The Pitfalls of Writing Romance

So recently, Lauren Zuke, one of the writers of Steven Universe, made this statement on their Tumblr:

I can’t speak for any other writers or artists, or the show’s intention, none but my own– but lapis and peridot, I wanted to create the experience of a growing queer relationship. Again- this is only my intention. Can’t speak for anyone else! Many people are writing those episodes. But. I don’t want to have people have to sit down and put together puzzle pieces to see if they were represented. Not in this day and age. That game is so tiring. As for amethyst and peridot, again, this is only my writing intention, I wanted the feeling of a “first time crush” that you go on to then be close intimate friends. Anyone who wants to see the narrative they want is completely, 100% allowed to.

But I wanted to close the book on this- I am queer, and intend fully to write queer characters when I do.

And it raises a lot of alarms.

For starters, it’s pretty clear that the writers are not unified or have cohesive communication AT ALL, and gives the implication that the show is being written on the fly. Shouldn’t the entire crew be on board on what relationships to develop? What if another writer wanted to make another pairing canon? That’s not good.

Secondly, while it is commendable to want more LGBT relationships, and I’m so glad that Zuke is proud of being queer, why not just settle with Peridot and Amethyst? They had good chemistry and interactions, it seems kind of pointless to build it up only to diffuse it later. And I don’t see how you can call them ‘close intimate friends’ since they barely interact anymore.

And lastly, and I’m sorry, but Lapis and Peridot are NOT a growing relationship. At all. Literally after an episode of hostility they’re immediately besties. Whenever they’re onscreen it’s just fluffy domestic interactions.

And the worst part is? The pairing is seriously harming both characters.

Who is Lapis? Why was she in the middle of a battlefield? What’s her connection to Blue Diamond? What did she mean when she said “do you even know who I used to be”? Who cares! She’s just Peridot’s love interest now. Peridot has been sucked of all charm and likable mischievousness so she can be all cutesy with Lapis. In other words, they’ve been bowdlerized in order to make them an appealing, inoffensive pairing.

This kind of plugs into a bigger problem with media as a whole: how romantic relationships are often forced to fit the writer’s preferred couples (even if it contradicts canon), and/or how one character’s only purpose is to become a love interest.

This happens a lot in animation. While Disney movies generally do a good job establishing well rounded characters with believable romantic chemistry (even if they do get together quickly), a lot of Disney knockoff films would force in a romantic pairing between the main two characters because why the shit not. Who cares if the characters don’t really get along or barely get any relationship development, kids love romance and Disney always has a couple, so our movie will be a hit!

Animated shows often have a lot of trouble with canon couples, mainly because they go on for a long time and have multiple writers. A great example would be Avatar: The Last Airbender. The creators of the show, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, wanted Aang and Katara to be together since the very beginning, which is fine, but they made Katara very mature and motherly and for most of the series she never really reciprocates Aang’s feelings for her. Meanwhile, other members of the creative team (mainly writers/producers Aaron and Elizabeth Welch Ehasz) developed Katara and Zuko’s relationship more, to the point where DiMartino and Konietzko allegedly pestered them to make the two’s relationship more toxic. You can see that this raises some red flags. Later, the creators would go on to make Legend of Korra, and while I think they tried to throw Zutara shippers a bone with the Mako/Korra pairing, it backfired seriously as their relationship ended up being EXTREMELY toxic and forced. While the show still had other pairing problems (don’t get me started on Bolin’s multiple girlfriends), thankfully the show ended with Korra and Asami together. Now THAT is a good example of a ‘growing queer relationship’. They spend four seasons together and gradually go from acquaintances to close friends to lovers, AND they don’t get reduced to just love interests. (My only complaint is that I wish the relationship was more explicit.)

There’s also an unfortunate trend of giving a major character a WOC love interest as a way to prop up a relationship with a white woman. Harry Potter initially had a budding relationship with Cho Chang, but that was quickly thrown out in favor of Harry getting together with Ginny. I haven’t watched Danny Phantom, but from what I know of it, Valerie Grey, a black girl, was a potential love interest for Danny but he got together with Sam (a white girl). In Justice League Unlimited, after a blossoming romance with Hawkgirl fell apart, Green Lantern was suddenly in a relationship with Vixen, and throughout the entire show he doesn’t seem fully comfortable being around her and is always thinking about Hawkgirl. Vixen herself mostly exists in her relationship to Green Lantern. It’s strongly implied that Green Lantern and Hawkgirl get back together (and if you consider follow up comics canon, they did…after Vixen was brutally murdered. Nice.)

