 2020.

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First Thoughts on Dragon Ball Super: Broly

Dramatic shot of Vegeta and Goku, with Broly in the background. Overlay text reads "First Thoughts on Broly".

I wasn’t really a part of the fandom when Battle of Gods or Resurrection F came out, so this was my first experience getting to see a DBZ movie in a theater…and it definitely did not disappoint.

I’ll admit, I was kind of…we’ll say apprehensive, when they announced the 2018 movie would be bringing back good-old-never-been-interesting Broly. I didn’t hate his original movie, exactly, but his character development left something to be desired, and the fanboy fervor and general continuing on of the character has always frustrated me. But, with Toriyama actually in on it this time, I was hopeful that if they had to do another Broly movie, and least this one would be able to make the character interesting.

Overall, I’m actually really happy with how they handled Broly in this movie. Ironically, by taking away some of his motivation (he no longer has an illogical hatred of Goku based on being exposed to his wailing as an infant), and letting him just be a rage monster, they actually made the character more likable. Sure, he’s a rage monster, but he’s a sad rage monster. They make it clear that the character is working without motivation—following uncontrolled instinct and brutal conditioning, without his own beliefs to back it up. He’s a victim of circumstance, and even our heroes know it, so it really feels like everyone’s just game for a good fight. Even Freiza, who instigates everything, doesn’t seem terribly invested in the outcome. Like us, he’s just here for the show.

I am still a little frustrated at the show’s continual habit of reusing old material, and this movie doesn’t break from that pattern. Whereas Battle of Gods struck out into new territory, creating fascinating characters that lived on to be some of the best parts of Super, Broly follows in the footsteps of Resurrection F, giving us villains we’ve seen before and heroes we already know and love, without much new to speak of. Yes, the animation is gorgeous; yes, the way they handle Broly is a refreshing take on the character. Yes, the soundtrack was a delightful mix of intense and ridiculous (for the dub anyway; I have yet to see the subbed version).

Did it rock the Dragon Ball world? Not really. Will I see it again? Hell yeah.

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5 Things GT Could Have Done Well (But Didn’t)

A group shot of Goku, Pan, and Trunks from Dragon Ball GT, with the title beside them. In overlay text reads "5 Things GT /Could/ Have Done Well"

Dragon Ball GT is generally considered the trash-fire of Dragon Ball series, especially now that we’ve had Super carry the torch. It ran for 64 episodes, beginning right after Dragon Ball Z finally ran down in 1996, and unlike the previous seasons, was not based of off the manga, and had very little input from the original creator, Akira Toriyama, outside of some initial concept art and general well-wishing. Many fans don’t even consider it canon, and it felt a lot like what happens when a show is run by committee. People miss kid Goku? We’ll make him tiny again! People loved Future Trucks? We’ll give them adult Trunks! Want a female Saiyan? Have Gohan’s daughter!

On paper, a lot of things about GT could have been really good. Trying to reclaim the charm of the original Dragon Ball series, utilizing Future Trunks, and having female characters that aren’t horrible, are all things that Super has also tried to do, with what I think are much better results. But going into the intricacies of how GT failed or not could take us forever. Maybe I’ll dive into that later, but today I feel like a good old top-five list, so lets hit it!

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Thoughts on Riverdale

A group shot of Jughead, Betty, Archie, and Veronica, in a very antsy noir stance. Overlay text reads "Thoughts on Riverdale".

Riverdale is a trip.

I realize most of the world is obsessing over the ongoing third season, or has abandoned ship altogether, but I put off watching Riverdale for awhile, so I’m only now adjusting to the odd combo that is classic Archie comics meets Veronica Mars. And I gotta say…I don’t hate it.

I grew up on Archie comics. A friend turned me on to them around 4th grade, and they were like a whole new world. I’d never been into comic books. I’d gotten close with comic strips in the newspaper, but had never considered going in a comic book store. I thought of DC and Marvel comics as “boys stuff”. Of course now I know how ridiculous that was, but at the time I didn’t think they were something I would be interested in.

