Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Manga Review: Wandering Son volume 2

First off, I recommend anyone reading this volume to read the "Transgendered in Japan" essay by Wandering Son's translator, Matt Thorn, before reading the rest of the volume. You'll have a better appreciation of the context for some scenes in this volume's final arc if you have the knowledge imparted by one of the topics touched on by the essay first.

And it's a great essay all-around, explaining what it takes to legally change one's gender in Japan, societal views of trans people (framed within the context of how the lgbt community as a whole is perceived in Japan), and the roles/portrayals trans people get in the media. There's some interesting, if unsurprising, discussion of how views/portrayals of trans women and gay men are interrelated. Thorn also discusses manga portrayals, a couple wonderful lgbt celebrities (a trans comedienne who publicly called out Governor Ishihara for some homophobic remarks and a lesbian fashion model who blogs about lgbt issues), and the inaccuracies of Western views of Japanese views about lgbt people. Really a fantastic essay.

Anyway, onto the main review~

Nitori, Takatsuki, Chiba, and Sasa start the sixth grade, but Chiba gets placed in a different class. Nitori's new teacher assigns the kids to write an essay about their dream. Nitori's dream is to grow up to be a beautiful woman, but that can't exactly be turned in. Maho, bless her blunt sincerity, suggests BSing the essay, but Nitori doesn't write down any dream at all.

Nitori and Takatsuki start an exchange diary, and worry about including Chiba and Sasa (meaning they'd have to out themselves to Sasa), but Chiba and Sasa start their own exchange diary, so phew. Nitori and Takatsuki expect Sasa to be supportive but, understandably, coming out to her (especially when they don't feel ready) would still be stressful.

And Yukiiiiii. I love that Shimura Takako includes older role models for her protagonists in this series and Aoi Hana. Yuki, who seems suspect at first, when we don't really know her, turns out to be one of the best things to happen to Nitori and Takatsuki. I also like how the story shows that Nitori and Takatsuki's friendship with Yuki is good for her too. She didn't know anyone else who was transsexual growing up, so it's cathartic for her to see them as friends and make things easier for them.

Finally, the field trip arc. A boy classmate targets Nitori for bullying, causing Chiba to (understandably) lose her temper. And, of course, the teacher only notices what she did. Still, Chiba tells Nitori that they're "bosom buddies" (I love the Anne of Green Gables references in this volume; it was one of my favorite books as a kid because I loved Anne), Nitori and Takatsuki run into Yuki and her boyfriend Shii-chan on vacation, and Nitori works up the courage to tell off the bully. (Yay Nitori!!)

Besides the essay, extras includes a Pronunciation Guide and an Honorifics Guide. The translation is still excellent. Just one quibble- I don't mind "Sayonara" being left untranslated at one point, but it's a bit weird that Nitori's teacher saying "H-hai" to Yuki isn't translated as "Y-yes."

There is also an Afterword in comic form by Shimura Takako. No matter how self-deprecatingly she presents herself, I will still turn to jelly if I ever meet her.

Story: A
Art: A-
Overall: A

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lesbian Movies: Part Three

Presentiiiiing my third multiple-movie post! It's rather...longer than my previous multi-movie posts, found here and here.

If you want to see me write about a lesbian movie you like or have heard is good (please don't recommend, say, Claire of the Moon), let me know!

Blue Gate Crossing (藍色大門):
Thanks to Day and Diabolical Shih Tzu for putting this on my radar!

Meng is in love with her best friend Lin, who has her sights locked on Zhang, a guy at their school. Lin hasn't spoken to Zhang, but she has amassed a collection of things belonging to him (pencils, a basketball, etc) that she's swiped. She even thinks writing Zhang's name over and over in a notebook until her pen runs out of ink will make him like her. Ah, young love.

Lin drags Meng to their school at night to secretly watch Zhang swim in the school pool. Sick of Lin's "OMG I like this guy but instead of telling him I'm going to keep talking to you about how I can't tell him my feelings," Meng shouts to Zhang that her friend Lin wants to tell him something. Meng tells Zhang that her friend Lin likes him, but can't introduce him to Lin since Lin ran away as soon as Meng started shouting. So Zhang thinks that there is no Lin and Meng was confessing her feelings to him in a roundabout way. Since Zhang has no experience dating, he's bowled over by the idea of Meng liking him even though he has no idea who she is and starts trying to woo her.

