oh you bad guys

ST:TNG Rewatch: "Skin of Evil" & "We'll Always Have Paris"

This was… an oddly lackluster pair of episodes, considering everything that happens within them.

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Signs it’s THE FUTURE: We can maybe reboot the brain after death? No? Maybe? Uhm. Time travel! Theoretical physics?!

Signs it’s NOT THE FUTURE: Our Star Trek villains are still just guys in capes.

The writers’ ‘ship: Yar/Worf, and Crusher/Picard, but Picard’s attention is elsewhere. Poor Beverly.
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Manga Report, as of 2/5/16

In Manga:

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, Keiko Tobe, Volume 1: As I said over at GoodReads, I'm not too keen on this one.

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Behind the Scenes!!, by Bisco Hatori, Volume 1: Where to begin? This is more frenetic and sillier than Hatori's previous works (and after Ouran Host Club, that may sound a little hard to believe, I know, but it's true!) It's also a little harder to get a handle on, story-wise. Shy, artistic, and sensitive Ranmaru Kurisu is trying to navigate his way through his first year at art school with little success when suddenly he meets the Art Squad, a club that specializes in making props, set dressing, and costumes for the four other film clubs at the school. The Art Squad is full of unique/weird personalities, including Ryuji Goda, the Art Squad's president/leader/resident goofy idealist who always bites off more than the club can chew. (All of the characters are named after Hatori's favorite Western film directors, so Goda for Godard, Ruka for George Lucas, etc.) The four rival film clubs on campus all bicker with each other, and with the Art Squad, and most of the drama comes from one of two plot hooks:

1) Will the Art Squad be able to fulfill the production requirements of the other clubs in time?! and,

2) Will Ranmaru grow up and find his way in the world?!

Both of these are pretty good plot generators, but I guess I don't know whether to invest in Ranmaru or not; he's not much of character beyond "diamond in the rough" yet. It's clear that Hatori already has, though, and since she succeeded in winning me over before on numerous other occasions, I'm fully willing to give her the benefit of the (silly) doubt on this one. If there's going to be romantic tension between him and Ryuji, I really hope Hatori lampshades it immediately, the way she did in Ouran, because it was so damn funny. (Bring me all the fanfic, please!) I do recommend this to Ouran fans, and anyone who's looking for silly shoujo fluff. If it gets more serious, I'll let you know.
good read

Comics/Manga Report!

In Comics:

Southern Cross, Volume 1, Cloonan/Belanger/Loughridge: I bought the first two issues of this title and then dropped them. I love Becky Cloonan, but the story wasn’t gelling for me the way I hoped it would. I also suspected it was one of those titles that would be better in collected form; it’s frustrating to read a mystery that stops periodically and makes you wait for a few months to pick up again. I was right about reading it in trade being a better experience, but, well, by not getting the single issues, I missed the genre switch from noir-ish mystery set in space to psychedelic sci-fi horror. It was a bit of a surprise to come across that shift in tone. It’s still an amazing read, and the colors start making sense with the change; the palette is all sickly oranges and blues, with occasional splashes of red gore. That said, I don’t think I need to buy Volume 2; this isn’t something I’d normally pick up. But if you enjoy any Cthulu mythos stories, I think you’ll be happy with this title; if you enjoyed the movie Event Horizon, you’ll definitely get a kick out of this.

In Manga:

Noragami, Volume 1, Adachitoka: Before I really start singing this volume’s praises, can I just say how nice it is to have a shounen/seinen manga that doesn’t have gratuitous cheesecake or panty shots? It’s really, really nice, and it makes me want to read more solely to tell this author/illustrator: YES YOU ARE AWESOME. (Granted, there could be more cheesecake down the line, but volume 1 was mercifully free of that.) Happily, respectful treatment of the female characters isn’t the only good thing about this title. Volume 1 is a little more of an info-dump than I’d like, but it’s clear that the story has an ambitious scope that necessitates said info-dump. I like the way that Adachitoka makes his main character, Yato, a god who’s trying to crawl his way up in the pantheon, ever-so-slightly not-human with cat-like eyes in the frame of a young man. There’s great action in this story, as Yato does battle with creatures to occupy humanity’s blind spots, Shinto-like animistic monsters that follow depressed people around. There’s also a lot of information about how Yato’s powers work, and the things he needs to help him gain power and followers. I’m not sure where the female lead character, Hiyori, will end up in our story; so far her story is pretty vague, and it’s not clear what kind of a person she is, other than shounen manga spunky/nice female character. I have high hopes for the next few volumes, though, especially if we see more supernatural creatures and Hiyori’s personality develops further.
good read

Book Rec: All the Light We Cannot See

Book Rec: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

This book wasn’t something I thought I’d have the chance to read anytime soon; I have an embargo against new hardcovers (for monetary and spatial reasons), and almost everything that comes out, I can wait for in paperback. This book, though… well, two things happened:

1) I heard good things about it. Really, really good things. It won the Pulitzer, for starters, and it was well reviewed all over the place. People I know and respect were talking about it, and just about every book club has it on the rotation. (You’d think this would trigger my slightly hipster, majorly contrarian instincts, but nope!)

