Design a site like this with
Get started

Cruel Heart, Virgin Soul: Sweetheart Zine, #teachergalo, and Creative Deviation

cropped image of the sweetheart zine cover, which shows the bottom half of galo's face and shoulders. He is wearing a red jacket and black tshirt with a red lanyard, and is smiling slightly with golden sunlight behind him. the word "sweetheart" in handwritten cursive is superimposed over the image.

CW: Discussion of fictional rape/noncon, abuse, suicide mention, blood (from preview images)

The #teachergalo Alternate Universe builds loosely upon the hit 2019 anime movie Promare, focusing on the relationship between the main characters and widely-accepted couple Galo Thymos and Lio Fotia. However, aside from the general character designs and the occasional nod to source material, the universe is a completely different, self contained dark story with its own set of specific characterizations and fluid lore. Here, Galo is reimagined as an attractive but adorably naïve gym teacher, while Lio is a deceptively innocent high school senior who lusts after him in possessive, violent ways. It’s a universe defined by its specific elements, while also being incredibly flexible depending on who is depicting them in the moment.  The erotic-horror fanzine Sweetheart, full of illustrations, comics, and fics, lovingly put together by Studio C4 and Guests, succeeds in creating a unique, extreme experience as this universe’s exaggerated, extreme versions of Lio and Galo perform for their audience upon their prototypical high-school stage.

My one note before I get into the meat of my thoughts is that on a purely personal and general level, this intentional out-of-character abusive relationship dynamic for Lio and Galo is not something that entirely appeals to me. Obviously, I was intrigued enough to purchase and read the zine, and I greatly appreciate the skill of everyone involved in its execution. I’m just also very aware that I wasn’t able to really connect as deeply as other fans might, especially in relation to its focus on physical violence. I enjoy my fair share of dark content and fucked up relationships in other contexts so I’m not harmed or repulsed by it the way others might understandably be, but overall my appreciation of the work is mostly being curious, and finding ways to evaluate the direction my own thoughts go in while reading and observing.

Cover Art of the Zine. All preview images in this review are sourced from the zine’s official twitter account.

To start off, on a sheer technical level, the design of this book (I bought the PDF edition) is absolutely gorgeous. Much has been said by others about the quality of the graphic design and how it contributes to the mood and storytelling, but I will reiterate it here because it deserves it. The book has a very messy, scrapbook feeling and the use of color and various handwritten and scribbled text to highlight the tones of the different fics works extremely well. The fics themselves are sumptuously and viscerally written, and the artists are all extremely skilled at creating various moods and feelings. It was great to see the variety, from the more realistically rendered and dramatically bloody paintings, to unnervingly cutesy and cartoony energetic styles, and the arrangement and sequence and framing of the art with the stories is very well organized as well. It really is a visual feast, and one of the most unique things I’ve had the pleasure of purchasing. I can’t speak to the physical edition or subsequent merchandise, as I did not order it and they have not been yet sent out, but from what I have seen of them they all look impressive as well. Credit to Studio C4 and their participants for delivering, and also for the zine twitter account’s responsive customer service (in my experience) during the process, I may add.

The dynamic of #teachergalo itself is one that is twice-subversive: First, in that it plucks the characters out of the context of the beloved Studio Trigger Movie, and warps their personalities almost beyond recognition. Second, it takes the familiar convention of unbalanced student/teacher relationships, already a popular taboo and sexual fantasy, and flips it so that the student is the one dominating and controlling the teacher. The first fic dwells specifically upon this reversed dynamic during the first time Lio coerces and rapes Mr. Thymos–Lio takes advantage of Galo’s kindness and sense of teacherly duty to get them alone together, and then threatens to accuse him of rape if he doesn’t submit. This acknowledgement of their existence within a greater social structure (in this case, general moral, as well as the generic prototypical American-school setting), and Lio’s subsequent breaking of the boundaries and expectations set by that structure, is a big part of the AU’s appeal in the first place. 

