Erin Rewatches: Star Trek: Enterprise (season 1) March 22, 2017Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: Star Trek: Enterprise, T'Pol, T'Pol/Archer
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I’m rewatching Enterprise for the first time since its original run. Have some liveblogged reactions.
T’Pol was my first One True Character — followed very shortly by Integra Hellsing, who I discovered about a year later — and T’Pol/Archer may have been the first ship I had serious Feelings about. (There are other pairings, like Dorothy/Ozma or anything in Sailor Moon, where I was already familiar with the characters by then, but didn’t start actively shipping them until later.) So this is a pretty big milestone in Personal Fandom History.
(Content note: talks about the canon mindrape, and other sexual skeeviness.)
Erin Watches: Home, Season 2, the thrilling conclusion March 3, 2017Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: Dreamworks Home, sex & gender
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Wow, the back half of this season is loaded with gender stuff.
So many references to specific Boov characters being not-male-or-female! Sharzod being a boyboygirl keeps getting referenced. A giant greenish-teal Boov we’ve seen a couple times, Traffic Cone Larry, is identified as a boyboyboyboy. Krunkle’s gender still isn’t specified, but when they reappear in 10B, Tip congratulates them with “You go, girl!” — and then remembers, and self-corrects: “Or whatever gender you are.”
Episode 9A is Sharzod-centric. Pronouns (in Boov-to-English translation) confirmed as “himhimher.” (When the writers remember, at least. In 10A, Kyle use both “heheshe” and “she” two minutes apart.)
…btw, Larry thinks Tip’s pronouns are “it.” Although that was a Boov-only conversation, meaning he could’ve been using a Boov pronoun for Things Without Genders. I bet there are a lot of traditional Boov who think only magnificent genders “count.”
The Seven Magnificent Boov Genders appear to be a septinary system, so I dither about how to frame all this in human terms. Trans readers, what would you go with? All these are technically canon nonbinary characters, but not necessarily trans characters, because it’s easy for Boov to be nonbinary-cis.
Still! Just going by what’s confirmed so far, it’s cool.
And Krunkle’s ambiguity leaves the door open for them to be non-septinary trans, which, uh, might be my new headcanon. (Oh did say Krunkle’s gender is “the rarest”….)
Sidebar: Sharzod has been gendering Tip as a boy (did we know this already?), not like an insult or anything, but like a sincere belief. The joke plays as Wacky Misunderstanding via Clashing Cultural Gender Norms…until Sharzod makes a statue of Tip (for important plot reasons) and the statue is not “Tip’s normal appearance, which Sharzod perceives as male.” It’s “Rule 63 Tip.” It was sculpted with masculine-by-human-standards features that the actual Tip does not have.
The Doylist explanation is that the writers were poking fun at Tip not performing her gender to Earth-US-human standards, and didn’t consider that this makes no sense coming from a septinary-gendered alien. I…may have to write a fixit for that.
And finally: episode 8A opens with a game, where Oh is playing a human woman (we know “human” because of the balloons stuffed in his dress) and Tip is playing as a Boov gender (“I bet you say that to all the boyboygirls”).
It’s not something the show is likely to go anywhere with, but I could get kinda attached to a nonbinary!Tip headcanon. I’ve talked before about wanting fic that explores how the human trans community interacts with the seven magnificent Boov genders…wasn’t thinking of Tip specifically coming to identify with one of them, but now? Bring on the boyboygirl!Tip.
In non-gender observations….
There’s a “we bought a pet without reading the fine print, and it turned into Little Shop of Horrors” storyline in 8B. It’s executed really well for something so tropey…but one of the tropes it invokes is a Mysterious Old Blind Chinese Salesman stereotype. No, show! Bad! They’re aliens, you don’t have to racialize them at all, and you definitely don’t have to do it for things like this.
Two separate incidents of humans crashing their cars, nearly injuring Boov, because they were watching cat videos on their phones. Is that a thing now?
Along with the episodes that focus on Sharzod and Krunkle, there’s a Kyle-centric film-noir parody, and a Smek-centric quest for friendship in which he gets a whole song. Solid material for fans of everyone in the beta cast.
Episode 13A reveals that the Boov have invented hammerspace. Tip runs around stuffing random things into Oh’s “cloud storage,” starting with the junk in her room and escalating all the way to a shuttered building.
It’s all very Homura. (Until she breaks hammmerspace, anyway.) Who wants to write me that crossover?
