Unfortunately, Required Reading: Stay Inside Con Live Special!

We didn’t let a pandemic stop us! Thank you for Stay Inside Con for letting us hold a virtual panel in which hosts Amanda and Tori discuss the third movie in the Harry Potter cinematic pantheon: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkahban and Amanda goes on a rant about authorial intent and death of the author.

How Ludwig II Changed My Life

My history in the boy’s love space is indeed a storied one. I started in the genre of two pretty boys kissing when I was way below the age limit to be ingesting said content. But boy’s love kept me going while in high school as it gave me something to do and something to use to help me interact with my peers. Additionally, it helped me work through some gender angst I was going through at the time.

I didn’t remain enthusiastic about anime and manga when I went off to college; hoping that I would live my aunt’s asserts that my anime and manga fandom would be a phase I leave behind as I matured. That backfired splendidly in my sophomore year when I rediscovered anime and had gasp a small disposable income that no one could judge me over. I bought manga, watched anime and reconnected with a part of my soul that left me in my transition from youth to youth who could legally go off to war. 

But I still felt intense ennui and a lack of purpose in my life. I was in my late teens and away at college, still feeling much of the angst I felt when I was a young teen at home. That was until I met a very interesting King who would change the course of my existence. 

It was a gift. 

The manga was a gift. I was out with a friend and the spine of the manga caught my eye. Ludwig II by You Higuri. It had two pretty boys on the cover, looked historical and I was intrigued. I picked up the volume only to find that it was the story of a young stable boy and his dangerous love affair with the then king, Ludwig II, who is said to be mad. There is a shocking amount of drama and emotion in this story of what should be pretty straightforward for a boy’s love series; showing that indeed yaoi and shonen ai started as a parody of shojo manga. I ate it up. I loved the drama, the references to historical Germany (something that many people close to me know is a bit of an obsession) and I fell in love with the enigmatic and eccentric Ludwig II. 

It wasn’t until I got to the end of the manga that I realized that the main character whose charm I fell for was based on a real person. There was a real King Ludwig II, with whom the mangaka fell in love with during a trip to Germany. The real Mad King was ruler of Bavaria, probably wasn’t gay for his stable boy but was known for fits of violence, mood swings and his odd tastes. He loved castles. He built two beautiful castles: Linderhof and Neuschaiwnstein. One is the model for Disney’s imagining of Cinderella’s Castle and the other was built on the instruction of “Versaille but make it German.” 

Ludwig II was a patron of the arts, namely Richard Wagner, whom he supported and loved. If not for Ludwig’s time and money, we would not have Wagner’s work. And Ludwig, in his delusion, loved pretending to be the great Swan Knight Wagner imagined. He even had a special grotto built in Linderhof to act as a operatic backdrop to watch actors in little swan boats perform Wagner’s work as Ludwig rode along in another little swan boat because one can never have too many swan boats. 

We don’t know what Ludwig II was sick with when it comes to his “madness”. We just know that he was unwell. And we know that after trying to sell Bavaria to make more castles, he was ousted from power and he drowned himself in Lake Stern, just behind Castle Neuschwanstein. 

Consider it serendipity, but like Higuri-sensei; I too fell in love with the King. Not just the fictional character crafted for the sake of voyeurism, but the complex man who clearly was a little too sick for this world but also gave us so much with so little credit. Many know of Wagner but few know of Ludwig. Think if we only knew Shakespeare but ignored Queen Elizabeth I.  I voraciously consumed information about Bavaria’s Mad King. I read books, researched, practiced my German: all of it to please My King. Ludwig became a strange obsession of mine that kept me going through a particularly challenging college semester. Before I knew it, I was in deep. So deep that a funny little mention by one of my philosophy professors struck me like a ton of bricks. He said that while he would be the professor in the summer abroad that he’d be visiting some castle in Bavaria. As if possessed, I asked if the castle was Ludwig’s; and imagine my shock when he said yes. He spent the spring semester mostly cajoling me into going to Austria. I balked most of the time. The cost, the fact that I never left the country like that except for a trip to Mexico as a child I barely remember, the cost, the fear, the anxiety, the cost were all things that kept me firmly in the States while my professor got to see a castle I had dreamed about. He spent the fall semester encouraging me to go to Austria but I was afraid to do so.