Aside from the work produced by the original artists and zine members who introduced the original ideas near the end of 2019 and beginning  of 2020, much of the experience of #teachergalo AU earlier this year has been an exercise in collaborative fandom fun as different fanartists, fic writers, and other content creators across the globe continue to share their ideas and excitement playing in the rich, horny, dramatic sandbox that the AU provides, providing extra possibilities, bringing in other characters and factors, finding other ways to flip the dynamic in amusing and exciting directions. But before a dynamic can be flipped, there must first be an understanding and establishment of what the dynamic is in the first place.

preview image from @sweetheartzine (source)

Lio in the zine is very purely, fantastically evil, a type of character that admittedly doesn’t usually appeal to me, but is objectively compelling with just how batshit he is in the lengths he goes to. Lio moves through the story with a kind of basic omnipotence–he does what he wants, when he wants it, he is full of complete confidence in himself and his actions with no remorse or hesitation. His cruelty is for the sake of it, and he fears no one. He is the center of his own world, and anyone outside of him and Mr. Thymos are irrelevant, and in a way, he’s right–it’s Lio’s actions that push the story forward and make the concept compelling in the first place. Lio is the driving force acting mercilessly upon the passive object that is Mr. Thymos, and the  intensity of his desire and sheer amount of control has a haunting, almost supernatural feel to it. In this story, Lio doesn’t seem to have any particular long term agenda or plan for his and Galo’s relationship, which is an interesting contrast to some of approaches to the AU I’d read before the launch of the zine itself. The different ways he is written in the fics reveal various aspects of his personality depending on the situations, but the overall impression from them is that Lio is a figure that seems almost self-aware of the kind of story that he’s in, the kind of character he is, and thus, is assured that he can truly do whatever he wants with impunity. In that sense, he is very much not delusional, but completely in control. 

Preview image from @sweetheartzine source

For me, most of the casual experience of the AU was from both seeing the fanart and the casual talk from fans, which included both humorous takes and shitposts alongside more serious or darker topic discussion. Also, the marketing aesthetic of the Sweetheart zine emphasized a more cutesy-kawaii aesthetic as well which lent a sense of interesting dissonance with the subject matter. Due to becoming used to the various jokes and banter, I had somewhat expected the zine to have a similar kind of mood, basking in the horror and erotic aspects but with a kind of humorous distance playing up the sexy, voyeuristic absurdity. And while it does lean into that surreal and absurd nature and has its silly cartoony moments, it also definitely suckerpunched me with the depth of the emotions it explored, especially in the moments from Galo’s point of view.

The one for whom the AU is named for, Galo appropriately carries the burden of desire and emotional weight of the story presented. As a character objectified and framed through the art, occupying the role that Lio sets for him dutifully even if he doesn’t understand why he is being abused in the first place, much of the fics and material from his perspective are focused on the pathos of his experience. His story, after all, is about being subjected to constant violation and trauma, with his attempts to make sense of it all constantly coming up short. The quiet, almost soft introspectiveness of Galo’s despair and various internal dialogue contrasts with the vicious physicality of the art and fics and serves to give a sense of groundedness against his nightmarish, almost unreal predicament. He’s introduced in the first fic, defined by his kindness and willingness to try and help, and it’s this very meekness that allows him to be molded and manipulated and abused throughout the story. Yet, despite all he goes through, how much Lio breaks him and ruins him and fills his world with horror, fear, and ultimately suicidal ideation, he somehow manages to retain that kind and soft composure even in the very end. That in itself is not a noble, romantic thing–he despairs and feels his pain and fear deeply. But the way in which he is never angry, never retaliatory, and maintains a constant sense of paradoxically untarnished innocence throughout is an interesting extreme strength to his character, one in sharp opposition to the extreme violence of Lio, and it contributes to the poignant emotional stylization of the story. 

