Archive for the Miscellaneous Category


Winter Reading: “Abyss” Novel Series by Emily Skrustkie

November 12th, 2017

 It’s kind of obvious to most people interested in and embedded in pop culture that we are going through a massive cultural cramp right now as previously silenced and controlled voices find that they don’t actually have to be quiet to protect other people’s fragile sensibilities.

The folks who have decided that gaming and perverting the awards systems to fuel their egos; Gamergate, the few people left arguing that Jane Foster as Thor or female Ghostbusters destroys their childhoods and the Sad and Rabid Puppies are, in a nutshell, pathetic. But they, and their political counterparts, have done the rest of us a service. They serve as a sign post to a miserable, regressive position on the future.  And by being those signposts, we can just as easily look in the opposite direction for inspiration.  And so, I have been spending my days reading science fiction and fantasy again as I had not in many years. I’m using the puppies’ “Do Not Want” lists as my to-read list, and it’s been great.I don’t think I’ve been this happy reading science fiction and fantasy in decades. It’s not suitable for Okazu, but I finished Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor last week. If you have a YA reader of any age who liked Harry Potter or who wished not all magic users were white or male, have them start with Akata Witch. Brilliant stuff. I’m also reading Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, which I’ll be reviewing here. 

But today I want to talk about a different kind of monster than those who inhabits the Internets. Today we’re talking about giant monsters. Giant Sea Monsters.

Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us follows sea-beast trainer Cassandra Leung on her first day testing her skills in controlling the giant monster, the Reckoner, she has trained to fight pirates. Instead of taking down the pirates, Cassandra is captured and forced to train a Reckoner that will belong to the pirates themselves.  

The dialogue and plot are pretty-high tension, as befits both Cas’ character and the situation. There’s violence which is wholly appropriate to the story. And there’s a sexual tension and relationship that builds up between Cas and her captor Swift, who is one of four trainees’ being groomed by their strict, strong and openly manipulative captain, Santa Elena. Swift wants to be captain someday and she’s probably going to be.

The two best things about the series are the way that pirates are portrayed as pretty much terrible people and the Reckoners. There’s alliances, rather than friendships among the pirates…even within a crew. And Santa Elena plays the trainees off of one another, so none of them know enough to take over individually and they don’t know enough to gang up on her and take over together. Skrutskie takes the kind of manipulation and maneuvering we all know from school and work and lays it out as the actual standard operating procedure of the ship.  The beasts are portrayed as beasts. No warm fuzzy mammal-bonding here. These are giant sea-going creatures like squids and whales and turtles, trained to be ship-destroying machines. They are terrifying.

Edge of the Abyss begins a few weeks after Cas has been captured and has negotiated her place in the crew. It opens the world of the pirates up a little larger, and we can see the symbiosis between the pirates and the oceans and their prey, the ships from the land countries. The story swirls more tightly around Swift and Cas’ relationship and how it affects their work, the crew and the larger political relationship with the other pirates, and their relationship with the boats they attack.  But mostly, it’s about Cas and Swift. Their relationship is tempestuous, to say the least. 

The ending of Edge of the Abyss is abrupt, however, I felt it was the right choice to make. Stretching this book into a third story would have been forced and exhausting. By ending it the way she did, Skrutskie left room for a third book without needing cleanup of leftovers, and equally, she could leave this book where it is, wrapped up tightly without need for a sequel. 

Most importantly, Skrutskie has given us a more modern, more realistic, and yet still futuristic idea of pirates and piracy that fails to glorify the lifestyle, even as it is embedded within it. And it gives us an image of women and men as pirates on more or less equal footing without explanation or handwave. And, for us, it provides a same-sex young female couple without  coming of age or coming out clogging up the larger story.

Ratings:

Overall – 8

I found these two books to be enjoyable. Perfect for teen or older reader looking for a more realistic image of pirates and less historical fantasy. No Johnny Depps need apply, but Natalie Portman would make a damn fine Santa Elena. 