Disappointed in 13B. The theme is one we’ve seen before — Oh going through some alien life change (meeting “the one”, getting the flu, etc) that threatens to displace his friendship with Tip — so obviously at the end of the episode it turns out nothing changed. Not that you can’t repeat themes, and a fresh twist on this one would’ve been a worthy season finale…but instead Oh is going through “booverty,” and they blow the whole thing on icky puberty jokes.
Overall: happy with season 2! Would mostly rewatch. Especially the one with DieAnne.
Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh s2 is out! February 11, 2017Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: Dreamworks Home
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I’m torn between wanting to binge the whole season overnight, and wanting to savor it one episode at a time. At this point I’m halfway through.
The good: References to book continuity. References to season 1. DieAnne is back! The Tip-Oh friendship is strong as ever, shattering some egregious tropes along the way. Lots of good lines, and the occasional bursting into song.
The bad: Some wince-worthy gender politics. Lots of bodily-function jokes. I can’t tell if there have been more in general this season, or if I just blanked the last round from memory. In specific, all of episode s04B is an extended fart joke. Was that necessary, show?
Any reference to the seven glorious Boov genders is catnip to me, and episode 01A gets right to it: Boy Boy Girl Band, featuring a singer named Boy Boy George.
“Their Boov hearts are breaking from disappointment!” “That’s a THING?!” “Yes! It totally is.”
In other noncishetero news, Oh gets a crush on a human boy in 02A (in the process of trying to flirt on Tip’s behalf). The boy doesn’t return it, and is pretty weirded out, but it feels like that’s because Oh is an alien — there’s no reference to gender being the weird part. I mean, very likely they kept it vague for the sake of plausible deniability, but. The lack of no-homo’ing is nice.
Oh’s impression of Tip with a crush: “I am going through human puberty emotions!”
When it turns out the boy only likes Tip because she’s cute, she gets a great outburst: “Cute is an accident! Personality is hard!”
I think the animators have gotten bored with drawing the standard Boov shape all the time. They’re going really wild with exaggerated body shapes, nostricle styles, and random colors and features.
Time loop in 02B! With bonus rips in the fabric of spacetime, temporarily fixed with duct tape.
Okay, background: the original novel has a sequel, in which Tip sneaks off to visit the Boov colony on a moon of Jupiter, and Oh struggles to invent a time machine which can retcon all his mistakes from the Gorg invasion. Here, there’s a time machine, but it doesn’t reference anything else in the books — Oh whips it up overnight when Tip has a bad day.
Lovely continuity with s1 in 03A. PomPom the pageant contestant reappears, as does the magnificent DieAnne from the Angerdome, with more muscles than ever. Tip becomes DieAnne’s peace mentor! It’s a tough job! DieAnne still tries to solve everything with punching! This is 100% going to be Jasper in a few seasons of Steven Universe, you watch.
Bodyswapping in 03B, with an impressively solid plot reason why it takes ages for people to notice that a cat brain is in Tip’s body. And then it plunges into horrifying chimera territory when the cat starts talking. Not okay!
More book-references in 05B, which features a group of Boov-hating preteen boys. Softened from the original, though. Instead of being an angry resistance in an underground hideout because the Boov invaded their planet and kidnapped their families, this is far post-invasion, and they’re mad because a Boov broke one kid’s bike.
Okay, you know the trope where a villain tries to sabotage a friendship by telling the people lies about each other, and it drives a wedge between them for long-term angst, even though the whole plan would fall apart if the friends just had a five-minute conversation about what was going on?
The boys try that on Tip and Oh. And it fails miserably, because they always talk to each other, and sort out the problem within like thirty seconds. This is great.
“Slushious is kind. She would never use baby ducks for evil!”
Slushious gets an AI voice in 07B. Cool! …It’s a female voice, and it exists for the sake of a plot about her becoming murderously jealous of Tip’s friendship with Oh. Less cool.
So it has a couple episodes that are incredibly skippable, but the good bits are excellent, and I’m excited to binge and/or savor the rest of the season.
Erin Watches: Sailor Moon Original Flavor January 14, 2017Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: Sailor Moon
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As promised, I gave Sailor Moon Crystal s3 a chance.
…and then ended up bailing again after 5 or 6 episodes.
The new stock footage was mostly good, but, guys, they used it in the opening sequence. They couldn’t even be bothered to draw enough original high-quality footage to make a theme song!
