Takarazuka: Hakushaku no Reijou (伯爵令嬢)

October 23rd, 2014

posterOf all the things I did in Tokyo last week, perhaps most memorable was attending another Takarazuka show. But first, I absolutely *must* disclaimer this review. WARNING: If you love Takarazuka and take it very seriously, avoid this review like the plague. Thank you.

My beloved C.O., Ana Moreno invited me along on a fact-finding mission to Takarazuka. She and Nogami Takeshi-sensei were studying Takarazuka fans for an upcoming strip in their comic, Marine Corps Yumi. We were accompanied by Nogami-sensei’s friend Tachibana-san, who is a serious fan (but not too serious. In fact, Tachibana-san was absolutely adorable and very patient with us, as you will see) and Bruce. The 5 of us made an unconventional group as we took our seats.

The show we saw, Hakushaku no Reijou (伯爵令嬢), starred Snow Troupe top stars, Sagiri Seina, who is an up and coming young star and Saki Miyu, who was everything you could ever want in a top female lead. For a small taste (and the first problem we encountered) check out this commercial for the show.

One of the very first things I mentioned to Ana as we waited for Nogami-sensei and Tachibana-san, was the propensity for Takarazuka songs to overuse the word “love” in excessive ways. “Je t’aime!” I exclaimed, “Ai!” and “Love!” are whole songs that go on forever.”

The performance was held in the secondary theater, rather than the main Takarazuka Tokyo Theater. It was magnificently ugly .

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The ceiling was a thing of wonder. I tried to get a shot of the walls, but that didn’t work.

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So, we sit down and we learn that Hakushaku no Reijou is based on a twelve-volume manga from the 70s.

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Almost immediately, Ana and I realized we should never, ever sit next to each other. Every time the show wallowed in a shoujo manga trope, we punched each other. The punching started immediately. ^_^

In the West of France (punch), at an orphanage (punch), blonde-haired, be-ribboned Corinne (punch) who is in love with a blind boy, Richard (say it Frenchly with a soft “ch”, i.e, Ree-shard) (punch) meets the selfish landowner who wants to close the orphanage (punch). Corinne slaps him and he falls in love (punch and so on throughout the perfomance).

This was the first 5 minutes of the show! Then the evil landlord breaks into a song. “Je t’aime!” Alan sings, over and over, and I and Ana try not to look at each other as we laugh.

Alan tells Corinne that he’ll save the orphanage if she comes to Paris to be with him. She agrees, but on the steamer ship ride (from Western France to Paris) she is pushed overboard by a grifter named Jeanne, who has learned that Corinne is the true daughter of a Duke. The Takarazuka fairies of the waves were memorable and while Ana and I mimicked their dancing at intermission, Tachibana-san jumped in to be the waving sheets of water. She really was game. ^_^ Corinne wakes up with no memory, so Alan tells her she’s his fiancee’ and takes her to his home. Jeanne pretends to be Corinne and is now passing as the Duke’s daughter, but when he uncovers her perfidy she kills him by pushing him down a staircase (which, when it came forward on the stage, every one of us thought, “yup, there goes the Duke.”

Corinne has learned to take photos and is working for Alan. She’s saved on the street by Francois who is a redhead, so you know we can’t trust him. He falls for her, as well. Richard is also in Paris, sent there by Alan in return for Corinne, where he has had surgery to give him his sight back.

In the meantime, Jeanne sees Corinne and is recognized. They meet at the Seine at night and Jeanne (again) pushes Corinne into the water. (We all agreed later, that it would be in Corinne’s best interest to stay away from water, but she doesn’t.) The shock of falling into the water revives Corinne’s memory and she runs back to tell Alan that while she did like him and he was kind to her, their relationship is a lie and she hates him. So she leaves, and ends up at Francois’s place. He drugs and tries to rape her, but can’t bring himself to do it.

While Corinne is gone, Alan’s father runs an inflammatory news item in his paper. Alan rejects his father’s tabloid newspaper ways and vows to start a paper on his own, with substantial journalism. On the street, he is recognized by a bunch of toughs as the son of the man who prints BS about terrorists and is beaten  and left to lay in the snow.

On the street one day, the Duchess runs into Corinne and recognizes her as her long-lost daughter, then recalls her husband’s dying message telling her to keep looking for Corinne. She confronts Jeanne who, predictably, kills her. Jeanne (and her accomplice in crime, Maurice I think) is now free to live openly, so she throws a party. Corinne shows up to take photos and the staff think she is the Duchess returned to life. Jeanne goes after Corinne. Alan comes to her rescue.Richard realizes that his true love is this photographer. Francois, who holds a grudge against Alan for being the cause of his father’s death, goes after Alan.

