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Thematically Frustrating, Undeniably Homoerotic – Becket (1964) as Historical Fanfic

At this time at the end of the year, I’ve recently fallen into the oddly specific hole of “The two historical movies from the 1960s about King Henry II of England’ dramas as portrayed by Peter O’Toole.” The first I’ve watched being The Lion in Winter (1968), one of my personal all-time favorites, as well as its predecessor, Becket (1964). What strikes me about both movies, both originally based on plays, is that while on the surface they are stories about history, they are ultimately about the experience of intense, overwhelming, destructive love. While The Lion in Winter is about the agony of Henry’s love and hate for a woman, Becket is about his agony of love and hate for the man he appointed to Archbishop—the titular Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) who, despite his friendship with Henry, chose to pursue the honor of God rather than that of the king. I want to eventually write about both films, but I’d like to start talking about Becket. It is flawed, frustrating, and honestly mediocre as a whole, a movie too inflated on its own aesthetics of pseudohistorical pomp without a strong thematic substance to hold it up. However, I personally found aspects of it compelling as a work in the annals of media about pathetic men defeated by sheer intensity and physicality of feelings. It’s something that overlaps with my thoughts on transformative fan works in the context of historical fiction, as well the interesting and sensual phenomenon that happens when you create a work that is, as people say, “so misogynist it loops back around to being gay.”

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The Rings of Power, Episodes 1-2: Dazzling, But With Very Little Magic

Going into this I had various questions on my mind: What would be the emotional focus? What unique visual language and designs would come out of this whopping budget of almost a billion dollars? What would they be drawing inspiration from, visually and narratively, to bring their story to life? After watching what has been released, my impression–so far–is that The Rings of Power is a show that wants to capture the dazzling scope of Tolkien’s worlds, but its reliance on visual shorthand to create emotional responses ends up feeling sadly derivative. There are indeed moments of genuine emotion and characterization that I find interesting and promising, but the overwrought style of the show seems more like it’s working against expressiveness than for it. 

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Some Thoughts on “Turning Red”

Anyways, for my birthday last month I belatedly got around to seeing Turning Red, the Pixar movie that got everyone on the timeline discussing their own middle school cringe and nostalgia, as well as the empowering benefits of representation for young teen girls and Asian diaspora folk. I had really enjoyed Domee Shi’s short “Bao” back when I first saw it before Incredibles 2, so I was curious to see how the movie would play out. It is certainly interesting to watch a movie like Turning Red at this time, when many other more mainstream works of “Asian Representation” have been released in the past few years, with all the subsequent discussion and discourse. As per usual, I have some Thoughts™ about this movie, especially how it resolves its central theme of “remaining true to one’s self and culture/family. It delivered a very well executed story about its intergenerational trauma and personal choice in expression and identity, but there were definitely areas of the story that felt interesting that it was touched on, but felt very much restrained by its dedication to being A Disney Production. Of course anything I watch, I can’t help but filter and interpret things through the lens of both my own thoughts and my own experiences, so I will do my best to put them down here.

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The Batman: Mature Themes, Juvenile Perspective

I’ve spent the past few months leading up to The Batman’s release being annoyed at the cyclical “Batman discourse” hot takes that comes up every time someone wants to sound clever or original. You’ve definitely seen them–the ones that usually go “Oh, if Batman really wanted to stop crime in the city why doesn’t he use his massive wealth to fund social services?” Or the thinkpiece threads that use the character of Batman as a weirdly-literal jumping off point for debating serious issues around real life policing, poverty, inequality, or rich people’s savior complexes. These are valuable discussion subjects, but I personally can get pretty tired of them being framed through discussions about a fictional character who dresses up as a bat to punch bad guys of of all things. Despite my Batman fatigue, I was pleasantly surprised, after seeing the new movie with my brother, that I still do in fact have Very Strong Batman Opinions after all! 

I am not exactly a Batman fan, but I have grown up reading a bunch of comics, both old classic Batmans and newer ones, and I’ve watched various Batman-related media at different times. I’ve also followed a lot of fanartists and fanwork involving Batman and various characters in the DC universe, and thus picked up on a variety of themes and depictions via osmosis. I’m aware that there is a rich and neverending fount of background lore discourse and nerd opinions in comics, but regardless of where I land on the pre-existing Batman opinions chart, I hope to express myself, my brain worms, and where they are coming from with as much truth and detail as I can. 