Which gives you an idea of how deep the laziness runs in the rest of the show. So much claustrophobic cropping and other cheats, instead of drawing establishing shots, or scenery at different perspectives, or any motion as complicated as “picking something up” or “swinging a sword”. It’s painful.
In related news, I hadn’t watched any of the original series in years, but the first two seasons of the new Viz dub are up for free on Yahoo. So I’m checking out selective episodes. Starting with the ones that DiC never dubbed (because, uh, I had not actually gotten around to seeing those at any other point in the past ~20 years).
The animation is wonky and cheap in its own way — lots of exaggerated comedy faces, simplified motion (waving a pencil up and down on a piece of paper = writing!), fading from one scene to another instead of animating the transition, general sloppiness. But the direction is light-years better. It’s so refreshing.
Take the ski-contest episode (season 1, episode 38). They use shortcuts, like panning over a still image to set a scene, or having the same roll of background whip past while a character is skiing in a straight line.
On the other hand: Lots of establishing shots and different angles on the scenery! The characters move like they have human muscles! Hair and clothes blow realistically in the wind! Crowd scenes are populated with extras! Someone bothered to design outfits, instead of only ever drawing the characters in their school uniforms! Luna moves as if the artists have seen a cat at some point in their lives!
Usagi transforms while she’s in winter clothes, and obviously her stock henshin footage starts with an ungloved hand, so they show her yanking off her ski glove first. It’s such a little gesture, but they thought it was worth the care and effort to draw. That’s a level of care Crystal never shows.
I thought I was gonna have trouble with the voices. Some of the actors in the original dub left such an impression that it’s hard to shake, even if you’re still mad about how messed up the translation got. Was a non-British Luna just going to sound fundamentally weird?
Guys, new Luna sounds perfect.
She sounds like Pearl from Steven Universe, to the point where I looked up the actor and was surprised it wasn’t the same person. Apparently there’s a really good way to sound like a fussy, by-the-book mentor who doles out ancient secrets to her frustratingly flighty charges, at least until she gets caught off-guard by the details she herself is just finding out.
I’m liking the rest — of the handful of episodes I’ve watched, anyway. The girls are good, especially Makoto and Rei. Beryl is perfectly evil.
The one voice that has been weird…is Zoisite. They’re dubbing him as a guy, so obviously he’s gonna sound different, but in the Japanese he has this higher, androgynous bishounen voice, right? And the guy doing his English voice sounds unnaturally deep. Not deep like a baritone, deep like a teenage boy who’s self-conscious about his voice cracking and is overcompensating by pitching it extra low.
I’ve been working through the backlog of the Sailor Business podcast, which is episode-by-episode reviews of the original series, and a lot of fun. (Full disclosure: I listen at 1.2x speed. They talk slowly, okay.)
The hosts don’t do a lot of research, and in the beginning it’s frustrating when they go on a tangent about being baffled by something you already know. But eventually they build up enough of an audience that they’ve got a wide base for crowdsourcing explanations.
One of the guys is really into Ami/Makoto, and keeps pointing out moments when they’re notably together. Even taking the Shipper Goggles Welded On into account, it’s impressive how much quiet subtext there is when you take it scene-by-scene.
Me, I’m getting a resurgence of Rei/Usagi feelings. They’re so intense about each other! The initial bickering for bickering’s sake develops into a relationship where Rei has a ton of respect and admiration for Usagi, while Usagi trusts Rei to keep her honest, and come through with more straightforward support when she really needs it.
They just, augh, they love each other so much you guys.
So they made a Cat in the Hat Christmas special in 2012… December 9, 2016Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: Christmas, Dr. Seuss, the gays
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…in association with this TV series, and the art is this unholy hybrid of Flash animation and Dr. Seuss’s original drawing style. It’s such a trainwreck. Especially when you compare it to something like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which animates Seuss’ character designs with so much love and care in order to make them work.
Although I do give them points for making the reindeer look like actual caribou, not Rankin-Bass-esque white-tailed deer standing in snow.
Early in the episode, the plucky kid heroes arrive home, and one of them goes “Look! Our dads are bringing in the tree!” Smash-cut to two clean-cut men, one black & one white, carrying a giant fir.
I was briefly so excited. Casual same-sex couple in a children’s show, and not just any children’s show, but a Seuss adaptation?!
