A Return to Form

I started writing fanfic when I was 12. I don’t really know why; I always had an overactive imagination and a strong desire to escape the world I was in. It started, shockingly, with To Kill a Mockingbird because I guess I had some feelings to work out about a Southern boy and I quickly found myself inserting shades of myself into various narratives, mostly anime. The characters I created then were hollow; overpowered fantasies that were all beautiful, lily white and strong and always paired with whatever character I had some feelings about; that or they were some kind of estranged secret sister that never came up until now. We see these kinds of writings now and mock them but for formative youths, it was almost necessary to have a way to escape daily life. 

I did my school work and came home to write, then mostly on paper with pencil so I could always fix a mistake and I shared my work with almost no one. I was proud of my work but in the sort of way anyone is proud of a secret. It was something that I could keep to myself; a place that only I knew. 

I didn’t start sharing my work until I was 14 both physically with friends by sliding folders full of my unfettered musings between classes and on lunch breaks and later in the year online on sites like Quizilla and Xanga. I grew fairly popular because I was attached to a ship that was popular (mostly slash pairings with Envy from FMA and the occasional InuYasha piece). Typing made my work so much easier and I could spend hours in Notepad writing out my deepest desires for characters now in hindsight would start to shape nearly every part of me and my sexuality and orientation. Looking back, I had no idea what I was going; especially as I began to write out sex scene and explicit material. I was mimicking what others were writing; most of us also underage and hadn’t seen the anatomy of the other biological sex. We were all the blind being led by the blind but I don’t think we cared. We continued on as writers with the foundation we built together, as a community, and were prepared to go out into the sea with our headcanons, ships and shipping manifestos. 

I was 15 when I started my longest running fic, a Gravitation series I used to help work through some angst about my sexuality and gender and more importantly helped continue to hone in who I would become as a writer. Unreliable narrators, first person limited, lots of commentary from your main character and occasionally out of character behaviors but always rationalized and rooted with the canon lore of the series. This was also when I started writing to music, letting the beat and rhythm of each song carry my fingers along and focus the many noises in my already-filled brain. I’m listening to music now as I write this piece. I kept writing fanfic well through highschool, even writing some original fiction and taking commissions for pieces from friends where I was paid in favors, clout or money to write them a few chapters or scenes with a character they were particularly fond of with a character of their choosing either canon and original. I liked providing that for others, giving them an outlet, too, as I had given myself. 

When I graduated highschool, I gave up a lot of my anime and manga, assuming that I would grow out of this “phase” that had occupied nearly a decade of my life by then as my aunts had hoped. I didn’t. Within a year, I was back to writing and added roleplay to the mix. I thrived in large roleplay forums and with many partners in many series with OCs perfectly tailored for every situation. Again, this taught me a new skill: completing actions. RPs were based on making sure actions were closed and completed; if you left a door open within the RP, that open space could be used by anyone. You’ll notice that in my fiction that anytime a door is opened, someone closes it; if a product is brought into the scene, it is set down somewhere solid, rooms have depth and proportion and items because rooms aren’t blank slates and to this day I still draw out room layouts and home layouts for various works. 

I had a dedicated RP partner when I was in my third year of college; she was the most formative to my works and my continued dive into fanfiction. She was my muse, my everything. She helped me grow as a writer by giving me a challenge, something I rarely felt like I had. Not that I ever thought my skill was that grand but she was really someone who could keep up with me and could match my energy levels in a way that I could have only ever dreamed of. She continues to be my partner and I am grateful for that. 

I continued to roleplay and that kept me satiated as far as fiction came but it was when my then-girlfriend began to grow interested in my work that I returned to fanfic: picking up my Gravitation series as it was a series that helped bring us together. I would write mostly for her, because of her and at her behest and encouragement. I had a captive audience of one and it was more than enough motivation for me to continue to write. That strategy worked out perfectly until she broke my heart and left me. 

I lost my will to write. I lost my Raison d’être and I couldn’t stomach looking at my work again. While during that time I had another RP partner who kept me entertained from time to time, it was a time I mostly focused on non-fiction and getting this humble little blog up and running. My schedule then didn’t leave me with much time to think about fiction and my day job that also had me writing plenty didn’t leave me with the needed creativity once I returned home from work to want to write much else. 

It was in my late 20s that I decided that I was going to finish my Gravitation series mostly out of spite. I was tired of looking at the unfinished document and tired of feeling sorry for myself and my broken heart: I kept writing, sometimes manically and for hours on end late at night sitting on my bed in my shitty one-room apartment. I finished the series and was triumphant and elated; celebratory in a room to my own and then promptly began working on the sequel knowing that it was unlikely anyone else would see this work ever again. It was too personal, too old, too problematic and too close to my heart to share with others. It was my dirty little secret to be buried with me in death and rot with me for an eternity. 

It took me a long time to decide on posting fanfic publicly again: mostly a desire to reclaim a lost part of my youth and for the most part, my fiction slid under the radar. That was before I started working on a passion project: a MattxMello fic from Death Note that would later balloon to over 50,000 words and 40 chapters. For the first time since my teen years I had an audience, an upload schedule, comments and cliffhangers and fans. 

I had regained part of myself that I had shunned for years and now, it feels even better than ever to be back. 

Respecting the Bones of It

I have been writing fanfic since I was 12. Now, fanfic gets a bad rep because why not just write fiction on your own? Well, that’s hard. Creating entirely new worlds and new ideas is not easy to do and it’s beautiful when someone can create a sandbox that millions get to play in.

A sandbox is a great way to imagine a creative work. Since I firmly believe the author is dead, I imagine all works as being up for interpretation and reanimated as the reader so does wish. Now, can the author while still alive add to the work? Sure. I do think that’s possible but it is rare that truly something substantive can be added….wait, does anyone hear an elephant?

As soon as anyone mentions death of the author, we have to talk about Dear Auntie Jo. Now, if you read my column on Fangirl Nation then you know that my relationship with Jo Rowling is…icy. I have not found her Twitter musings helpful to the story though I am grateful to her giving me and countless others a fictional home in Hogwarts. Her recent transphobia made it even easier for me to like Napoleon claim ownership of this sandbox she built for us and I will continue to insist that Harry shouldn’t have married Ginny and that Draco has some feelings to work through when it comes to Potter. 