Lin continues to be a dumbass, sending Zhang a love letter signed with Meng's name- a misunderstanding Meng clears up, although it doesn't prevent her from being bullied a little by another girl who likes Zhang. Lin tries to make herself like Zhang, and kisses him to see if she can like guys, but nope, it's about as enjoyable as pecking her great aunt. She confesses her feelings to Lin by kissing her and waiting to see what she does... and Lin completely ignores her after that. Not in a "Holy shit, that was unexpected and awkward. I need to process that my best friend just kissed me" way, but an "Ewwww,  you're gay? Keep your gay germs away from me" way. Poor Meng. Lin was a shitty friend, though (we don't see Lin do anything for Meng or ask her how she is), so not like she would have been much of a girlfriend. And Zhang, who does meet Lin, doesn't like her and ignores her too.

Lin = Slappable, although I could relate to her doing stupid shit while pining over someone in high school. (Although not on the level of, say, taping a photocopy of my crush's face over someone else's and pretending I was spending time with my crush instead of the person under the photocopy.)

Zhang = My feelings about him are more mixed. After Lin rejects Meng, Meng gets that it's a lost cause. Even after Meng rejects Zhang- to the extent of admitting that she isn't into guys- Zhang becomes obnoxious, in continuing to let Meng know that he thinks he'll have a chance at some point. On the one hand, he is a good friend to Meng at times, but on the other hand, move on dude. After Lin rejects Meng, Zhang seems to be the only person interested in being friends with Meng, but his obvious hope that she'll somehow like him back even though she has utterly rejected him as a lover kind of taints that. I wouldn't mind him still being friends with her even though he likes her- but only if he doesn't expect her to like him back and can really settle for the possibility of friendship only, knowing that it was just a crush on his part and he'll get over her eventually. I know he's just a high schooler, but some of his behavior struck a nerve because some men don't take women seriously when they decline their interest on the basis of being gay, and can be really obnoxious (sometimes even dangerous) about it. (Ignoring someone's rejection is obnoxious regardless of their reason for rejection, but it takes a special kind of assholery to be like "Hurr durr, you say you aren't interested in guys, but all I heard was blah blah blah.")

Meng = Meng, sweetie, the internet is your friend. Find likeminded people- and fiction, shows, movies- to tide you over until you can meet other women who like women (who you know like women- chances are you already have met some but couldn't tell, just like people can't tell when they meet you) in real life. Things are getting better on a broader scale, and things will get better for you. You might think "Shit, that's easy to say," but I was in similar shoes once, and I swear to god it's true.


Trailer here.

Desert Hearts
Desert Hearts (1985) is the first lesbian movie to give its leads a happy ending since Mädchen in Uniform came out in Germany in 1931. Even then, Mädchen in Uniform suffered from having its happy ending edited away- and then being banned altogether- by the Third Reich, although it evaded being destroyed altogether. But yeah, can you imagine? Before Desert Hearts came out, your only option for a happy lesbian movie was to dig up the original version of a movie from 1931. I haven't seen Mädchen in Uniform yet.

Desert Hearts is about Vivian, an English lit professor who travels to Nevada to get the six week residency she needs to divorce her husband. There, quiet, buttoned up Vivian meets a free-spirited sculptor named Cay. Vivian gets her groove back with Cay, gets her divorce finalized, will she and Cay deal with her impending return to New York? This movie leaves that issue open-ended, but makes it clear they'll work things out.

A popular lesbian romance story type is that of the protagonist who thinks she's only interested in guys- usually married to/engaged to/dating a man who she might like/love as a close friend/be attracted to, but isn't in love with- and is dissatisfied with her life without knowing why, until she meets a hot, charismatic lesbian who's comfortable in her own skin and amazing in bed, and the protagonist is bowled over by her electrifying attraction to the lesbian, which turns out to be love. Obviously there are variations- like in Onozucca Kahori's Love Slave (whose protagonist Ureha already knew she liked women, but stopped repressing it after meeting Sawori- and eventually broke up with Sawori), or Sakurazawa Erica's Love Vibes (the only example of this story type I can think of in which the protagonist's love interest is bisexual instead of gay; I guess you could kind of count Kissing Jessica Stein, even though it varies a lot more from the story type I outlined). Imagine Me & You and Tsukumo Mutsumi's Moonlight Flowers are two (quite good, especially the wonderfulness that is Moonlight Flowers) examples of this story type played completely straight. But anyway, Desert Hearts is the earliest film example of this story formula I've found.