…and then the moms showed up, and eventually it sank in that these weren’t the divorced moms spending Christmas with their exes and the kids to round out the blended family, these were just two unrelated heterosexual couples, having Christmas dinner in the same house for some reason.
Which makes it all the more annoying that the Cat (voiced by Martin Short) is played with the most exaggerated, campiest, lispiest voice you could imagine.
Sigh. I’m gonna go look up shippy Cat/Grinch fanart, just to cleanse my soul.
Erin Reads: The Last of the Ozicans December 7, 2016Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: Dorothy/Ozma, The Wizard of Oz, yuri
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After putting it off long enough, I finally went through the last two of Baum’s Oz books. Both published posthumously, in case this wasn’t sad enough already.
Book 13 is The One With The Even Gayer Birthday Party, and Book 14 is Baum Breaks His Own Record For Unnecessary Cameos.
The Magic of Oz opens with a baby supervillain. Munchkin boy Kiki Aru discovers a magic word of transformation, and decides to fly over the Deadly Desert and visit other countries, then come back to Oz and maybe take it over.
(So of course the readers all had to figure out how to stumble through pronouncing “pyrzqxgl.” Wish some of them had thought to go back and distort the audio, so what the listener hears is something they genuinely can’t repeat back.)
Baum sure does have a thing for fantasy young boy protagonists vs. mundane young girl protagonists, huh? On the one side, Dorothy, Dot, Trot, and Betsy; on the other, Ojo, Woot, Inga, and Kiki, plus I’ll throw in Tip, who considers himself male for the bulk of the book in which he’s the focus of the adventure.
Mundane boys: Tot, Button-Bright. Fantasy girls: Ozma, and…is that it? There are Polychrome and Ann Soforth, but they both feel like young adults to me.
Didn’t even plan this: Kiki Aru drops in on exactly the non-Oz countries from my last review. Hiland, Loland, Merryland, Nol, and Ix.
He ends up in Ev, where he tries to crash at an inn for the night, only to realize that — worldbuilding! — Ev uses money, and he doesn’t have any. You’d think he could turn into a bird in order to sleep in a tree, but as a baby supervillain he decides to turn into a bird in order to steal someone else’s coins.
The ex-Nome King just happens to be in the area, and approves. “I like you, young man, and I’ll go to the inn with you if you’ll promise not to eat eggs for supper.”
It’s almost Ozma’s birthday again! Look, it was a serviceable plot device the first time around, no reason not to bring it back.
Dorothy is stuck for gift ideas, which is bound to happen when you’ve been living with someone for, what is it, 30 years now? The Scarecrow is providing a straw-themed gift, and the Tin Woodman a tin-themed gift, but Dorothy doesn’t exactly have a theme.
Scraps wrote a song! The title begins “When Ozma Has a Birthday, Everybody’s Sure to Be Gay…” (“I am patched and gay and glary / You’re a sweet and lovely fairy.”)
“Tell me, Toto,” said the girl; “what would Ozma like best for a birthday present?”
The little black dog wagged his tail.
“Your love,” said he. “Ozma wants to be loved more than anything else.”
“But I already love her, Toto!”
“Then tell her you love her twice as much as you ever did before.”
“That wouldn’t be true,” objected Dorothy, “for I’ve always loved her as much as I could, and, really, Toto, I want to give Ozma some PRESENT, ’cause everyone else will give her a present.”
Glinda suggests Dorothy bake Ozma a cake. Then suggests she put something surprising inside the cake. When asked for specific ideas, she says that has to be up to Dorothy. HMMMM.
Everyone ships it, is what I’m saying.
(Her eventual big plan for the surprise: tiny monkeys that do tricks! She decides to ask the Wizard for help, because she has no idea how to (a) hire monkeys, (b) make them tiny, or (c) teach them tricks.)
Worldbuilding update: they’ve decided they aren’t sure whether immigrants to Oz are affected by the “can’t be killed” rule, so Dorothy et al are carefully protected.
Trot, Cap’n Bill, and the Glass Cat head out on their own sidequest: to bring Ozma a magic flower that only grows on a secluded island. As with The Scarecrow of Oz, Trot is missing a lot of the personality she had in her own books. Sigh.