There’s a TV Tropes page called ‘Strangled By the Red String” which details a lot of pairings that often come across as extremely forced. One series that is extremely guilty of bad relationship writing is Naruto. The author teased multiple ships, but it was pretty clear that Sasuke and Sakura had an incredibly abusive and unhealthy relationship, Naruto and Hinata had potential but hardly got any development (apparently Neji needed to die in order for Naruto to interact with Hinata again), and Naruto and Sasuke had a LOT of chemistry that could’ve easily passed for love but never fell through. In the end, Naruto becomes a shell of his former self, Sasuke is never with his family, and Sakura is depressed. Yikes.

 

The key to writing GOOD relationships is to a) have the characters and their relationships progress naturally and without contradicting established canon b) not rely on racist, sexist, or homophobic tropes, and c) don’t throw in a pairing because you cave into the fanbase or you felt like a couple HAD to be included. The characters need to have SOMETHING that would bring them together (such as surviving multiple adventures together, mutual pining, or a shared interest or value) to make it believable.

And if you’re not really good at writing romances, just don’t bother. We can handle stories without romance. We can’t really handle the reinforcement that romance (especially heterosexual ones) are the most and only  important thing.

Oscars 2017: Who Will Win Best Animated Feature Film?

Zootopia. 

Okay let me backtrack a bit.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature Film this year are Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and Zootopia. Already there’s no Pixar film to win by default, so there’s that.

But it’s still pretty obvious that Zootopia will win. I mean, when it came out, it was a huge deal. It grossed over a billion dollars, it garnered so much praise from critics and audiences, and it had a cultural impact (not as big as Frozen, but still pretty major). Plus it already won the Golden Globe. Really, do the other films have a chance? I think the only other film that has one is Kubo, because that movie became a critical darling and it is possible that the Academy will throw a non-Disney company a bone.

I got to be honest, I get really annoyed when foreign/arthouse animated films get nominated. Why? Because they NEVER win (with the major exception of Spirited Away) and they rarely generate public interest. It just doesn’t seem fair. It’s like “yeah we acknowledge you exist but we’re not going to give you a decent shot at winning”. The only times ‘different’ animated films win is when a particular year for animation is so bad the movie that is somewhat decent (but not too foreign) gets the most hype. (I’m still pissed that Persepolis got snubbed in favour of Ratatouille; it’s basically saying you find the story of a frigging rat more compelling than a real life woman who survived a war and extremist regime.)

Still, I can’t jump on the side that constantly criticizes the Oscars either. People only really started to call the Academy out when Brave, Frozen, and Big Hero 6 won…in other words, when the animated films focusing on women and people of color started to get recognition (fuck you, Cartoon Brew). Really, it’s best to remember that the Oscars are a popularity contest and ultimately don’t REALLY matter in the long run, so it’s best not to let it get to you. And besides, even in a world when the awards ceremony that’s supposed to be fair and loving of animation gets subject to bias and controversy, its best to focus not on how many awards an animated film wins, but how much of an influence and impact it has for years to come.

 

Post War Trauma and Psychological Drama: The World of Japanese Horror

Does this look terrifying to you?

Image result for spiral

(Source)

There’s definitely something fascinating about a spiral shape, the way it draws you in, how it can play optical illusions on you, and how it’s been used in media as a way of hypnotizing people. Yet you wouldn’t think of using it as an antagonist in horror. In typical American horror, there’s a clear monster/ghost/serial killer to chase the hapless young hero (and a lot of gore and sexual violence tends to ensue).

Yet to Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, the mysterious yet not quite right appeal of the spiral shape was enough to make it into his horror masterpiece, Uzumaki (literally means spiral/vortex).

Image result for uzumaki cover

(Source)

Imagine you’re living in an isolated town, and slowly, strange things start to happen that somehow all involve spirals. A man becomes so obsessed with spirals he tries to use his body to create the shapes. His wife develops a morbid fear of spirals that lead her to go nuts. A girl who moves into town in order to pursue a boy notices a scar on her forehead turns into a spiral shape. Slowly but surely it becomes apparent that the town is haunted by the spiral, but when the townspeople realize something is extremely wrong, it’s too late. It made for a creepy, creative thrill that I read in one night.

Junji Ito first broke into the manga scene with Tomie, a series about an evil protean entity who cannot die and is constantly being reborn and multiplying, who takes the form of a beautiful teenage girl who manipulates and tricks others. He would go on to create several short stories and have two other noteworthy works: Gyo and The Enigma of Amigara Fault.

Gyo begins with a rather ridiculous premise: schools of fish crawl out of the ocean on mechanical, insect-like legs, and are accompanied by a horrible smell. But soon it develops into a truly nightmarish story, when people and other land animals are infected by the smell (carried by a powerful germ transferred through bodily gases) and become the replacements for the mechanical legs.

