Category Archives: Media

The Whiney Anime Protagonist

How many anime protagonists do you hear being written off as whiney? I can give you a list. Amuro Ray from Mobile Suit Gundam, Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan, Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Yuuri Katsuki from Yuri on Ice. It’s practically a trope now. If you see any male protagonist have any kind of internal emotional conflict, or god forbid, cry onscreen, you’re going to have somebody out there complaining that the characters in this series are so whiney and you have to go through the trouble of blocking them on Facebook, because in this oversaturated media landscape, the only reason to watch a thing you hate is to annoy people who love that thing you hate, and who needs that drama in their life, honestly?

I think it’s worth it to discuss why we hate “Whiney” characters. A lot of them come from series that are iconic on the landscape, so it’s not like they’re uninteresting to watch. Are we uncomfortable with our emotions? Do we hate men that basically fail at being men? We also like to make fun of protagonists in so-called “harem” anime like Love Hina or Tenchi Muyo, because we are sure that any red-blooded male would be having sex with every woman in his apartment building given half the chance as if that is a perfectly healthy thing to be doing, relationship dynamics and STDs be damned. Anime for years has provided representation for women, lgbt people and people of color that couldn’t be found on the western mainstream. It’s odd that when we see a cishet male that does not act like a typical cishet male, we suddenly balk.

Take Shinji for example, star of the icon Evangelion series, and a figure of fun for all of us who wanted him to just “get in the robot”. He lost his mother at a young age to some kind of scientific accident. His father Gendo basically sends him off to boarding school at a time when both of them really needed to process their grief. Ten years later Gendo just summons Shinji to Tokyo-3 to put him in this experimental military machine to battle an unnameable cosmic horror from beyond the stars. If he doesn’t, Gendo will put this injured young girl inside in his place. Even after Shinji survives that noise, he has to deal with his fathers emotional abuse by absence. It’s completely reasonable for Shinji to become depressed from all this. Sure, he saves the world every time he goes out in his EVA unit, but the issues he deals with afterward are the emotional equivalent of having a toenail ripped out. I’m surprised that Misato (who had to clean up this mental health mess) didn’t march Gendo and Shinji to a counseling session at gunpoint for the good of humanity.

This dynamic was really powerful and made Evangelion into the iconic series it is today, but it’s important for us to examine our own reactions to Shinji’s struggle. Masculinity in the media is having a bit of a revolution as of late. Movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi are forcing fans to take a good look at their own internalized sexism. Pop Culture Detective’s Case against the Jedi and Teresa Jusino’s article at the Mary Sue are great examples of this criticism. Anime fans can benefit from that same kind of look in the mirror.

Burying the Legend of Joss Whedon

So Joss Whedon is no longer the nerd feminist icon that everyone thinks he is. It really should have been obvious in retrospect. I liked Firefly, but after watching the two Avengers movies and looking at that Wonder Woman script of his, something about his female characters seemed “off”. Like they were untouchable in some super uncanny way. The op-ed his ex-wife wrote was chilling because Whedon really believed in all of his justifications. It makes you wonder if anybody’s really fit to not be corrupted by that Hollywood producer dynamic. I think I would be, but that’s easy for me to say with my nobody status. Seriously though, Just the idea of being surrounded by “beautiful, needy, aggressive women” gives me a headache. Christ, just go home and get some therapy.

Anyway, back to the uncanniness. The character of Black Widow, for example, was fun to watch, but she wasn’t believable. Her personality seemed to change for whatever the director had in mind for her. It wasn’t like her character was an actress, or anything, she just kept saying those lines, with conviction, for whatever the plot demanded of her. She was a badass for her intro scene, a lost little girl for her scenes with Loki, and the girl next door for when she was trying to woo the Hulk. There was nothing consistent about it, nothing that indicated she had a personality when she was out of the way of the male gaze. Now, contrast that with Captain America, he’s got his “I can do this all day” line, and his notebook full of references to look up. It’s got a kind of melody you can follow that’s pleasing. That’s a kind of paradox, isn’t it? You want characters to have different aspects to themselves, but you need the threads of sameness to pull them together and make them believable.