The fight ends up on a zeppelin. It was pretty good staging, but the moment the dirigible scenery came up, I could see where we were headed. Over the ocean, as Jeanne and Corinne fight, Alan and Francois do, as well. Jeanne plummets into the ocean, Alan defeats Francois, the zeppelin goes up in flames and I absolutely lose it. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breath. Ana and I were pounding on each other. Even Bruce laughed.

In the end, Francois, Alan and Corinne wash up on the beach, Francois returns to his honorable prostitute girlfriend, having forgiven Alan. Richard gives Alan the salute of a man who never was going to get the girl and the performance ends with everyone singing “Je t’aime!” over and over.

The revue portion was short and sweet and everyone sang “Je t’aime!” a bit more, and then my third live Takarazuka performance was finished.

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We saw some of the Takarazuka costumes for Rose of Versailles in the lobby.

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The next show they are doing is Lupin III:

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Over dinner, we all laughed at the many, many, many, shoujo manga tropes. Tachibana-san suggested that the dance moves for the review were supposed to be retro to fit with the play, which we all  thought explained that. And we also joked about the time period being sort of 18th, 19th or 20th century as needed. We agreed that the setting was “Paris of the mind.” Then we threw money at the Takarazuka shop, because one does.

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On the street, we had an encounter with the first spot in Tokyo destroyed by Godzilla. Ana gave her a phone to use while she was in town.

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P.S. – When I got back to the hotel, my wife showed me the present she had bought for me. ^_^ Squee.

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In the end, it was a fabulous day. Many, many thanks to Ana, Nogami-sensei, Tachibana-san and Bruce for an amazing day.

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My stomach actually ached that night from laughing so hard. Hakushaku no Reijou was brilliantly staged, well-acted and utterly hilarious in every way.





Geek Girl Con 2014 – Where Geekery is Queen

October 22nd, 2014

This book was in the lobby of my hotel. It means nothing, but explains a lot about the hotel.

I am returned from my whirlwind tour of locations west of my natural habitat, at last! First up, I want to tell you all about Geek Girl Con, which was held October 11 and 12 in Seattle, Washington.

The focus of GGC is very hands-on, what have you made/written/worn/sung today? And it is very young-person friendly. The event offers a maker space for kids and a DIY science area, both of which were pretty full the whole time. The attendee mix was delightful, people of all genders, ages, sexes, sexualities. The only thing I’d say was missing was racial diversity, but that may be more of a reflection of Seattle, which strikes me as a very white city as compared with my local area. I’ll get back to this point later. There were a lot of children, boys and girls, and what really stood out to everyone I spoke with is that GGC attracted a crowd that actually gets what equality looks and feels like. The guys as well as the women were all about female-focused fandom without the kind of “I’ll get me some girls for sure!” inanity or the kind of incoherent rage we see from some parts of the community at female-focused series being popular, or series that women like being inherently less good or, indeed, women being fans of anything. In short, it was a great crowd. So great that nearly everyone commented on it.

 

 

 

The con itself got off to a gentle start, with a gradual fill, rather than the frenetic rush of larger events.

I was accompanied in my study of Geek Girls by my intrepid lackey Bruce, who puts up with amazing shit and I’m incredibly grateful to him for many things. Bruce and I wandered the main selling floor, past the gaming stuff, until we found things we could buy. As soon as we found stuff we could throw money at, we knew we’d like this con. ^_^

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It started with some awesome pop culture/ancient art mashups by Dancing Heron.

Then we found a lovely print of the Senshi by KRMayer.

I managed to not be a total dork at the Doubleclicks table as I bought their album Lasers and Feelings from Aubrey (whose name I got right, score one uber nerd point for me fo, not fucking that up. Don’t worry though, I fucked up a major thing later at a different event and lost that point and many others.)

I also bought a lovely ring with the symbol for the planet Uranus on it that I liked. I know it’s upside down, I was wearing it so someone looking at it would see it right way up.

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I owned it less than a week. It fell off my finger in a cab in Mitaka, Japan. But that’s a different story. ^_^;

Bruce and I ran into some old friends, Sparkle and Gideon. I was given a sample copy of their daughter’s hand-drawn comic, Blue Bird. We also got to spend some time with an old friend Hillary, blogger L.B. Bryant and Yuri no Boke herself, Katherine H. and twitter friend Amy S. It was great catching up with everyone, seriously. Walking around an event is always more fun with someone to bounce ideas off of.