In The Enigma of Amigara Fault, after a devastating earthquake, a new fault appears from the ground, sporting human shaped holes.

Image result

(Yes, this was referenced in Steven Universe.)

People quickly discover that each hole is perfectly suited for each individual, and they feel compelled to enter the hole. They disappear for months at a time, and when they come out on the other side…well, they’re not quite the same.

What makes all three of these works chilling is that they take seemingly mundane, innocuous parts of life and morph them into something creatively horrifying. Ghosts and monsters and serial killers are scary enough, but what about a spiral that is seemingly everywhere that you can’t run away from? Now that strikes you on a psychological level.

Gyo has the extra horror of post WWII paranoia. In the manga, it was revealed that during WWII the protagonist’s grandfather helped conducted horrific experiments and created a toxic germ that could be used as a weapon. When the animals carrying the germ and emitting the gas would die or pass out, mechanical legs were created to carry them. Before they could be used on the front, they were lost at sea…and decades later, the disaster emerged. You can tell how horrifying that would be to a country nearly destroyed by war. The Enigma of Amigara Fault features a prefecture that was ravaged by a devastating earthquake. While I think that story has more nuances that resonates more with Japanese readers (in regards to things like conformity and finding your place in society), you can see how that would strike a particular unnerving cord to a country that is known for devastating earthquakes.

As you can tell, a lot of (good) Japanese horror is rooted in the country’s cultural fears. Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino is about a family destroyed by the Yakuza and WWII, based on the author’s own life (his grandfather was a Yakuza member and his own family fled Manchuria after Japan surrendered). Perfect Blue is about how the role of a (childlike but made to appeal to men) pop idol drives not one but two women mad when they dare to move on. And the original Godzilla is about the fear of a nuclear fallout. This is probably one reason why a lot of horror franchises that are originally Japanese don’t do as well when they become Americanized since a lot of what makes them truly scary is left out.

If you’re tired of American horror, I suggest you give Japanese horror a try. I strongly recommend reading Junji Ito’s work. He is extremely imaginative and effectively creepy, with absolutely gorgeous art. (He also wrote a genuinely cute and funny manga based on his life with two adopted cats, so you know he’s talented.) I don’t fully recommend Hideshi Hino because his work lacks subtlety and relies a bit too much on shock value and animal cruelty, but you should at least read his work Hell Baby because it’s a genuinely tragic, moving story about what it means to be human. There’s a litany of other horror (including Kazuo Umezuo, the original horror mangaka) that you can read up on. You can start HERE and HERE.

Feel free to share your experience with Japanese horror in the comments below!

Big Hero 6 Could Be a Powerful Education Tool

While it may  be awhile until Big Hero 6 gets a sequel, there will be a TV series continuing their adventures to help get by and hopefully kick the franchise into gear. I’m a little suspicious that it’s not coming out until the fall when apparently the show was supposed to come out earlier, but hey, better than nothing at all. I’m excited.

When (hopefully not just if) the movie becomes an actual franchise, I feel that, in addition to entertaining kids, it could be used to educate them too.

When I was a little kid, I was fed a healthy diet of educational shows. The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye, Schoolhouse Rock, Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, Zoboomafoo, Blue’s Clues…oh my goodness I’m getting nostalgic just typing this. And I used to play the ClueFinders games too. These all definitely helped shaped my appreciation for learning and academics (as well as entertainment). I believe educational media really hit its peak in the 199o’s, but has diminished a lot nowadays. You have stuff for really little kids, but not much for older kids. This is where BH6 could come in. It’s a movie with a wide audience appeal (kids of all ages, races, and genders) and a huge appreciation of science. Why not use the characters to help kids learn?

A few ideas include:

  • Playsets of the characters in their labs
  • A book series detailing the adventures of the team that also gives kids quick facts (this would also be a great opportunity to get boys to read)
  • Mobile game apps that feature puzzle solving, skill building, and learning
  • An additional TV show after the first one, either animated or live action (I bet a lot of kids would love seeing Baymax appear live), where the characters demonstrate science experiments and document facts
  • Mental health and self care posters, graphics, flyers, etc.

I think a lot about how much potential BH6 has and how it’s sad that Disney has been taking so long to actually do anything with it. Which is why I heartily encourage everyone to watch the show when it airs. Even if the show itself isn’t that great (but knowing that it’s made by the same team behind Kim Possible, we can expect it to not suck), it will show Disney that enough people want more of these characters and that more can be done with them.