But while we’re on the topic of sandboxes and death of the author…I want to talk about a phenomena that I have recently been able to put words to that has been brewing in me for a while now as I continue my career as a proud fanfic writer. What do you do when you love the lore of a work but dislike almost every other part of it?

In an earlier post, I say that I write for revenge. Fundamentally, that’s what drives me as  fanfic writer. If I’m writing fanfic it’s because there’s a part of the world I want to see more of. I want more positive representation of Slytherins: so I write. I want to see a certain ship sail: so I write. I want to see a certain part of the galaxy that isn’t full of damn Skywalkers: so I write. 

And being a nerd: I love lore. I may not like Lord of the Rings but I love The Silmarillion. I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter books( I love the movies up until the 4th one) anymore but Pottermore is incredibly important to me. I love reading the Forbidden Jedi Texts and the expanded comics in Star Wars but real talk, I don’t want to watch the movies again…

Speaking of Star Wars…let’s drop a truth bomb. I used to be a soft prequel apologist but after finishing the most recent trilogy and the old trilogy; maybe…the movies aren’t good? I mean the old trilogy is a classic but to me is mostly old men hitting each other with light bulbs.  The prequels are of course a nightmare and the new trilogy is a genderbent romp through the old trilogy if you ignore The Last Jedi where Rian Johnson knocked over all of JJ Abrams’ toys in his sandbox. At least the prequels tried to expand the lore, albeit, badly. And the new trilogy seems entirely unconcerned about lore and far more concerned with intertextuality and nostalgia. 

But you have already heard me rant about Star Wars and you all certainly have heard me rant about Auntie Jo Rowling. But there is something new that I find I love the lore but hate the series execution of the lore and for those close to me, this is not a surprise or if you listen to my podcast. But if you aren’t in either of those categories: it’s Game of Thrones

Now, let me preface by saying this. Yes, I know the show is a hot mess and yes I know that the books are “better” and yes I know that it’s a popular thing but hear me out. I still don’t think I like the show. I think the show is little moments of meme-tastic brilliance with some fantastic casting but overall, I still have huge problems with how the show and the show’s source material handles race, gender, violence against women and rape as plot points. I know this stuff happened in history but it’s a choice to make it so prominently in a not fantasy fantasy novel. 

But as a lore nerd, I love the bones of Game of Thrones. I love learning house symbols and house mottos. I love house colors and aligning yourself to a house (which does feel a bit like a race to the bottom as really everyone is awful but on what scale). I love learning the history of the different lands and how the Dornish are so equal with sex and gender because of their strong ties to marriage and their lack of desire to bend to the ways of the West. I love knowing that everyone makes fun of the Tullys for their dumb fish. I love that we all agree the Greyjoys are awful and that if anyone voluntarily aligns themselves with Lannisters, you probably need to back away. 

All of these things I love without really liking the show and the show’s intense violence, racism and misogyny. 

So what do you do when you come across a series that you like in theory but not in practice? Well…study. Do what I did for Game of Thrones. I ingested hours of media and study about the show and watched episodes as I could stomach and was honest when I couldn’t stomach them. I watched video essays (actually it was Lindsay Ellis’ video series on GoT that got me to finally watch it). I watched the video series where each of the house heads talk about their land and their land’s mythology. 

Write. For the love of all that is good: write. If there is a fictional world that you love: study it, master it, make it yours. The author is dead, long live the author.

I think that may be one of the reasons I’m so perplexed by the people who get so angry at media being bad that they have to attack actors and actresses online (which is never the answer). If you don’t like the thing…make something new. That’s way more constructive than being a troll. I also didn’t like The Last Jedi, so what did I do? Went back and re-read the now non-canon book series and comic books.

It’s okay if you don’t like the way a creator or director has taken something you love. It’s okay if you don’t like how a show or movie ended. It’s okay if you don’t like a certain actor’s take on a role. What matters is what you do with that anger and in my opinion, it’s way more healthy and way more constructive to do something with that passion than simply to simmer in sisyphean anger. 

Thoughts from UshiCon, Austin and a local Sake Brewery

I am back from another convention. I was accepted as a panelist for UshiCon and so I went. If you’re close to me personally, you know this convention was… a lot. Disorganization and poor communication made it hard to plan for, hard to get excited for and hard to do but I’ve never turned my back on a convention and I don’t plan on doing so now. I spent weeks frantic over which of my already finished costumes to wear and weeks frantic over the state of my panels and me as a panelist. I want to talk about this con as I have talked about others since this one doesn’t lend towards a flowing narrative, let’s bring back the old format: you’re welcome. 

  • Austin has too many toll roads. If this is supposed to help boost the economy then I want to see it boost the economy. I get tolls pay for roads but good lord I do not look forward to my bill that will be sent to me sometime within the next couple of months. 
  • Austin is a beautiful city that is simultaneously very close and very far away full of things I quite like a bit. 
  • The hotel my friend and I were staying at this go around as beautiful and I’m so glad I found a good one. I was fretting over the condition of the hotel only to redeem myself from the previous year where we stayed in Kamoshida’s Castle with a staircase that went to nowhere. 

Now for some context. UshiCon is a con I’ve tried to get into for years. It was just never at a good time so I could never make it. It’s an 18+ con and I’ve been trying to visit since college. I put in a panel application late last year and was shocked to find out that I was. The convention itself is older, in its 15th iteration of the eponymous convention. I was lured in by the hopes of an older audience as recently I have been disillusioned and deep in the ennui of being an anime fan, panelist and human person. I assumed that maybe being around a group of older peers would help.

Back to the bullet points: 

  • Whole Foods is a magical land full of delicious and over-priced food. I regret nothing.
  • The Domain is a mall that I could live in but also reminds me of all of the best and worst parts of gentrification and generational wealth. 
  • It was nice to get some hallway photos for once. 
    • For context: hallways are when photographers ask to take photos of you in the con hallway. It typically means you look good and are worth photographing.
  • Having costumes and panels done is wonderful and it means moving forward, I want to work on having that material done way before the convention.
  • Getting ready in a hotel bathroom is indeed an art form; and one I am getting shockingly good at including applying makeup, wigs

One of the detours I took on this trip was to a local sake distillery: Texas Sake and FOR THE LOVE OF KAMI-SAMA their stuff is delicious. Honestly, some of the best sake I’ve ever had in my life and you should support them if you’re anywhere near Austin. Austin did feature some delicious food including Cafe Eden which had some of the best chicken katsu I’ve ever had and Little Lucy’s donuts which is a pink food truck that serves mini donuts and I could just live there; let’s be honest. Also I found a cute little succulent shop that nearly resulted in Toi gaining a sibling…which may happen this year regardless.