The following spring I decided to do it. I still don’t know what fully convinced me to do so. But I did it. I decided to go to Austria knowing that King Ludwig’s castles would be a mandatory tour for the summer program.

That summer, a month before my departure, my mom died.

I was convinced that was the end of my Austrian sojourn. Convinced that I’d never be able to make it to Austria. Burying mom would cost too much; that I would have to be there for my family; that I would be too fragile. My aunts and grandmother did not share my sentiment and in fact, encouraged me to go. And so I did.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see the signs in Bavaria for Castle Neuschwanstein. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be able to use my meager German to get around and how amazing it was to see 

I was told by a small German woman that the castle would be a short walk up mountain but for my king I proceeded to take my fat and asthmatic carcass up mountain to see the facade that was in my dreams. I gazed upon My King. I gazed upon his creation: one of his two children. He made miniature castles too: his little children. I wandered the halls he wandered. Saw the lake that claimed his body. Saw his home and wept. 

I ate lunch outside of Neuchswanstein and then it was off to Linderhof. I saw his Grottoes where he had special performances, saw his gilded excess, and was attacked by one of his terrible swans. I knew more than one of the tour guides there and led my small group of mostly bored Americans as we wandered the palace of extravagance and decadence. 

I still have the swan I purchased while visiting My King’s home. I still have the photos I took while visiting My King’s homes. I still have the books, brochures, postcards and more I purchased while visiting My King’s homes. 

It’s not hyperbolic to say that meeting King Ludwig II changed the course of my life. Without him; his charisma, his story, his madness; his glory, I would have stayed in the States. I wouldn’t have gone to Austria. I wouldn’t have left the States. I would have stayed small and I would have abandoned anime, manga and yaoi. I would have cast aside those parts of me that are now so important. I would be an entirely different version of myself; one I can barely fathom even if I truly stretch the limits of my imagination. 

I’m a different person because of King Ludwig II. And I do believe because of him; I have been changed for the better.

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 33- The Hobbit

Join hosts Amanda and Tori in a discussion on JRR Tolkien’s very famous adventure The Hobbit, while both hosts try to survive the pandemic and discuss the fact that you can never truly go home again.

Am I the Wolf or the Deer? Coding in Beastars

I finally gave into Carlos’ request and to my desire to actually start a newer anime. He recommended Beastars and I suppose in my madness or in my lucidity, I listened to him. In all fairness, the last anime Carlos got me to watch left me a babbling mess over Satan and his demonic boyfriend but we’re not here to talk about that. So let’s talk about Beastars, racism, coding and the merits of trying to figure out where you fit in an animal allegorical society.

Let’s start with a summary. 

Beastars centers around a wolf, Legosi, and an entire school full of anthropomorphized animals; some predators and some prey. If this sounds like Zootopia, you are right. But Legosi is different. He is a predator who is trying to be chill. That is until he meets an incredibly horny rabbit named Haru and continues to entangle himself with a weird sexually coded deer named Louis. It’s all a mess as the school is reeling after the vicious murder of a prey student and everyone is pointing the finger (paw, claw, apendage?) at each other and tensions run high. At its core, this is a furry coming of age story but there was something striking about Legosi that I found as I dove into the series. I could weirdly relate to him. But we have to talk about Legosi a little more which I know would make him uncomfortable. Legosi is fascinating because even though he is a wolf and is physically imposing in nearly every way, he’s mostly gentle and quiet and introverted. He’s very aware that he’s scary and thus does his best to show off that he isn’t scary at all. He’s sensitive and doesn’t like a lot of attention. He’s loyal despite being a loner. He’s confusing in a lot of ways but he’s very aware of something that I have become increasingly aware of: optics. He’s aware of how situations must look. Surely if he as a predator were to be seen engaging in risky behaviors, it would be, regardless of his intention would have been read terribly.  