Upcoming Disney 2017

2016 proved to be a pretty huge year for Disney. Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia, Finding Dory, and The Jungle Book became the top grossing films of the year, with Rogue One and Moana also proving to be big hits, and they more than made up for the less successful features (The BFG, Alice Through the Looking Glass).

For this year, Disney will play a little safer and stick to a smaller slate, with the following films:

  • Beauty and the Beast live-action remake
  • Born in China documentary (by DisneyNature)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy sequel
  • The next Pirates of the Caribbean film
  • Cars 3
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (with Sony)
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Coco
  • Star Wars Episode VIII

My thoughts?

Well, I’ve ranted before on how the BatB remake has terrible looking CGI and unfortunate looking designs. I’m sort of warming up to the Beast’s design but the household staff all look creepy. But I’m kind of liking what’s been released. I think the Beast in this version is going to be more gentle and kind (as a way to appease the naysayers of the first film, probably). In the newest TV spot, I liked how Belle said “I never thanked you for saving my life” and the Beast replied “I never thanked you for not leaving me to be eaten by wolves”. That’s adorable. And Emma Watson can sing! So who knows. I think my family’s going to make me see it anyway. I just really wish they did a better job with the side characters.

I’m not really into Disney’s documentaries so I’ll pass on BiC.

I’m kind fatigued from Marvel (I hated Captain America 3 and didn’t bother seeing Doctor Strange) but I might have to see their films this year because they’re sequels to my faves. I can only hope they don’t completely ruin them. I’m a little more excited for GotG 2 than Thor 2 because GotG looks like a lot of fun (baby Groot is adorable and we might finally see Gamora and Star Lord get it on) and I’m too scared for the fate of Asgard and Thor. We’ll see.

No desire to see Pirates of the Caribbean (it went immediately downhill after the first film for me) or any more Spider-Man films.

I’m not really into Star Wars like other people and didn’t LOVE The Force Awakens but I might need to see number 8 for Carrie Fisher (rest in peace).

As for Pixar’s offerings…I’m kind of torn.

Cars 3 had a really brilliant (albeit horrifying) teaser trailer, but with more plot details revealed, apparently the villains are supposed to represent millennials?

Yeah, the plot is that Lightning McQueen is being usurped by younger, newer models. According to EW: From an ideological standpoint, Jackson embodies the extreme entitlement that has come to plague millennial descriptions. “He thinks the world is his. He’s taking over. He’s owed it,” says Fee. “In a very broad term, I think of old football players with those little leather skull caps, and you think of football players now with all their armor, hitting so hard. It’s not the same game. What they did was not anything like what we do now. And that’s Jackson: He thinks the future of racing and the high-tech ways they train and what they can do means they’re taking the sport to a new level, and the older guys had their day, and it’s done, and they have no place in the future of racing.”

I’m not sure if that’s just EW’s interpretation or if that’s actually the route Pixar’s going with. Either way, it’s really shitty. As a millennial myself, I find the depiction of my generation as entitled and lazy really dishonest. Sure you have some privileged rich kids who really do think the world owes them everything, but a lot of millennials are poor college students or graduates who can’t find a good job and can’t afford their needs and wants due to inflation (and because employers refuse to have paid interns or pay more than minimum wage). So this is…kind of disrespectful.

And then there’s Coco. Here’s the first image:

coco pixar migeul

Looks strikingly similar to The Book of Life and Kubo and the Two Strings, doesn’t it? In fact a lot of people are pointing out how the plot, about a Mexican boy who wants to be a musician but is being forced to carry his family’s tradition and ends up in the land of the dead, is eerily similar to The Book of Life. Anything can happen between now and then, though.There’s also a lot of controversy how TBoL didn’t get picked up by major animation studios for over a decade and once it became successful Pixar NOW decides to go ahead with their own Day of the Dead film. Let’s be real, though, the last truly great and original film Pixar made was Up (and Toy Story 3 was their last truly great film, period). I’m not surprised they’re reaching the lowest common denominator for both their offerings. Still, you can’t knock representation when you see it, especially with the current political climate.

We also have a lot of new TV shows and specials being released this year, and the one receiving the most hype is, of course, the Tangled Before Ever After (released in February) and Tangled: The Series (in March). It looks visually nice but I think the target audience is toddlers and preschoolers. I’m not sure why Tangled needs a continuation (it ended on a good note and is remembered and marketed fondly enough) but hey, whatever floats Disney’s boats. But the shows people are really excited for are the DuckTales reboot (coming in the summer) and the Big Hero 6 series (coming in the fall, much to my sadness). They have potential and can be really exciting and fun. You can find all information on all the things Disney is releasing in 2017 HERE.

So this will be an interesting year full of potential. I’ll be sure to check out what I can and get back to you.