The last two fics and comic focus on Galo’s trauma and general mental state after their relationship ends as he tries to make sense of his experiences. He grapples with his loss of control and sense of agency as he spirals from guilt, shame, paranoia, and loneliness after Lio finally abandons him. His approaches to his own sexuality and sense of self are extremely damaged, but he appears to be finding ways to pick himself back up again in an ending that is either foolishly or sincerely optimistic, depending on how one decides to read it. In contrast with the bright, over-the-top nature of the earlier fics, the ending stories have a very naturalistic, grounded feel to its emotions that come through the mundaneness of the descriptions and the subdued colors. It’s such a very quiet way to end a wild adventure of a story, that almost makes the memory of everything that came before it feel warped and unreal, a nightmare that sounds absurd put into words, but from which the feelings that were evoked are very much concrete and impactful. 

My personal zine summary

This codified relationship presented in Sweetheart, in a way, acts as a kind of retroactive “Ur-text” for the AU, playing the relationship between its version of Lio and Galo in its most basic and straightforward fashion–Lio is cruel and evil, Galo is passive and innocent, and while other characters and elements make brief appearances, the world is fundamentally focused on them. The high school setting, with its familiar aesthetics and trappings of gyms, lockers, hallways, adds to the sense of eerieness in staging the mood. The engaging simplicity of their dynamic allows the story to be what it is, but also invites more elaboration and interpretation of what it could be as well. It is particularly amusing to me how, throughout the course of both the zine itself as well as the fandom’s collective experience of the AU, the specific #teachergalo dynamic itself becomes an “expected”  structure, one with its own conventions and tropes to play off and deviate from.

This is a very casual list of variations I have personally stumbled across (and occasionally contributed to) either in conversation or in my time in fandom this year. These are all from memory from the past several months so it’s neither comprehensive nor in any kind of specific order . This is just to give a sheer breadth of the ways in which people have used the idea of the established structure as a jumping off point either in fanwork or simply musing over the various wild possibilities. 

Starting Point: Hit Anime Movie Promare (2019)

  • Deviation: But what if the Lio was a Student who violently abuses and terrorizes Teacher Galo
  • What if Lio was Like That because he was Also Abused (adding backstory)
  • What if he really DID kill Galo instead of just threatening to
  • What if Galo accidentally killed Lio in self defense and then went to jail
  • What if Galo was actually a masochist the whole time so the situation is good for him 
  • What if Lio was a creepy stalker but too cowardly to do anything actually violent so he’s just kind of there being weird
  • What if Galo lived his life and healed and moved on and lived happily after his abuse
  • What if Galo snapped and started becoming possessive of Lio and Lio found himself out of his depth
  • What if… (forbidden) they were actually a very sweet and wholesome couple (but still teacher/student so still taboo subject)
  • What if the whole Teacher Galo story was just the urban legend that bored students made up in class to be edgy and to scare freshmen
  • What if Lio did have a crush on Galo as a student but the violent things were just his intrusive thoughts so he never made his feelings clear out of shame and guilt
  • What if Lio did have feelings but he never expressed them and then he DIED and then Galo felt BAD
  • What if The Teacher AU was canon LioGalo’s kinky roleplay story they do to deal with their trauma from the movie
  • What if the Teacher AU was a trashy drama TV show that other Galos in other Alternate Universes watch
  • What if they were furries
  • …and much much more. You get the idea
source. I made this meme and thought it was funny.

In the 1998 interview between scifi feminist critic Mari Kotani and acclaimed anime director Kunihiko Ikuhara in the magazine Real Sexuality, they discuss a broad range of subjects related to their experience of fandom history and spaces. While their discussion is specific to their own cultural context of Japanese anime fandom in the 90s, I find that aspects of their discussion, especially the section “The Girls Who Survive: Being Driven Out of the System” lends interesting insights for the ways in which fandom, especially #teachergalo fandom, operates. Kotani states: “Basically, I like deviation, I want to escape away, but if you are not oppressed there is no way to escape. In order to deviate, you have to first be tied up.” I find this concept of “deviation” interesting, both in the sense of fandom finding ways to deviate from an original presented structure, as well as the context of the story Sweetheart presents. 