What really sucks is that this is now a pattern. Joss Whedon joins the likes of people like Woody Allen or Jian Ghomeshi who branded themselves as progressive and were just all kinds of disgusting. What secrets lie the hidden in the jorts of Kevin Smith? Do either Hank or John Green have something disturbing to tell us? Patrick Stewart already made an appearance in the Emoji movie, so hopefully his dark secret is out there already.

These think pieces always end in how we shouldn’t put our cultural heroes on a pedestal, but like it or not, men in fandom were cribbing from Joss Whedon’s notebook. We looked to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and we thought hm, these strange womenfolk who are cosplaying at our conventions and being uncomfortable within our comic shops, this is how they like to be portrayed, this is how they want us to think of them. He became our hero because his shows were fun to watch and we could share them with a wider range of people. Now we know that he set a terrible example for feminist men, we have to find a new path once again.

Here’s the good news. Mr. Whedon got his reputation because feminist voices were and still are rare in Hollywood. His position needs to be the default and not the exception, otherwise this will just keep happening. If you saw Kai Cole’s blog post and you felt sick to your stomach, lost, or just ashamed of your gender, you owe it to yourself to listen to actual feminist voices and start voicing your own interpretations. I recommend the upcoming zine by Women Write about Comics as a good place to start. We don’t need to have a Joss Whedon level of talent to muddy the waters and make strong female characters less revolutionary. If we can’t add to the conversation, then we can at least drown out people like him.

A Parent’s Perspective on Steven Universe

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When my wife and I work around the house on weekends, we usually turn on the Cartoon Network. Most of the shows are the kind of programs where I think, “you know, I don’t take recreational drugs, but if I did, I would be well served in terms of television.”

This one show called Steven Universe seemed like just another wacky and surreal short program that was silly for silliness’ sake. It was the story of boy named Steven who is being raised by 3 surrogate mothers (Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl) who happen to be the Crystal Gems, magical guardians of the planet Earth.

But then, I noticed something as I carried the loads of laundry in front of the TV. There was an ongoing story that sometimes left you on a cliffhanger. Some of the jokes were powered by a mythology that was deep and consistent. There were also copious amounts of anime references.

So Sara and I started to recording episodes on our DVR and marathoning them at night. It’s really one of the best shows on TV right now. Everything from the animation, to the music, to the voice work, is done with such care and attention. The songs are catchy and broadway quality, and the backgrounds are so beautiful that they should be illegal. I bow down to the staff’s knowledge of anime. Most studios would throw in a couple of Akira references and call it a day, but the people behind Steven Universe draw from the entire history of the genre, with series such as Ogon Bat and the original Astro Boy.

The crowning achievement of Steven Universe’s cultural impact is how they deal with relationships. It’s like they’ve taken the innocent emotional conflicts of shows like Daniel Tiger and brought them into realm of high fantasy and science fiction.

I especially love how they handle the relationship between parents and children. In most television shows, parents either know what do or think they know what to do. In Steven Universe, the main character is a product of a human father and a mother who is a 5,000 plus year old Rock alien who doesn’t exactly reproduce biologically. This means that Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, are like most parents. They are unsure of what’s normal or healthy for a boy Steven’s age, and many times there are just no right answers. The gems are often left to bicker among themselves, and in episodes like The Test, Steven figures out the answer for himself.

I think the time the series really grabbed me by the guts was in an episode called Rose’s Scabbard. Pearl learned that her relationship with Rose, Steven’s mother, wasn’t what she thought it was. She ends up running away, and Steven almost falls to his death trying to find her on top of an island floating in the sky. This just puts her further into despair, and she asks herself, “What would Rose think of me now?”

Steven just gives her hug and says, “Well, I think you’re pretty great.”

I think every parent has felt that low. Parenting is such a great responsibility, that it seems like every child is the Child of Destiny.  And then, there are times when you fail. Sometimes you yell at them for no reason other than you’ve been stressed at work, or you let them get in trouble when you should’ve been watching. Sometimes it seems like the only thing separating you from your child is the height difference and the years of experience. Sometimes, even that doesn’t seem like enough. Setbacks happen, hearts get broken, and you are just…you. But the one thing about parenting you can never prepare for is how much your children love you back. Sometimes it seems like that love is conditional. You might think that they just love you because you feed them, but you find out that it just doesn’t work that way. You find that you love this child, they love you, and you are deserving of that love.