How was the movie itself? It was sweet. The story type this movie follows is one that I've already seen in lesbian movies...a lot. (Not so much in lesbian fiction, where there's more variety.) I'm kind of tired of it, actually. lol Burn out from encountering so many examples of this story type aside...even though I've enjoyed several examples of it, when looking for lesbian romance in different media- esp when it comes to adult protagonists- I especially crave characters who like women and know it, and already have coming out to themselves of the way. Since, you know, life doesn't halt after you come out.

I had to remind myself that this movie was the earliest example of its story type on film (the novel it adapts, Jane Rule's Desert of the Heart, was published in 1964) and came out before its scenario was a lesbian romance standard. But again, it was sweet, and it was well-acted. Helen Shaver (Vivian) and Patricia Charbonneau (Cay) have great chemistry together, which makes the movie work for me even though I'm kind of sick of its story type right now.

Trailer here.

I Can't Think Straight:
Tala is engaged for the fifth time and Leyla has a boyfriend. Tala knows she likes women but has decided it's easier to stay in the closet. She comes from one of the richest, most prominent families in Jordan, so extra pressure there to marry the "right" kind of person.

Leyla has had a sense of why she has never been into any of the men she's dated (, period) for a long time, but, like so many in denial, came up with loads of irrational rationalizations to convince herself she isn't gay. Tala and Leyla meet and fall in love. Even though Leyla started as the one in denial (and Tala as the confident outspokenness to Leyla's hesitation and reserve), she comes out to her family and friends much more quickly than Tala. After chickening out of their relationship, Tala breaks off her engagement- but not before Leyla starts dating another woman. How will Tala win back Leyla?

Another cute movie- the kind you watch for something feel-good or snuggling up with someone for a date night. Also recced for that:
Better Than Chocolate
But I'm A Cheerleader     Best choice on this list for lols.
D.E.B.S.    Aside from the hot lesbian villain, I thought it was kind meh, but a lot of people like it.
Desert Hearts
Imagine Me & You 
Leading Ladies 
Love My Life
Loving Annabelle     If you/you and your s.o. A) watch the extended ending and B) don't mind that this movie's basically guilty pleasure romantic fantasy fluff for anyone who's gone weak-kneed for a teacher or professor, even though they (should) know that student-teacher affairs are a shitty idea in real life. "What about Bloomington? Have you seen it?" you might ask. I have. It is one of the most boring, irritating movies I've sat through. I haven't seen Loving Annabelle in years, but I remember it definitely being more watchable than Bloomington.
Nina's Heavenly Delights
Room In Rome
Saving Face
Yes or No   Why isn't this licensed in English yet?

I haven't seen Show Me Love or Kiss Me, but they sound like they count.

I liked I Can't Think Straight as a sweet, happy-ever-after kind of movie, even though its "Two women realize they like each other, one or both them comes out after a lot of soul-searching, yay they can be together" plot isn't anything new for lesbian movies and the getting-together-in-an-affair-way trope has been done to death. (Man, this is my most jaded lesbian movie post, isn't it.)

Tala and Leyla's coming out make up the bulk of this movie, so there's a lot of coming out angst, but it's balanced out by the lovey-dovey bits (mmm, that dance scene- and its aftermath; the book signing scene is another favorite), the sprinkles of humor throughout the movie (tied between Leyla's sister's assessment of Leyla's book and CD collection and Ali's reaction to Tala's reaction to the news that Leyla came out), and the all-around happy resolution. Leyla's dad's reaction to Leyla's coming out is great, and Tala's dad doesn't seem bothered by it. Tala's mom reacts badly, but the movie portrays her as a snobby-rich-lady-who's-clueless-about-everything caricature, so it's hard to take her too seriously, even when she lashes out at Tala. Leyla's mom also reacts badly, but supports Leyla and Tala by the end.

Trailer here.

Nina's Heavenly Delights:
Yessss, a lesbian foodie movie. ^__^

Man, this is a really cute movie. It reminds me of Better Than Chocolate in how it's really cheesy, but in an endearing way. 

Nina Shah returns to her family's home in Glasgow for her father's funeral, after having been estranged from them for three years. Her family runs an Indian restaurant- one of the best- and Nina was engaged three years ago to the son of another Indian restaurant-owning family. (I guess the plan was to neutralize the threat of each competing Indian restaurant, one union at a time, like those old political marriages between warring nations?) But Nina is gay and couldn't go through with it, so she left.

Nina feels horrible about not making up with her father before he died- not helped by others assholishly guilt-tripping her about it. Nobody in Glasgow knows she's gay, aside from her flamboyant friend Bobbi and his boyfriend.