I was going to say “at least she gets a quest,” unlike Betsy, whose only adventuring since moving to Oz has been her bit part in Lost Princess — but on second thought, Betsy being a homebody who didn’t care for her first adventure and would rather avoid having more of them is a nice way to distinguish her from Trot and Dorothy. Let the girl have a quiet, uneventful life at the palace for a few more decades. She’s earned it.
About that island: it turns out to be creepily bare (“How funny it is, Cap’n Bill, that nothing else grows here excep’ the Magic Flower”). Turns out it’s because any living creature that sets foot on the island puts down roots.
Ruggedo and Kiki Aru take on some chimera forms, fly back to Oz, and land in a Gillikin forest with an animal kingdom.
Kiki Aru provides the transformations — he’s smart enough not to let Ruggedo in on the magic word — while Ruggedo does the planning and the talking. He spins a tale that the people of the Emerald City are plotting to invade the forest and enslave the animals, so clearly they need to attack first and enslave the people instead. Based on hearsay from some creatures they’ve never seen or heard of before. Yep.
The animals are…admirably skeptical. Kiki Aru transforms a couple of them, backing up the “we’re magicians” part of the story, but nothing more.
And this is the point where Dorothy and the Wizard just walk in. Or rather, ride in on the backs of a giant frickin’ lion and tiger, while the transformed Ruggedo is all ::sweats nervously:: in the background.
The Lion introduces himself: “I am called the ‘Cowardly Lion,’ and I am King of all Beasts, the world over.” The response boils down to “I didn’t vote for you.”
Dorothy and the Wizard are just here to hire some monkeys, but baby supervillain Kiki panics and does a rapid round of transformations on them. Plus on Ruggedo — who gets to be a goose, which terrifies him, because what if he lays an egg?
Eventually the Wizard (as a fox) catches up with them, overhears Kiki saying the magic word, and uses it to turn Kiki and Ruggedo into nuts.
Honestly, it’s kinda refreshing how fast the invasion subplot peters out. The animals realize the “magicians” were full of it, and immediately drop their halfhearted sense of grudge. A bunch of monkeys even agree to come join them for the party.
The Glass Cat catches up with them to explain what’s happened to Trot and Cap’n Bill, they take a detour to wrap up that subplot too, and everyone goes home for the party.
“You will have noticed that the company at Ozma’s banquet table was somewhat mixed.” Heh.
Character apparent-age update:
When Dorothy and Trot and Betsy Bobbin and Ozma were together, one would think they were all about of an age, and the fairy Ruler no older and no more “grown up” than the other three. She would laugh and romp with them in regular girlish fashion, yet there was an air of quiet dignity about Ozma, even in her merriest moods, that, in a manner, distinguished her from the others. The three girls loved her devotedly, but they were never able to quite forget that Ozma was the Royal Ruler of the wonderful Fairyland of Oz, and by birth belonged to a powerful race.
It isn’t until the last chapter that the Wizard finally remembers about the nuts in his pocket.
I’ve complained about the protagonist-centered morality before, and the ending here might be the most head-desky example on the whole series. Ozma, Dorothy, and the Wizard talk about not knowing how powerful the mystery magicians might be…but unlike with the invading armies from book 6, they’re not facing a concrete threat of overwhelming force. It’s just a guess. And we, the readers, know for a fact that Kiki Aru is just a kid who knows one trick, while the other nut is Ruggedo, nobody they can’t handle.
In spite of this, the characters repeat the “manipulate the attackers into drinking the Water of Oblivion” trick. They recognize Ruggedo, but have no idea who Kiki is, and don’t bother to ask before he takes a drink. So the kid loses his identity…and all memory of the family he left at the beginning of the book. Now they’ll never find out what happened to their son.
Dammit, Baum, magically lobotomizing characters you don’t like is not a happy ending!
Which brings us to Glinda of Oz, another of those books where the title character isn’t the focus, and in fact is only around for half of the story.
It starts as a Dorothy-and-Ozma quest, kicked off when they visit Glinda, read in her Magic Book about a war brewing between two isolated communities, and decide to go intervene.
At Glinda’s place: “Ozma took the arm of her hostess, but Dorothy lagged behind, kissing some of the maids she knew best, talking with others, and making them all feel that she was their friend.” I’ve joked about Ozma’s harem, but whoo boy, Dorothy isn’t doing so bad herself.
Some final retconning: people in Oz can’t die *or* suffer “any great bodily pain.” So even if you get put through the torn-to-pieces-and-scattered-across-the-world horror show, at least it won’t hurt!