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Akarui Kiokusoushitsu, Volume 1 (明るい記憶喪失) Guest Review by Bruce P

November 8th, 2017

 I’m headed for Massachusetts to eat and drink and talk queer manga at Harvard tomorrow, heavy-hearted with the fresh loss of my dear friend Bruce. I’d like you all to read this and lift a glass of something tasty to his memory.  Here is the final Guest Review by Bruce P.

So you bought a copy of Practical Problems in the Forbidden Art of Reanimation, only to find it has nothing to do with Sailor Moon Crystal – but you’re having fun with it anyway, following the step-by-step instructions. Your hand-stitched project is now lying shackled and inert on the slab; electrodes have been implanted; dynamos are screaming in anticipation; lightning is crackling in the midnight sky outside – when you reach step 37 and realize, shoot, you forgot to pick up a brain. Well, no biggie. You pack a light snack and head down to the local morgue.

It’s dark as you creep in, hacksaw in hand, and begin opening the frosty vaults. You work at peeling back the rubber sheets – they tend to stick – and look over the corpses, trying to identify just the right kind of brain to harvest for use in…Maxine. But can you really gauge the quality of what’s inside those craniums from their frozen faces alone? Fortunately, you’ve broken into the Yuri wing, and your years as a fan are your guide…

 

Vault #1. 1940’s hairstyle done up in Play-Doh. Obviously a blithe Takemoto Izumi character. Too whimsical. Next.

 

#2. That aquiline nose and cold-chisel chin – clearly from the Takamiya Jin family. Bitter chocolate, when you’re looking for Milk Duds. Next.

 

#3. Eyes like pitted olives in search of a Martini. Must be a Morishima Akiko character. Too Perky.

 

 

#4. A double, how romantic. But cauliflower ears from the boxing rings of Hell – Oku Hiroya’s spawn of course (remember Hen?). These two have been on ice a while. Too pendulous (oh, you do remember Hen).

You are about to despair, when the final vault reveals a truly gruesome sight:

#5. Mouth gaping like a dirigible hangar – the unmistakable trademark of an Oku Tamamushi character. Overwrought, and potentially clinically insane. But on the plus side, this brain fits in a sandwich bag.

Excellent.

The preceding bit of seasonal froth highlights a curious fact: Oku Tamamushi has clearly made wide gaping mouths his personal artistic trademark. His work is instantly identifiable. This clever branding was a true flash of inspiration, the kind of thing you just don’t pick up in art school (not if it’s accredited). And he really gets to practice his yawning orifices in the 4-koma series Akarui Kiokusoushitsu, Volume 1  aka Cheerful Amnesia, (明るい記憶喪失). The title is honest and accurate. The cover character is in fact a violently cheerful Yuri amnesiac, and that is pretty much all there is to the story. It’s a long a haul to the end of the volume.

Arisa and Mari have been living together for some years. But as the story begins Arisa is lying comatose in the hospital, suffering from a severe case of plot device. When she awakens, she has no memory of Mari or their life together. Mouth wide open she wonders who this lovely, unfamiliar, unsmiling woman is sitting by the bed. When Mari informs her she’s her lover, Arisa’s little brain short-circuits. She blushes, shrieks, squirms, squees, wriggles, and generally provides evidence as to why Mari never once smiles through the rest of the Manga. What Arisa doesn’t do is close her mouth. Not now, not when they head home, not when she sees their big fluffy bed. Not much of ever, actually. Oku Tamamushi has a brand, and Arisa is intent on getting that contract for Volume 2.

From this point on Arisa has to get reacquainted with the intimacies that go with living as a couple. She doesn’t manage it well. She actually doesn’t manage it at all. She’s just so embarrassed and excited and squirmy to know that her lover is this lovely, unfamiliar, unsmiling woman (wait, wasn’t that page 1? Yes, and many, many pages beyond). It’s heavy going for Mari as they work their way from holding hands to soapy bath-times to the frilly underwear.  It’s heavy going for us all.