Kotani’s statement of “in order to deviate, you must first be tied up” is my personal explanation to people who ask the question “why would anyone be interested in something so drastically, terribly different than canon? Why can’t people make their own characters?” I can’t speak for everyone, but I presume from my own fandom experience as well as anecdotally from others, that it is the specific thrill of contrast, of deviation from an “original” state that drives the desire for such creation. The appeal of the “wholesome” variations of the Teacher AU is specifically because we know that it is based on something exactly the opposite, and it gains a very “forbidden” feeling that wouldn’t necessarily be there if it was originally made to be soft in the first place. Likewise, the Teacher AU may be interesting on its own as a story of straightforward violent eroticism, but part of what makes it compelling is that it is a dark and extreme reimagining of characters that are overwhelmingly viewed by most as being in a positive relationship. There is also deviation within the story as well, as it ends with Galo “escaping” from his predicament, and the brief sweetness of his healing and hope after everything. It’s cathartic moment, and the kind of emotion that comes from it would not have the same impact without having the contrast of the misery of all that had come before.

As the rate of fandom trends seems to move fairly quickly these days, it’s not too surprising that things have died down a bit more. That being said, one of the reasons why I wanted to write a longer post  was because I know how fleeting things can be, and also record my own experience and perception of the Teacher AU and both its participatory culture along with giving my impressions of the Sweetheart zine itself. My perspective and experience of course, was and is fairly limited, and it is always kind of an awkward thing to analyze and “evaluate” something that 1) Was made for a very specific, niche audience and 2) While I find fandom creativity endlessly fascinating and worthy of discussion, the boundaries and etiquette of it feels much different than the discussion of larger media itself. Fandom, especially creative-transformative fandom, is a much more intimate, strange, and shared experience, and something I try to do respectful justice to even as it becomes difficult to navigate its increasingly ephemeral and nebulous structure on twitter. The zine, while giving blanket credit to the aforementioned Studio C4 and guests, declines to give specific individual identification, which is very understandable given the negative backlash that fans and creators of the AU faced when it initially became public and popular. Thus, I’ve tried to keep my own commentary more vague and focused on the content as a whole, rather than singling out specific artists and writers. However, if you were a participant and do end up reading this for whatever reason just know that I appreciate your work.

In general, as an artist and fanartist myself, I am always happy to see people’s extremely specific creative visions become a reality. As I mentioned above, Sweetheart really is one of the most unique and creative projects I’ve ever had the pleasure of being able to read as a work of art. Not to get too #personal, but as we all know this year has been very shitty for many reasons especially recently. But earlier this year even before the Main Global Situation went down, it was shitty for Other, more Specific individual reasons. And it was in that time that I did find a lot of comfort in being able to indulge with some more darker wild artistic content with fandom folks, including seeing the many different takes and deviations on the basic Teacher Galo story. Not everything was really for me of course, in terms of being comfortable with the content, but the enthusiasm and creativity and sheer self-indulgence with regards to ridiculous and zany interpretations was encouraging to me then, and continues to be so now.

Bonus thoughts

  • With regards to Kotani, I am aware that I am taking her words slightly out of context; I am less using them to support my idea and more like showing my train of thought. Her description of “deviation” definitely is something that comes to mind to me a lot when I think about the different approaches to fandom and shipping-related discussions, so I wanted to include it. For those interested, the interview has many fascinating thoughts regarding gendered differences in experience of fandom, as well as discussions of the appeal of various dark content, especially in female fandom spaces. It’s something to take with a grain of salt, definitely (especially with some of its more absolutist gendered experience statements) but it certainly has informed my own perspective.
  • I can definitely see Teacher AU Galo lining up somewhat with my earlier analysis of original, canon Galo as having “maiden vibes.” My criteria for “maiden” type characters of any gender consists of the combination of youth/inexperience and being subject to a system of servitude, and that could definitely be applied to this scenario. Galo in the AU is a teacher, and thus in a presumed position of authority, but he is usually portrayed as a new and naive, and it’s that naivety and initial loyalty to his role that makes him vulnerable. The system of the school, in this story, does not protect him but becomes yet another tool that Lio uses to bind and manipulate him.

Author: maiden theory

I'm just a Bird whose intentions are good

One thought on “Cruel Heart, Virgin Soul: Sweetheart Zine, #teachergalo, and Creative Deviation”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: