I had such a great time talking fanfic with the hosts of the LoveCast!
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.
It’s a love affair that started when I was at the tender age of 12. I started writing fanfiction of the series that meant a lot to me as a way to escape my tenuous reality and to further interact with the shows I had nearly encyclopedic knowledge of even at a young age. For the uninitiated, fanfic or fanfiction are works of fiction written by fans based on a popular series like a manga/anime, TV show or book series. You can write fanfic to anything and trust me, there is fanfic of it even if you think whatever show or series you’re into isn’t popular. For many, fanfic is a way to either self-insert into a narrative or right the wrongs established by canon. For many writers, writing fanfic can become a way to explore kink, sexuality and even gender; I know it did for me. I was able to self-insert and live out fantasies beyond my wildest dreams even if it was something outlandish as dating the main fictional character or having my own power fantasy. It was a love affair I kept up through high school even doing commissions for friends and patrons to make their favorite ships and scenarios happen. If you wanted a lemon slash fic with your OC and an MC: I was your smut peddler. I loved sharing with the audience I had, the friends I had and I loved reading other fanfic of pairings I liked. I cannot impress upon you enough how social early fanfic was back in the day. It was all about sharing, commenting and more.
Fanfic was and still is an important part of building your fanon and defending your ship in the fan world and being able to bolster your fic with canon and headcanons became a currency to fans. While many were worried about building shipping manifestos, others were more focused on just indulging in a world entirely built on making their dreams come true through fiction. I don’t really remember what it was that got me to stop publishing fanfic. Maybe it was the sites I used to love going down or just gaining a different friend group but steadily one day I just stopped sharing the fic I worked on. But the funny thing was that college and sites going down didn’t stop me from writing fanfic. I continued on, just not really sharing my work with anyone. Even after graduation and moving into my own place I kept on writing fanfic; sharing with at the time a very eager audience of one: my then girlfriend. She was a huge source of inspiration to keep writing, to keep going, to keep creating and even though I was sure that the works I was making would never see other eyes: each chapter I finished was another little love token I could give her and I was content to continue to share. When she broke up with me, for a while, I lost my reason to write. It took a year or two after the breakup to keep going but I did and I went back to writing in solitude, mostly out of spite. I finished a work I started in high school only to continue on writing in the same universe and I was able to indulge every desire I ever had for that work and in my life.
I kept my ability to create OCs and write both the vanilla and smutty arts: it truly is a skill that needs to be honed. All the while I roleplayed and edited and continued to work in fiction and toting my ability to write fiction but still was afraid to show all the years of work that I had hoarded away like a dragon protecting its gold.
As sensibility changed I got scared of publishing because indeed the times are no longer what they were. In the early days of fanfic the word “problematic” didn’t exist and we reveled in just how much we could push the envelope or shock a reader with smut, filth, or just obscenity. It was rarely ever gratuitous: it always did serve the narrative but we cared very little for trigger or content warnings or for protecting readers from things that may be shocking or unsettling. The newer crowd is sensitive to those things and while I can empathize with wanting to be warned for things that could offend certain sensibilities I was worried that maybe, just maybe I should just go off into that good night; keep my work to myself and age out of fandom like all the new kids on the block assume I should.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what possessed me to publish again. Maybe it was the influx of fanfic I’ve been reading as a means to pass the time during the pandemic. Maybe it was just the desire to share this part of myself again. Maybe, just maybe it was a desire for feedback and praise. I don’t know what it was that got me to do it: but I did it. And so far, I have no regrets. It’s wonderful getting comments on my work again, being seen again, and being out there again. Each new moment of praise spurs me on to keep going and while it is a little daunting to potentially have a fanfic schedule again as I did in my youth I am also excited to have a burgeoning little audience that seems to like my work. It’s like exercising a muscle that I had let atrophy and writing fiction once more has become social rather than selfish. I haven’t had to sacrifice anything that I want, I get to be myself and share what I’m passionate about with other people that are passionate about the same thing.