Legosi seems obsessed with showing how he isn’t like other predators and he’s perpetually trying to be the bigger person even if it is inadvertently sometimes. Honestly, it was curious to watch and only became more obvious with his interactions with Louis, a deer who I still don’t know how to feel about. Louis is perpetually overcompensating because he is a prey animal. He’s in theory weak and thus is overly capable, charming and puts himself in the spotlight. He is performing strength.  

Louis is perpetually trying to force Legosi to show his strength and Legosi mostly wants nothing to do with it and then stating a line that’s rattled around in my brain for a while: “There is nothing special about a wolf being strong.” and…well, he’s not wrong. There is absolutely nothing special or unexpected about a wolf being a wolf. What is unexpected is watching a wolf constantly lower himself so that he seems non-threatening. That makes it even more curious when Legosi has his, let’s be frank, sexual awakening when he attacks Haru.That primal, carnal, lustful energy that comes with domination and the metaphor is lost on no one that Haru is a lily white rabbit in comparison to this stark, dark colored wolf. 

When Carlos and I talked about the series after I got a few episodes in, I mostly found myself sort of joking about the show. I mostly fixated on the small things that usually make such series hard for me to watch. How does a society like this work? Would they really basically build a human society but with animals? How do toilets work? How do clothes work with tails? Buttons? Why are the school uniforms such a fashion disaster? But within the talk of buttons and clothes I mentioned almost flippantly that Legosi was aggressively black coded. Carlos pressed my opinion but I started talking and was able to tell him something that I hadn’t really given much thought to. I related to Legosi in a weird way. I also know what it’s like to have to “check my power” and I also know what it’s like to be concerned about how others look at me. Which brings us to coding. 

Coding is a tricky thing in media that uses short hand and cultural stereotyping to broadcast abstract concepts in race, orientation and gender without using them bluntly. Think about Star Trek where even if a character was an alien you could attribute Jewish, black, female or queer “traits” in them. That’s coding.

Legosi read as black to me almost immediately because I was raised by a gentle giant of a black man who was constantly having to be aware of himself and how he looked around others: my dad. My father was 6’3’’ and over 300 lbs. He was a gentle giant but if I was someone who did not know him, I probably would assume the worst. But dad was constantly trying to portray to others using humor, kindness and wit that he was not a threat and it worked for the most part. I’ve also had to be aware of that in my life. As a black biological female, there are plenty of social stereotypes that are not in my favor; mostly that of the angry black woman. Luckily, I’m petite and most don’t see me as a threat until I open my mouth as I have been a mouthy little thing since I was a child. But in professional settings, I’m very aware of my tone, my facial features and my actions because I don’t ever want to come off as too aggressive; that can be career suicide for black women and for some, has been. 

There was comfort in that coding with Legosi of being aware that he had some strange prejudices around him and he was doing his best to fight those with kindness and stand up to others who perpetuate harmful stereotypes about their kind. But that coding is also a little dangerous with the whole…feral lust for a white rabbit thing. 

Remember Zootopia and how many people of color were able to relate to that world so easily? Remember how it made race simple and made it a predator vs. prey thing? Well, I feel Beastars did that too. And I feel Legosi’s coding is very fluid: I think if you’re of color, you’ll probably read him similarly to yourself. I read him as black because I am black. 

Beastars is an interesting anime. I would never have started it without Carlos’ encouragement and I’m for sure interested. I plan to continue the series as I got about half way through season one before taking a break after dealing with some personal stuff. But it’s shockingly smart and definitely an interesting look at race, prejudice and the masks we all wear to hide or reveal who we really are inside.

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 32- A Midsummer’s Night Dream

Join hosts Tori and Amanda in their respective homes as they cover A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare; talk about fairies, when feminism ruins books and do a fan cast!