In the Artists Alley, I had an extended conversation with the folks at Kilted Comics, because I absolutely fell hard for their Paris in the 20th Century comic, that features adventuresses in an alt 1920’s Paris. SO my type of thing. In fact, about the time I bought that I was feeling very pleased with GGC. ^_^

We started to get in line for the concert, but an incipient cold I was fighting off became a fever and we packed it in for the night.

Sunday was spent with friends for the first half, as we wandered around the con once more, enjoying the atmosphere.  When I encountered this group of cosplayers I realized exactly what I liked best about GGC:

ggcavdm

Sailor fuku-wearing, gender switched Avengers and Darth Makenna for the win. THIS is everything I loved about GGC, the unapologetic mashups, the celebration of everything we love all at once, and loving it any way we damn well please. ^_^ The cosplay was fabulous.  (Later that day I saw a Sailor Mars with many tattoos and I suddenly thought that an all-inked up Senshi lineup would totally do it for me. If I could draw, I would be working on that like gangbusters.)

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Riding on this high of “woot, fandom, we’re all crazy, in a sparkly way”, I made my way over to the Northwest Press booth, which comes complete with disco ball and pink fake fur-covered sofa, along with some of the most *amazing* queer comics and prose in print. (I haven’t reviewed it here, as it’s utterly not lesbian, but Al-Qaeda’s Secret Weapon is one of the funniest, most outrageous and brilliant comics I have ever read.) There, at last, I got to fangirl at Leia Weathington, creator of The Legend of Bold Riley. As I expected, she was delightful and was not at all flipped out by me being a massive creepy fangirl at her. Leia was really excited about the upcoming Bold Riley pamphlets, and we talked about how the success of her Kickstarter gave her the chance to give all the artists a raise.

lande

I also had a lovely talk with publisher at NWP, Zan Christensen.  He kindly gave me the short story anthology The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! to read.  Expect some very exciting news coming from this quarter in the near future. ^_^

I managed one panel on Sunday, on LGBTQ writers, characters and content in Sci-Fi. The panel was quite excellent. Panelists talked about the resistance of traditional publishers, the sea change in representation that is becoming a swell as more readers and authors demand better and more diversity. They talked about their own histories, gave suggestions of authors to read. They even noted that while it was great having an female scifi writer panel on the topic, there was still some work to do. All the panelists were white, they noted. Where where the Women of Color authors? The Trans and Queer authors? I was really glad that they commented on this and it made me hopeful that GGC would work to increase diversity even more for next year.

After hanging with friends a bit more, Bruce and I headed down to the water to visit the Seattle Art Museum. We had less than an hour there before it closed, but it was stellar. Well worth a visit on its own. It should come as no surprise at all that I made a beeline for the Pop Departures exhibit and was gratified to see a James Rosenquist in the mix and then beside myself with glee to see Barbara Kruger included, as well. ^_^

Sunday night, Bruce and I walked across the city (through a crowd of unhappy Seahawks fans) to what turned out to be a fantastic, restorative dinner at The Tamarind Tree.  And our con ended officially Monday morning after tea and crumpets with Katherine and Amy at The Crumpet Shop. Thank you ladies for a delightful time!

I would highly recommend Geek Girl Con for anyone who likes to be part of the narrative, not just part of the audience. It’s intimate and small right now, just the kind of con that you can feel comfortable coming as the TARDIS, a steampunk gender switched Harry Potter or Satsuki and Nonon from Kill La Kill and fit right in.

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Home Again, Home Again

October 21st, 2014

homeI am once again back home and have two weeks worth of news, event reports and awesome stuff to share with you. Sorry for the radio silence, but when you see what I have been up to, you’ll understand why. ^_^





Hourai Girls Manga, Volume 2 (蓬莱ガールズ)

October 10th, 2014

hg2f Last winter, I introduced you to Rinka, daughter of a powerful and evil lord, who escapes her father’s clutches with her servant, the zombie YanYan, in Hourai Girls, Volume 1. The two girls head out to find the mythical land “Hourai.”

Along the way they’ve picked up a dog-tailed leader of a warrior clan, Ku-long, who is actually not much of a fighter and prefers to read books. He had a book about Hourai when he was a child and wants to find the paradise, too. Before they head to Hourai, he insists they stop at his home, so he can get the book. In Volume 2 of Hourai Girls (蓬莱ガールズ) we learn that his hometown has been infested by monsters and many of his people have been slaughtered.