This convention didn’t bring a lot to me as far as big bombastic moments like larger cons but I do want to get a little personal here. This convention opened my eyes and well…let’s ditch the bullet points. 

I have been struggling as a panelist for the last year or two. I’ve been chasing the high of packed houses from 2015 and 2016. I’ve been chasing this high that I can still dazzle audiences and still be good. But my numbers have not been the best in the last few years, hell; I’ve had flat out bad conventions in the last few years and in tying so much of myself and my self-worth to paneling; I hated myself. I was not my best and I was bitterly disappointed and cruel to myself. I had told myself over and over again that I liked small crowds and that surely it was my fault that audience participation had dwindled and my numbers weren’t the same. It was my fault, my failure, and my inadequacies. 

UshiCon told me that I was partially right. I do like paneling. I do like small and engaged crowds. I am good at this and all of those things were so needed for me, my career and my ego. 

I have spent the last few years beating my head against a wall obsessing over what I was doing wrong even though the answers were right in front of me. I was ignoring changes in my audience, changes in trends and changing in how conventions are to begin with. I have spent the last few years chasing a dragon that flew off years ago; hoping lightning would strike twice and shunning any other success I had. 

During UshiCon I had a guy say that I changed his view on media criticism. I met a fan who said they loved my energy. I had questions that spilled out into the hallway and I couldn’t see any of that as success because I didn’t have a packed house. 

And it took some serious self-reflection and some serious emotional time to realize that I was not helping myself. I was giving myself too much time and resenting a lack of questions during my panels rather than the simple answer of just asking for less damn time. I was upset at low numbers as I forgot that for most conventions: fan panelist attendance is down if you aren’t like Youtube famous. 

I spent years mad at myself for nothing; well, for things that are rather easy to fix. 

It also reminded me that I am so blessed to have Carlos as a co-panelist. I traveled with another friend of mine who I am indeed close to but certainly communicates in a way that was less helpful to me: which to be fair, I’m awful at communicating my needs. At this stage, Carlos is damn near psychic and knows my needs and knows how to talk me up, talk me down and keep me grounded and even; and I only realize how much I appreciate him and need him during those moments of intense stress and emotional exhaustion when he isn’t there.  

UshiCon was a good time. I can’t say it was a great time, but it was a good time. It’s given me a new focus and a new drive to be better that I have needed now for a few years. I look forward to more conventions this year; maybe even one for fun; I haven’t taken a con off in years so maybe I’ll just visit one to visit. I look forward to retooling my formula and being the best version of me. I’m not the same person I was in 2015. The world is not the same world as it was in 2015. I’m not a bad person for not being able to pack a house consistently; most performers can’t.

So thank you to all of those who came to see me during Ushicon. Thank you to Ushicon for having me. Thank you to my friends who keep me humble and thanks to my anxiety that never lets me think too many positive things about myself. 

See you all next con. 

On the Sub vs. Dub Debate

I am passionate about voice acting. I have always admired the work of voice actors both Japanese and Western. And in all of anime fandom there is one battle that is the most contentious and that is the sub vs. dub debate. Now, for those unaware the sub and dub debate is rooted in a simple yet vitally important aspect of watching anime: these shows are a Japanese import and thus have to be translated. Which brings us to how you process that translation from Japanese to English: do you sub it (translate the work and show it with the original Japanese voice acting and subtitle it) or do you dub it (translate the work and dub it over with English voice actors). 

This sounds simple and back in my day, it was fairly easy. Either you had a friend in Japan who was sending you DVDs from Japan or you waited for a company to dub and/or translate the work (manga and/or anime). Companies like Viz, Funimation, Geneon, Sunrise and far too many others have made their entire business by bringing anime and manga to American fans legally (yes, legally). Now, a fun aspect of ye olden days was the glory of the fansub and the fandub. That’s when fans took the act of translation into their own hands and even the voice acting lending their own voices and skills and talents to “expedite” the sometimes long process of bringing a series over from Japan. These translations weren’t always the best and the voice acting wasn’t always the best but hey, we did our best with what we had.

Now, why is there a debate on what really should just be a matter of choice? Well, this is the internet and this is fandom. There must be battle. For purists, sub is the only way to go. There is a group of fans who rather like English dubbing and we are a mostly defensive group because of the honestly, elitism, that comes from a lot of the pro sub community. Now, as far as sub fans go, the series that are translated from Japanese more directly face less censorship which is true and not true. If the property comes in legally from a company like Viz or Funimation even if it is subbed, the series often still faces censorship. Funimation has hilariously edited out parts of Axis Powers Hetalia and far too many other series to list. For many, subbing is the purest essence of anime and honestly, yeah, that’s true in lots of cases. Japanese is a tricky language and so many puns and words and clever uses of language just don’t translate. Devilman Crybaby and Sarazanmai are recent examples that I can think of but my classic example is YuYu Hakusho which was just doing its best with all the Japanese humor and puns. And I get it, there are plenty of bad dubs out there. One of my favorite anime of all time, Gravitation, has one of the worst dubs in human history (it’s my trash pile and I will die here) because this was just not a cast that could handle the complexity of Japanese names or emoting at all. Censorship is a particularly big sticking point because many anime fans grew up during the great 4Kids nonsense of the 90s and early 2000s. For those that do not know, 4Kids was a company that strived to bring anime to the U.S. but make it…well, for kids. A lot of anime is not geared at children or at least not the stuff we wanted to see like Naruto and One Piece were not suitable for delicate American children so 4Kids censored stuff but not with any nuance or delicacy but with a blunt force that practically removed the point for the censorship at all. Remember in Ruroni Kenshin when after a blade slash the whole frame would cut to black? Remember all the bloodless attacks in InuYasha and oh Sanji’s lollipops in One Piece because smoking is the true evil, not his womanizing. Sailor Moon was also famously neutered by 4Kids ruining several lesbian romances and labeling them as cousins or just as friends (a continued issue for CLAMP series like CardCaptors and remaining Sailor Moon seasons). 4Kids, in my opinion, did have a noble mission. As I stated earlier, most of the anime that we wanted to see in the U.S. was not meant for young children and we do not/ did not have the same cultural background or even social contracts that allowed for kids to watch fast kicking blonde men smoke or gallons of blood leave a dead demon. But how it was done was so bad and left such a bad taste in fan’s mouths after we learned what the real show was meant to be (fun fact, I was SHOCKED by how violent InuYasha was when I picked up a DVD copy). But to be fair, without 4Kids, I likely would never have had anime in my bubble. I’m a suburban black kid, Sailor Moon was absolutely something that was important to be and DragonBall was what got me into anime to start. 

