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The Quick and the Queer – Short LGBT+ Book Reviews, pt 1


 

(I promise the above picture of Sufjan Stevens is at least sort of relevant. Kind of. *squint*)

Because I have decided to have absolutely no chill in the Year of our Lord 2017, I’ve already read four books since January 1. All of them are queer/LGBT+ fiction, mainly because the topics of sexuality and identity personally and emotionally interest me, but also because I am a very passionate LGBT+ rights advocate. None of the books I read are particularly recent, so that’s a bit of a bummer–talk about irrelevant, yeehaw!–but I desperately want to talk about them, so here we go.

I’ll split this up into two parts, and maybe I’ll add to this the more books I read.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012)
by Emily M. Danforth

A period piece set in Montana in the 1990s, Cameron Post is a coming of age story that follows the titular main character through her adolescent years. Cameron is just beginning to discover her sexuality when her parents die in a car accident. The strange relief that comes with realizing that she doesn’t have to tell her parents that she just kissed a girl (and liked it) is fleeting when she goes to live with her born-again aunt. With nowhere to turn for support, Cameron carves her own paths and educates herself with the help of some friends–until she is outed by someone she loves.

I really, really loved this book. For one, it’s beautifully written. The style is smart and elegant and deceptively simple. Danforth doesn’t speak down to her YA audience, either; rather, she challenges her readers with sophisticated and clever prose. She takes her time developing the characters, and they are all three-dimensional and delightfully flawed and unique. Cameron is a wonderful narrator with a distinct voice that made the book difficult to put down if not for its serious subject matter in the second half of the book. For anyone who is unaware of conversion therapy camps (which STILL exist, by the way), this book puts them into perspective as the emotionally abusive and traumatic facilities that they are. The betrayal and rejection Cameron feels from what’s left of her family and closest friends when she is sent to one of these facilities is something I can’t even fathom. It’s horrifying. Truly. These kinds of stories are important to tell.

Cameron Post succeeds in every area as far as I am concerned. But my favorite thing about the book is that it doesn’t subscribe to the idea that every character that comes to life on the page or every scene that unfolds needs to have greater meaning in the story. Sometimes a character plays a part and then leaves. There’s no closure. That uncomfortable lack of closure–the story’s unwillingness to tie up loose ends in a perfect little bow even through to the end–is what makes the story feel so real. At times it reads more like a memoir than a novel. And I love it for that. It’s raw. And it has one of the most powerful endings I’ve read in years. 4.5/5

sdyx72kql9blkidlygovefyulixCall Me By Your Name (2007)
by André Aciman

Next up: Call Me By Your Name is a love story told by an intellectual and introverted American-Italian seventeen-year-old named Elio. His family has a peculiar tradition: each summer, they take in a house guest to live with them in Italy, who uses his/her time there to revise an academic book manuscript. In return, the house guest agrees to help Elio’s father, a professor, with academic paperwork. Elio has been indifferent at best to this annual arrangement for years–that is, until 24-year-old Oliver comes to stay with them for the summer of 1988.

To be 100% honest, the only reason I picked this book up in the first place is because my beloved Sufjan Stevens wrote music for the film adaptation that’s coming out this year. See? Told you the featured image wasn’t completely random… Anyway, so I picked up this book for all the wrong reasons, but once I started reading, I was immediately drawn to the writing style. It’s almost unbearably poetic at times, but it’s fun to get swept away in. I wish I had half the intellect that the characters in this novel possess, and I applaud Aciman for having the wit and know-how to write characters that are precocious and clever and philosophical and–yeah, pretentious. But, I gotta say: sometimes the conversations get a little too precious and pretentious. There’s only so much introspection and philosophizing that I can take before the tension within the scene wanes and I inevitably grow bored. Maybe that just proves how much of a plebian I am, alas.

Speaking of bored, Call Me By Your Name is one hell of a slow burn for very little payoff. Mutual pining is definitely a trope I’m weak to, but I never felt emotionally fulfilled by their relationship on the page, even after they do finally admit their feelings for each other. Perhaps that was the intent. Though I will say that some of the romance was downright adorable and frustrating and everything a good romance should be. You really can feel the desire that Elio has for Oliver, and vice versa, so it does succeed on that front. I just wanted more. Of what, I’m not entirely sure… but something was lacking.

