Tuesday, 25 March 2014


(Reblog from my other joint blog, The Action Points Podcast)

“Why are they always 12 year old girls?”
They’re 16, but close enough.
Dad didn’t beat around the bush. He got straight to the point. Allow me to explain.
I’ll sell Puella Magi Madoka Magica to anyone who’ll listen. It’s an emotional romp through the tropes of the Magical Girl genre, where all is not as it seems. It’s a philosophical look at cultural views on altruism and even spiritual salvation. It asks questions of the genre: Why are young girls given magic powers? What is the mechanism behind it? What is the potential when a child engages in physically demanding battles? What would the world look like if Jesus was a magical girl?
Wait. What?
I didn’t come here to talk theology (but pleeeease, please talk theology with me) but only because I want this to be relatively spoiler-free. Suffice to say, the Madokaseries offers a lot to those who are willing to give it a chance, not least of all a stunning set of futuristic architecture and bursts of glorious surrealist imagery (particularly in the third movie) a la the 1968 Beatles film, Yellow Submarine.
But what if you’ve never seen a Magical Girl anime? Or never read manga in the genre? What if you don’t know your Sailor Moon from your Tokyo Mew Mew, or your Cardcaptor Sakura from your Black★Rock Shooter?
The Magical Girl genre usually tells stories of a girl (or girls) with magical powers and a uniform (often frilly), who uses these powers to fight evil in the universe. These girls may be operating in secret, or lead a glamorous double life. Often idol singers, or just school students going through the motions, magical girls have to balance their private lives with the massive battles they’re duty-bound to fight.
If this sounds all sounds gendered and silly, it’s because it is. Much like the Boys’ Own publications or the Babysitters’ Club books, we have a genre created with an age and gender in mind. Originally a way of celebrating femininity and glamour mixed with magical wish fulfilment, the Magical Girl genre has evolved, but still moves between sub-groups within the Japanese notion of age-and-gender-genres.
The four (five, if you include “Children’s”) genres are as follows:
Shounen (boys): This is manga or anime aimed at boys or men, generally 10 and up. It is the most popular genre and usually contains action, a male lead and physically attractive (read: exaggerated) female characters.
Shoujo (little girls): Shoujo doesn’t need to be all frilly dresses and men in tuxedoes, but rather it usually has a focus on either romance or emotional development. It’s generally aimed at girls from 10 to 18.
Seinen (young men): Generally aimed at older men, Seinen manga and anime often deal with more serious themes. They can be light hearted, but they often have more graphic violence or sex.
Josei (ladies): Easily my favourite genre, Josei manga and anime often focus on more adult themes like depression, life-goals, the mechanisms of romance and the changing stages of life. It’s aimed at women 17 and up.
These groupings actually refer to the target audience. Because many stories are written with these distinctions in mind, they can be thought of as genres. It’s certainly not necessary for a title within these genres to be bogged down with sexism, despite the prevalence of problematic gender-based characterisation. The best way to tell which grouping a manga belongs to is to check which publication it was originally serialised in, as these magazines are usually genre-specific.
If we understand the framework these genres have offered over the years, we can see the evolution of the Magical Girl genre. For example, if we want to take a Magical Girl story and sexualise the characters, but don’t include any sex, then we have shifted to a Shounen story. If we add tragedy and dark themes then we can produce a Seinen tale. If we shift to the post-prime warrior, where she must build a new life after being the heroine and must navigate the intricacies of adult relationships, then we’re getting into Josei territory.
None of these are fixed things, and with certain tweaks, these stories cross genres. Many Magical Girl anime and manga series are straight-up Shounen because of the sexualised imagery and action-focused plot. Without diving into the cultural differences surrounding sexualised imagery, it’s fair to say that Japanese society is more accepting of sexualising younger girls (and boys – there’s Shota & Loli, which I encourage you to wiki, but NEVER Google).
Finally we return to Puella Magi Madoka Magica. There are action scenes typical of Magical Girl anime. They have transformation sequences, often resulting in brief flashes of stylised nudity. They have specific powers, which in some way reflect each girl’s nature. The girls must wrestle with how their powers might affect their personal relationships. There is a higher power bestowing these gifts (great power, great responsibility, blah, blah). However, it is in the way these elements are explored that we see why PMMM is a deconstruction of the genre.
The mechanism by which these powers are given out calls into question the nature of a “Magical Girl”. The way each girl is able to fight with strength beyond her physical abilities is explored. Each element and trope is discussed, offering dark undertones to separate it from the often fluffy fare usually associated with MG’s. Essentially using MG’s as a vehicle for wider discussions allows it to break down the elements that make up the genre and subvert the audience’s expectations.
When I first started watching, I was encouraged by two friends, but as soon as I hit social media, I was warned by people who had started watching it, or who had read about it. They said that it fetishized violence against young girls. They said that it was violent kiddie porn. They were wrong. Very wrong.
What I found was a thought-provoking, and often moving discussion that skipped between brilliant visuals, interesting philosophical exploration and (sometimes heavy-handed) Christian symbolism. Within the context of where the genre has come from, and what this show aims to examine, we can equip ourselves with the correct lens through which to examine Madoka’s story.
Or you can do no such thing, like this guy did, and still have a blast.