That inherent social nature of fanfic is what drew me into this world decades ago and I didn’t realize how much I missed it when I took my years away to find myself. But the fanfic community has once more welcomed me back like an old friend and damn, it feels good to be home.
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.
I have been writing since I was 10 years old. Back then it was mostly poetry or at least, what a 10 year old could call poetry. It took me a long time to sort out fiction of my own but as soon as I found that world, I fell in faster than Kagome fell into that damn magical well. Fiction was a beautiful escape from my comic book protagonist reality: I had recently lost a parent, I was living with my strict aunts, I was teased in school but in fiction, oh in fiction, I could be anyone. And so I was.
I, like many early fiction writers, had a flock of Mary Sue original characters. Now, a Mary Sue, for those who do not know is a female character who is just too darn perfect. They’re usually self-insert characters made to allow mostly female writers to simply place themselves into the narrative. This means usually doing not so great writing things to pair off with the fictional character you want and to do whatever you fictionally want. Many grow out of the Mary Sue-stage but some stay there. And boy, did I stay there during those early years. I also don’t think I can impress upon you just how many fandoms I touched back then and still do. It was a lot of anime and manga sure but comic books, video games, books: basically if I was into it, I likely had a project relating to it (and possibly still do.).
The characters I wrote back then were almost all female and almost all were very strong: all the things I wanted to be. But they also reflected the concerns I had at the time, many were cursed or held under the thumb of the villain. And if you knew me during that time, you’d be able to see that in my own life. I was held under the thumb of strict aunts and wanted to badly to break free but never felt like I could so despite displaying outward strength, I was never and thus my characters were almost never, strong enough to leave their binds, their curses, their fates. Luckily, there were plenty of angsty male characters to “rescue” them and thus me back then.
High school, oh high school. I was for sure starting to develop more as a writer back then and that often meant that my writing reflected the things I was interested in: boys, intimacy and gender. By high school, I had this funny feeling inside of me that “female” only felt so right. I started writing more and more male characters in high school. I found immense power and comfort in writing as a male. That also meant writing things of a more… carnal nature. I won’t go into detail here but let’s just say high school me’s writing very much was a look into my concerns and psyche: I wanted attention, I wanted intimacy, I wanted control and I wanted things just as I wanted them. These characters back then, especially the male ones, were melodramatic, self-absorbed, somewhat useless but well-intended and always, always rescued by a handsome prince/host-type. And these were long projects: some of them I just finished recently, recently, dear reader. But let’s not lose that train of thought, remember that duality of spirit I mentioned? That duality: the two types of male characters I wrote, would continue to be a duality even in my character. Part of me is a useless blob of self-indulgence and another wants so desperately for those around me to feel special because I know what it was like to even for a moment not feel important. It would be a duality that I struggle with even as I continued to write when I was in college.
I didn’t have much time for fiction in college. I was an English major. I had plenty of other things to write but my somewhat rigid schedule gave me all the time in the world to dive into a world I had dipped my toe into while in high school: roleplaying. I found a partner that I loved more than anything else and got to play characters I loved more than anything else. I was back to playing mostly host/prince types and living my best truth. In college, I found myself even using more and more male nouns in common speech. Writing fiction kept me going through school, stress, work, the loss of my mother and more stress. Fiction did for me then exactly what it did for me as a stressed out pre-teen: it gave me a place to escape but only so much so to keep me grounded by with a pleasant little distraction to power me through the rough times.
I stopped writing when I graduated. The years between college and career were less than kind and while I kept up some fiction writing, I had mostly abandoned my other projects. I had to build a portfolio and keep writing things that mattered to employers.
In 2014, I moved and that changed many things. I chose a partner who loved my fiction writing and encouraged me to do so more. I did so for them. They were my reason to keep writing. Which was all fine and good until that person left me. I didn’t write for months after that breakup, I couldn’t go back to the worlds we built together without them.