Anyways, The Batman has stunning cinematography and music, but its elevated, sophisticated visuals and attempts at presenting more mature themes are still framed in a very juvenile manner. To those who might say “well duh, it’s Batman, from the kids cartoons. What did you expect?” I must clarify that I say “juvenile” in a descriptive, not necessarily derogatory manner. There are many excellent stories that employ an intentionally childlike or simplified point of view to explore serious themes from a more stylized perspective, or to depict a journey of learning and growth into a more mature world. The fantastical nature of a character like Batman and the wondrously expressionist setting of Gotham City has a lot of thematic richness that can, and has, fit many different types of stories, from fun bouncy cartoons for children and darker, more complex stories for adults. Because of this, it is not the juvenility on its own that frustrates me about The Batman, but rather how it wraps itself in some incredible cinematic visual and auditory language and surface-level complexity without having anything really substantial underneath to hold it up. Like a little kid trying to wear an oversized, quality designer coat, it’s not that there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with each individual element. However, without proper tailoring, the combination will inherently feel off

(Contains spoilers!)

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Hamilton, Tragedy, and the age of “Non-Stop” Inspirational Clickbait

I was fortunate to be able to watch the musical in person for the first time in early 2020, pre-COVID, after years of being a fan of the soundtrack. While watching it on stage as well as during the official streamed version on Disney+, I was struck by how…tragic of a story it is, and not just because of the death of its titular character.  Both the character of Hamilton and the musical of Hamilton as a whole are saddled with a constant underlying anxiety surrounding mortality and fleeting existence. The main plot explores how Alexander deals with that anxiety and insecurity surrounding his lowly and purportedly shameful background (“bastard, immigrant, whoreson”) through striving to optimize his skills, taking advantage of the situations around him, overall chasing the American Dream of working hard in pursuit of establishing an idealized concept of timeless legacy and honor for himself and his name. It also explores the consequences and limitations of such individualistic pursuit, but in the very end the framing of the story circles all the way back around to becoming a praise and celebration for the very things that lead to his downfall in the first place. To me, Hamilton is a compelling tragedy that frames itself as inspirational, the way awful clickbait articles are written to be “inspirational” and “heartwarming” even as their very existence reveals something grievously wrong with the world.

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Interpretations of Disgust in Harada’s “Nii-Chan” (BL Minute)

I’d heard of manga artist Harada before amongst fujoshi-adjacent fandom, but the only other manga of theirs that I’d read was “One Room Angel,” which I enjoyed, but felt fairly light on the BL aspect. A few months ago I was curious to read one of their works that was more “BL”, and “Nii-Chan” was one of the first listed on Goodreads. Before reading it, I’d mostly heard whispers of “oooh Harada makes the super dark problematic manga ooooh” so I was curious to see how it measured up to the hype.

Overall–I loved this manga, and it was one of my favorite comics I ended up reading last year. It builds feelings of foreboding and release very well, the characters and plotlines are layered and complex and has a really psychological feel to it. Thematically, it tells a really interesting and thought-provoking story about the nature of deviancy and conformity in society. On a personal level, it hit upon a lot of things I find interesting in stylized stories that involve forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as about the nature of how people process feelings of disgust towards terrible actions, both in fiction and in reality. 

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leave it to the fujoshi (thoughts on media, representation, and indulgence)

Sometimes you see a take online that just really grabs you and elicits all sorts of emotions such as “amusement,” “offense,” and “fascination” and just, in the words of a friend, simple “hootin and hollering.” Anyways, even though nobody asked for it I really do feel the need to try and analyze my thoughts on this particular tweet, my own reaction to it, and the various reactions to it I’ve been seeing since I feel like it does land very squarely in the middle of various subjects and discussions I and others have been having for a while, about “good” vs. “bad” representation and the whole didactic vs. indulgent media thing.

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All the Books I Ended Up Reading in 2021

About halfway through the year I decided that “I really should read more books” and also because I had started working again, I needed interesting audio to occupy me as well as something to read on my phone while on my commute. This is not a sponsored post but I would like to give all my thanks to Libby, the library app on which I read all these books, some as ebooks and some as audiobooks. It’s really helped me out! 