But back to sub and dub as really, the politics of bringing anime over from Japan could be a whole other blog post. I fell in love with anime due to the fact that several series at the time were being dubbed into English and I cannot credit that accessibility enough. And even though the 90s had some trash dubs (even though I do have a soft spot for Sanji’s horrible Jersey accent) when I was really coming into anime, we had some of the best and brightest American voice actors and some of the best and most dedicated translation staff imaginable. 

I want to keep this particular part of the post that focuses on the good set during the Golden Age of Anime (2002-2010). This Golden Age was when I came into anime, when I solidified my fandom and had the more reverence for voice acting and dub work. 

It was this Golden Age that made me realize that dubbing and American voice acting was amazing. Fullmetal Alchemist was one of the earliest ones that made me realize the true talent of American voice actors and when a cast is good, it’s damn good (I’m not here to talk about what happened with Dirty Uncle Vic and honestly, yes it does sour some of the show but not enough to make me hate this dub as the true art form that it is) but it really took seeing a sub to appreciate how good dubbing could be. The two examples I have for that are Trigun and Cowboy Bebop, now folks have gushed enough about Bebop and while Steve Blum is amazing and deserves all of the credit he gets for bringing Spike to life I want to focus on Trigun a little more since I don’t see this one talked about as much. Now, Masaya Onasaka does an amazing job as Vash and he goes on to voice one of my favorite anime characters of all time, France in Axis Powers Hetalia, so I’m not dinging his talent but Johnny Yong Bosch does something in this role that’s just amazing. Bosch brings a frantic energy to Vash that just fits this goofy, larger than life character and it made me appreciate his hard work so much more. 

During the height of the Golden Age of Anime, I could list voice actors like some could list athletes: Travis Willingham, Spike Spencer, Yuri Lowenthal, Tara Strong, Steve Blum, Kyle Hebert, Sonny Strait, Kirby Morrow, Monica Rial, Chris Sabat and of course the names I listed above and too many others were all names I could clock in an instant. I relished in knowing American voice actors by name and role and respected the choices companies made when it came to translation and distribution. The dark days were over, we could all see a bright future. 

But that started to change around 2012…

In the next post, we’ll talk about my changing relationship with dubs, my new appreciation of subs and how American voice acting changed. 

Why I Watch Anime

In my last post about Sarazanmai and my changing relationship with anime, something that kept coming up in the back of my mind was just why I started watching anime to begin with and why I continue to watch anime. Well, that’s a little more than just a passing thought so let’s explore that a little. Here are some of the reasons I watch anime.

To Escape

I’m a member of the Tony Stark Society for Disaster Orphans. My childhood was not great and my teen years were not great. Fundamentally, what got me into anime was escapism. I got to escape into worlds so unlike my own where I was stronger, prettier, more capable, or hell, even still had both parents. Consider the anime I fell into as a youth: InuYasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, YuYu Hakusho, Naruto, Bleach…most explored fantastical worlds and magical elements and took me to places I couldn’t imagine. There were demons and monsters and ghosts and danger and magical lands, it was all wonderful and it was so much nicer than my aunts’ impossible standards for me or my mother’s immaturity. 

I didn’t always think of anime as a form of escapism but I did write (still do write) a lot of fanfiction and that fanfiction allowed me to be so much more than whatever my shell was and fanfiction aside, my taste in anime has become increasingly slice of life. I used to shun romance and more pedestrian series for shonen as a youth but now as I’m older just seeing things okay for a few people for once is really comforting and really nice considering that as of late the world (not just my personal life) feels like a fiery inferno that which the only escape is the sweet embrace of death. 

To Find Closure

Losing your parents often leaves you with a bucket of what ifs that you just sort of carry around with you, like a box full of all of your desires. Watching characters fumble through their feelings, do more, do better, be more and be better helped me and still helps me work through my feelings. It may be why I had such a visceral reaction to Devilman Crybaby. I so badly wanted things to be okay. I wanted Akira to be okay, for Ryo to be okay, for Miki to be okay and when they weren’t I felt miserable for them and felt all the moments where things were not okay for me all in one crushing, overwhelming moment. When watching Sarazanmai as Toi goes through the last part of his character arc I was utterly emotionally connected with him as I felt his same worries about nihilism and being a mere burden to those I called friends. I am an empathetic person and it is very easy for me to see myself in characters that have been through similar things to me. Trauma is a funny thing and it makes it very easy to project those feelings onto especially narratives. Think of those who found themselves so much in Harry Potter. So many had their own horrible families they didn’t love and didn’t respect them and so many found comfort in Hogwarts because it was a place to be themselves, to be better than their families, to be welcomed and appreciated. I watch anime to find closure because I know that I may never get that in my own life. 

To Feel Something

Losing a parent young warps your entire world. It isn’t always dramatic but it means that the average cookie cutter narrative just doesn’t fly. Most shows I was watching at 12 still featured two parent households and that just didn’t resonate for me anymore. Anime featured a ton of broken families, families ripped apart by death and circumstance and characters that didn’t have to pretend to be okay as I had to. I got to experience emotions and defer a lot of my feelings onto fictional characters and it was instrumental in me working through my angst. Now as I am an older and much wiser hobgoblin I watch anime still to feel all sorts of things: love, joy, triumph, excitement, fear. As much as it stresses me out sometimes to have my emotions dashed upon the rocks of cold hard nihilism to feel shock and worry and emotion is thrilling and just something I don’t get in most Western shows with the exception of BoJack Horseman or Tuca and Bertie, I rarely get that emotional release from Western narratives who tend to wallow more superficial story-telling or using framing devices and tropes that I find abhorrent or just plain tired. 

