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The Secret Commonwealth review: It was…pretty underwhelming, mostly December 4, 2019

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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Finally got the audiobook of The Secret Commonwealth checked out from my local library!

(Here’s my review of its predecessor, La Belle Sauvage, if you want to start there.)

It’s 20 hours long. Whoof.

As for the contents…look, it was well-written prose. I didn’t get bored while listening. (Rereading that last review, I realized I’d written the same thing about the previous book, too.) But in retrospect, there sure was not a lot that happened in those 20 hours. Some notable action bits, in between a lot of padding.

And my reactions mostly consist of…complaints. Not “this is hideous, time to ragequit the series, this is an unqualified anti-rec” complaints, more a low-level churn of frustration.

(There’s one scene I know has made someone else outright refuse to read it, though, and I think it’s totally reasonable. More on that later.)

So I’m gonna try to unpack a bunch of it here. Hopefully in enough detail that, if you haven’t read it yet (and don’t mind spoilers), it can help you make an informed decision about whether it’s worth spending 20 hours of your life on.

Spoilers start here!

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Super Drags review: It’s the most pure distilled fabulous queerness I’ve ever seen in a cartoon (and I say this as a Steven Universe fan) November 20, 2019

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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The post where I do my best to spread the Good News, that there exists a saucy gay drag-queen magical-girl animated comedy and everyone should watch it.

Okay, not everyone — I’ll give some caveats at the end — but definitely a heck of a lot more people than Netflix has bothered to advertise it to.

Look at this! Why did nobody tell me about this??

Super Drags posing

'Was anybody going to tell me' meme

What is Super Drags?

Fast facts:

  • It’s a 1-season, 5-episode adult animated comedy series, released in November 2018
  • Here’s the official page, with a free-to-view trailer
  • It packs more explicit, unashamed queerness into those 5 episodes than any other cartoon I can think of
  • The only possible competitor would be if you took the whole 5000-episode run of Steven Universe and pared it down to a supercut of Just The Gay Parts
  • This in spite of being produced in Brazil, which (in my broad understanding, as a total non-authority on the subject) is more oppressively, dangerously homophobic than the US
  • The original is in Portuguese
  • There is an English dub, fabulously voiced by contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race
  • It’s wrapped in “for adults only!” warnings, not because the content is any less child-friendly than (say) your Bojacks Horsemen or your Ricks and Mortys, but because Brazilian authorities tried to get it shut down on the grounds of this much gay being Harmful For Children
  • It was (heartbreakingly) not renewed for a second season

Here’s a promo video, in which the main characters (Portuguese, with subtitles) play Drag Race judges for Shangela, who ends up voicing Scarlet in English:

And here’s a beautiful flashy music video of the big musical number! (Also Portuguese, no subtitles, but the melody and the visuals stand on their own.)

Plot and worldbuilding stuff!

The elevator pitch is “What if Charlie’s Angels, but also drag queens, with superpowers, because magical-girl transformations?”

In this universe, all LGBTQ people have magical energy. The Big Bad is an evil magical-drag-queen nemesis who tries to drain our energy for her own purposes. It’s like if Ursula from The Little Mermaid was a first-season Sailor Moon villain.

…sidenote, in case you were worried, the representation isn’t “cis gay men and nobody else.” There’s a butch lesbian in the recurring cast, a genderfluid person (ETA: that word is exclusive to the English dub; a Brazilian viewer tipped me off that the original Portuguese dialogue includes “bissexual”, which means exactly what it looks like) as a one-off love interest, and all the ensemble scenes are wonderful collages of different races, body types, and gender presentations.

Group shot of queer characters

Group shot 2 of queer characters

Our heroes also fight non-magical everyday homophobes, who get written with scathing realism.

The moment I knew the show wasn’t pulling any punches was in the first episode, where a newscaster complains about being Silenced by the Law of Political Correctness, then chirps “however, we have a special guest who is thankfully above the law!”

According to the reviews I’ve found from Brazilian viewers, it’s also pitch-perfect when it comes to local queer culture, community dynamics, slang and speech patterns, even memes. All of which flies right over my head, so here’s a post (with no-context spoilers) about one viewer’s favorite details.

The handful of reaction posts on Tumblr have a dramatic split between “Brazilian viewers fiercely defending the show as culturally-accurate, uplifting, and brave in a terrifying political moment” and “American viewers complaining that the show is problematic because it’s a comedy about drag queens with no perfect role models and lots of sex jokes.”