The warring communities are the Flatheads, who have no room for brains in their heads but compensate by carrying some around in cans, and the Skeezers, who live on a sinkable island in a lake.
Both of them have fairly terrible, selfish, dictatorial rulers…but both of them make the point that they’ve never heard of Ozma, didn’t know their lands had been declared within the borders of a country called Oz, and so why should they acknowledge her as their ruler the moment she shows up on their doorstep?
Oh, goody, marriage-is-awful jokes:
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have roast pig,” said the [Supreme Dictator of the Flatheads], “but as the only pig we have is made of gold, we can’t eat her. Also the Golden Pig happens to be my wife, and even were she not gold I am sure she would be too tough to eat.”
The Skeezers’ island sinks while Dorothy and Ozma are on it, and the ruler gets turned into a swan before she can bring it back up, so they’re stuck for a while. Baum indulges in some pretty description of the undersea environment. Reminds me of The Sea Fairies.
A bunch of reviews claim this is one of the darker Oz books. It’s really not! Remember the first book, where Dorothy and her companions went through multiple fights to the death, and for a while Dorothy was in forced servitude to the Wicked Witch and spent her nights crying alone in the dark? Now here, Dorothy is imprisoned in a place with gorgeous scenery, the company of her best friend, and total confidence they’ll get rescued sooner or later. Her biggest fear is getting bored while they wait.
Glinda resurfaces (hah!) in chapter 13 of 24. She sinks a model island in a pond near her home, for the purpose of testing various island-raising magics.
I was just thinking how comparatively nice it was to have a stripped-down party, just Dorothy and Ozma…and then in chapter 15 it seems like half the Emerald City heads out to rescue them. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Lion, Scraps, Button-Bright, Ojo, the Glass Cat, Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Woggle-Bug, the Shaggy Man, Cap’n Bill, Trot, Betsy, the Frogman, Uncle Henry (but for some reason not Aunt Em), the Wizard, AND Glinda.
That’s eighteen people! Tik-Tok, the Woggle-bug, the Lion, and Jack don’t get any lines once the quest is underway. Shaggy, Cap’n Bill and Uncle Henry get one line apiece. One!
Gratuitous magical gizmo for the Wizard: a skeropythrope. He never leaves home without one.
All this is doubly superfluous because most of the conflict gets solved by the Rightful Rulers of the Flatheads, working together with a Plucky Skeezer Lad. Also, another magic-user (a Yookoohoo, same type as Mrs. Yoop) who gets talked into helping via reverse psychology.
(The Yookoohoo, Red Reera, is another shapeshifter, and apparently Baum’s original manuscript had her appear as a wired-together skeleton with glowing eyes. Okay, that’s appreciably dark. In the published book, she spends most of her time as an ape.)
Dorothy has a good moment where she figures out how to raise the island. The magic was designed by one person, the Skeezers’ usurper queen, so all she has to do is apply the psychology of the individual. Well done.
In a nice reversal, the end sees the Flatheads all transformed to have round heads, with space to safely store their brains. So they’re much less likely to get lobotomized now.
And the Skeezers get to elect their new ruler! They pick Lady Aurex, a sweet, subversive courtier who took care of Dorothy and Ozma while they were prisoners. Good choice.
The moral of the story, according to Ozma, is that it’s always important to do your duty — meaning her royal duty to step in when a war is brewing, and bring the diplomacy.
The moral of the story, it seems to me, is that you shouldn’t send twenty characters to do a quest that needs, like…six, max.
Especially since it really seems like the locals had this covered! Which is, to be fair, not a bad note to leave the series on. Oz is in good hands.
Erin Reads: Princess Ozma’s Party Guests November 16, 2016Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: racism, The Wizard of Oz, transgender
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Only two Oz books left in the reread. I’m dragging it out with some of Baum’s other works.
…so I had this mostly geared up last Monday, and then, uh, some stuff happened that took precedence. And there will be more election-handling signal-boosting posts to come. But for now, let’s take a trip back to the beginning of the 20th century…in the fun children’s-fantasy way, not the way the Republican Party wants to take the country for real.
Dot and Tot in Merryland
From general osmosis I thought Dot and Tot were magical children, but no, Dot is a normal American kid! In contrast to Dorothy’s poverty, Dot (full name Evangeline Josephine Freeland) is the daughter of a banker. Grew up with servants, they own multiple residences, her mom does a health-improving tour of Europe without any detriment to her finances. Tot is the gardener’s boy, a little younger, reminiscent (preminiscent?) of Button-Bright’s first appearance.
Looks like this is the first book Baum published after Oz became a runaway hit? He’s not very creative with names yet, is he. Dorothy and Toto; Dot and Tot.
The kids are in a boat that comes loose, and drift through a cave and into the valleys of Merryland. There’s a clown valley, a candy valley…the Queen is a doll, and lives in the Valley of the Dolls. Kitty valley, toy-animal valley, and eerie Valley of Lost Things.
It’s…remarkably boring. The valleys are themed based on Stuff Kids Like, which feels like pandering without a whole lot of thought put into it — and it falls flat, because “I like watching clowns” doesn’t necessarily mean “I like reading about fictional characters observing that they like watching clowns.”
We only get tiny blips of conflict, like when Tot eats a Candy Man’s thumb. (Dorothy notices the missing thumb in Road to Oz. Continuity!)
I do like the running gag of never getting an answer about the Queen’s name until the very end.
So I’m listening to a charmingly bland passage about the valley of the candy people, when OH SNAP suddenly I can tell you why this book hasn’t stood the test of time.
A man made of marshmallows abruptly throws out this gem:
“One of our greatest troubles is that we cannot depend upon our colored servants, who are chocolate. Chocolates can seldom be depended on, you know.”
Aaaand not long afterward: chocolate “serving maids, with complexions so dark brown in color that Dot was almost afraid of them.” WOW.
The illustrations, too — I looked it up on Gutenberg — aren’t shy about things like golliwog dolls. (The cooks are black dolls and the chambermaids are china dolls. Good lord.)
…It occurs to me that, since this is from 1901, the whole “comparing black people to chocolate” trope might actually have seemed like a clever innovation at the time? But whoo boy has that not aged well.
(Things that don’t age well even though they weren’t a problem to start with: the valley of cats features liberal description of “pussies.”)
Verdict: Technically better-crafted than Mo, not as good as the Trot books, maybe on a par with the worse Oz books…but holy cow, that overt racism. Skippable.
Zixi of Ix (or, The Magic Cloak)
This one was originally written as a serial for a magazine (and it shows). The plot flips between Ix and Noland, both countries whose royalty also showed up at Ozma’s party.
King Bud and his sister Princess Fluff sounded older at the party, but here the country of Noland seems almost unmagical, and they start off as normal kids. The king dies; some obscure statute says the 47th person to come in the capitol city’s gate the next morning is the new king; and, whoops, it’s the recently-orphaned Bud.
(Real names: Margaret and two-years-younger Timothy. Baum sure does love writing kids with weird nicknames.)
Meanwhile, the faeries have made a magic cloak because they were bored, and gave it to Fluff. It grants wishes, and she cheerfully lends it out to people indiscriminately, so accidental havoc-wreaking wishes ensue. Things like “I wish I could fly” or “I wish I was ten feet tall.”
The palace has lightning rods! Modern!
Shameless references to children getting whipped. Un-modern.
The sentence-by-sentence writing in this one is really solid. Good scene-setting. Good dry wit. When the councilors are initially debating what to base their decisions on:
“This book of laws was written years ago and was meant to be used when the king was absent or ill or asleep.”
And this is from when Bud first takes office:
“Just now it is your duty to hear the grievances of your people,” answered Tallydab gently.
“What’s the matter with ’em?” asked Bud crossly. “Why don’t they keep out of trouble?”
“I do not know, your Majesty, but there are always disputes among the people.”
“But that isn’t the king’s fault, is it?” said Bud.
Enjoyable, thoughtful scenes about what it’s actually like for a kid to suddenly have absolute power. Like, there’s an unusually subtle mix of “from the mouths of babes” and “you just got conned, because you have no idea how to do this.”
We’re almost halfway through the book (chapter 10 of 23) when we actually pay a visit to Ix, which appears to be another mostly-mundane country, except that Queen Zixi is a witch of 683 years old who still looks 16. (The rest of the populace ages normally. Reference to old men whose grandfathers remembered how Zixi was just as pretty when they were kids.)
“…for newsmongers, as everyone knows, were ever unable to stick to facts since the world began.”
Sudden body horror, yikes. “To mortal eyes Zixi was charming and attractive, yet her reflection in a mirror showed to her an ugly old hag, bald of head, wrinkled, with toothless gums and withered, sunken cheeks.”