I’m going to just come out and say that this story’s premise does not lend itself to a happy ending. Oliver only has six weeks to spend in Italy before he has to return home to the States. In a genre romance, the characters would defy the odds and somehow stay together. But this is a piece of literary fiction, not genre romance. So you can imagine how this goes down. And the truth is that I’ve grown tired of these clinical, cynical kinds of endings when it comes to queer romance. There are so many instances in Western media that introduce queer characters with so much promise, only to later refuse to let them triumph. Over and over again, they lose: their families, their friends, their lovers, their identity, their privacy, their lives. Tragedy is the norm for LGBT+ characters. Can a girl get a beautifully written queer romance that doesn’t end in despair and loss? (The answer is “yes and boy howdy”–just wait for part two.) Hell, I’ll even take bittersweet; The Miseducation of Cameron Post  was bittersweet and perfect. Call Me By Your Name doesn’t have any sweet in its ending. It’s bitter and dry as a fierce prairie wind. It punches you in the gut. It makes you despair. It kind of makes you regret reading the book.

Also, you’ll never look at a peach the same way again. 3/5 (or, just watch the movie when it comes out, maybe?)

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Scoring the Best and Worst Anime I’ve Seen Round 10


This semester of Anime Club introduced a bunch of new shows for me to watch, thanks to the strong selection of anime that were released in the Fall season. Dabbling in the new shows is fun, but it also gave me a chance to revisit some older anime series too, and even finish one that I’ve been meaning to watch for years now.

Tales of Zestiria the X (Season 1): 4.5/5
Tales of Zestiria the X features the gorgeous animation from the in-game cutscenes and the soundtrack from the game as well. The English dub is fantastic as well, with the actors from the game returning for their roles. The tie-in with Berseria is neat but tonally jarring in spots, not to mention that it doesn’t go anywhere story-wise. I hope the pay off will be smoothly incorporated into the next season, because the possibility that it was just a cheap plug for Berseria to get popular and have no narrative purpose is pretty lame and a missed opportunity. But besides that, Zestiria feels like a stand-alone anime, taking some creative liberties with the narrative and characters to add depth where the game may have lacked it. The action is fast-paced and exciting to watch, and as a nice touch, the previews for the next episodes resemble the skits from the game as the characters interact with each other.

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Sweetness and Lightning: 3/5
Sweetness and Lightning gushes with cuteness and tugs at the heartstrings. The best part of the show is the relationship between Inuzuka and Tsumugi, though the rest of the cast isn’t bad. To be honest, I could have done without the huge emphasis on cooking with Kotori. I realize that’s what makes Tsumugi happy and that’s what her dad wants more than anything, but I think the show could have easily focused on their dynamic as father and daughter without that. The food looks great, and their reactions are pretty amusing, but the show sort of falls into a redundant formula that can make it difficult to stay invested in. All of the scenes with Inuzuka and Tsumugi working through their problems together are great, and it’s in those moments that I feel the show is at its strongest. Sadly, these scenes are too few and far in between, and the conclusion leaves a lot to be desired. Overall, as my first real slice of life anime, Sweetness and Lightning is by no means bad, but it could have been better.

Trigun: 4.5/5
I didn’t know what to expect from Trigun but it definitely defied my initial thoughts when I first saw the early episodes a few years back. The tone is pretty lighthearted and focused on developing the characters. Towards the latter half of the show though, the narrative takes precedence and becomes considerably darker, with heartbreaking character deaths and intense battles. The finale is absolutely incredible, with exciting action and epic character moments that add to the experience. There are some ambiguous aspects of Trigun that, while I want to know more about them, the fact that the show doesn’t delve into it adds mystery to the characters rather than hurting the story at any point.

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Yuri!! On Ice: 5/5
I know I gave Yuri!!! On Ice a 4.5/5 on the ATB podcast, but that was before I got to the episodes that make this show truly stand out among its peers. Yuri!!! On Ice is a fantastic show. The music is excellent, the animation is gorgeous, and the characters are well-written and extremely relatable, and their problems are handled with maturity. The show participates in using certain tropes while also subverting them in so many ways, making it a progressive anime for Japan. Yuri and Victor’s relationship is extremely sweet and cute, and at no point does it suffer from plot contrivances or weak character dilemmas. The show also does a great job of exploring love and sexuality and femininity versus masculinity in a realistic way that doesn’t generalize or stereotype ethnicity or gender. The finale felt slightly rushed, but overall really quite satisfying and still fun to watch. I can’t wait for the second season of this show, I have no doubt that it will be as enjoyable and wonderful as the first one has been.

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OVA Minireviews (Gurren Lagann Edition)


Original video animations, OVA’s for short, are commonly made for popular anime series. They often explore original storylines not in the show, or adapt scenarios that we’re familiar with. They usually are the same length as a regular episode, but aren’t included in the original show, acting as their own separate entity. Either way, OVA’s give fans a chance to appreciate their beloved anime series in new ways.

For this first set of minireviews for OVA’s I’ve seen, I’m also slightly breaking my own rules. I’m going to be looking at videos based around Gurren Lagann, called Parallel Works. These are not episode length videos – they aren’t longer than a few minutes, but despite the length they generally contain original storylines, different animation styles, and various songs from the original Gurren Lagann soundtrack.

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In a sense, these are still OVA’s but much shorter in length and going by a different name. Many of the Parallel Works are strange or completely silly, but there are some really creative and interesting ones among them. These are my favorites because of the solid animation, music, or even the narrative they have to tell.

Parallel Works 1 (Rap is a Man’s Soul!)
This has a much longer title, so I’m just going to refer to it as Parallel Works 1. Taking place in a fantasy, medieval setting, Simon, Kamina, and Viral are sword wielders fighting to save Nia from the villain, designed to resemble the large, final Anti-Spiral form of the original anime. The music is enjoyable, the animation is top notch as it’s in the same style of the anime, and the action scenes while extremely short are still exciting to watch. Parallel Works 1 is a fun and creative take on the series while keeping the core aspects of the anime that everyone enjoys.

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Parallel Works 8 (All You Bastards, Get Fired Up!)
Parallel Works 8 is arguably the most “canon” of the videos. This Parallel Works explores the past of Lordgenome in his battle against the AntiSpirals many years ago after they attacked earth. His forces gain an edge in the battle, but after learning of the Spiral Nemesis, Lordgenome loses his will to fight. In despair, he attacks his own forces and their battle is lost,  leading to his eventual rise as king to ensure that humans don’t rise up against the AntiSpirals again. The animation style is very distinct, the soundtrack fits the action scenes well, and helps develop Lordgenome in a new way that wasn’t seen in the anime.

FORESHADOWING. Also, Lordgenome having Nia's short haircut is such a great, small detail
FORESHADOWING. Also, Lordgenome having Nia’s short haircut is such a great, small detail

Parallel Works 10 (The Sense of Wonder)
Parallel Works 10 is a wonderfully animated video, and my personal favorite of the Parallel Works. It’s a new take on the love story of Simon and Nia, with differing character designs and new animation style. Simon and Nia are one of my favorite couples in anime, and yet even in this original narrative, they can’t stay together and have their happy ending. What this Parallel Works does well (besides breaking my heart again) is telling its own unique story of love and loss while mirroring the love story in Gurren Lagann. Finally, the music  is fantastic and created solely for this video, matching the tone and theme perfectly.

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Parallel Works 11 (My XXX is the Best in the Universe)
One of the arguably more strange (yet beautiful) ones in terms of visuals, sharing the same animation style as Nia’s flashback in Gurren Lagann. Not only are the visuals strange, but seeing Nia hack Beastmen to death with a butcher’s knife is an amusing yet terrifying image. However, this Parallel Works also explores Simon and Nia’s relationship and how they pull each other out of the darkness and sadness of their lives. This is especially done well when the light shines through the above the dead tree, and alludes to their love story by showing them grow up. The animation style and imagery may be off putting at first, but this Parallel Works is ultimately about the significance of Simon and Nia’s relationship.

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Parallel Works 12 (Goodbye, Dai Gurren)
Parallel Works 12 focuses on Darry and Gimmy during the fight in Dai Gurren against Lordgenome’s army of Beastmen. They find doors that lead to seemingly new worlds within the heart of the ship, eventually finding a man in a sheep costume. He has a conversation with them that is unfortunately not translated in the video. However, a fan was awesome enough to translate the dialogue and insert it in the comments, which I’ve pasted below. The things this character had to say are pretty interesting in relationship to Gurren Lagann‘s overarching narrative:

Does it look like they can win the war?
I’m going to make a snack now
You’ll have some too, right?
I have tea too
There’s everything here
I’d like some alcohol too, but I don’t have anymore

I was lying before, there’s really nothing here
Those are old memories
Old memories of an old world
This is a library I know.
I’ve known for quite a while now
That it will be over soon
scratches himself Fleas
It’s okay, I can’t complain
Besides, old memories aren’t needed by anyone anymore
Taking them out isn’t allowed……
Sorry
It’s too bad, I can’t go with you
But I’m glad I was able to meet you two in the end
Goodbye

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If you haven’t had a chance to see the Parallel Works for Gurren Lagann and are a fan of the show, you should definitely check these out. Many of them have silly fan service or bizarre imagery, but there are also some really great ones that add a lot to the lore of Gurren Lagann, or just insert the characters into a new, creative setting.

I’ll be back with more minireviews of the OVA’s for Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood in the coming weeks! Are there any OVA’s that you think I should watch? Let me know in the comments!

Chrono Trigger: A Nostalgic Epic


The risk of playing an older game that’s widely adored by its fans (cough cough Final Fantasy VII cough cough) is that sometimes it can give newcomers unrealistic expectations. The game is expected to be amazing because of the nostalgia that comes with the adoration of fans who played it when it first came out. This bias can influence expectations and maybe even lead to disappointment. Fortunately, the nostalgia and love for Chrono Trigger is justified – it’s hyped for all of the right reasons because it truly is a wonderfully unique game. This should have been the game to bring RPG’s to the west! But I digress, on with the review.

Luminaire the nay-sayers! Spare no one!
Luminaire the nay-sayers! Spare no one!

Gameplay
The combat system in Chrono Trigger is a lot of fun and addictive. The ability to combine magic spells is extremely unique, and for the life of me I can’t understand why this hasn’t become a more mainstream feature in RPG’s. It’s so satisfying to wreck your enemies with devastating team spells that should really be incorporated into other games. I may suck at figuring out the strategies behind the boss fights, but it’s honestly a genius move on part of the developers. I’ve never had to think so hard about how my attacks may influence the flow of battle, and forcing the players to plan their moves strategically is something that rarely happens in modern JRPG’s anymore.

Story
Time travel stories can be hit or miss (cough cough Final Fantasy XIII-2 cough cough), and Chrono Trigger is an example of a game where the story really works. It’s a rather straight-forward story, but its execution and the unique moments that follow make it stand out, like the Day of Lavos or going to Zeal. Seeing how your actions can change the course of history is fascinating and encourages you to explore your options. An example of when both of the outcomes are satisfying and make it difficult to select on over the other is whether or not to kill Magus or recruit him – both outcomes of the choices develop the characters in different yet engaging ways that are worth exploring. And to top it all off, the main plot of defeating Lavos, while simple, is compelling because the story never loses sight of the main objective at any point. It gives the story urgency, and your approach can cause multiple different endings which is such a nice, fun touch as well.

Characters
Not only is the story vital, but the strongest part of the game is the characters, with many noteworthy moments of the game devoted to them. Crono’s trial, Frog’s past, Crono’s sacrifice (I’m slightly biased, don’t judge me), the Battle Against Magus, and so many more moments devoted to character and setup rather than plot. It’s refreshing to see this focus on characters rather than the story and the fact that nearly the entire cast is likable and important helps too. Each character has a role in the story, but that role doesn’t overshadow their character moments, and that helps Chrono Trigger shine. Everyone grows and develops over the course of the game, and seeing this progression strengthens the timeless quality of the cast.

My final team of complete and utter devastation
My final team of complete and utter devastation

Graphics
For a game that’s over twenty years old, it’s hard to tell when you see the in-game graphics. Sure, they’re created from pixels, but they’re perhaps the most detailed I’ve ever seen. The character sprites are lively and the backgrounds are colorful and lush. The familiar locations feel fresh and new because of the level of detail that is put into each environment to make them stand out. The graphics are charming and really pop thanks to Akira Toriyama’s designs as well. While it could be cool to see this game remade with 3D graphics, Chrono Trigger is unique as it is, and it’s not something I’d want to see change anytime soon. Unless the whole game looked like the animated cutscenes. I could be down for that.

