yeloson: (pic#459020)
This book started off promising enough. But, ugh.

The story takes place in a very cyberpunk sci-fi future. At some point, people developed a form of warp drive... but found out too late that it was causing long-term genetic mutation. Earth decided to cut off the colonies for fear of genetic contamination and give up on space travel.

A few centuries later, the mutant colonies have developed a better warp drive that involves jumping into an alternate dimension, and basically set up a massive plan to re-contact all the colonies. So you have this galactic civilization of "aliens" who are all really human mutations - "Variants"

The story follows Jamisia, a young woman who Is Being Tested On By An Evil Corporation For Mysterious Ends (TM), who escapes, and is being chased around the galaxy for the Mysterious Stuff Locked Inside Her Head.

What turns out to be a bit more interesting, is that she suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder as a side effect of the testing, which is pretty much unheard of at this point - gene modification has gotten to the point where mental disorders are all removed in childhood. Instead of simply painting this as "Augh! You crazy!", the story flips it a bit by showing off how her other personalities are able to work with her, as a team to help her.

I kept reading, thinking, "Ok, she's going to go from running scared to becoming this awesome Avengers-Unite! leader of her MPD and unlock her Awesome Hidden Powers, right?" Instead, she spends the entire book without agency, running for her life and depending on men to make decisions for her.
How to write a novel about a woman who's really a walking MacGuffin )
yeloson: (Default)
So, lots of comic requests! I've been mostly re-reading old stuff right now. Culdcept is a manga that was based loosely on a videogame series that came out on the PS1 & PS2, and was a combination of Magic the Gathering, a board game, and Pokemon rolled into one.

The manga follows Najaran, a young summoner ("Ceptor") and her animated magic cane, Golligan as she travels the world fighting the classic "Big Evil" set of villains.

The fantasy world created in the series is really interesting twists on classic fantasy tropes. The "Great War" was actually a full-out battle between the dragons and an evil sorcerer= so bad the Goddess had to step in and her holy book, the Culdcept, was shattered into thousands of fragments - the individual "cards" that the Ceptors use to summon creatures and items. Because the Culdcept included everything that was, or will be, some of the summons are fantastically futuristic - the "Knight" for example, is a giant mecha-knight.

Najaran is a pretty awesome character that manages to avoid the usual shonen manga traps- she's not hypersexualized, she's not overshadowed by male characters - it's very much about her and her adventure. The story manages to stay light hearted - though on a giant quest, Najaran, personally, is mostly concerned with what tasty foods await her around the world. Golligan, despite being an ancient artifact, gets used for the most mundane of tasks- stirring soup, being used as a pole to dry laundry, etc.

There's only 5 volumes in the whole series, so it's not a giant read, and it's fun and well drawn. Kaneko's sense of pacing is excellent - I never feel lost in reading the panel layout or following the action. It's a fun, short series that I found entertaining and love coming back to.

Also: Najaran is a woman of color-
yeloson: (Default)
My friend loaned me this book which was a fun and intriguing read, though it definitely had some problematic elements. I'm interested enough to keep reading the rest of the trilogy at least.

So, you have this kingdom that has a prophecy that as long as a Queen rules, it shall never fall. Problem is, the last Queen was insane and tyranical - so after she passes, her son takes over in her place.

Which was working well for about 20 years, but things like famine, plague and drought constantly assail the land, and while he's not as much of a tyrant, he's still doing stuff like killing off female nobles who might inherit the land and beginning a pogrom against wizards.

That said, the one relative he won't kill, is his sister. Who ends up giving birth to twins - a boy and a girl. A few wizards, led by prophecy, have arranged to perform forbidden magic to hide the girl - the boy dies but the girl takes the form of a boy until they can establish her rule.

They succeed, mostly. The problem is they were supposed to prevent the boy from having his first breath (so the "spirit doesn't enter" the body) and fucked up. Which means instead of a simply a dead child, they've got a dead-ghost child that's bound to the earth as long as the sister holds his form.

Yeah, he's not happy about that either.

The book follows the girl, Tobin as she grows up, over protected and under informed, slowly teasing out bits of info about her destiny while getting caught up in politics. The relationship between her and her ghost brother is really interesting, and doesn't go in any of the expected directions I thought it would.

The writing about the levels of dysfunction in her family and the issues of being ill equipped to interact normally is something I think is really well done.

The book never does the big exposition thing that a lot of fantasy books do, "Oh, here are all the gods, and how they work" "Here is all the magic, and how it works" "Here is all the nations, and how they work" - instead you catch glimpses based on conversations and it flows very well. All of the fantastic elements never overshadow human nature and the way people act, which makes it really come alive.

The problematic stuff? Well, for a book that's effectively about genderswapping, there's some elements that play up the gender essentialism- for example, Tobin likes to play with dolls, or isn't into girls... which twigs some flags for me in terms of how the author is treating it. On the flip side, there's also a scene where someone explains to Tobin that homosexuality isn't something to be ashamed of and it's not a thing, even though it's not really talked about.

The most problematic thing revolves around one character, Lhel, who is a witch, a woman of color, highly sexualized, and lives in the woods. She speaks a broken version of their language, too.