Nina finds out that her father was in debt and bet half-ownership of the restaurant in the hopes of clearing it- but he lost, so the restaurant is partly owned by the family of Nina's childhood friend Lisa. Nina isn't happy about it, but she's a lot more pissed when she finds out that her mom and brother want to sell the restaurant to her smarmy ex-fiancee Sanjay's family. With Lisa's help, Nina decides to save the restaurant by winning the televised Best of the West Curry Competition, which her father won previously and hoped to win again with her.

Sparks fly between Nina and Lisa, but oh no! Lisa is engaged to Nina's brother. I want to send whoever made this movie flowers for subverting the getting-together-in-an-affair-way lesbian movie trope the way this movie does.

Nina's brother and sister have their own secrets, which they tell their mom about. Nina's mom figures out that Nina and Lisa love each other, but waits to see if Nina will come out about it on her own. The Best of the West competition finally arrives, and Sanjay tries to sabotage Nina and Lisa's relationship after the competition starts (even he can tell what's between them) so they'll lose. How will it resolve!? Dun dun dun.

So yeah, I really like this movie. I like Nina and Lisa's romance, but I also like that there's more going on in Nina's life than her romance with Lisa and coming out, and how the romantic and non-romantic themes (like family) in this movie contribute to each others' development. The lovingly shot cooking scenes made me hungry, which is a good sign for any foodie movie.

Plus, how many lesbian movies end with a Bollywood-style musical number featuring all of the characters?

Trailer here.

Pariah's protagonist, 17 year-old Alike, is already out to herself, but brand new in the lesbian community and still finding her sea legs in it. What I like most about this movie is its portrayal of being newly out in the lesbian community as a teen, since it reminds me of my own flailings as a shiny new lesbian at college, looking up to the older students who'd been out and about longer, and (from the point of view of relating to Alike's older friend Laura) seeing the bright-eyed gay freshmen in later years who looked to me and my fellow gay upperclasswomen as models. That kind of platonic mentor friendship is nice to see here. Pretty much anyone who came out in the lesbian community as a teen will smile knowingly at the newly-out-in-the-community aspect of this movie, but it's so well-written and acted that anyone should be able to enjoy it.

In most lesbian movies, when a character comes out to her parents, one parent is the good (supportive) parent and one parent is the bad (non-supportive) parent, but this movie complicates that dynamic. Alike's dad knows that she is gay and quietly supports her- more actively when a homophobe insults her in front of him when she isn't around and later, after she comes out to he and her mom and her mom freaks out. But his defense of his daughter isn't the only thing causing tension between he and his wife- he's having an affair. This movie also paints a warm, vivid picture of what Alike's relationship of her mom was once like (see: the leaf anecdote) in contrast to her mom's reaction, making it all the more poignant when Alike's dad tries to convince her that her mom does love her deep down. I'm actually tearing up a little remembering that scene. In a way, it's good to have a movie that deals with a homophobic parent's reaction, in all of its rawness, and shows its protagonist getting through it and still finding that coming out made her life better even though that parent has not come around (although the protagonist would love it to be otherwise), since she's living her life without lying about who she is.

Alike also gets a love interest, Bina, the feminine-looking churchgoing girl who Alike's mom encourages her to spend time with instead of butchy Laura. Long story short, Bina isn't worthy of Alike (sucks massively, but most people have to kiss some frogs before finding whoever's right for them; join the club, Alike) but, as she does after her mom's reaction, Alike is able to move forward. (To college!)

Trailer here.

The Owls:
The best thing about this movie is that it's only about an hour long. (Not counting the bonus interviews with the cast that appear at the end- and inexplicably, a few minutes in the middle- of this movie.)

I went into this movie expecting a murder mystery, but all I got was about an hour of its protagonists (two lesbian couples who used to be in a band) bitching about their mid-life crises and how much they hate each other, with a resolution to the accidental killing they covered up tacked on to the end.
I loathed every one of these characters. If I were stuck in a room with them, I would bash my head against a wall in the hopes of passing out. The only one I sympathized with at all was this movie's fifth protagonist (not shown in the picture above, which includes the woman who was accidentally killed along with the two couples), when she expressed her disbelief at how utterly obnoxious and dull the other characters are.

Shitty characterization aside (not aided by the torpid acting), the background music is as subtle as a hammer to the head and the over-zealously edited cinematography bludgeons us with the fact that this movie is supposed to be creepy and mysterious, but in a deep, indie way. Nope, not creepy, not mysterious, not interesting in the least. Thirty minutes into it, I made the window I was watching it on (via Netflix streaming) smaller so that I could pull up another window and check my email and other sites while letting this movie finish.