However, I’m a stubborn thing, it took me a while to get back to it but I did. Trust me, I did. I even finished a project I began when I was in high school and then immediately built upon that foundation: I’ve managed to add to it ever since then.
I manage to find time and inspiration in bursts. Maintaining my blog is a bit more of a priority to me than fiction mostly because I don’t see myself publishing that anytime soon. Not that I don’t think it’s any good, just that I think that phase of my life is over. Who knows, I may change my mind one day.
It’s amazing and sometimes a little painful to go back and read those old pieces and even more interesting to read the long-term projects. It’s amazing to see how my writing has changed, how my characters changed, how I changed. How I accepted myself and accepted the parts of my past that I was desperate to work through in writing. It’s fascinating to see how I’ve matured and how my characters matured.
It’s simply amazing to see a record of who I was, who I am, and who I can be.
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.).
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!
There’s something wonderful about seeing a character get exactly what they deserve. There’s something satisfying about seeing Valentine get impaled at the end of Kingsman. There’s so much weight to watching Aizen finally bound by Urahara-nonsense magic in Bleach. Our media including anime, TV and comic books, normal books and the like are so full of dastardly characters and when they get exactly what’s coming to them; it’s just delightful. And with all these troublesome characters, it’s even more needed to see their actions treated appropriately in their respective stories.
In the last post we talked about this I brought up an example from my childhood (ugh) InuYasha. I mentioned how in the anime that InuYasha treats Kagome like hot trash while treating Kikyo like a princess but what’s even more egregious in this series is a character many ignore: Hojo. Hojo is one of Kagome’s classmates and he adores her. He loves everything about her, is attentive and kind and supportive. And what does Kagome do? Ignore him. She totally ignores him. In fact, she chooses the man who actively preferred chasing his dead girlfriend to her company. I’m not bitter. This hasn’t been something brewing in me since I was 13. None of the troubling parts of the series are brought up. No one changes. No one learns a lesson. All that happens is Kagome dumps Hojo to go run around with a forest furry who barely remembers her name and wishes she would go back to the time she came from.
A series I’ve now mentioned a few times is Antique Bakery and I’ve been nothing but complimentary of the series. Yusuke Ono is a flawed character and guess what? He has to change and be a better man to get to the pure cinnamon roll that is Chikage-san. And when something awful happens to him, you empathize with him because he admits that while what happened wasn’t great and is still terrible he admits that he didn’t exactly do much to not be in the situation. The same goes for the main character Tachibana-san. Tachibana in the start of the series is revealed to say and do terrible things and guess what? The series entirely holds him accountable. He has to constantly face his former homophobia and prove himself to Ono again all the while realistically dealing with the trauma of his childhood. No one was unjustly rewarded in the series except for maybe Sakurako, who got a daughter out of Chikage without him really understanding what being a sperm donor is, and anything be it a bakery, closure, a man or a woman is worked for.
If you’ve ever read my fictional jaunts and other creative pieces, I’m known for unreliable narrators and troublesome characters because they are the kind I love the most. I love the control of information in a narrative and just how much the story changes based upon who has the point of view. Think about how empty Tsubasa is if you take it from Fai or Kurogane’s perspective. It has to be mostly focused on Syaoran and Sakura: there’s no plot otherwise. Or even Bleach is a fantastic example. If taken from the view of the Soul Society, the main plot is just a series of incident reports and a bureaucratic nightmare as some ginger kid runs around with Hollow powers and not listening to orders. But one of my main tenants in my fictional works is simple: it’s to rewrite or to fix a wrong. Slytherins aren’t portrayed well in Harry Potter. Guess who wrote literally hundreds of words to correct that?
But in addition to my desire to keep tight control of my narratives, I also don’t like crappy behavior go without comment or punishment. If a character is awful, they are seldom rewarded and that is directly related to the less than ideal narratives I read as a young fan. So many times flat out criminal behavior was rewarded in anime and manga. Stalking? No, he’s just very attentive. Manipulation? He clearly cares so much to turn your friends and family against you to keep you isolated. Physical violence? No, she hit you because you deserved it. You shouldn’t have done something to make her hit you. That carried on into, tragically, some of my very earliest relationships. I remember being 14 and 15 years old assuming that if a boy treated me the way InuYasha treated Kagome, he wasn’t an abuser, he was just playing hard to get. I, luckily, grew out of that pretty quickly (just kidding, it took literally years to retrain my brain and to demand more from my partners and to treat my partners in turn better).
I think that’s why as an adult I love more complex narratives so much. I’ve mentioned the character of Klaus von Wolfstat a few times now and he’s from a little series called Maiden Rose. It’s a war-era boy’s love series and Klaus is the overbearing and obsessive lover of military leader, Taki Reizen. Klaus is…complicated. He’s done terrible things, is a literal addict (but it’s okay because it’s historical, right?) and somehow even as a chibi manages to be taller than everyone else and still somehow have a 6-pack. But within the canon of Maiden Rose despite how troubling and upsetting Klaus’ behavior is, he is seldom rewarded for his actions. Taki rebukes him often, is cold to him after an incident of less than desirable attention being provided and he is generally hated by the rest of the cast. Every time Klaus is slapped, injured, shot at or yelled at, it somehow lessens the dull pain of how awful of a character he is. No one is there to romanticize his actions or say that what he’s doing is actually okay, he is only met with cold indifference.
On the other hand, there are instances where the wrong character does seem to get picked on as almost a scapegoat to ignore a more disturbing part of the narrative. Let’s take a character that I actually love and does not get the credit she deserves, Millie. Now, Trigun’s an anime that ruined me as a kid. It was probably one of the biggest series to cement my love of dubs and good American voice acting and had characters I’ve loved for years. But a character that is almost entirely ignored despite how important she is to the narrative is Millie. She’s often overshadowed by Meryl because, well, Millie’s not bright. But her optimism is inspirational to the bulk of the cast and she could even be compared to Rem as far as being innocent and fair goes. But what happens at the end for her? Well, Trigun’s ending isn’t exactly favorable to anyone in particular. The ending is unsatisfying for many and disappointing to say the least and leaves our two main females in nearly the same place they started and Millie is even more left into obscurity because she does somewhat fade during the 3rd Act. Is she at all rewarded for her bravery or empathy or kindness? Nope unless you count getting to bang Wolfwood once. No one is really rewarded for anything in that series so it’s the perfect example, really. Nothing matters. Just like Vash entered in like wrecking ball and so he leaves in quiet cloud of melodrama. Again, I’m still clearly not bitter over this. I clearly haven’t written 15 better versions of this ending since I was 16 years old. No, I’m a well-adjusted adult.
For an example that isn’t as dated as I am, BoJack Horseman is great about making sure that bad deeds in the show are properly dealt with. BoJack doesn’t get away with anything and honestly, he’s probably punished too severely for some of his actions. Really, the only character in that show that does get away with murder regularly is Mr. Peanutbutter and well, we all know how that works.
I do think the current cynicism of the world is better about holding characters accountable. Under the Red Hood is probably one of my favorite Batman movies and I love it so much because it makes Bruce Wayne face one of his greatest failures. His inaction cost Jason Todd his life and thus created the Red Hood. The Red Hood is a phantom Bruce made and in letting him live and refusing to kill The Joker based on some falsified moral high ground, now he has to face his demons and a vigilante that can take down enemies in a frighteningly efficient manner. We desire as a community and as a world justice. Why do you think Law and Order: SVU is still running? Only in a fictionalized New York do the police always answer the phones and every case at least seems some sort of justice. We now crave for bad things to happen to bad people and frankly with how the world is right now, I’m okay with that.
Are any of you surprised? I’m Team Kira, after all.
Hold your characters, your media and those in your life accountable, dear readership.