Archie comics were like magic. I could buy them at the grocery store, so they were easy to get, and they almost always had new ones. It triggered my collector’s instincts as well–I’d already fallen for beanie babies, and this involved story and characters.

I remember vividly sitting in a lawn chair one summer, a giant bag of Archie comics next to me, methodically devouring them one by one. It was a perfect day.

Riverdale is a far cry from the comics I grew up loving, but I think that’s a good thing. They inspired an interest in comics, but they couldn’t sustain it. In the idyllic world of classic Riverdale, nothing changed. Archie was always veering between Betty and Veronica; Jughead was always eating; no matter what happened in any one volume, everything always reset by the next one.

I eventually moved on from Archie to fall in love with shojo manga, which had all the drama but with actual consequences, character development, and resolution. But you never forget your first love.

Riverdale is, quite simply, fanfiction at it’s best. It’s an excellent AU (alternative universe) that’s so far removed from it’s original characters that no one would notice the connection if you changed all the proper nouns. It does what great fanfiction does; shakes up the characters, changes the rules, and suddenly those stiff characters are forced to grow and change and evolve in ways most people could never have imagined.

That’s not to say it’s without issue. It’s so different that I almost wish it weren’t Archie; there’s nothing that really requires it to be set in that world. The similarities it shares to it’s original source material are the similarities any teen drama shares: love triangles, the girl next door, the tortured soul of a musician, the reclusive rebel. But I suppose without the backdrop of nostalgia, it would lose some of it’s flavor. Sure, the murder mystery at the core of the story is intriguing, but what’s more intriguing is finding out that (spoilers!) goody-goody Archie is sleeping with his teacher; Veronica’s wealthy father is in jail; Jughead cares for something other than hamburgers. And yeah, almost everyone is a suspect in the mysterious death of Jason Blossom.

Without the history of Archie comics lending that strange disorientation to the show, I think it would be unremarkable in a sea of teen drama. Other shows have done the drama better; still others have done the mystery better. But by combining them, Riverdale has done Archie probably better than it’s ever been done before, and I think that’s pretty remarkable.

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Musical Monday #12: Good Old Days

This week we’re jumping back into that bittersweet nostalgic feeling I apparently really like in songs (see, I’m learning things as this experiment goes!). We’re also bringing back Kesha, but this time she’s backing up Macklemore, and her tone’s a bit different than it was all those years ago when she did Tik Tok.

 

“Good Old Days” by Macklemore

Lyrics | iTunes

I love that the music video for this song swings back and forth from fun and care-free to contemplative; it gives the feeling of looking back, and getting lost in memories, without completely losing track of your perspective.

This song reminds us to live in the moment, but also seems to acknowledge how difficult that is to do. Everything looks a little rosier in hindsight, doesn’t it? Horrible ordeals can become funny stories; boring days can take on a sheen of wonder. It’s easy to get lost in the frustrations of daily life, and not see how wonderful things are, simply because it feels like they will always be that way.

I think there’s a danger to nostalgia, though. If you’re always looking back at the “good old days,” you’re not living in the current days…and soon you’ll be looking back on them. It’s a cycle that just continues; I don’t think we can truly break out of it, but we can try to appreciate things as they currently are.

Life can change so quickly. It’s amazing how something can become routine in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t even have to be through something dramatic, like graduating college or moving to a new town. Maybe you never knew how to knit until your friend bought you a knitting book for Christmas, and a few months later it’s become an intrinsic part of your identity. You’re suddenly a Knitter. We don’t see it happening until it’s already done, but looking back, the steps seem so clear.

