Monthly Archives: May 2010

Fan Fiction Friday!!!

To me, finding good fan fiction and assessing what makes it good really depends on how well you know the manga/anime on which stories are based. Since Naruto is my current obsession, these FFF posts will be Naruto-centric for the foreseeable future. Next up: “Ripple Effect” by rayemars. What would happen if Naruto overused the demon fox chakra? How would Sasuke really be treated if he came back to Konoha? What if Sakura started dating *gasp* Rock Lee? This tale diverges from canon some time before Sasuke kills Orochimaru and takes a somewhat dystopian view of life in the hidden village if Naruto and Sakura’s ultimate wish came true. rayemars has quite a way with description and development, and unlike most writers who hypothesize on what a Team Seven reunion would be like, she doesn’t equate Sasuke’s return with a fairytale ending. He’s a missing nin who has to pay for his transgressions. Feelings have been hurt and tensions must be eased, but can the damage caused really ever be fixed?

Rated M. Grade: A.

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The Betty B@d@sses of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

A few months back, fellow fangirl Redbrunja told me that she considered Fullmetal Alchemist to be one of the few manga with, and I quote, “near-perfect gender dynamics.” That’s high praise, especially coming from Red. Well, I finally got around to watching episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood this past weekend. The verdict? I’m in love. Love Ed, love Winry, love Roy, love Riza. Love, love, love. I’d watched episodes of the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime on Cartoon Network off and on during some stress-induced bouts of insomnia back in the mid-aughties. Maybe it was the fact that they were dubbed or that it was really, really late when I watched them that ruined them, but the show didn’t stick for me. But Brotherhood? Oh, Brotherhood. It’s so good that I want to marry it and have my way with it.

To elaborate on those near-perfect gender dynamics: I knew even before looking it up that FMA‘s creator, Hiromu Arakawa, was a woman because all of the women on this show are Betties…all of them. Winry’s a total gearhead. Riza seems to have something of a gun fetish and is more than capable of keeping Roy’s ego in check. Pinako’s a feisty old lady with a quick wit and a fiery tongue who has passed her gift for automail on to her granddaughter. And you can’t forget Olivier and Izumi. Even little May Chang is pretty rockin’. It’s nice to see women characters taking charge. Now, don’t misunderstand. Being a Betty doesn’t mean beating men (although Winry does tend to quite literally beat Ed, smacking him around a bit when he destroys his automail). To achieve Bettyhood is to hold one’s own; it’s standing on your own two feet, shoulder to shoulder with your brothers in arms and not being second-guessed or challenged simply for being a chick.

Because, really, when did being into things like guns, military life, and mechanics become the purview of only boys? Winry grew up under Pinako’s wing and Pinako is a master automail engineer so is it so unlikely that Winry would follow in her footsteps? Riza’s dad was an alchemist and even though she was estranged from him, isn’t it possible that his work (and subsequent madness) drew her to a career in the military anyway? I think Arakawa draws natural conclusions about female characters and uses them to challenge the notions of femininity and womanhood. And that’s a good thing.


Has Bleach Officially Jumped the Shark?

What the…? There is no way—no way at all—that Ichigo should’ve won the fight against Ulquiorra! He was completely outmatched and well, dead. So the sound of Inoue’s voice can bring corpses back to life now? She’s that powerful? That’s what you want me to believe? Or…are we being set up so that fangirls can have valid reasons to ship Ichigo/Inoue? I can’t say. I just wanted to make it clear on this fine Thursday morning that I thought Ulquiorra biting it in that manner was ridiculous. That is all.


Artist of the Month: Juice Lee

Juice LeeHip-hop artist Juice Lee is a breath of fresh air in a music genre whose commercial appeal has been stale for quite some time. The 27-year-old Ohio native isn’t the type of rapper who’ll tell you how much money he’s making, how big his guns are, or how many ladies he’s doing, but he will spit rhymes over an instrumental from anime or video game. “My music is the soundtrack to the montage that people have in their lives when they are training to advance their position in life,” he says. “Or the music for getting revenge on the man or organization that killed your parents/teacher/brother/sister/dog, etc.” All jokes aside, his interest in anime and manga figures prominently in his new CD, Epos, which is “loosely inspired” by Xam’d of the Lost Memory. Squee! caught up with him before Epos drops this summer to talk about his favorite characters, similarities between anime/manga and hip hop, and why live-action movies will always suck.

Squee!: So how/when did you get into anime and manga? What drew you to it?
Juice Lee: Back when I was about 6 or 7, I was introduced to it through my brother. He would go to the video store and rent the Robotech movies. I watched them in awe because I never had seen any type of animation with such rich storytelling. At that point, all I knew was Looney Tunes and The Disney Afternoon (which is funny because most anime creators credit their inspiration to Disney).

Squee!: What’s your all-time favorite anime?
Lee: Movie? Castle in the Sky but realistically damn near anything Studio Ghibli made because Miyazaki manages to make such amazing stories without resorting to gratuitous violence or sex or even profanity. It’s pure imagination. I’ll take that over the goriest series out right now.

Squee!: What’s your all-time favorite manga?
Lee:
That’s hard to say because I haven’t read a ton of manga in the last few years, but for a while I was reading Claymore. It was one of the ballsiest manga to hit since Berserk. It took a lot of risks by actually killing important characters unexpectedly. So many times nowadays in manga and anime, the writers aren’t bold enough to kill off a popular character. Why? Because the magazine editors have control of what gets published, so even if the writer of the manga has an idea to logically kill a prominent or really popular character, if he/she can’t be brought back via some loophole, then the idea never comes to light. In other words, the manga creator no longer controls the fate of his/her story once it’s published in a magazine.

Squee!: I feel you on that. People went apesh*t when Kishimoto killed off Kakashi in Naruto Shippuden a few years ago. It’s probably why he had to bring him back to life a few chapters later, although I can’t say that with any certainty. So what are you reading and watching these days?
Lee: Honestly, I haven’t been up on the latest series. My friend keeps pestering me to watch the new Fullmetal Alchemist. The last two series I watched were Eden of the East and Xam’d of the Lost Memory. Very short series and straight to the point.

Squee!: Live-action Cowboy Bebop: thumbs up or thumbs down?
Lee:
[sighs] Just like the proposed Robotech movie and that thing called Dragonball, anime SHOULD NEVER BE MADE INTO LIVE-ACTION MOVIES!! We’ve all seen our fair share of cosplay and it’s a stark reminder that most outfits that are drawn need to stay on paper. CGI? Well, if they put in the time to make it as pretty as Advent Children, then we can have an open dialogue [about live action].

Squee!: I agree but most of them are done in English, right? Isn’t that really what makes them especially awful? I’m thinking specifically of the Death Note movies here. To me, the difference between live action in English and live action in Japanese is so dramatic. I would say it’s better in Japanese. Which leads me to my next question: What’s your position on subs versus dubs?
Lee: I’m a fan of subs because 1) I get the show almost immediately after it airs in Japan; 2) the dialogue and pauses are better in Japanese because Japanese voice actors take their craft very seriously whereas English VAs just want the check (there’s going to be only the needed emotion when the character requires it); and 3) I think a lot of Japanese humor is lost in translation unless it’s an obvious gag.

Squee!: So who’s your favorite anime character?
Lee:
I always respect the intelligent villains as well as tragic characters. For example, Orochimaru was a superb villain. He was a dude who simply couldn’t be beaten by anyone. (I hated that they never kept that moniker up in the second Naruto series). L in Death Note was another masterful guy. His unorthodox reasoning and thinking was great.

As far as tragic characters go, nobody tops Lucy from Elfen Lied. She may have been the ultimate gemini [laughs]. Lucy was pure evil, but Niu was innocence personified. All while your watching the series your wishing for Niu to completely takeover and everyone can be cool, but whenever Lucy showed up you were reminded of the grim nature of the story being told. Mayu (also from the series) was tragic because she was the sweetest girl you could ever imagine who had just had absolutely horrible things done to her. There were so many times in her backstory I was just mad at everyone around her, like, “What the hell did she ever do to anyone to deserve how she was treated?” Your heart has to go out to her.

Squee!: Do you see any similarities between hip hop and anime/manga?
Lee:
Not really. Not until you start to be creative enough to make similarities artistically. On the business side? Yes, because once you’re dealing with corporations, your artistry becomes their business. So if you think of every song as a character in an anime/manga series, the audience will vote on a character poll to determine who is the best character. The same would be said for how Billboard or iTunes charts are now. So if you have this one character or song everyone likes then the company expects the manga writer to do more with the character, just like the label expects the artist to do more songs like the popular one. That’s where the corporate thinking and artistic thinking go their separate ways. The company/label wants to ride the hit until the wheels fall off while the artist just wants to be experimental and be free to do whatever.

Squee!: If you could pick any anime theme song to rhyme over, which one would it be?
Lee:
That’s hard. I couldn’t say. But there are some anime soundtracks that I have sampled and flipped into songs. I did a song called “The Alien Chain” in which I sampled Kajiura Yuki’s “I Talk to the Rain” from Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicle. And there’s a song called “Nah” where I sampled the piano theme from Innocent Venus. I’ve sampled a few video game tracks as well. For example, the title track sample on my last album, Metanoia, was from a song called “Ephemeral Dream,” from the Soul Calibur 3 soundtrack. I would love to one day do the opening theme for a new series and maybe have one of my ideas for a series come to life.

You can check out Juice Lee’s work at http://juibrand.squarespace.com/juipod/


Fan Fiction Friday!!!

There’s a lot of bad fan fiction out there. I mean, a lot. But if you search hard enough, you’ll come across some real gems, stories so well written that it doesn’t matter if you don’t ship the main couple or even remotely agree with the plot. Any good story allows you to willingly suspend your disbelief for the greater good of the piece. So as a service to you, dear reader, I will be scouring the Internet to bring you the world’s best ficcage in what I’m going to call FAN FICTION FRIDAY. Every other Friday, I will give you an awesome fic, a tasty morsel of grand storytelling into which you can sink your teeth.

For my inaugural FFF post, I’ve chosen the most epic of epic KakaSaku fics: “House of Crows” by SilverShine. I’m a writer/editor by trade and as such, I’m drawn to fan fiction writers who have a crystal clear understanding of plot development. SilverShine is a goddess among men when it comes to this and “House of Crows” is her pièce de résistance. In it, a 20-year-old Sakura discovers a life-changing secret about Kakashi, which makes her question her entire relationship with her old sensei. While the one night of awkward sex (yes, they have sex…consider yourself warned) and subsequent pregnancy plays a prominent role in the fic, it’s nothing compared to the lie Kakashi’s been living. I like this piece because SilverShine takes the notion of family and turns it on its ear. Family isn’t just those related by blood and loyalty to one’s country isn’t as black and white as it may seem. This fic is long, really long (46 chapters), but it’s definitely worth the read.

Rated M. Grade: A+


Somebody Save Me

Anyone who follows me on Twitter—which is like, what? Three people?—knows that I’ve been grumbling under my breath about the developments in Bleach lately. Ichigo’s actions tend to fall into three categories: training, rescuing the important women in his life, or sulking because he sucks at his training. Guess which one I’m going to harp on? Ding, ding, ding! The rescues. First, it was his sisters who were in danger; they’re the reasons he becomes a substitute shinigami in the first place. He swiped all of Rukia’s power in order to save his sisters and then had to go to Soul Society to save Rukia from being executed because of said power grab. He’s now using his power to conduct Operation Rescue Inoue.

I’m not going to rant about what a total Betty Rukia is because, let’s face it, we all know she kicks ass. And I’m not even going to rant about Inoue being weak, even though she is. What I’m wondering is if there are any links between all of this saving (Bleach is by no means alone in this type of behavior; all cartoons, anime or otherwise, do this kind of thing) and how boys/men learn to relate to the opposite sex. Think about: you’re a boy and you want to be strong so that you can be a hero because the hero saves the day and gets the girl. Most often, the hero is saving the day and the girl at the same time. Fast forward. You’re now a man and you may not be consciously looking for or pursuing damsels in distress, but…

It feels good to be needed, doesn’t it? And any indication that you are dispensable can feel like emasculation, right? Could this be linked to plotlines like the ones in Bleach or in comic books or in video games (I grew up in the ’80s at the height of Super Mario Bros. mania and everyone wanted to save Princess Peach)? I don’t know. I’m just talking. But it seems feasible, does it not?


Killer Bee Makes My Eyeballs Itch

Sometimes anime and manga make me cringe. I’ve been somewhat uncomfortable with gender representation (or should I say, misrepresentation) for a while now, but thanks to the Killer Bee/Eight Tails storyline in Naruto, I can now cringe over the representation of race, too. You see, Killer Bee is a jinchuuriki like Naruto (a jinchuuriki is a person who has a demon animal sealed inside of him or her) and while it’s never said that he is, in fact, black, his overall demeanor suggests he is. Both Naruto and Killer Bee are loud and brash ninja, but Killer Bee is one of only a few dark-skinned characters in the series…aaaand he raps. Yes, you read that correctly. He raps. Very, very poorly.

Being African-American, I was all ready to hate Masashi Kishimoto for this until I got schooled by Matt Thorn, a cultural anthropologist based in Japan. A few years ago, he wrote a great essay titled “The Face of the Other” about this very topic and we had an interesting email exchange about race in anime and manga last week. The gist of our discussion? In Japan, anime/manga characters are Japanese because Japanese is the “default” race. In America, they’re white because white is the “default” race. “Very few Japanese give any thought at all to the issue of race in popular culture, or in the real world, for that matter,” says Thorn, a manga professor at Kyoto Seika University. “People like you and me, who grew up in hodgepodge societies, have to think about race, so it’s hard for us to see manga and anime through the eyes of the average Japanese reader/viewer.”

I asked Thorn whether the pervasiveness of hip-hop culture could have anything to do with the way Killer Bee is drawn. After all, hip-hop is a global commodity now, having long since branched out from its home in New York’s five boroughs. “Hip-hop is definitely popular, and influences fashion, so it’s not surprisingly that they are characters like that appearing in manga and anime who are not portrayed as clowns, savages, or criminals, but rather as ‘cool’ characters,” he says. “Considering that the vast majority of Japanese live and die without ever having spoken to someone of African descent, it’s not bad.”

Got it. Black people are cool…on TV and in movies. In person? Not so much. “It’s always important to remember that manga and anime—particularly those with fantastic settings, like Naruto or Revolutionary Girl Utena—are usually alternative worlds, where things are a distorted reflection of the real world,” Thorn adds. “So someone who might think a Black character in a manga is cool might freeze up with fear on actually meeting a black person face to face.”

Having never lived in or visited Japan, Thorn’s explanations make me feel better about Killer Bee and what he may (or may not) represent. That doesn’t mean that I like him, but he’s a good fighter and he outwitted Sasuke, and anyone who gets the jump on that arrogant bastard is OK in my book.