To Learn Something

I fell into anime from an early age because of how radically different it was from the Western media I was surrounded by. I knew nothing of Japan as a youth and anime was one of the finest and best examples of cross cultural exchange that I could have been exposed to. I live in Texas and was raised in Texas. No one bowed here. No one spoke Japanese here. I didn’t know what Buddha was outside of the large statues that hang around in Chinese restaurants. I cannot tell you how much I’ve picked up from anime alone. My vocabulary has changed, my mannerisms have changed, the way that I speak about myself and others. And no, I don’t feel comfortable going to Japan on anime alone; I had to have the want to learn more on my own. I have dictionaries, language guides, vocab books and more to prove it. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about is actually cooking. I loved cooking for my anime clubbers in college and being able to make onigiri just like I saw in the manga I cherished so much was a delight that cannot be entirely expressed by words. I still watch anime to learn new things and my natural desire to learn often means that little things that are throwaway gags in anime become rabbit holes I dive down in topics ranging from demonology to why the hell bakus are so scary and Christan influence in Japan.


There are obvious reasons that I watch anime. I watch for enjoyment, for curiosity and because it is still something new and oftentimes exciting but this relationship is now over two decades old. The reasons I have now are likely not the same as they were when I was a teenager. I use anime to escape now in entirely different ways than the power fantasies I lived out as a teen. I watch anime now more to relax and to unwind. It’s also still a key factor in many of the friendships I told dear. There was no neat way to add this but I’ll say the most important reason I watch anime is because it makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. I am proud to call myself an otaku and I am proud to be an anime fan. There is nothing like seeing someone’s eyes light up when they see someone else wearing an anime t-shirt or merch from a series they love. The connections I’ve made because of anime and at conventions and by discussing these weird cartoons critically and passionately is something that doesn’t fit neatly into a list but is so important to the experience. 

I’m proud to be a veteran otaku and you see that pride during each one of my Twitter rants, panels, blog posts and more. I watch anime to be more than myself. To express myself. To learn. To grow. 

I relish in fan casts, in shipping manifestos, in shipping wars and discussions about voice actors. I love translating music and listening to drama CDs and hoarding manga like a dragon. 

Anime is a part of my life, so it was only natural that I discuss and explore why I watch anime to start with.

On Stan Culture

There are very few pieces of music videos that really stick with me. I have favorites, sure, but very few feature imagery that haunt me. Stan is one of those distinguished few that have left me haunted and hollow.

Stan is a song written by Eminem and featured Dido and tells quite a compact and well thought out story of a man named Stan who is obsessed with the rapper, Eminem. Stan writes letters obsessively to the rapper and each one is a step further into madness and ends with Stan kidnapping his pregnant girlfriend, locking her in the trunk and driving his car into a body of water as his letters become increasingly desperate and angry at the rapper who by his own warped mind’s opinion is intentionally ignoring him. The video ends with the rapper finally writing back and saying that Stan was obsessive and to seek help only to realize that he’s too late and Stan has already done something unthinkable.

So let’s talk about Stan Culture. 

Stan as a term is now used as both a noun and a verb and describes a very obsessive fan of a particular person, genre or thing. I noticed it popping up in speech a couple of years ago and mostly ignored it because it didn’t connect immediately but then the hate mobs began to form.

And as a fan of many things, I’ve never seen people swarm in such a way over things that just don’t deserve it. If we focused half of the attention K-Pop stans put on their bands as we do on the fact that we’re a country that’s apparently okay with kids in cages and a border crisis then I doubt we’d be in the socio-political place we’re in now. I’m not here to tell folks they can’t like what they like: if someone insults my son, Jason Todd, I will fight them but at the end of the day I know that it’s a comic book and that never is worth calling someone a slur, doxing them or spewing just hateful nonsense at them. 

Y’all, I could do a whole other post on cancel culture but the stan mobs have turned cancel culture into a full on terror. Stans have an almost swarm-like ability to overwhelm a person who is “problematic” or threatened their hive and they attack without warning. Remember that whole Becky with the Good Hair- thing? Most stans were attacking the wrong person on the Internet, not even the true center of their ire.

Patrick Wilhems said it best when talking about Star Wars “this is a movie about space wizards meant for children”. He’s a fan and that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a fan, he’s just not so much of a fan that he’s willing to attack literal people over a space opera written by a man who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. 

Being a fan doesn’t mean having to be cruel to others. I am very passionate about anime and comic books and movies and literature and that never results in malicious attacks against others. Sure, it may have resulted in a off-hand comment occasionally but never targeted attacks against others.

I think what bothers me about Stan Culture is the lack of self-awareness when it comes to the name. I would pack away all of my official and unofficial merch if someone called me a “stan” because to me that means I have crossed a damn line. It’s almost like people have forgotten that this term is not positive or endearing. It’s taken from a song that’s literally about an obsessive fan killing himself, his unborn child and his girlfriend because of a fandom. It isn’t a good thing and it’s certainly not something I’d ascribe to myself. 

Now, because it’s in the popular lexicon, a lot of people use the term ironically. I know Contrapoints has and other Youtubers and personalities have and I want to think that such a thing is okay but in my heart I just can’t. I just see that music video all over again and remember how much sadness and pain that song brought to me. Do I think there’s room for casual use of the word? Sure, I’m not a fascist, I’m not going to police all language. But I do think there has to be some awareness of the roots of the term and that it is not something good, positive or light. 