She's very "of the earth" kind of stereotype. On one hand, she's the only one who actually knows what the fuck she's doing and acknowledges that the wizards are arrogant fools who only have half a clue- and that makes her kind of awesome.

On the other hand, she's not really allowed to be a full character. She's sexualized in that she's the character most mentioned that people are noticing as sexy (including Tobin... who isn't into girls...).

And, also, she basically exists as the walking plot device. After performing the genderswap magic, she then decides to live in the woods for 12 years, cut off from all human contact watching over Tobin in secret. Can you say magical negro?


We also get a description of her hair that uses both "curly" and "coarse", and later, that she's missing teeth. UM. Which, if we're going to be literally medieval, sure, but then a LOT of folks need to be missing teeth and this wouldn't be unusual. And if we're doing "fantasy medieval" where dentistry is handwaved away, I have the feeling that the woman who can magic up a genderswap operation probably can figure out HOW TO KEEP HER TEETH CLEAN.


I'm going to check out the later books, only because the stuff going on with Tobin is pretty awesome and interesting, and the setting is interesting as well. But, obviously Lhel needs more agency and less stereotype plot device.
yeloson: (Default)
I just finished reading Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai. The story follows Miranda, a girl in a dystopian future, and her memories/incarnations/hallucinations? of being Nu Wa and a girl in 1800's China... and her girlfriend, The Salt Fish Girl. The writing is deeply evocative, literally sensuous, scent, food, texture, everything just comes alive in the writing.

Lai balances all the futuristic and mythical with a very down to earth banality- people trying to live their lives, people making mistakes... but also the banality of evil- nothing ever feels safe, it's all fleeting. This happens without being hamfisted, and what isn't described or explained leaves a combination of mystery and unease. It never goes for the cheap threats, everything is looming and terrifying more if you think about context, rather than any specific bit that is written in the narrative.

It manages to hit on a lot of things, lesbian love, patriarchy, medical experimentation, cultural assimilation, white approval, the ways in which folks internalize and oppress each other and themselves, without getting heavy handed or stupid with it.

I think the book is a 4/5, though I don't know if I'd be up to reading it again. I generally like light, fluffy fiction, and while this is a quick read, the sense of unease in the book sticks with you.

Cut for spoilers, deep spoilers, and discussion about the themes in the book. )
yeloson: (Default)
I just watched 009-1 on Hulu. It's a modern reboot of a 60's manga, which, is basically James Bond style international spy adventure with cyborg women who kick ass.

The series has a fun mix of 60's style to things, retro looking laser guns, sports cars, and yet high tech things like regular flights to the moon colonies. It also has stuff that dates it to that era, such as machine-gun breast weapons, catsuits and mini-skirt outfits. If you can accept the cheese, it's basically women do James Bond awesome shit all day. Including the sexuality- like Bond, the agents are down to seduce their enemies, but in control the whole time.

The lead character, Mylene, often just "Nine-One", plays an interesting role. Aside from kickassery, there is a lot of sketchy missions that bring her more and more into conflict with the government she works for. As the series progresses, she begins finding her own path, which is pretty cool to watch happen.

In classic 60's fashion, the world is divided in the Western and Eastern Block, with a strong Cold War going on. Aside from the expected issues, there's also a growing population of mutants with psychic powers, which the Eastern Block gathers to experiment on, while the Western Block simply exterminates them - making neither side particularly nice people.

It's a pretty fun series, and I wouldn't mind seeing some more of it. The writing quality stays strong throughout the whole series, and it avoids the modern anime issue of holding all the good development for at the end - instead it's steady character growth and entertainment rhoughout.
yeloson: (Default)
(If you're on my flist, you probably already know, but hey, I got this book yesterday, and read it all by today, so that says something...)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has two fascinating premises: Enslaved gods being used as the foundation for an empire, and a young woman, Yeine, thrust into a battle for the throne in a nest of hateful political intrigue.

Instead of the typical "Fantasy quest" format, 100K Kingdoms chooses to follow more along the lines of brutal detective fiction - it's all about secrets, betrayals, forbidden affairs and revenge, revenge, revenge. And this is what makes it work - the story stays strong in the characters and the situation, not falling into fantasy element fanboyism. The characters are all multilayered, with interesting motivations, even the secondary characters.

As I read this book, I could only think more and more to the detective genre, especially as Yeine just finds each answer providing more questions, and the pressure being turned up, each step of the way. Yeine's portrayal skillfully manages to stay in the space of an intelligent and determined protagonist, yet inexperienced and under extreme pressure - her mistakes are understandable and human.

Bonus: People of color! Gay characters! In fantasy! And it doesn't have to be "special interest"!

Quibbles: I feel like the Yeine is the only female character who gets fully rounded out. The Goddesses, Scimina, Yeine's mother, all felt like folks I wanted some more scenes or motivations from. (Relad, too, as a male character I wanted another scene or two with).

Overall: I highly recommend it! It's a fun read, has fantastic characters, scary magic, and shady, shady drama.
yeloson: (Default)
Finally got to watch the copy a homey hooked me up with (took a few months to get my DVD drive working again... long story).