Ku-long hasn’t been a good leader, in fact he ran away, so his people resist his sudden drive to roust the monsters, but of course YanYan and Rinka lead the way and Ku-long admits that the book about Hourai is long ago burnt by his malicious father. However, he discovers his new leadership skills and takes the place of command. Then he abandons his people again to go follow the girls on their quest.

Rinka and YanYan have vivid memories of Rinka as a child, but their memories differ in some key ways. Rinka remembers YanYan as her beloved friend, while YanYan remembers being turnd into a zombie and rendered into pieces and reattached by Rinka’s evil father, then forced to attend Rinka. She admits this all to Rinka and they discover that, now, so many years later, they truly have come to a place where they care about and trust one another. Rinka puts her own life on the line for her zombie friend and YanYan is able to let the past go. Until it comes back in the form of her brother – the man who brought her back from the dead, in desperation, after his family was slaughtered. They also make peace with their misdeeds and part as family once again.

At which point the volume and the epic story wraps up with YanYan, Rinka and Ku-long finding Hourai. The End.

The ending is abrupt, but it was perfectly fine. We’d slaughtered all the monsters we could usefully slaughter, had all the emotional epiphanies that could be had and it would all get rather repetitive from here on in. I was quite surprised that the story took any time to deal with YanYan’s past, much less her family and gave a big chunk of time to her feelings about Rinka and vice versa. I’m not sure I’d call their relationship love, but it’s surely affection.

Ratings:

Art – 8 Not bad for so much gore
Story – Likewise
Characters – Likable, in an action movie kind of way
Yuri – 4 Probably more sisterly than anything, but if you wanted to go there, you could
Service – Of the zombie guro kind, mostly blood and body parts.

Overall – 8

A fun rollicking tale that I absolutely could not read just before bed or I’d dream of dismembered people. Not bad for a $1 purchase at the used book store. ^_^





Dear Brother Anime, Box Set 1 (English)

October 7th, 2014

DB1I never actually thought I’d ever write a review like this, but here I am today, reviewing Osamu Dezaki’s masterful anime based on Riyoko Ikeda’s manga, Oniisama E, translated for an English-speaking audience on physical media. It’s nothing short of a miracle.

Today we speak of the first ever release of Dear Brother on DVD in English.

The story, about “average” girl Nanako, who is caught up in the affairs of her school’s brightest and most influential, is fraught with emotional highs and lows I’ve never seen in any other school life drama.  Nanako finds herself surrounded by people so powerful and so eccentric, it makes the Yamayurikai look pretty much like the normal girls they are.

This first box set covers the intense and often depressing or shocking first thirteen episodes. Issues are dealt with that modern-day dramas merely handwave. Depression, obsession, suicide, drug use…and that’s just Rei. The casual, institutional and individual emotional sadism we see in the first third of the story is breathtaking and heart breaking. The plot offers up unhealthy helpings of manipulation and bullying, but it’s tempered with some pointed socio-political commentary as well.

Like Dezaki’s other masterwork, Rose of Versailles, I can only take Dear Brother in small doses and need a lot of One Piece to wash it down with, or it’s too bitter a pill to swallow. This is Drama with a capital D. And it hurts. Much like GUNJO, you’re walking a knife bridge with Dear Brother and the tension never really lets up. I’m tense when watching any and every episode. I know, I make it sound so appealing, right? But it’s worth it.

The translation is good enough to completely ignore – which is exactly what I want out of a  translation. It should be there to facilitate my understanding, not clash with it.

But what really stands out to me is the animation. Yes, the characters styles are dated (and yes, I far far prefer them to the current character design trends) but the backgrounds, wow. Remember, when you looks at Miya-sama’s hair, or the smears on a chalkboard, or the way cloth is rendered – all that was done by hand. Every shadow, every seam was inked by someone without help of software. Every once in a while, I’m standing at Mandarake in Nakano and a cel from this series is for sale, and I stare at knowing I will never pay the price to own it, but wanting to oh so badly. (I’ve already got a Drama CD fetish, I’m not going near cels.)

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Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 9
Characters – 10
Yuri – 3
Service – 4 Of a different sort, with the Beautiful Ones far, far more beautiful than high school students are in the real world.

Overall – 9

With a combination of tightly wound story-telling, unforgettable characters and timeless art, Dear Brother is, IMHO, a pinnacle of shoujo anime, a classic that I’m very proud to have helped bring to DVD.