Soundtrack
The soundtrack for Chrono Trigger is excellent. Each song is unique and original, and all of the character themes are fitting (especially Crono and Frog’s theme songs. So good), and the town and world map themes are great as well. Most of the battle themes are solid as well, but of course we can’t forget about tracks like World Revolution or To Far Away Times. Chrono Trigger’s music is iconic and memorable through the combined efforts of composer powerhouses Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu, and I for one would love to see them team up for another video game soundtrack. Make it happen Square!

This crossover is great even though all of the Chrono Trigger characters are so dead.
This crossover is great even though all of the Chrono Trigger characters are so dead.

Setting
You’d think that with the game taking place in much of the same locations across time that it may get old or redundant. Chrono Trigger has a unique way of making each area unique and exciting through its presentation. Each area demands to be explored, which is a really awesome feat considering that many of them reappear throughout time. It enhances the story as well by showing the progression of time on the land, making the game even more enjoyable because of how much detail is applied to every area.

The Verdict
I’m really glad to finally experience this classic game. It has a huge amount of replay value, and one that I plan to play again on the Nintendo DS with the glorious animated cutscenes. It’s really hard for me to say anything really negative about the game other than some unfortunate loose ends in the story. The game really is perfect. I enjoyed Chrono Trigger immensely and can’t wait to explore the multiple endings and kill everything in new game plus.

Score: 5 fist-pumping Cronos out of 5

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Arrow Season 5 Premiere Trailer: A Return to Form?


God dammit, Arrow, with your amazing trailers.

After one subpar season followed by one plain bad season, I was about ready to give up Arrow. Coming from someone who has been a huge fan over the last five years, that’s saying a lot. But right when I’m on the precipice of peacing out for good, Arrow brings us this trailer in preparation for its premiere:

Continue reading Arrow Season 5 Premiere Trailer: A Return to Form?

My Problems with IGN’s Spirit of Justice Review


Where have all the good reviews gone?

When I first read IGN’s relatively harsh review of Ace Attorney 6: Spirit of Justice, my heart sank a little. As a game I have been looking forward to since it was announced, and as an avid series fan, I wanted the score to be higher. I don’t know–maybe in my narcissistic bubble I just want everyone to love the game as much as me.

When I went to Metacritic, however, my disappointment shifted to relief….and then something more akin to rage. Turns out that Spirit of Justice is sitting pretty at a high 82 rating, and IGN’s review of the game was the lowest out there.

I took some time to meditate on my rage. Really let it percolate. Because as a fan, I know how I am. When I recommend something to someone, and they hate it, my first emotion is intense, world-burning hatred. But when I let it subside, I fall back down to the rationale human emotion of it’s their opinion, and they’re perfectly entitled to that, and not everything is for everyone.

So I gave it some time, and the anger did sort of melt away. But what was left was confusion. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had some legitimate gripes with the review, and by extension, reviews as a whole.

I know the joke for years is that IGN has been horrible at….well, it would be faster to list what they do well. I think a third of that is troll fodder, another third is the expectations that come with being one of the largest entertainment websites out there, and the final third is IGN could handle a lot of their content better. My beef isn’t elusively with IGN; with that said, they really flubbed this review. Like “Too much water” 2.0.

Continue reading My Problems with IGN’s Spirit of Justice Review

Pokemon Go Review: A Shallow, Aimless Experience


It’s belated, sure, but I officially dove in to play and review Pokemon Go…and I officially I don’t get it. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

Look, with something as huge as Pokemon Go has been, I cant help but recoil against the hype machine a little. I’ll admit that. It’s my human nature. But with what is now a cultural phenomenon, I was expecting more depth. More strategy. More heart. More fun. Just…more.

Don’t get me wrong – the first couple hours of Pokemon Go is stellar and fresh. The experience of walking around and interacting with Pokemon in your environment is the dream of millions of people who grew up on these games. Throwing Pokeballs, evolving your creatures, and steadily getting stronger is a pure treat, as was evidenced by how every person on the planet downloaded this game. You really begin realizing what tremendous potential something like this has.

Unfortunately, that’s the thing about potential–it exists as a what if that may or may not ever be realized. Just ask Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Turns out that as a brief experience, Pokemon Go is like cracking open that elusive treasure chest for the first time. And as a game, Pokemon Go is discovering the chest contains only pieces hot garbage–that is to say, it’s a shallow, aimless, and ultimately pointless exercise in redundancy.

Continue reading Pokemon Go Review: A Shallow, Aimless Experience