“I wish somebody would have told me, babe,
Someday, these will be the good old days,
All the love you won’t forget,
And all these reckless nights you won’t regret,
Someday soon, your whole life’s gonna change,
You’ll miss the magic of these good old days…”

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Musical Monday 11: Håll Om Mig

Look, it’s Musical Monday! Now let’s skip over how many months it’s been, and get straight to the main event…

This week’s song comes to you from Sweden, but it’s journey is complicated. I discovered this song through an AMV–an Anime Music Video. For the uninitiated, these are fan videos made using imagery from popular media, synced up to unrelated songs (done without permission by either original creator). “Fanvids” exist across fandoms, and are a kind of transformative fanwork. Although they play a little fast and lose with copyright law, they are an art form that expands on the original media, so generally I don’t have any moral qualms about them. And they can be amazing.

The video that features this song is called Hold Me Now, by a creator going by “alkampfer81” of Tidirium Studio (according to animemusicvideos.org, anyway). It was created in 2006, and gained a number of awards in AMV contests that year. And for good reason. It is a masterpiece. The timing is exquisite, with seamless editing and impeccable pacing. It convinced me to watch its source material, an anime called Princess Tutu, which is a loose retelling of Swan Lake that draws heavily on fairytales and ballets for inspiration.

Warning: there are spoilers to the anime in this video, since most of the imagery comes from the second half of the show, which has a decidedly darker tone than the first half.

The song is in Swedish, but even without knowing the lyrics, the video speaks pretty clearly for itself. The song is about being enchanted by love–a theme that definitely fits with the show.

 

“Håll Om Mig” by Nanne Grönvall

Lyrics | iTunes

I’ve love this song since I first watched the video. As I said above, it was the main reason I watched the anime. Until seeing this video, I’d brushed the show off as being another derivation Magical Girl anime. I could not have been more wrong. This show is not only darker than I ever expected, but deeper as well, with rich characters who grow and change over the course of the show, a complex plot, and a compelling heart.

The song can also stand alone, and is one of my favorites in its own right. It’s got such a strong beat, and really lends itself to singing along, even if I know I’m getting the lyrics all wrong.

“Att vår värld behöver ha,
Mera kärlek varje dag,
Det vet både jag och du,
Låt oss börja här och nu.

“Så håll om mig,
Släpp inte taget om mig,
Är som förhäxad av dig,
Och jag vill ha dig,
Kom och håll om mig nu…”
 
[translated]

“That our world needs,
More love every day,
Both you and I are well aware of that,
So let us start right here and now.”


“So hold me,
Don’t let go of me,
I’m as bewitched of you,
And I want you,
Come and hold me now…”

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Exciting News

I’m so happy to announce that I have a short story in a new anthology! The book is called Oregon’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction, and my story is called “Crush”, about a girl processing her crush on her band’s guitarist in the midst of their first gig.

oregon_s_emerging_writers_an_anthology_of_fiction_grande

Look, it’s a book!

Here’s a little excerpt from the beginning:


Sam has the prettiest eyes. They’re the color of Oregon sky above a drizzly sea, and only a shade grayer than her baby-blue guitar. No matter what she’s saying, or what song she’s playing, it always feels like she’s looking directly at me.

She’s straight as a flute, of course. They always are.

“Wow.”

I jerk, hitting the note too late, too sharp, and swear. Sam laughs.

“What?” I say, holding the mic tightly in front of me like a tether.

“Sorry.” Sam lets her hands fall from the guitar’s strings, cradling it gently in one hand. “I was gonna say, you just sing this song so well.” She winks. Bastard.

“You were great too, baby,” Mike, Sam’s boyfriend, calls from a table. Sam blows him a kiss, and then her eyes snap back to me.

“Should we take it from the top?”

I nod, adjust the mic on its stand. Rachel, our drummer, taps in the beat of the song, and Sam picks the first few lines of melody. I close my eyes, squeeze the mic, and let go.


Of course, to read the full thing, you’re going to need to buy the book. You can buy the softcover here, and they have an affiliate program, so if you follow any of the links in this post and end up purchasing something from their site, that’ll kick a little something back to me as well.

I am really excited about this! It’s my first real publication credit, and I’m pretty proud of the story itself. It’s YA and LGBTQ+, both things I love writing, and I really like how the voice turned out. Hopefully it’ll be the first of many!

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