2) I asked when it was coming out in paperback, and the employee at BookStar frowned as she poked at her computer. Since hardcovers usually go to trades in nine months to a year, I figured I’d only have to wait a few months. Not so! The paperback isn’t coming out for a long time (at least another year), a deliberate marketing tactic on Scribner’s part, presumably to sell more hardcovers. (And Scribner, I get it, I really do, but arrrrrggghhhhh, you’re killing me here.)

So a while back, I just caved in and bought the damn thing, because my curiosity got the better of me, and because I was sick of my own hardcover embargo.

And, honestly, I’m very glad I did. I enjoyed this book, even though there were times when it was unrelentingly bleak and sad. This is an accomplished and tremendously character-driven piece of work that stands well against other war-set narratives; it never loses sight of its two protagonists and their journeys, and it privileges their experiences over anything else. Collapse )
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Fandom Snowflake: Day 13 (All Your Recs Are Belong To Us)

For day 13 of Fandom Snowflake, we're reccing things! XD

Infinite New Possibilities, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with about a billion spoilers for the entire movie, rated General but with warnings for mentions of past torture. This work is what I go to fanfic for: it's filling in the blanks of what was missing during the movie; it gives us more character development for almost everyone who I care about, and the first chapter contains a lovely, touching scene where Poe gives Rey a tour of the Resistance base, and the two of them talk about what's to come. I haven't read the second two chapters yet, but I'm really impressed with the way the first part went, and I'm glad to recommend it.

Edited to add: The Force Awakens as an adorable manga-esque High school AU. This may just be the most adorable thing I've ever seen. It fits in with emo!Kylo Ren's twitter account nicely, too.

The Please Help Me Cosplay! tumblr is still chugging along, and there's a comprehensive list in the top entry right now that gives a ton of book and website references for everything from homemade foam armor to costume patterns.

American Captain is a diary comic about Steve Rogers' experiences in The Avengers and beyond. It's a rocky story: Steve struggles with PTSD and survivor's guilt; 2010 is alternately amazing and terrifying; and his new teammates are supportive but often confusing. I like how small it feels, and I don't mean small as in insignificant or stupid, but it feels small and right, the way things would if your universe suddenly exploded and reformed itself into something sort of familiar but not really. Such a great fan comic.


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Fandom Snowflake: Day 12 (The Fannish Party, and Welcome To It)

What makes you fannish? And by that we mean, what is it about a tv show/movie/book/band/podcast/etc that takes you from, "Yeah, I like that," to "I need MOAR!!!" Is it a character? A plotline? The pretty? Subtext that’s just screaming to be acknowledged?

This got long, and there's a little bit of "get off my lawn, you kids with your shiny new fandoms!" soggy nostalgia to it, but that's what you get with my fandom! ;D

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good read

Books and Obsessions and Collections

I've had the distinct pleasure of reading Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78prm Records recently, as well as Kate Leth's short but very good Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed. Both of them are very, very good reads, and both of them are organized around two main ideas that, while they seem very dissimilar on the surface, actually end up being a meditation on the same subject in the end.

The first idea has to do with the nature of collecting: why do we do it? What are we trying to prove in the end? Tattooing and record collecting may seem diametrically opposed here: one is external, personal; while the other is internal, and, depending on the collector, only as external as he (because the record collectors that are profiled in the book are almost all men) wants it to be. Petrusich opens her discussion of 78 collectors with one of Baudrillard's famous quotes, that when we collect something, we are ultimately collecting ourselves. It's clear from Petrusich's work that she understands the deep, obsessive call to collect. She understands it so much, in fact, that she learns scuba diving solely so that she can try to find a treasure trove of lost 78s at the bottom of a silty, dangerous river, and despite coming up empty-handed, she still tries to find these lost pieces at flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales. Leth's approach to collecting tattoos is a bit more practical, since she makes the point right away that tats are permanent. If you're not sure about your idea, she advises, "...wait one year. That may seem long, but you'll have it forever. Don't rush it!" Collecting images that mean something to you, or rare shellacs that mean something to American music, is no easy task, and neither author approaches this endeavor as something to be taken lightly.