Where do we go from here? Well, I think fans of all genres and types can benefit from a little come to Jesus about how we talk to each other and other people in general. That doesn’t mean you can’t be enthusiastic but just because someone doesn’t like an anime I do doesn’t mean we’re going to go to real blows or that I’m going to encourage my friends/fans to send that person hate over not agreeing. Fandoms have always been a little hostile; we defend ships with canons (yes, it’s a nautical pun) and we spend a lot of time explaining why something is as we think it is. But it rarely delved into name-calling and undeserved cruelty. It’s easy to spew venom from a keyboard and with the bonds we continue to form online, it only gets easier to say whatever your mean lizard brain can come up with when someone even so much as dares to threaten their ship.  We can understand that at the end of the day, the thing you love is just a thing. Anime is not a replacement for people, it is a bridge to connect to others. And being a fan doesn’t absolving figures who have definitely done something wrong of their sins. Tarantino is a monster for how he treated Uma Thurman and Diane Kruger but that doesn’t mean I don’t love his films. I can admit he did something bad and still say I think most of my top 10 favorite movies are his.

Stan culture confuses me. On one hand I want to let people like what they like but on the other…it’s a word so rooted in and involved in people at their worst. There are better ways to be a fan. 

There are better ways to be a person. 

Make Anime Weird Again

_This place has only three exits, sir_ Madness, and Death._ — René Daumal (A Night of Serious Drinking) (1).png

Late last year, during one of Carlos and I’s famous hours long Skype calls, we ended up having a pretty profound discussion. You see, as two longtime anime fans, we were both a little exhausted by the recent trends in fandom. Shows like Yuri On Ice and Attack on Titan have brought muggles into our fair community. And while Carlos and I lamented the glory days of anime being strange and exclusive, a brilliant little anime strolled into my queue and actually at Carlos’ recommendation.

I want to talk about Pop Team Epic and making anime weird again.

But first, I want to talk about anime, the surreal and the strange. One of my favorite animes of all time is FLCL. It’s at its core a coming of age story but also features penis allegory robots, a giant steam-powered alien iron that wants to smooth out the wrinkles of human thought and a woman with pink hair on a Vespa who goes around hitting people with a guitar. Anime at its core has always been a little weird. And that can be said about animation in general, but anime’s weirdness is oftentimes a huge barrier to entry for many casual fans. Even excellent animes like Cowboy Bebop and FullMetal Alchemist have very strange parts to them and I’m empathetic to newcomers who are put off by some of the cultural eccentricities of Japanese popular culture.

This is probably going to sound a lot like fan-gating to those in the know and, yes, it is a form of that. When people who are not well-versed in anime critique and comment on anime, you get fresh hot takes like “Anime has a representation problem.” and “why are none of these women wearing pants?” True, holding anime and manga to a higher standard is important. I can be a feminist and struggle with poorly written female characters while also admitting that culturally Japan is very different than the U.S. in 2018.  I came into anime as a little one and struggled a great deal as a fan in the early 2000s when it wasn’t cool to be an otaku. I built anime clubs, made friends, cosplayed and went to conventions to find people who were like me. And popular animes that bring in casual fans can at times muddy the waters. There’s nothing like seeing someone who teased you in high school over a Naruto t-shirt back in the day suddenly saying that love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And while that may be somewhat immature to say, I’ve never said claimed to be a perfect human being.

Which brings us to Pop Team Epic. The show centers around two main characters: Pipimi and Popuko and they are surprisingly expressive considering their minimalist designs. The show is now an animated version of the popular 4-Koma webcomic and it follows many of the comic’s best gags and jokes. It’s a weird one and it’s hilariously referential and meta. There are gags that barely count as gags. Each episode is mirrored with male and female voice actors playing two teenage girls. There are crappy segments (intentionally bad ones) in the middle of each episode and there are jokes. So many jokes. And many of them are at the expense of other popular anime, video games and fan trends. Popuko many times calls fans “haters” and it’s actually quite interesting to see. I’m not normally one for self-aware humor and non-sequitur gags but for some reason, it all works for me in Pop Team Epic. And it probably is one of the best mines for reaction gifs that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in a while. Did I mention that the soundtrack is surprisingly good?

I love how unapproachable this anime is. You have to really love comics, really love anime and really love video games to catch all the references and hell, I don’t get all the references. And the humor is often dry and doesn’t go anywhere. The animation is crappy at times, but it’s intentional and the voice acting is strange and strained. The comments about how awful the show can be is rarely lost on me and if you are looking for consistent payoff for jokes, look elsewhere.

And there are plenty times where I’ll end an episode of Pop Team Epic and have no idea what just happened. It’s strange that I’d be so attached to a show like this considering that other shows with humor like that (think Rick and Morty) are not usually shows I enjoy or overly meta shows (continue to think Rick and Morty).

Watching Pop Team Epic reminds me a lot of how many people felt watching Luke Cage over on Netflix. Many said that Luke Cage was unapproachable and “too black” and to anyone who said that (mostly casual white comic book fans), you are right. He is unapproachable and too black. That’s how his character is meant to be. The same can be said for Pop Team Epic. Anyone who says “This anime makes no sense, is poorly animated and is weird.”; congratulations, you are right. It is poorly animated, makes no sense and is weird and if you cannot appreciate it for what it is, then maybe you should try something a little more mainstream. There’s nothing wrong with that. I still love plenty of mainstream animes. And that’s not to say that Pop Team Epic is some secret handshake between the “OG” otakus, there are plenty of long-time anime fans who are put off by the series and basically any actual criticism lobbed at the show is probably understandable.

But you know what? It is also nice to have something that makes anime feel intimate again. There’s something nice about having an anime that is too weird, too good and too strange to live. It’s nice having something that not everyone understands and feeling like some strange unicorn again.

Just for once, it’s nice to feel like anime is special, rare and unique again.

 

The Case for Gatekeepers

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. (1).png

I come from a darker era for comic book fandom and really, general nerd-kind. I remember being told over and over again that I wasn’t a real fan because I was biologically female. I was told that I couldn’t be that into comics. I was clearly just doing it for attention. I was clearly just there because I only thought the covers were pretty. And psychologically, that’s really hecking damaging. It’s frustrating having to constantly prove that you are a fan of something. I was quizzed, questioned and dismissed so many times that I just came to accept it and now that we are in a halcyon era of comic book movies and nerd acceptance but maybe… just maybe gatekeeping wasn’t so bad in places.