Monday, 1 July 2013

The disappointment of Kazumi and the joy of The Last Of Us.

*** WARNING: Discussions of an explicit nature below, plus spoilers for The Last Of Us ***

When approaching the world of anime and manga, there are a few things worth keeping in mind. Most media (just like Western media generally) will fall back on uncomfortable tropes and cliches. People will be stereotyped because of race, gender and age, and unhelpful/dangerous "ideals" will be presented. And as with any cultural background, a whole new set of problems arises. In order to best appreciate the medium, a working knowledge of these issues helps to get to the essence of the story, without being too bogged down by the shocking characterisations and uncomfortable visuals around every corner.

Today's post is about how very happy I was with The Last Of Us, and how very disappointed I was with the first volume of Puella Magi Kazumi Magica and for largely the same reasons. I think I'll start with the bad.

Kazumi starts off with a naked, teenage girl in a box. Enough said? I wish. This girl is the essence of cutesy. She steers clear of the helplessness depicted by many other "moe" characters, but of course she doesn't get off completely. She's an amnesiac. One that loves cute clothes, eating everything on her plate, and  hates it when people have bad skin and when women try to do men's jobs. Ouch. I might be being a little harsh, but not much.

This comes from the IP that turned the magical girl genre on its head, with a gritty depiction of the reality of this trope. How do these powers manifest? What must be given up in order to wield such power? And how can we still appeal to the loli-lovers?

Within the first half of the book, she's forgotten to wear a skirt, (which exposes her underwear, but when she DOES wear a skirt, it's clear she isn't wearing any because half of her bottom is exposed from above anyway) and she's had run ins with two witches with problematic representations. One is a woman trying to succeed in a man's profession, and the other is a cosmetics salesperson who preys on girls with ugly skin and damaged hair. This is hardly progressive stuff, but please. I've been dying for more Puella Magi, and now this?

Let's talk about some good things. I was very pleased with the brief discussions of our own ability to be drawn into and taken over by depression (a running theme of the series) and the other two girls in the witch-fighting trio are girls with drive and ambition. There you go. A balanced review? Hardly. But it's the best you'll get.

For all the aforementioned reasons and more, The Last Of Us represents a better look at how characterisation should be handled. These aren't just characters breaking the mould, these are characters for whom race, gender, age and sexuality have no bearing on their potential and demeanor. The best character is the 14 year old Ellie, a product of the post-apocalyptic world who has seen horrors and knows what she needs to do to survive. There isn't time for fear. All these characters exist in a world 20 years after the collapse of mankind at the hands of a strain of cordyceps that attacks humans, adding a great pseudo-scientific spin on the zombie apocalypse trope. They don't have time or energy for terror and grief, which is ultimately the main character flaw of our other main character, Joel. Without wanting to be too spoiler-heavy, the cliche of the white, male hero is turned on its head in a glorious and unsettling way. Stick it out to the end, people. The payoff is marvelous.

The leader of the main organisation trying to right the capsized boat called humanity, is a young, driven, black woman, and one of the very few characters with a still-functioning sense of morality. There is at least one (living) homosexual character in the plot, and he is gruff, resourceful and jaded. His sexuality is only referenced by a few mentions of his "partner" and a side-splitting scene involving Ellie and a magazine; a moment which makes up one of several poignant set-pieces that emphasize the need to hold on to what humanity remains.

This is a story about dealing with grief, resourcefulness in the face of terror and ultimately a tale which leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, with little hope for humanity (not their survival, but their worth, generally). This is not a happy tale, but one as thought-provoking as it is well-executed.

I'd like to see more genre-defying IP's like The Last Of Us, and less like Puella Magi Kazumi Magica, thank you. You may not constitute the essence of a typical Magical Girl fare, but you're riddled with cliches and sexism, Kazumi.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Tumblr Blog of Daily Sketches

Wooo. You are correct, I have started a tumblr blog of daily sketches. I will be uploading one sketch every weekday to my tumblr.

Here's a sample:

See you around!

Lots of love,


Friday, 10 May 2013

Drawing More Cats

Or are there just more drawings of a few cats?

I love drawing these kitties! Now to make a living out of it...

Take care,