As the Super Drags tell their nemesis (and this is also in the first episode): “How dare you try to turn the LGBTQXYZ community against each other? We do enough of that on our own!”

Super Drags team-up attack

In between missions, our girls work sitcom retail jobs and deal with other everyday problems. All of which are written in amazingly nuanced and thoughtful ways for a show that also features “defeating an orgy monster with a lip-sync battle.”

Detailed character stuff!

Our heroes are Color Coded For Your Convenience!

The Super Drags themselves go by “she” in-uniform, and a lot of the time when out of it. Like the Sailor Starlights, only more so. I’ll roll with that.

Super Drags out of costume

In blue: Safira Cyan, or Ralph by day, an excitable college-age kid who’s built like a football player and squees like a fangirl. (She’s an anime fan in the original, and for some reason all the otaku references were replaced in the dub, but you can see them in the subtitles.)

Safira anime pose

Ralph lives with her younger sister (they play video games together!) and their dad, comes out to them mid-series, and is very shippable with another young guy who starts out reciting the homophobic beliefs he was raised with but whose heart clearly isn’t in it.

Safira’s weapon is a classic magical-girl wand that casts protective force-fields. Which are shaped like condoms. Because of course.

In yellow: Lemon Chiffon, aka Patrick, the oldest of the group and generally the smartest/most strategic. In most cases, the other two treat her as the de facto team leader — unless she pushes it too far.

Lemon and strategy

By day she’s a single guy with thick thighs and thinning hair, who has some body-image insecurities on the dating scene. And this show has Things To Say about unrealistic beauty standards within the community…not to mention, about masc guys who look down on anyone too flaming or femme because straight people disapprove.

Lemon’s weapon is a fluffy boa that can be used as a whip or a lasso, especially when there’s a bondage joke to be made.

In red: Scarlet Carmesim, also Donizete, the loudest and most aggressive teammate with the most cutting insults, who refuses to suppress that attitude in an attempt to appease racists. (But will give it a shot when trying not to get fired.)

Donny with insults

Donny still lives in her religious/homophobic mom’s apartment, and I’m pretty sure it’s because neither of them can afford to move out. Her rock-solid sense of fierce self-confidence is the reason it doesn’t bring her down.

Scarlet’s weapon is a fan that she uses to throw shade. Yeah, you knew that was coming.

The Charlie to these angels is Champagne, who runs operations from a cool magitech compound and breaks the fourth wall at the end to petition for viewers’ support in getting a second season.

Champagne with a contract…we let her down, folks :(

So here’s a thing. The show never draws a sharp line between “people who become drag queens because it’s a way they’re driven to express themselves as gay men” and “people who become drag queens because they were trans women all along.” That’s consistent with how South American LGBT+ culture works. (Again: best of my knowledge, not personally an authority on this, etc etc.)

Many of the characters, including Champagne, never describe themselves in ways that translate to one of our sharply-defined Anglo-USian identity categories. And I’m not going to try to impose any English labels on them here.

But I can say (in contrast to Safira, Lemon, and Scarlet), Champagne never switches out of her “drag” name/voice/presentation, not even in the most candid off-duty scenes, and still has the same bustline when naked in the tub. Make of that what you will.

Super Drags fans

You Should Watch This Show

If you have a Netflix subscription, watch Super Drags!

If you ever do a Netflix free trial month in the future, make a note to yourself to watch Super Drags!

It’s one of their original productions, so there’s no risk of missing your chance because the license expired. But it’s absolutely not getting the promotion it deserves. Which means potentially interested viewers won’t find it, which means Netflix will think there’s no interest, which means they’ll keep not promoting it…etc etc etc.

No idea if there’s any chance of getting it un-canceled, but maybe we can at least convince them to release it on DVD.

Super Drags hero walk

And the sheer gutsiness it took for a group of Brazilian creators to produce this show in the first place — that deserves to be rewarded with your attention.

In spite of various anti-discrimination laws that sound good on paper, the country has serious problems with homophobia, transphobia, and anti-LGBT violence (warning, article has a violent image which is only partly blurred).

Maybe the creators could’ve gotten a second season if they made this one softer, less sexually-explicit, more restrained…but honestly? I bet that wouldn’t have helped.

Consider Danger & Eggs, an Amazon original cartoon. It was made in the US, thoroughly child-friendly, and restricts its LGBT+ representation to things like “characters go to a Pride celebration…where nobody ever names or describes the quality they’re proud of.”

And it didn’t get renewed past the first season either.

(Note: it had a trans woman showrunner and a queer-heavy creative staff, so I blame all that restraint on executive meddling, not the creators themselves. The showrunner even liked the tweet of my review that complains about it.)

So there’s something very satisfying about how Super Drags went all-out, balls-to-the-wall (sometimes literally), all the rep explicit and unapologetic, packing every 25-minute episode with all kinds of queer content that would be censored or muted elsewhere — but here it’s exaggerated and celebrated and just keeps coming.

(…as do jokes like that, and I’m not sorry.)

Super Drags rainbow powers

Okay, there are a few legitimate reasons to not watch this show

Some caveats.

None of these things are Objectively Bad Problems that the show itself should be shamed for…but maybe they’re genuinely not your cup of tea.

It does have actual Adult Content beyond “the existence of gay people.” This show loves to swing barely-clothed cartoon genitalia in your face. There is, as mentioned, an orgy monster. If that kind of humor is going to bother you too much to appreciate the rest of the show, give it a pass.

I wasn’t kidding about how realistic the homophobes are. Opening of the first episode has a guy trying to murder a busload of people while shouting slurs at them. If that level of hatred on-screen is gonna crush your soul, even in a show about sparkly queens flying to the rescue with dick-shaped magical weapons, don’t push yourself.

Any fiction with this much crossdressing and gender-transgressing is going to hit some trans viewers in a bad way. Because trans people are such a broad group, with so many different experiences, that Every Possible Trope Involved pushes somebody’s buttons. (See also: “some trans readers complain about a storyline that turns out to be drawn from a trans writer’s actual life experience“.) If this show goes does gender things that turn out to be personally distressing for you…or even just distressing for this specific time in your life…don’t feel obligated to keep watching.

It has aggressively-sassy queer characters making jokes and calling each other things that are affectionate in-context, but would not be okay coming from straight/cis people. If you can’t wrap your head around that, go watch something else.

Other Than That, Go Watch This Show

For all its big heart, big ambitions, and big gay energy, Super Drags is tiny enough that I’ve binged the whole show 2 times in the past 2 weeks. Thankfully, it’s highly re-watchable — lots of fun background gags and subtle foreshadowing that you don’t catch on the first round.

(Pausing one last time to appreciate that a show with elements like “the high-tech robot assistant is called D.I.L.D.O.” can be subtle at all, let alone be this good at it.)

I’ve also paged through all the fanart on Tumblr and Deviantart, looked up the single fanfic on the AO3, and started brainstorming plans to request it in Yuletide next year. Someone, please, come join me in (the English-language side of) the itty-bitty fandom for this ridiculous, glittery, over-the-top, fabulous series.

Super Drags hero splitscreen

 

All the webcomic fandoms in #Yuletide 2019 October 30, 2019

Posted by Erin Ptah in Fandom.
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Signups are open for this year’s Yuletide, the small-fandom fic exchange, until November 4!

Here’s the full schedule, and here are the instructions for signing up. (If you don’t already have an AO3 account, you’ll need to get one of those first. Some invite links: one, two, three, four.)

The list of eligible fandoms for Yuletide 2019 is absolutely massive, so I pulled out a list of “just the webcomics that are free to read online.” Plus the links for where to read them…

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Music recs: Mikey Wax, Mylène Farmer, Nightwish October 19, 2019

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Hey, if you’re checking out the songs in these roundups, drop a comment and let me know? I’m going to finish off the list either way, just for the personal fun of it, but I’m curious who else they’re reaching.


Mikey Wax: fun modern pop/rock with top-40 catchiness. (Mikey Wax playlist.)


Mylène Farmer: dreamy pop, electronic rock/dance, mostly in French, occasionally with gay themes. She holds the record for most number-one hits in the French charts. (Mylène Farmer playlist.)

This one is a live concert performance where she sings the whole song, then the instruments and the dancers keep going, she says (in French) “One more time, all together now!”, and with minimal prompting gets the audience to sing the whole song back to her:

And this last one is just straight-up Little Prince filk:


Nightwish: Epic, symphonic goth metal. They’re Finnish, but the lyrics are mostly in English — and if they need a full orchestral accompaniment, they’re happy to call in the London Philharmonic. (Nightwish playlist.)