Let’s take a minute to go over some vocabulary. Gatekeeping is a sociology and recently appropriated fan term that essentially means more “experienced” fans act as, well, gatekeepers and use their knowledge in a certain property or fandom to keep novice or newer fans out. We see this sort of phenomena in a lot in the cringe-inducing comic book guy in most television shows. Think The Simpsons or the literal entire cast of The Big Bang Theory or literally any other popular thing. They all have the same comic book dude who can’t hold a conversation about anything real but will be mad at you if you don’t know exactly what shade of pantone pink the Star Sapphire uniforms are. The normal avatar for this sort of person is usually a white, cis, hetero male and because of that, the view of any other fan that is of color, queer, or female (or a combination of any of those things) is somehow immediately less of a fan. This is also sometimes called fan-gating but that term makes me giggle so I’m just going to use gatekeeping.

The problem is that Gatekeepers think they’re doing a good thing. They think they are protecting their beloved media and often times, they are. Comic books were not always as mainstream as they are now and the knowledge so many comic book fans had (have) was not always valued and was often a source of ridicule and persecution. I was often teased for being able to recite Etrigan’s spell from memory. (I still can, don’t judge me.)

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way advocating for the gatekeeping of ye olden days. That gatekeeping meant to keep women, queer folks, POCs and others out of comic books, videos games and the like because it was a white man’s hobby. And while, no, that isn’t the view of every comic book fan or generalized nerd human it certainly was the driving force for many of them in the comic world in the 90s and early 2000s (when I was a young impressionable comic book reader). To this day, there are still men who insist that girls only read comics for cosplay and that POCs simply don’t read comic books (It’s almost like black people didn’t make their own comic book line or anything like that…).

Here is also where I’ll pause for all the folks who think that me being quizzed over the canonical order of the Robins in Batman is a valid thing to do as I try to purchase a comic book from a store. (Real thing that happened: ask Carlos.).

I’ll wait.

Glad to have you back. This chapter in Moon Knight was getting a little intense.

So after all that talk about how dehumanizing, exhausting, racist, sexist and miserable gatekeeping was and is…why would I possibly ever say that maybe it isn’t so bad?

Remember that statement I made about comic books and other geeky, nerdy things now coming into mainstream popularity? That was not a thing even 10 years ago (back when the first Avengers movie was barely a concept and we were all still angry at Joel Schumacher for ruining Batman.). And there were plenty of people (me included) who have now found themselves in a curious place. Suddenly, the things we love(d) are now very popular. And that means those folks that teased many of us (me included) now suddenly very en vogue. I’ve had old high school friends suddenly claim that it’s so cool they know a cosplayer: the same folks that 10 long years ago was a sore subject and the butt of many jokes towards me. Now the jock that used to make fun of me for liking The Green Lantern is very excited about Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Now, can people change? Sure. Am I being a little petty? Always. But I think it brings up a valid point. With the influx of new fans, the conversations can be a little strained now. Now we have plenty of folks who say they know comics based on the movies but likely couldn’t tell you much beyond that. Now, casual fans are fine and I love them but most casual fans don’t claim to be experts. It’s the folks that will step to other fans and say they know comics but only do because they’ve seen Captain America: Civil War three times. In so many other fields, I am a dirty casual. I’m a casual gamer, pretty novice with RPGs and while I used to be a strong tournament contender in a few things, I’m by no means as good at Street Fighter as I used to be.

“Stay in your lane.” is a shorthand for that kind of thing I use a lot and a few of my friends have picked it up, too. When Carlos and Ricky are talking stats in Tekken, I tend to shut up and let them. If they ask about stitches, well, it’s my time to shine then.

Another aspect of gatekeeping is one close to my heart and a topic we’ve tackled before. It’s the topic of having convictions, discussions and not being reduced to name-calling when someone doesn’t agree with your ship. During many a gatekeeper’s conversation, I’ve had to defend which Lantern Corps I was in. Which Harry Potter house I was sorted into. I had to explain why I liked a comic and had to prove my knowledge of it frequently. And sure, it was demoralizing and exhausting but it made a fan with iron-clad convictions. When I was on my dear friend Heather’s show ( seriously, listen to it and enjoy several minutes of us fangirling over each other. ) we discussed this sort of phenomena and it comes down to attachment styles. Because I had to constantly fight and prove what I loved an why I was a fan: I have now been able to form secure attachments to my fandoms. Newer fans that have not had to constantly prove themselves have formed insecure attachments often times because they are not being challenged. Because of that, any challenge is perceived as a threat on their person rather than an often times valid criticism of the piece of media they wish to defend.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I wish for the same horrible experience I had as a fan to happen to newer and casual fans. No, not at all. But there is something to be said about challenging a fan. I have this problem a lot with recent film criticism where Internet critics will bash a thing from a comic book movie even though it is likely the most authentic part of the film.

There’s something to be said about being challenged from time to time. There’s something to be said about having to defend your ship. There’s something to be said about being proven right or wrong. And there’s always room for a good, spirited conversation that doesn’t devolve into racial slurs and casually calling someone a homophobe.

In the comments: I’ll be answering questions and ranting about how amazing Damien Wayne is.

Thanks for reading!

 

A Fan Need Not Always Be Positive

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale.png

We’ve talked about fandoms, criticism, cynicism and hype so today let’s wrap up the discussion with a little chat about forced positivity, totem culture and why criticism again does not negate enjoyment.

In all honesty, I thought I was finished with this topic. I got my feelings out of my system. I was done talking about how delicate modern fandom is. Oh, I was wrong. I was so so wrong. It started with a friendly little talk about Harry Potter. I was talking about the popular magical franchise with my coworkers. We’re all sorted into different houses. We have different opinions of the movies versus the books. And then I mentioned that I felt the series was still a bit tired. I brought up points that it despite what the novels do well still continue to perpetuate biblical-esque oversimplifications of good and evil. I said that it continues to shun a diverse cast to focus more on the homogenous main cast. I said that while I loved the movies and read most of the books that it still was like so many other young adults novels, slinging a storied narrative with unilaterally good and unilaterally evil characters except for Snape but we don’t talk about Snape. And after listing the valid complaints that I had, my coworker went on to say rather simply:

Well, I still like it. It sounds like you’re a hater.

Dear reader, how I clutched my pearls.

Me? A hater?

Now, I’ve always prided myself on being the type of fan that never hates something senselessly. I always give something at least 3 episodes (if it’s a tv show or anime), the first 3 chapters (in the case of manga and comic books or novels) and at least the first 30 minutes or so of a movie. I always give something a chance. I research voice actors, writers, directors, intention and all. If I’m going to comment on anything: positive or negative, I try my best to speak to the topic with some ethos.

A hater to me has always been someone who needlessly is critical to the point of being obtuse. And since I pride myself on being an informed fan hurt my ego to the core. And it brought up a more important question. Even though I said I liked this series, can I apparently have no negative opinions on it? When did liking a thing mean that is has to be perfect in every way?

In the last post I mentioned more than once that the shows I care about the most I am the most critical of. I can see the cracks in Fullmetal Alchemist even though that anime got me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I can admit that Axis Powers:Hetalia is a silly totem anime to had but it kept me and my friends close during a time when we were all so far away. I can admit that. But Harry Potter is one especially that seems almost too big to discuss. So many people have had their lives changed by a story about wizards, magic and a world that provided a home away from home for so many. Even in my darkest of hours, Hogwarts was a place that I could escape to when my own home was just as bad as the Dursleys. But just because I enjoy something, doesn’t mean that I can’t see its flaws. Unfortunately, this totem culture with Harry Potter and other media artifacts are frustrating. I love deep conversations and you can’t have a conversation when someone cannot or will not see their beloved body of work complexly. But because so many escaped with Harry Potter, coped with Harry Potter, made friends, families and memories with Harry Potter but that does not mean that it’s perfect: even if it was immensely important to you personally.

Now, here’s where I put some of my own personal flaws on the board. I admit that just because I find totem culture exhausting, that does not give me the right to be disrespectful and I’m willing to admit that if there’s a series I don’t like (looking at you, Yuri on Ice and Attack on Titan) that my opinions can be harsh, unyielding and overbearing. So, call a spade a spade, if I’m mean, I’m mean. However, if I have valid criticisms and present them well, it’s just as rude to be dismissive just because a piece of media means a lot to you.

Speaking of valid criticism, let’s talk about forced positivity. I’ve talked a few times about Internet critics and the juggernauts of fan culture and their either hyperbolic hatred of all things (Looking at you, CinemaSins and Nostalgia Chick) or their emphatic love of all things (Looking at you, Kevin Smith and Chris Hardwick). I take particular umbrage with Chris Hardwick. I’ve been a fan of his since he was the only true nerd on G4 and his particular brand of nerd comedy and at the time obscure references to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Doctor Who were welcomed to a nerd like me who ended up making similar references only to find them falling flat upon my usual familial audience. And then he became popular. Suddenly Nerdist wasn’t just a blog or a screenname: it was a brand. And now as he partners with The Walking Dead and other big studio productions, Chris Hardwick suddenly could not comment on anything negative about the shows he mentioned or reviewed for fear of alienating fans and advertisers. And while sure, plenty of things are better than ever before when it comes to movies, comics, books and games but certainly something can be not as good. Certainly, some of these properties have flaws. Nope, not if you watch The Talking Dead, a show Hardwick hosts with help from AMC. So of course, each episode of The Walking Dead is a monolithic wonder. Each one perfect, special and magical. Even the episode where it’s literally just an hour of walking in the woods. Or even a more recent movie like Suicide Squad. Anyone who loves comics, movies or comic book movies can admit that at best this movie had flaws and at worst was an acid-spitting neon death trap but if you hear from Kevin Smith (the unappointed patron saint of nerd culture) it was a damn masterpiece. I’d like to know which movie he saw. The film I saw was far from a masterpiece. I think the idea of forced positivity is actually quite interesting and many Youtubers have discussed it as well as more than one very well-written article on the subject. There is a feeling that you must if you are online, be positive. And for many of us that struggle with mental illness, faking happiness or joy for a property or product just doesn’t help. If you show me an anime while I’m not in a great head space, it’s unfair then to say that it’s my fault for just not enjoying it or not enjoying it to your level.

But I have some ideas of where totem culture and being too defensive came from. Fan culture has a history of being far from kind. While the outside world was mean to nerds, geeks and fans for years, we also became quite mean to each other. The early years of fan culture created strong ships and massive canons to guard those ships. I have lost plenty of ships, destroyed headcanons and even changed my opinions on shows by weathering the storm of early fan culture. But not every fan took that struggle as a positive. Some took those constant fan battles and bullying and it has made them defensive and afraid of criticism. I’ve heard this time and time again:

Don’t attack my ship.

It’s an admittance of weakness. It’s saying that you don’t want to engage in war. It’s saying you much rather sail the seas of fan culture without incident. You take down your canons, your masts and sail on.

But what so many of those who say “don’t attack my ship” miss out on is the ability to harden your fleet. Sure, sometimes a ship get destroyed. Canons are wrecked. Dreams are dashed upon the cold hard rocks of fandoms, true canon and battles over OTPs. I lost so many ships, Internet and forum battles and came out of that a hardened, knowledge and worldly fan. I resisted the urge to simply revel in echo chambers and I have surrounded myself with people that not only most of the time disagree with me but people who I actually share little in common with.

From that proving ground, I was able to discuss what I like effectively, criticize without cruelty and discuss without hurting others. And while I can respect that some saw a battleground of lost fan ships and decided it was best not to participate in the war, I encourage every fan to at least try and have a discussion about a series or property they like a lot. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been effectively fruitless. I can’t always get someone to see my side and I can’t always get someone to change my mind. That however doesn’t mean I wasn’t thankful for the conversation.

Stay kind, fandom. Stay open. Have conversations. Embrace other opinions. And most importantly, have fun.

Fangirl Nation and Amanda.Actually: A Match in Fan Heaven

I am so proud to announce that I am working with Fangirl Nation! They’re an amazing publication of very talented female fans and I’m so lucky to be a part of this group. This is content that hasn’t gone on my blog and is wholly original for Fangirl Nation but I’m happy to share the link to my first piece!

http://fangirlnation.com/2017/01/18/comic-book-representation/

I hope that you all enjoy it and please give my friends at Fangirl Nation the same love and respect you give me!

 

Cheers!

Amanda.Actually