Trailer here.

The Ultimate Lesbian Short Film Festival:
This film collection wasn't on my radar until I saw it on Netflix streaming. It's advertised as including shorts by filmmakers from the US, Canada and Australia, but you'll see that there are only two(-ish) non-US films. (IMDB lists one as a US and Canadian film, without explaining why, so I'm not quite sure how to count it.) My rundown on each short is listed below.

"A Woman Reported" (5 minutes, US)- A surreal- and terrifying- short about a woman running away from two men who attack her (apparently because they realized she was talking to her girlfriend- or wife, can't tell- on the phone) after she gets out of her car near some woods. Lesson of the story: If you're hiding from huge, scary people, be sure to turn off your cell phone.

"Dani & Alice" (11 minutes, Canada/US)- Terrifying in its own way, about the end of a physically abusive relationship. Well done for what it's supposed to be, but obviously hard to watch.

"Frozen Smile" (8 minutes, US)- One of the most puzzling shorts in this collection. A goth teenager visits her grandpa's grave with her mom and grandma, where it turns out the headstone engraver screwed up. I'm not sure how this is a lesbian film. I guess we're supposed to read the short-haired teenager as gay...?

"Everything Good" (17 minutes, US)- A woman staying in Amsterdam (whose girlfriend or wife- again, can't tell- is back home) orders a prostitute up to her room. Funny at points, despite the guilt-making premise- but mostly meh. Despite the subject matter and copious amounts of talking about getting ready for sex, dental dams, etc, there isn't any actual graphic sex or nudity in this short. That isn't why I thought it was meh. lol I just wish some interesting character development had showed up before the very end of the movie.

"Saint Henry" (20 minutes, US)- A lesbian teen and her gay best friend half-heartedly try to car-jack a man at gun point (because her dad is in jail for car-jacking, and she thinks that if she does the same thing, she'll be sent to the men's prison where he is and be able to see him again?), but don't actually do it and decide to hide in an abandoned church until morning. The girl finds a dead man in the confessional booth and closes his eyes, lays him down on some cloth, and covers him with another cloth before she and her friend leave in the morning. Okay...

"Blow" (7 minutes, Australia)- My favorite in this collection, a cute short about a teen who has sneezing fits day after day until she gets together with her crush. Out of all the stories in this collection, this one feels the most complete.

"Transit" (4 minutes, US)- Frustratingly brief, about a woman whose eyes meet another woman's on the subway.

"Half-Laughing" (12 minutes, US)- A really sad short about a woman who goes to her parents' home for her grandpa's funeral. Her mom tries to makes her cover her butchy buzzcut with an ugly wig at the funeral, causing them to blow up at each other over why the mom is so obsessed with making her daughter not "look gay."

"Tina Paulina: Living on Hope Street" (9 minutes, US)- Unlike the other films in this collection, this is a mini-documentary, in which the director interviews a homeless woman who she somes across while looking for film subjects in Los Angeles. The interviewer does a good job making her subject comfortable enough to give us a thorough picture of who she is without holding back much, for better or worse. In the spring semester of my junior year of college, I took a "Documenting Lesbian Lives" class in which each student's final project was to do a two hour camera-recorded interview with a queer woman over 45 (focusing on her life story) and transcribe it- making me better appreciate what it takes to interview a subject on camera as well as this film's interviewer did.

"The Black Plum"(15 minutes, US)- So this ghost plants a plum outside a country house where a baby is being born. 10 or so years later, the plum is now a plum tree and the baby is now a kid who likes climbing said tree. The kid falls out of the tree, cutting and scraping herself, and the ghost pulls up in a car and asks the kid if she wants a ride. Not being aware of stranger danger, the kid gets in, and the ghost takes her to the cabin where she lives with her ghost wife. Together, they're a butch-femme pair meant to be role models for the kid. They give the kid a compass (subtle symbolism) and the ghost femme takes the kid back home. This film has its heart in the right place,'s so, so corny.

Calling this collection The Ultimate Lesbian Film Festival is a massive overstatement, but it has a few pieces I thought were interesting. You aren't missing much by skipping it, but it isn't bad either, and there was a good effort made for variety- thematically at least. For a collection of ten short films, it's disappointing and problematic that only one of them ("Dani & Alice," whose leads are black) stars non-white characters.

Céline Sciamma has a gift for writing and directing stories about lgbtq children and teens. (Sort of the Shimura Takako of French cinema, if you will.)

