Kill la Kill: Fashion, Fascism, and a Heroine’s Shonen

Kill la Kill is a bizarre combination of disparate elements.  It follows the genre expectations of Shonen manga, with semi-constant fighting, growing friendships, and that strange running theme of turning one’s previously defeated foes into new allies, but it replaces the normally male leads with female ones and does the same for many of the villains as well.  Despite this refreshing gender-reversal, the show still drips with male gaze and fan service; there are a few moments where the show mentions how ridiculous this is (as the protagonist rages against the stupidity of her outfit), but Kill la Kill still falls into the same visual patterns and doesn’t really change that paradigm.

Kill la Kill (careful, spoilers) excels at the absurd, as one might expect from the same creative directors who brought us Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and offers a look at fascism and fashion.  Or maybe it’s fascism by means of fashion?  The story begins as one young woman’s quest to avenge her father’s murder, as she sets herself against the leader of Honnouji Academy, whom she suspects of having arranged his death.  This school is a fascist dictatorship in which power-augmenting school uniforms are used both as a reward and as a means of control.  Things only get weirder from there.  I think it’s quite enjoyable in the end, but you should probably read at least some of my mixed feelings below.

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Flash Fiction: Following “When Dawn Broke”

No review for today, just me making more material in the setting I created with When Dawn Broke.  I haven’t done an exhaustive examination of what the bits and bobs I casually conjured up in that first piece would mean for a setting, so I’ve decided for now to continue to fly by the seat of my pants with this one.  Sorry, Stephanie.  Enjoy the short scene after the break.

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The Queen is Dead, Long Live the … Oops

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It wasn’t my fault, I swear.

I died because I didn’t know enough battlefield medicine.  It turns out that you’re not supposed to push an arrow through yourself when it’s stuck in your chest.

It wasn’t really my fault: I’d never been lonely enough to put lots of time into mastering the basics of medical care, and I’d spent all my time focusing on intrigue, learning who’s who, and figuring out what plots I might have to worry about in the weeks before my coronation as Queen of Nova.  After my disastrous showing at the grand ball, I’d tried to play catch-up with my long neglected social skills.  Somehow I never got around to learning what to do about arrow wounds.

I just didn’t think they’d be an issue, you know?  Or at least, not as big an issue as accidentally starting a rebellion by pissing off my nobles.  I’d already had one of them assassinated, and had only succeeded because of all the time I’d put into mastering my network of agents.  Next time, I’ll make a different mistake.  I’m sure of it.  Welcome to Long Live the Queen.

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Reserved For The Cat, by Mercedes Lackey

Reserved for the Cat is another one of Mercedes Lackey‘s send ups of old fairy tales, still predictable and still entertaining.  It’s a fine retooling of Puss in Boots, but as with all of the other Elemental Masters stories you can’t expect too much in the way of surprises.  Well, that’s not quite true: it does diverge from the original story to offer the heroine a more decisive place in the final climax, but I’ve come to expect that from Lackey’s reworked fairy tales and can’t really count it as a surprise.

I doubt that Reserved for the Cat will win any particular awards, but if you’ve enjoyed the other entries in the series I expect that you’ll like this one too.  In fact, you’ll probably like it more than some of the others; unlike in Shadow of the Serpent, the heroine here actually has a chance to take care of her own problems.  And unlike the original Puss in Boots, the cat here creates nearly as much trouble as he solves and has to deal with the problems his own overconfidence has created.  I find that altogether more satisfying than the alternative.

My thoughts on the book’s high notes after the break.

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The Wizard of London, by Mercedes Lackey

The Wizard of London is Mercedes Lackey‘s reconstruction of The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen.  It comes as the fifth book in her Elemental Masters series, and follows in her tradition of giving the heroines of the story considerably more power and input than they had in the original versions.  As with almost all of the other entries in this series, this one is also set in England in the early 1900’s.

If you’ve read any of Lackey’s other books in this series (or indeed, nearly any of her other books at all), then this story’s style will be intensely familiar to you.  Even if you don’t know the original fairy tale, there are few surprises to be had here; the biggest puzzle I faced came in deciding which of the groups of main characters would be the primary representatives of the original fairy tale.  That said, Lackey is a solid author and routinely manages to make the predictable entertaining, which in my opinion is quite an accomplishment.

Do I think you would enjoy it?  Most likely, yes.  Do I have a few other thoughts to share?  Read on.