There’s one bright spot in all this. Mari heads out of the house for work in a sharp suit; Arisa follows her to find what office she works in. She is shocked to discover that Mari is in fact a welder. All she can do is stand with (guesses?) her mouth open. But really, there are far too few Yuri stories that feature skilled metalworkers, just my opinion. Obviously, even fewer good ones.

Arisa blunderingly (she really is a pill) outs Mari to her fellow workers. But the old guy in the shop is cool with it, to Mari’s relief, and the creepy young guy is just sad because he had a crush on her.

The essential Arisa is revealed in a flashback of how the two met. Mari is working the counter in a fast food place. Schoolgirl Arisa takes one look and is rooted to the spot in an agony of open-mouthed love. She returns to stare again day after day. Then one time Mari is not there, and Arisa, bewildered, simply sits faithfully waiting, pining away, hour after hour, heedless that the trains have stopped running. Mari shows up late and lugs the poor passed-out thing home. So, there it is, she’s Hachiko. If she was fuzzy it might be cute.

Four-komas are essentially newspaper comic strips, which are of course meant to be read on a one-strip-a-day basis. The majority of 4-komas are best approached in this fashion. This one would benefit from much greater intervals.

Ratings:

Art – 5.  Fairly routine 4-koma material.
Story – 4.  Without the amnesia, this could be a low-budget parody of Minamoto Hisanari’s Fu-Fu – the two women living together in each are even similar ‘types’: the free-spirited flake passionately in love with her taller, serious partner. But it does have the amnesia. And so much less.
Characters – 5.  A welder and an Akita. Unique, possibly, for a Yuri series, but not entirely healthy.
Yuri – 9.  A 10 would be %100 good Yuri. This is just %100 Yuri.
Service – 8.  Less in what is actually depicted, than in servicey situations, such as Mari arriving home with injured hands, requiring Arisa to wash her in the tub (blush, squee, squirm).

Overall – 5. This actually got a bump up to 5, less on merit, really, than as an encouragement for more Yuri stories with professional metalworkers. Or electricians. That just came to mind. Must be these screaming dynamos.

And if you think disinterred body parts electrified to walk the night are grotesque, consider that Akarui Kiokusoushitsu Volume 2 is now out.

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In Memoriam, Okazu Superhero Bruce P

November 7th, 2017

Hi folks. I have no idea what to say here. This is the second time I’ve lost someone important to me, someone who I met because of Yuri. Okazu Superhero, Guest Reviewer and my very dear friend Bruce Pregger has passed away.

If you’re a long time reader, you’ve read many of his hilarious reviews and his event reports (I’m putting them all, and this post, into a new category, so they can be found simply) here on Okazu. He’s traveled with me to several continents and I’m going to miss him so much, I can’t even express myself.

Ah, crap. I hate this. 

I had a guest review of his all scheduled to run on Wednesday, it will still run, but dammit, Bruce, you were supposed to go with us to Tokyo in 2 weeks. Dammit.

Goodbye Bruce, you will be missed.

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Mawaru Penguindrum Manga, Volume 1 (輪るピングドラム)

November 3rd, 2017

A few weeks ago, I posted a rather long, detailed retrospective of Revolutionary Girl Utena, which is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year, helped along by a new deluxe manga release from Viz and and Blu-Ray anime box set from Nozomi/RightStuf. It got me thinking about his other works, and their visual and thematic commonalities. I was considering re-watching Mawaru Penguindrum, released in English by Section 23 Films as Penguindrum (Set 1 and Set 2,) but a trip to Book-Off provided me with an alternate.

The Mawaru Penguindrum manga is drawn by Shibata Isuzu, a manga artist with whose work I was previously unfamiliar. With character designs by Hoshino Lily, the anime character designer, anyone familiar with the anime would find themselves instantly familiar with the manga. Volume 1 covers the introduction of the primary cast, sickly Himari, her brothers Kanba and Shoma and Ringo, the classmate with a little stalking problem. This first volume embraces, rather than rejects, the repeated footage of the Princess of the Crystal demanding the “Penguindrum” and dropping someone through the floor. 