I decided to write fairly short-ish reviews of all the books I completed, roughly in the order that I read them. No stars, because I always feel a bit weird choosing the amount of stars, but I did want to give my impressions and thoughts. It was a very interesting year with a lot of fantasy and scifi, but also a lot of contemporary and literary stuff as well, which was neat.

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Kwisatz Haderach, Princess Knight: Dune (2021)’s Shoujo Manga Vibes

So, I saw Dune for the first time a couple weeks ago, and long story short I now am determined to ride this sand brainworm (or brain sandworm?) where it takes me.  And where it is taking me is the fact that in my impressions, Dune, at least the 2021 movie, is incredibly reminiscent of shoujo manga.  Its sumptuous setting and costumes in a context of drama and intrigue, its depiction of ethereal, internal and abstract visions at peak emotional moments, the way it touched upon gender themes, all reminded me of touchstones I associate strongly with shoujo.  Even Timothée Chalamet’s broody but elegant period-drama appearance gives him the appearance of being straight out of a Moto Hagio or Riyoko Ikeda work, as I am not the first to point out. 

Still for those unfamiliar, I am aware that this might sound like kind of a strange connection, but please bear with me and let me explain my (extremely long and rambly)  train of associations:

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Thoughts on Ikuhara Anime, Queer Interpretations, and “Deviancy”

(crossposting from dreamwidth, and expanded somewhat)

I was having Ikuhara thoughts again both as a big fan as well as thinking about some criticisms and interpretations I’ve seen of him and his work. Specifically attitudes from people who dislike his work because they see it as simply the work of someone interested in “deviant sexuality” or on the other hand, people who praise it specifically because of its Lesbian/Bisexual/WLW representation. Obviously works of art will speak differently to different people, but I feel like maybe this boils down to the fact that Ikuhara’s work* has a primary interest in exploring deviancy, and its queer and familial themes certainly overlap but are overall subservient to that exploration.

* I know that none of his works are solely “Ikuhara” creations blah blah challenge the myth of the auteur and all that, and that in all of his anime they are just as much a product of the collaborators, designers, and writers he’s worked with (especially the women creators) and I don’t think of the characters as solely representing or belonging to him alone. Utena would be nothing without Chiho Saito’s aesthetic and experience with shojo romance; Sarazanmai is nothing without Utsumi’s writing, Yurikuma’s characters belong as much to Akiko Morishima as anything else–I’m not as versed on all the contributors to the different stories, but wanted to make this clear since I just am going to say “Ikuhara anime” or “Ikuhara’s work” as a shorthand to discuss the multiple series and what I see in them overall

I’m remembering a discussion on the Utenacast (I forget exactly which episode, but it was during some of the later episodes discussing Yurikuma Arashi) in which it was mentioned about how while RGU is now seen as Extremely Undeniably Queer, it also does a disservice to think of it as only a lesbian story–part of the discussion was talking about various trans or asexual readings of the story, as well as the observation (absurd to think about now, to me at least) that a not-insignificant of the Utena early fandom were straight women who read and related to it through a heterosexual lens due to their own life experiences. So maybe in a way, it is true that *specific* LGBT identity and themes are not at the center of his works. It’s less about “being” an identity (in the way that western queer fandom talks about identity and lgbt representation–“is x character ‘confirmed’ as gay/bi/lesbian? Did they say the actual word?”)  and more a collection of specific experiences of love, attraction, shame, and sacrifice couched in actions and metaphors that people can relate to across the variations of specific label or identity. 


Due to this, I can understand the people who don’t connect with Ikuhara’s work, and where they are coming from when they say “well he doesn’t actually care about wlw or LGBT themes, he’s just interested in deviant or taboo subjects!” because well…it’s partially correct. His work is interested in exploring the “deviant” and taboo themes both in serious and thoughtful ways as well as in the “hm…wouldn’t it be messed up if this happened? Let’s dig into it” kind of way. And I can see how that might not connect with people who are interested in LGBT stories where the specificity of identity is centered and presented as a “normalized” kind of representation rather than an expression of deviance. It’s certainly important to have such stories, but I also think that it’s also valid to compassionately explore deviance and weirdness in relation to queerness as well.

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