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The Wind Rises: Touching and Troubling

Last night I went with my friends to see The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki‘s most recent film.  As an artistic creation, as a story, it is both touching and impressive.  Yet I found the story and the film’s romanticism, in the context of modern Japanese politics, to be unsettling.  It is a tale about an actual historical figure, but to the best of my knowledge is heavily fictionalized.  In other circumstances, with a different subject, I might feel less conflicted about the end result.  But while I love this film as a piece of art I’m still not sure how to feel about it in a wider context.  Let me explain.

As I would expect from a Studio Ghibli production, the movie is gorgeous.  More than that, there’s a dreamlike quality to the film that is both endearing and entirely expected.  This is heightened by the audio design, which uses a whole chorus of voices melded with more standard sound effects to produce the sounds of engines, wind, trains, and even earthquakes.  In many ways this softens the sound profile of the film, and leaves even moments of supposed reality still faintly surreal.

Appropriately enough, this movie tells the story of a dreamer, a boy obsessed with flight who is limited by his poor eyesight and finds solace instead in designing the machines that will fly.  He pursues his dream of flight with a singular devotion that puts others to shame, and as much as anything else this film tells the story of the joys of flight and the tumultuous path of following one’s obsessions.

But the person this film is about is more than an inspired dreamer; he’s also one of the leading architects of the Japanese Empire’s air force.  In many ways, he is the seemingly oblivious representation of Japan’s military expansion into the rest of Asia, along with all the suffering that that implies.  The film barely touches on this, preferring to focus instead on the majesty of flight and the joy of pursuing the perfect craft.

I am, of course, over-simplifying.  This is a movie about a man, myopic in his focus on the few things that truly matter to him.  It is less about history and more about one person’s (fictionalized) love and dreams.  We are treated to bittersweet romance, the joy of obsessions followed and realized, and the pain of knowing that all of the beautiful things that one creates will only see suffering and will likely never see times of peace.  Though there are moments of brightness, this is not a happy movie.  And despite its fictional nature and close connection with unreality, it’s a very real and human film.

So why am I unsettled?

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Game Analysis: Devil’s Tuning Fork

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Devil’s Tuning Fork is an interesting exploration in design which seeks to weigh in on the classic question, “What is it like to be a bat?” (don’t worry, this will remain a game review and not an exercise in philosophical discourse) The game places you in control of a child who has fallen into a mysterious coma who must now explore a strange dreamscape in order to awaken. In order to escape what is eventually identified as a sort of dungeon you must rescue other children and traverse multiple platforming exercises/puzzles. And you must do this while experiencing what it is like to be a bat (sorry, I swear I’ll stop referencing Nagel’s paper.)  The overall tone of the game tickles my love of horror and the surreal.  But as it is with most things which I love, it isn’t perfect.

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Rimworld: Sci-Fi Frontier Shipwreck Fiction

GmX9a8LuhHI set down on the planet with complete awareness of the dangers that I would face, and a steady sense that I would do better than those who had come before me.  As I established my new outpost, eagerly digging into the cliff face nearby to harvest the easily accessed metal and provide my fellow accidental colonists with shelter, I was certain that I was in the right place, doing the right thing.  I planned out my dwelling carefully, designed it with defense in mind, and laughed at the idea that I might have missed any of the silly issues which had so beset the Let’s Plays that I had watched before I picked up the game.

I forgot, of course, to plant any food.  Welcome to Rimworld.

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Feed, by Mira Grant

Feed‘s appeal is a dangerous, slow, and creeping infection: you likely won’t recognize that it has its hooks in you until it’s too late, and at that point you’ll be too far gone to care.  In its early stages you’ll pick up the book every so often to read the next chapter, intrigued by the ease with which Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) has created these characters and given you a look at what it might mean to live with a real zombie apocalypse.  The midpoint of the infection is your last chance to cut your losses, as the curtain lifts on the real story of the book and intrigue and conspiracy begin to unfold before you.

There’s an exceedingly brief threshold in which you might be able to put down the book, and then the late-stage symptoms set in.  You will put off other work and be made upset by anything that comes between you and finishing.  Your only goal, at that point, is to make sure that you’re able to follow the rest of the story to its conclusion.  The last hundred pages are a rush, an excellent demonstration of a dramatic climax at its finest, and they’re irresistible.  Almost as soon as I had put down the book, I was already putting the next two on hold at the library.

Heck, I even did something else I haven’t done in ages and started reading the sample opening from the beginning of the next book, where it hid in the after-material.  I strongly suggest that you indulge yourself and give the book a try.  For those of you who want to hear more about the book, read on below…

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