The second, and more complicated idea, expands on the first and asks: what is permanence? If a tattoo or a record collection immortalizes us somehow, does that make our existence now better, and are the costs necessarily worth it? Leth states flat out that people shouldn't get tattoos when they're young, siting her own mistakes as evidence: "I had my first ink done at age 14. Would I recommend that to anyone? Hell NO.... I had no concept of permanence--I was going to like what I liked at 14 forever." Petrusich, on the other hand, has a longer space to discuss the notion of permanence and collecting, and she does just that. Some of the collectors she profiles are winners of Grammy awards for their contributions to American music history (they collected pieces of musical history that would have otherwise been erased or lost forever), but some of them are obsessive weirdos who collect indiscriminately and leave their mess for others to find after death. Add to this mix that 78s aren't built to last and there's only a finite number of them in the world today, and getting into collecting these items is not something a layperson can do on a whim. Petrusich makes no bones about the fact that the collectors she meets are almost all male, and that the collecting world they inhabit is an uber-masculine one: "... if mismanaged, the urge [to collect] can manifest as a kind of mania, a macho possessiveness." This macho urge to OWN ALL THE THINGS makes for an odd life. For Petrusich, it's an amazing experience, tracking down awesome, funny characters who take her to backwoods rummage sales and recording studios in other places, but for some of her subjects, the cost of permanence isn't even a footnote in history, just a hobby to pass the time. Immortality is sweet for those are careful, decisive, but for many people, it's a vague promise that disintegrates over time.

Both of these books taught me something. Leth's work is relentlessly practical and helped me finally nail what kind of tattoo I want and where I want it. I also realized that I only really want the one, as long as I can find an artist to work with whose work I love. Petrusich's book taught me so much about the early blues scene in America that I hadn't previously been exposed to, and I suspect a lot of the followup to this work will be hunting down as many of the songs that she mentions so that I can hear them for myself. But it also made me evaluate my own small collection of stuff: a few My Little Ponies (Nightmare Moon is just too damn cool, OK?), some Funko Pops, and my Doctor Who/Ponies crossover project. It definitely appears that I've been collecting parts of myself, but their permanence is a little suspect now. They make me happy, though, and in the end, that's the best part of collecting anything, at least for me. I find it ironic that my obsessive, masochistic completist streak is limited to series of books, but not to objects. After Petrusich's work, I think I kind of dodged a bullet there.
good read

Finally! Millennium Snow!

Unbeknowst to me, Bisco Hatori finally got to work on finishing Millennium Snow, a mere ten years after she left it, mid-plot in order to work on Ouran Host Club. I discovered the two translated volumes by accident the other week as I was browsing in my local big book store and eagerly bought them. The ending, although a little rushed, is incredibly satisfying, and the final resolution of the romance between the two lead characters is strong and sweet. So I'm really happy that I tracked these down! Three things stand out about this second half, though:

1) Hatori's author's notes are actually informative instead of self-deprecating to the point of loathing, the way that many shoujo manga artists end up writing. I actually learned quite a lot about her process and her assistants' work; it was also interesting to consider how difficult it would be to start up a story again when your artistic and storytelling skills have strengthened and progressed so much in the intervening time. She acknowledges her own failings honestly (especially the side plot regarding Chiyuki and her foster brother/cousin in Volume 2, which was just terrible) but doesn't belabor the point into "woe is me I suck" territory. All in all, a very nice read in the margins!

2) My mental summary for this series is "Twilight done right." If you're going to have a romance between a human teenager and a vampire teenager with tons of angst issues, you can't just throw in some abstinence porn and hope it works. (It really doesn't.) Instead, both of the characters need to be whole people, and this is where Millennium Snow really succeeds. Chiyuki's motivation is simple at first, since she's a young woman who's faced her own mortality from virtually the beginning of her life (due to a life-threatening heart condition), and she'd prefer some certainty that she live. But as the plot progresses and she gets to know Toya and experience life "on the outside," her motivation evolves and changes from something small and selfish into a wish that both their lives have meaning. Further, she's not just defined by her relationship to Toya or any of the other male characters. She maintains friendships and interests on her own, and her perseverance rings true, given her life experience so far. Toya, on the other hand, starts off a little one-dimensionally: the brooding teenage vampire heartthrob. (Hatori even lampshades this trope in dialogue several times, including the timeless insult, "you're stuck in a sulky pubescent funk!" leveled by the main romantic rival of the story.) But when the reasons for this brooding sulkiness are revealed, they're problems that aren't false at all; they're reasonable and right. He's asking a human woman/young adult to commit to him for at least 1,000 years, and he's thinking ahead to everything that could potentially go wrong in that time. So his reluctance to turn her plays out not as abstinence porn, but as a genuine conflict between the two characters and their desires for the future and each other. When they finally sleep together, Hatori depicts it in the sweetest, most romantic way possible, and it's just lovely.