That’s what Pearl experienced. That’s what all parents experience. And that’s why Steven Universe if my new favourite show.

Allow me to be completely unfair to the Ghost in The Shell Movie

I’ve been bombarded by a few ads for the live action Ghost in the Shell movie, which I will never see in theaters. This gives me the right, nay the duty, to unfairly pan this movie that I have not seen a full minute of.

Nevermind the whitewashing, and there is a LOT of whitewashing in this movie. The trailer’s byline is “There was an accident. We saved you. Now you save others”

Whoah. No. What?

Why did they take this direction with main character? I know that in the manga and anime they never actually go into how Major Motoko Kusanagi (The protagonist) got her cyborg body, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t due to some drunk driving incident.

The Major we know drank sake in under Cherry Trees before leading a team of soldiers riding spider robots to go kick ass. The Major we know lectured the sweat shop kids she just rescued about the value of hard work and to make good use of their cybernetic implants. She has lovers of multiple genders, and her self-confidence calms even the most nervous people under her command.

This origin completely removes her of the agency that was central to her character. Without it, there’s no counterpoint to questions like “Is she really human?”, or “Is really in control of her destiny?”. There’s none of the ambiguity that separates the truly great art from the mediocre.

I can’t understand why the producers of these movies keep doing this. They option these media properties from all these different cultures and then pave over everything that makes them unique and saleable in the first place. They say that all these compromises come from a place of wanting to make more money, but this movie debuted at #3 at the box office. Who do they think they are fooling?

I Love the New Ghostbusters, and I Hate the Internet.

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So last weekend, I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie with my wife. If you know me, then you know that I love the original movies. I loved the cartoon. I bought the toys. I even dressed up as Ghostbuster for Halloween for 3 years in a row. And I also loved this reboot.

In fact, I think it’s the perfect reboot. It wasn’t just faithful to the idea of Ghostbusters, it explored aspects of the story that the original just didn’t have time for. What about those academic careers they left behind? How did the Ghostbusters meet each other in first place?How did they come up with that gear? While there are references and plenty of cameos by the original cast, the new Ghostbusters are absolutely their own characters with their own histories, conflicts, and comedy schticks.

I also love how the story was updated for the anxieties of our era. The original dealt with Reagan-era paranoia about government over-reach into small business, but this new movie dealt with our overall skepticism in the Internet age and the ongoing debate about what real science is. I loved, loved, loved the new characters, the new actors, the new gear and the new jokes. This also makes me mad as hell at the Internet.

The trailer for the 2016 film was the most disliked video on Youtube. Leslie Jones, one of the actresses, was basically chased off Twitter for a while after the premier by tornado of racist comments. I was also really disappointed in James Rolfe of Angry Video Game Nerd fame when he produced a video about how he was not going to see the new film. I don’t think he knew he was doing it at the time, but he normalized the behaviour of all those idiots. Soon my Youtube page was awash with videos with titles like “WHITE MAN REFUSES TO SEE MOVIE! WHAT NOW, SJWs?”. Gross. This campaign has gone on to the point that when I was leaving the theatre, I found that people were genuinely surprised that the movie was actually good.

Now that I’ve seen the movie and liked it, I have a problem. A screen accurate proton pack is on my cosplay bucket list, but now I can’t decide whether I want a 1984 model or a 2016 model. I’m leaning towards 2016, considering I look kind of like a dumpy Chris Hemsworth. Does this mean I’m going to get the stink-eye at conventions from people who consider themselves “true” Ghostbuster fans?

The new Ghostbusters movie showed me something that was missing from these mainstream blockbuster tentpole movies. It felt different to see 4 women in the title roles of an established special effects movie, and in a good way. The world felt a little larger somehow. See, representation is not about chasing lofty social Justice goals. it’s also about keeping our movies from all looking at the same. If every protagonist has to be a white guy, it’s not just racist or misogynist, it’s boring and unrealistic. It also allows us to get comfortable with people who are different from we are. I know I’m not going to convince anyone who is determined to hate this film, but if you are on the fence, take my word for it. More Ghostbusters is good and this movie is definitely more Ghostbusters