The rest of the story is present almost completely intact from the anime. The penguins show up and are as awful as they are in the anime. We get Ringo’s back story, and Kan-chan’s own stalker, Natsuki is introduced at the end, but there is something missing….something important, Nothing is mentioned of Himari, Shoma and Kanba’s own backstory, except for a brief reference in the phone call from their uncle who plans on turning them out of their home. Their parents are a barely seen presence in no more than a single image and nothing is said of their non-appearance.

Where the manga in Utena and Yurikuma Arashi redistribute the basic elements of the plot and create something new, the manga for Mawaru Penguindrum seems more of a distillation of the story…with the use of repeated footage.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story – 6 If I didn’t already know where it was going, I might not keep reading. Or I might.
Characters – 7 Ringo’s still unhinged, but there’s no obvious sign of anyone else being broken. Presumably, that will change.
Yuri – 0 in this volume. Fingers crossed it keeps that piece of the story intact.
Service – A little compulsory service with the Princess’ outfit

I look forward to future volumes to see if/when it diverges from the already multi-layered anime narrative.

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A Note from the Editor’s Desk – On Removing A Post on Okazu

October 6th, 2017

Today I did a thing here on Okazu that I have not had occasion to do very often – a post has been removed.

It’s not something I have to do often because this is my blog and obviously, most of what I say here is mine to stand by or not as I desire.  But this was different, because it put me in a situation I sincerely have never before been in and one for which I had only a theoretical plan of action.

Anyone interested in popular culture right now can see that we are at some kind of crisis point with abuse, harassment and stalking conducted online. But that problem did not start here and now. It has been pervasive since the early days of online chats, Usenet, BBSs. Essentially, any communications tool ever created by humans has been used by some humans for abusing others. These targets are often women, children, LGBTQ people, people in marginalized communities,like folks in queer or disabled communities, people of color or ethnic minorities.

Every day in the news, we can read about “nice guys” that “everyone knew” who have a long string of victims of harassment and predatory sexual and emotional behavior. In fact, this very week, the news has two such situations – one on the larger national political scale and another in the blogging/online magazine world.  It takes a lot of effort, shame and publicity to get publishers and donors, academic institutions and employers to cut their ties from people they like, or who are successful, even after repeated stories of abuse are uncovered.

Like me, you may have read one of these stories and said, “Just fire the creep.” I have always said that, as I think most reasonable people might.

Equally, I expect most of you know I have been targeted for online abuse on and off for decades, beginning with my time on USENET and 4-chan’s years-long love affair with me. ^_^ I’m fairly impervious to trolls, attempts at harassment and abuse, but I understand others have had a different experience and people can be severely emotionally traumatized by online harassment.

This week I learned that one of our guest reviewers has a long, documented history of online abuse. I was, as you can imagine, horrified that I had given that person a place here on Okazu. To that end, Benjanun Sriduangkaew‘s post has been removed. You may click the link to read why on her Wikipedia page. I trust that she is a different person than she was – and certainly she was a completely different person when she presented herself to me – but I refuse on behalf of myself and all of you, to become part of this story without our consent or knowledge. Had she been an employee, she would have been fired. I will not be one of those employers, publishers or institutions who make excuses for her good work, no matter how good.

Online behavior ought to have consequences – this may be a small one, but it is the one I can do.  This is the complicated part: One may be a changed person, but one is still obliged to do one’s own reputation damage control. One must make amends or at least attempt to do so.  Others cannot be responsible for removing the toxicity built up over years of bad behavior…or, honestly, in a perfect world this would be true. We see other people doing that all the time. “They were nice to me, though.” “They are a good writer/salesperson/producer.” Yes, but that’s not the point, is it. The point is, the abuser gets to move on and grow and let go of the abuse, but the victims don’t. They are holding the ball of anger and fear.  It is wholly up to the abuser to make amends and only then should we say “fine, we’ll give you a chance.” 

I apologize to all of you and going forward I will do better research when people I don’t know directly seek to write for Okazu. 

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