3) It's nice to have a character in a story like this one who asks all the right questions. A new character, Kaede, is introduced in the two final volumes who functions as the group's impromptu Watcher and starts to amass as much knowledge as possible about vampires, werewolves, and other magical creatures. There's a very amusing panel at the beginning of Volume 4 where Kaede asks a long string of questions about what it's like to be a vampire or werewolf and the main characters have no answers to any of them; Kaede observes their confused conversation and thinks, "They're surprisingly ignorant..." So, like any responsible scholar, she starts to go through all the books and primary sources at hand and get some answers. If Hatori wanted to do a story about Kaede's future as a ghost hunter of some sort, I'd be there, 101%.

So I definitely recommend this series, both from an artistic standpoint (it's a great exercise in seeing someone's style evolve over time) and from a storytelling perspective. I'm very glad she didn't leave the characters dangling like that. Now I want fanfic more than ever.
good read

ST:TNG Rewatch: "Arsenal of Freedom" & "Symbiosis"

This pair of episodes was uneven. The first episode has some really great writing and some nice touches in both the character development and plot departments. But the second episode is the most obvious allegory this side of a Highlights political cartoon, and the Prime Directive ruins everything, so...

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Unfortunately, the writing isn't so good in Collapse )

Signs it's THE FUTURE: METERS, people. The metric system has won out! Also, thrilling space combat! And maybe we've conquered drug addiction...? Sort of?

Signs it's NOT THE FUTURE: Rich people are still douchebags to the poors. :(

Most random thing from my notes: UGH SO MUCH ALLEGORY DAMMIT PICARD ~~~~
kitsune

Comic Con 2015: Wrap-Up!

OMG OMG OMG. It was just one day, but it was AMAZING. It was really funny how going for one day only changed my approach to the experience; in the past, when we've had four-day passes, I was far more organized and planner-ly than I was this year. Instead, on Friday, I was so dazzled by the Exhibit Hall floor that I threw all my careful plans out the window and just rolled with the punches. This lead to trouble only once (which I'll talk more about below) but, generally, it was a good strategy. I didn't end up at any super-spoilery/specific panels, but I saw a ton of stuff, spent money fairly freely (although I didn't go overboard, except for one obligatory splurge), and had a great time with my friends, which is the whole point.

This day was also notable in that it was the smoothest and quickest check-in I've ever had when I came to the registration desk. It did help that I arrived a little later than I normally would have, around about 9:30 when the Convention Center was already open, but even so, I got through so quickly that I almost doubted what convention I was actually attending! All told, I only waited about five minutes from the time I got into the center until I had my badge in my hands (at which point, I had to resist the temptation to break into a jig and a song because it was REAL and ACTUALLY HAPPENING.) I should say that before I got into the center, I was in a scrum of people getting off the trolley, during which time I had a lovely discussion with a woman dressed up as Cruella DeVil about the difficulties of cosplay in a hot costume/intense wig. The fundamentalists were there, too, as usual. I saw a SDPD officer having a very difficult but respectful discussion with one of them about where he (the protestor) was allowed to stand in relation to the convention attendees, and I wanted to high-five the officer for being so infinitely patient, but I held back.

Once I had my badge and had squared away the free gigantic bag (I got the Lucifer one, somewhat to my disappointment--Teen Titans Go! or Supergirl were also in evidence and I would have preferred one of those, but oh well, whatever), I headed downstairs and started looking at EVERYTHING. It's a little hard to describe the rush that comes from stepping in the Exhibit Hall for the first time; there is so much to see, and there are so many people, and 99% of them are happy, and there are costumes everywhere, and there is a low hum of enthusiastic chatter, and it's just magic. Collapse )

There was only one bad thing that happened all day, and it had to do with (you've guessed it) zombies. Collapse )

If you want to see my photos, I've put them all up on my Twitter feed (@ChaoticSensible). I saw some amazing cosplay this year, and I tried to get a few shots of the scene around the Con itself (although these are often tough without being on a ladder, because it's almost impossible to convey the scale of the experience.)

I think we're gonna try to go all four days next year, providing that we can get the tickets. Bad stuff aside, I had a wonderful time, and I'd love to put together a costume of some sort together. As usual, the frustrating/difficult parts were far outweighed by the good times and I really can't wait to go again.