A new family moves into an apartment complex, including 10 year old Laure. Laure presents as "Mickael" to the other kids in the area- joining the boys in the horseplay that they wouldn't want Laure to join if they knew Laure's sex, and befriending Lisa, a girl from the same apartment complex. Laure gets a puppy crush on Lisa and Lisa likes Laure back, and the summer vacation passes pleasantly. The only person who knows about Laure's double life is Laure's little sister, who doesn't care as long as Laure brings her along to play with the other kids. Laure's secret has to come out at some point, but I won't spoil how or what its result is.

Like Water Lilies, Tomboy is a very well-written, well-acted, heart-tugging movie that gets everything it's trying to do right. Just as Water Lilies captures the clumsy awkwardness of navigating adolescence, Tomboy captures a lot of the fun and wonder of childhood. And just as I linked to an excellent analysis of Water Lilies in my most recent lesbian movie post, I'll link to a review of Tomboy here that articulates why this movie is worth watching in more detail (without spoiling) than I have, regardless of how you read (or choose not to read) its protagonist's sexual or gender identity.

Trailer here.

Kiss Me is coming out on DVD in North America on November 6! It's already available in the UK. Jamie & Jessie Are Not Together is also available in the UK, although (ironically, since it's a US movie) it doesn't have a North American DVD date yet.

And here is the plot synopsis and trailer for Yes or No's sequel, which recently came out (hurr) in Thailand. I thought Yes or No was really cute, so I'm looking forward to its sequel!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Anime Review: Red Garden episodes 13-22 (plus the OVA)

Red Garden's first twelve episodes are, as I said when I reviewed its first half, build up. We have established an interesting set of characters, a conflict that paints both sides in shades of gray, and a bundle of questions to be answered.

Hervé, our primary antagonist, and his best friend Emilio ping pong between helping and hindering Kate, Rachel, Rose and Claire. Hervé is only willing to help so far as his ability to save his sister Anna isn't threatened (woe be to anyone who interferes), while Emilio's love for Kate's sister Emma gives him a soft spot for Kate. And Paula, who knows much more than Kate realizes, continues to be there for Kate, helping her out of love without expecting anything in return.

But mostly, these episodes focus on our leads learning what the people on their side and the people on Hervé's side really want, and what they face if either side wins.

The original stakes (the girls either dying a violent death or making it long enough to get their old bodies back) were high enough, but these episodes top that. Skip the next few paragraphs if you don't want to read my spoilery reaction to the fate faced by our leads.


The most anxiety-inducing book I have ever read is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. As difficult as it was to read the physical torture Winston underwent, what happened to him psychologically- everything he knew and loved being ground into nothing, his very personality being wiped out- his not even being allowed to die while still himself- ultimately unnerved me the most. To quote Winston's torturer O'Brien:
In the old days, the heretic walked to the stake still a heretic, proclaiming his heresy, exulting in it. Even the victim of the Russian purges could carry rebellion locked up in his skull as he walked down the passage waiting for the bullet. But we make the brain perfect before we blow it out. The command of the old despotisms was 'Thou shalt not.' The command of the totalitarians was 'Thou shalt.' Our command is 'Thou art.' (263)
What Kate and the others face in Red Garden obviously isn't the exact same thing- they aren't being tortured into forgetting themselves, and they're free to think what they want after their memories are expunged- but still, the implications of their fates are similar enough to draw parallels. Being forced into a situation in which you will wind up...well, not being yourself as you and your loved ones know any more, forever and ever...pretty unnerving. And that's how Red Garden's protagonists feel. But as their personal lives improve, in a sad irony, shortly before their final battle, they find comfort in something crucial.
You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out of the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you: not a name in the register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as the future. You will never have existed. (262)
Claire, Rose, Rachel and Kate are able to face their fate knowing that the people they love will remember them as they are...and that's good enough.


Having found peace with their fates while visiting Lise's grave, Rachel, Rose, Claire and Kate confront Hervé and his side one last time. What ultimately happens is simply tragic for one side, bittersweet for another.

And then...when the final credits starting rolling, I thought, "Wait, it's ending?" At first I wanted to see a little more wrap-up, but the "Dead Girls" OVA that follows this series kind of beat that desire out of me. lol If there were ever a perfect example of "less is more," this would be it.

The OVA, which is the length of two TV episodes, takes place centuries after the end of the TV series. Having wandered around the world, Kate and the others are back in New York, fighting crime by night as an anonymous team known as Dead Girls. They even have their own theme song. I laughed at the OVA's self-awareness when one of its characters commented that the Dead Girls don't at sing well, given the tone deaf musical numbers sung by the leads at the beginning of the RG TV series. But otherwise, I wasn't very enamored with the mood whiplash of the OVA. It was kind of fun at first in a crackfic way, but I didn't like its vision of how the characters would turn out. Rose's personality change was kind of fun (although in the scene when "Paula" went weak-kneed over her, I was very maturely like, "Bitch, stay away from my OTP"), but I wept a little on the inside at what happened to Claire. Given how long they'd been alive after the end of the series, I could understand the characters being radically different. My biggest problem with the OVA was that the leads no longer had the heart they had in the TV series. Even though they had their moments together, I missed the palpable camaraderie that Kate, Rachel, Claire and Rose developed in the TV series even though they were just as different from each other in it. The OVA's highlights were seeing the occasional glimmers of the leads' old personalities and the too few and far between moments when they clicked as friends. I'm just going to imagine that this OVA is a crackfic, and Red Garden's canon ended with the TV series.

The TV series' resolution does, as I said earlier, have its problems. Desire for a little more closure aside, I was left with some questions about the origins of the conflict that Kate and the others were roped into, as well as the nature of the island after the final battle. But even though this series didn't answer all of its questions adequately, it was solidly entertaining and had a great cast of characters. Their development was this series' greatest strength.

As for the yuri, Paula does confess her love to Kate. It's quite a lovely confession. Kate, Claire, Rachel and Rose know that Christmas is the last day before their final battle, and spend time with the people most important to them. Who does Kate choose to spend her remaining time with? Paula. We don't see Kate explicitly tell Paula that she loves her back, but based on her isn't a stretch at all to interpret her as loving Paula back but being afraid of saying too much...not wanting to give them both more to face losing.

In my vision of the characters' post-series fates, Paula finds Kate, willing to start over from scratch and help remind her of her old life. Since Paula knows all about Kate's situation, she can...I don't know, try to find those books and find out if there's any way to give Kate and the others back their memories, or help them figure out how to become mortal again. Boom. There you go.

So, yes, even though it has its warts, Red Garden is a fun blend of creepiness and character drama, with a pleasing dash of yuri. I wouldn't re-watch the OVA, but I would re-watch the series.

Art: B+
Story (not counting the OVA): B+
Overall (ditto): B+

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Light Novel Review: Strawberry Panic, The Complete Collection, volume 3

Last time, on Strawberry Panic: Hikari and Amane ran away after being disqualified from the Etoile competition and Nagisa, intimidated by Shizuma's old relationship with Kaori, decided to withdraw. Spica's Makoto and Lulim's Kagome are the only strong Etoile candidates left, but their prospects don't look good either. Kagome hates Makoto because Makoto made fun of her for carrying a stuffed bear.

Amane brings Hikari to her beachside mansion. They make out, and things seem peachy until Hikari says Yaya's name, effectively dumping cold water on Amane. Hikari explains what happened between her and Yaya during the Faceless Devil competition, honestly thinking that it was Yaya's way of supporting her as a friend- you know, being a lesbian. (Didn't you know? We lesbians use breast-groping as a greeting and ass-grabbing as way to say "How do you do?") Even Ms. Internalized Homophobia, Amane, knows that Hikari's being delusional. Surprisingly, she isn't angry at Yaya- but she is determined to win the Etoile competition and prove that she's a better partner for Hikari than Yaya.

Here, my shipping branches away from my Strawberry Panic anime ships. Because of Hikari's extreme stupidity, my Hikari x Yaya ship disintegrates in this novel. Yaya gets over Hikari, and I like to think that she will find someone who deserves her. Even though I never like the man-hating lesbian trope (softened in this case by the fact that this series is a knowingly dumb, tongue-in-cheek parody), I still like novel-Yaya more than novel-Amane because she is more honest and self-aware than Amane (I'll take "Yeah, I like girls and I love Hikari" over "I love Hikari, but girls liking girls is wrong...but I'm still going to date Hikari and run away with her") and says some amusingly true snarky things about her schoolmates.

Amane and Hikari return to Spica using the Miator helicopter- courtesy of Chikaru, whose mother is the Chancellor of Miator and the ultimate authority of all three schools. It's comforting to know that Chikaru will someday run Astraea Hill.

Even though this scene tries to convey how admirable and princely Amane is, it merely convinced me that Chikaru is the real heroine of this series. After pushing her mother to readmit Amane and Hikari to Spica (Chikaru's mother wants Amane to transfer to Miator instead), Chikaru explains that she decided to attend Lulim to be free from her similarly eccentric mother's meddling. Still dreaming big, she punches her fist into the air declaring that "I'm never giving up my dream of creating my own harem!"

Even though Spica's students are, as a whole, more idiotic than their anime counterparts (for their attitudes towards Hikari and Yaya), they partially redeem themselves by repenting for their treatment of Hikari and rallying for Hikari and Amane to be re-admitted to Spica. Thus, Hikari and Amane re-enter the competition.

Makoto resolves her issues (a backstory ripped right out of Oniisama E) and, with Chikaru's help, leaves to see her long lost sister Misaki in Vienna. One of my favorite bits in this book is the reveal of why Makoto's sister ran away as a student. Even though the students at novel-Astraea Hill almost all face arranged marriages because they come from wealthy, powerful families (a shout out to the early twentieth century period in which Class S novels came into vogue, when education for girls was strictly meant to prepare them to be good wives and wise mothers), Misaki's ability to leave for the life of her choosing shows that their fates aren't inevitable. Even in the early twentieth century, Nobuko Yoshiya lived the life she wanted with her wife Monma Chiyo.

This post is a bit misleading, because I spent so many paragraphs writing about the Spica side of the story (because it includes some problematic tropes that I wanted to address- and Chikaru being Chikaru) when the Miator side is my favorite.

Nagisa and Shizuma spend most of this volume apart. Now that she has broken things off, Nagisa finally realizes that, yes, she is in love with Shizuma. Her realization is surprisingly sweet. Tamao convinces her not to leave Astraea and tries to win her over. Nagisa continues to be clueless (at one point she's like, "Gosh, Tamao seems depressed. Maybe I should give her a massage! She must love massages since she's always offering to give me them.") and Shizuma, thinking that Nagisa hates her, tells her goodbye once and for all. In an utterly "Wtf" moment, Shizuma also reminds Tamao that they once dated and kisses her in front of Nagisa to make the point that she has moved on, even though she hasn't. Poor Tamao. After that incident, Miator students start gossiping that Tamao is Shizuma's newest girlfriend.

The most interesting difference between the Strawberry Panic novels and the Strawberry Panic anime for me is the nature of Shizuma's relationship with Kaori.

As far as these novels show, Nagisa never learns the truth about Shizuma and Kaori. But when she learns that Shizuma is leaving to study abroad, she decides to get her back already, damn it. As in the anime, Tamao nobly gives Nagisa the extra push she needs, even using her family's (haha) helicopter to take Nagisa to the airport so she can intercept Shizuma before she leaves on her private jet.

Shizuma is moved to know that Nagisa still loves her, and they reunite with a kiss. We get a really cute little epilogue in which Amane and Hikari step out as the new Etoile in a ceremony reminiscent of the wedding in Disney's Cinderella, and everyone else- including Shizuma and Nagisa who, happily, don't care about winning anymore- enjoy the Etoile festivities.

Verdict: These novels definitely have their cracks, but they're fun. The Strawberry Panic novels have essentially the same outcome as the Strawberry Panic anime, but the journey there is very different, so it's a must-read if you like the Strawberry Panic anime.

Seven Seas' translation is, as expected, excellent. I saw several typos (mostly in the third novel), but not enough to really bother me. The first four pages feature character intros (called the "Astraea Directory") followed by a map of Astraea Hill. The next two pages feature notes on the Japanese name order (thankfully) preserved in the text, the use of honorifics, and a guide to the French used in the series.

The color pages at the beginning of the novels, which were kept in color when Seven Seas published the first two novels individually, are now in black and white. My biggest criticism of this omnibus release is that it makes for unwieldy reading compared to the smaller individual first two novel volumes- but I'd rather get an omnibus than have another Hayate x Blade situation and leave this series unfinished in English, so I'm thankful for getting this omnibus.

In the back you'll find translation notes used for terms and references that most readers won't get (like Chikaru, Kizuna, Remon, and Kagome's cosplay based on the characters from Poe no Ichizoku, or what dokudami cha is) and a wonderful "About the Author" blurb: "Familiar to many as the creator of Sister Princess, a sister moe title that became a sensation in the bishoujo realm. In this series, she writes a pure, traditional yuri story freely drawn from her experiences at an all-girls school."

Art: B
Story: "Sometimes Shizuma would fall in love- a mysterious feeling that only appeared when she was with her damsels, during the little games she would play with them. That thick, sweet, gentle, peach-like aroma that only floated in the air between two girls..."
Final rating: B

The novels are fun, but the anime is still my personal favorite version of the SP-verse.