Was it entertaining? Yes. Was it epic? Yes. Still, I think there were some scenes that could have done with less of (10 minutes of burning ships? I get the point already) and some scenes I wanted to see more of (badass women soldiers? Training scenes? Hell yeah). The fighting was pretty brutal, though, at a point, repetitious (and this is me, I like good fight scenes).

It seems more like it's intended as a "movie experience" than a story. Which is... kinda, eh, given what I've seen John Woo do in normal 90-120 minute movies. Still, it didn't feel bad for a 4 hour movie. I liked how the story didn't actually focus on Liu Bei, which is pretty typical for Romance of the 3 Kingdoms retellings.

The CG and few over-the-top stunts didn't fit too well for me. I feel like they should have gone with less high-tech stunts for a lot of stuff so they could pour more effort into the ones they did use. Stunt-wise, because so much of it appeared gritty, the few uberstunts didn't fit the mood they had. It's like if it got notched a little more realistic OR a little more wuxia I could have accepted it.

Still, a fun watch, and makes me excited to go back and read Ro3K stuff some more.
yeloson: (Default)
So, after many years, I've finally found a full scanlation and read the end of the series! Shadow Star was released up to Vol. 7 in the US and the remaining 5 volumes never translated.

Narutaru is a funky manga about kids that find and control monster/alien things known as Dragons. It starts off innocent and cute, and quickly goes where you'd expect combining children and superpowers... it got violent halfway through as kids start using their dragons to kill bullies, lash out against family sexual abuse, attempt to remake the world based on shitty 13 year old Libertarian fantasies, etc.

What kept me going was that Kitoh does a great job of keeping characters complex and real- he didn't dumb down the kids as innocent or two dimensional- likewise, the adults had a lot of shaded nuance as well. You have some teenagers having casual sex, some teens completely awkward and goofy, etc.

Sadly, the last part of the series completely failed the premise. Kitoh ramps up the tension super high, and completely drops the ball in trying to tell an Armageddeon story- we got complex characters and relationships- all of which are erased with meaningless deaths, and less and less reaction/response from the survivors in a very rushed fashion. Plus rape scenes near the end, killing off the gay character in the most sadistic fashion of the whole series, and... yeah. I had been looking to finish reading this series for years now, and I'm left feeling disappointed in the end.

I'd recommend it mostly if you're interested in seeing someone write interesting characters and relationships on a technical level, but not so much for enjoyment - it's really heartbreaking in how things just get dropped.
yeloson: (Default)
I picked up Sanjay Patel's Ramayana: Divine Loophole earlier this week.

The art is awesome. There's usually not a lot of middle ground for me and iconic style artwork, but Patel's line work and shapes just really do it. Plus super bright colors. Each page spread has a beautiful scene and a paragraph or two detailing the section of the story covered. He keeps a pretty causal voice through the whole story, which makes it a perfect book for reading to the kids.

I'd write a huge review, but really, it's pretty awesome - go click the link and drool.
yeloson: (Default)
I powered through the 12 episodes of this on Hulu over the last week.

I was intrigued because this was a period anime (1600's Japan) with a dojo on hard times- stylistic art, and brutal fights that are "stylistically realistic" - if that makes any sense- people get nasty wounds, they don't heal nice, and even winners don't come out that ahead.

The story is about two students of a run down dojo who end up in a blood opera rivalry. The sensei suffers dementia, and on his good days, is sociopathically abusive. Story wise, I was hooked along trying to understand why anyone was ok with this abusive situation, and whether anyone would get their comeuppance - which never really materialized.

There was lots of misogyny! They made sure to include that! For 12 episodes, there had to be at least 6 rapes or attempted rapes of women (half are incestuous or close enough to), two sexualized mutilations, and two women killed randomly. The only points of "agency" granted to one character were either suicide attempts (two) or attempted violence in an act of insanity.

There's one queer relationship between a man and a boy, and they die within 2 episodes.

Needless to say, pretty failtastic. I was kept on hoping that either a) some kind of condemnation of the whole situation would occur, or b) the women would get some agency. So yeah, I'm telling you it doesn't and don't bother watching.
yeloson: (Default)
Role Playing Girl is a zine (print & PDF) that is written, edited, illustrated, etc. by women who are involved in the roleplaying hobby- as designers, publishers, and gamers.

I've just gotten my copy, and only had a chance to skim it, but two things immediate jumped out at me:

First, that the zine does an incredible job of highlighting and promoting - there's 25 notable women in roleplaying - listing credits of games they've worked on, in what fashion, links to websites, blogs, galleries, etc. There's listings of conventions, games, podcasts, communities, etc. I mean, there's a lot there.

Second, that the articles mostly have pictures of the authors with them. If you're not seeing enough women in gaming (whether because you're isolated or because you're not looking) it puts faces for you to relate to. Not that I think there's any need to "prove with pictures" for legitimacy, but if you're dealing with people's monkey brain of assumptions, images are one way to go straight to the point.

Anyway, something for my roleplaying gamer folks to check out.


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November 2012



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