Music recs: Lorie, Marc Almond, Michael Stanley [Band] September 24, 2019

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Lorie: fun, catchy, energetic ’00s teen pop (mostly French). She’s also the French VA for a bunch of animated characters, so you can imagine any of these being sung by, say, Tinkerbell or Violet Parr. (Lorie playlist.)

This first one is a cheesy bilingual song about a cross-cultural romance:


Marc Almond: synthpop, new-wave, drag-show cabaret. He was the lead singer of Soft Cell (i.e. the Tainted Love guy); this is mostly the solo stuff he did afterward. (Marc Almond playlist.)

This last one is a heartfelt song about the drag scene:


Michael Stanley [Band]: classic ’70s and ’80s rock with a working-class Midwestern heart. It’s like if the E Street Band was from Ohio. Their highest-charting single even got Clarence Clemons on sax. (Michael Stanley Band playlist.)

Music recs: Kansas, Laura Branigan, Lifehouse September 13, 2019

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Kansas: classic rock with complex symphonic arrangements. All we are is dust in the wind, man. (Kansas playlist.)


Laura Branigan: pop-rock, synthpop, dance, heartfelt hurt/comfort love songs. (Laura Branigan playlist.)


Lifehouse: Post-grunge alt-rock. Some of the songs have spiritual overtones, but they’re not a religious band. (Lifehouse playlist.)

This first one is an eerily-perfect “Stephen Colbert” theme song.

Music recs: Jean-Jacques Goldman, Julia Ecklar, ABWH September 4, 2019

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Jean-Jacques Goldman: pop-rock, currently the highest-grossing French-language artist alive in the genre. (Jean-Jacques Goldman playlist.)


Julia Ecklar: filk (SFF-themed folk music produced by fandom), in between being a sci-fi writer. Covers the gamut from “earnest odes to space exploration” to “comedy songs about tribbles.” (Julia Ecklar playlist.)

(See also: To Touch The Stars playlist, a multi-artist album of space-exploration tribute songs.)


Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe: progressive rock, four former members of Yes that released a single album as their own group. No specific homages (that I know of), but IMO it has the same general weird/hopeful/cosmic vibe of ’70s-’80s SF. (ABWH playlist.)

Music recs: Icehouse, Jack’s Mannequin, Jann Arden August 23, 2019

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Icehouse – new-wave synth-pop, lots of romantic ’80s earnestness. Originally known as Flowers, published an album titled Icehouse, then changed their band name to Icehouse, because why make things easy. (Icehouse playlist. The end has a bunch of videos with lyrics, but apparently-random instrumental audio.)

Jack’s Mannequin – 2000’s California alt-rock. Touching, melancholy/hopeful — the frontrunner retired the name in part because these albums were “wrapped up in a whole lot of turmoil and tumult in a very difficult time in [his] life.” (Jack’s Mannequin playlist.)

Jann Arden – romantic pop, lot of yearning ballads. (Jann Arden playlist.)

I’m so confused by the publishing sequence of Jane’s World August 19, 2019

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Okay, I’ve spent way too long trying to puzzle this out, so now I’m inflicting it on the rest of you.

Jane’s World is a gay-centric sitcom-style comic — a lot like Dykes To Watch Out For, but with cartoonier art, and less topical political commentary in favor of more surreal misadventures.

It was launched in March 1998, picked up for syndication in April 2002, and concluded in October 2018.

Here’s a review of the printed omnibus volume 1, if you want a bit about the contents without diving into the full online archive.

This post is just about the order things were published in. (more…)

Music recs: Gregorian, Hayley Westenra, Heart August 17, 2019

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Starting with a multi-artist cover band.

Gregorian – Gregorian-chant-inspired covers of pop/rock songs, full choir and all. They record in churches and only pick songs that are “translatable into the 7-tone scale,” which I assume is more historically authentic. (Gregorian playlist. Switches to non-cover-music Gregorian chanting around track 175.)


(Pink Floyd)


(Sarah Brightman)


(Celine Dion)


(Simon & Garfunkel)


(anyway here’s Wonderwall)


Hayley Westenra – operatic new-age classical-pop singer. Apparently has songs in over a dozen languages — including Maori, Japanese, Spanish, and (since she did a version of “May It Be”) Quenya. (Hayley Westenra playlist.)


Heart – classic ’70s rock, lots of big hair and power ballads. (Heart playlist.)