And that’s why Zixi vows to steal Fluff’s cloak.
Geez, from her presentation at Ozma’s party (…and, let’s face it, her name alone), I was expecting her to be generally Ozma-esque, much the way Betsy is Trot-esque. Not so!
Her first scheme is downright Pratchettian:
Then Zixi had printed on green paper a lot of handbills which read as follows:
“MISS TRUST, a pupil of the celebrated Professor Hatrack of
Hooktown-on-the-Creek, is now located at Woodbine Villa (North Gateway of
Nole) and is prepared to teach the young ladies of this city the
Arts of Witchcraft according to the most modern and approved methods. Terms
moderate. References required.”
Even more so when she says “all right kids, come in tomorrow wearing your best cloaks!” — and Fluff’s immediate response is to think “huh, that sounds really suspiciously specific.”
I’m really sad that Ixi only keeps this up for like a chapter before deciding “screw it, I’m just gonna declare war on Noland.”
“Yet I can never resist admiring a fine soldier, whether he fights for or against me. For instance, just look at that handsome officer riding beside Queen Zixi—her chief general, I think. Isn’t he sweet? He looks just like an apple, he is so round and wears such a tight-fitting jacket. Can’t you pick him for me, friend Tellydeb?”
(That’s from Tollydob, one of the councilors. I could ship it.)
The war is also won by Nol pretty fast. You can tell Baum is constantly working in a mindset of “better wrap things up, the next chapter might be my last — oh, it won’t? — okay, better make up a whole new conflict, and fast.” Like a TV writer, only more so.
Zixi finally gets ahold of the cloak by getting herself hired as a maid, making an imitation cloak, and swapping it for Fluff’s in a game of Duck Season/Wabbit Season. So technically it’s not stolen, and the magic works.
Although she still screws up her wish. Sigh.
By the way, this book is blissfully racism-free, but it does give us this bit of unnecessary meanness:
“Why do you sob?” questioned the queen.
“Because I want to be a man,” replied the child, trying to stifle her sobs.
“Why do you want to be a man?” asked Zixi curiously.
“Because I’m a little girl,” was the reply.
This made Zixi angry. “You’re a little fool!” she exclaimed loudly.
I’m just going to pretend that was a trans girl wishing she was a cis man. Makes it all the better when, in a chapter or so, she’s decided to love and accept herself for who she is.
Two-thirds of the way through, Zixi wanders out of the narrative completely, and in bounce a civilization of rubber people living up in the mountains. Baum sure loves his bouncy people, huh?
They decide to take over Nol, and do a much better job of it than Ix did. Especially since the kids don’t have the real cloak to use in self-defense anymore. So they decide:
“Well, there’s no one else we can trust, so we may as well try Zixi.”
Seems like a fast turnaround for an Enemy Mine situation, but okay.
What finally ends the story is that the fairy queen Lulea comes to get her cloak back. She’s sick of it being used for silly things. Bud complains that it’s not fair: he didn’t get a wish, because he’s been holding off until he had a really good idea.
And Lulea lets him have one! So instead of being a clunky Aesop about not putting things off, it becomes a story about how taking your time and thinking about your decisions is valuable, and wise queenly types appreciate it.
“I wish,” announced Bud gravely, “that I shall become the best king that Noland has ever had!”
Epilogue says that it works! Plus, Fluff later marries the unnamed prince of an unspecified kingdom, and is also a good queen.
John Dough and the Cherub
This one’s all plot.
A Mysterious Arab(TM) named Ali Dubh has been hoarding the Water of Life for years now, the latest in a long line of hoarders, but since he’s being chased by people who want to steal it, he gives it to someone else to keep safe…and makes the mistake of choosing a French-American baker couple, who promptly accidentally use it to bring a five-foot-tall gingerbread man to life.
John Dough is another animated-artificial-humanoid in the vein of the Scarecrow or Jack Pumpkinhead, whose main goal in life is not to be destroyed (in his case, eaten). He starts off in the mundane US, but a Fourth-of-July firework takes him to the unsubtly-named Isle of Phreex, and from there he journeys through a series of weird islands trying to stay one step ahead of Ali Dubh.
For the record: while the whole “sinister Arab antagonist” thing is awfully sketchy, at least this time Baum doesn’t put in anything about how all Arabs are [insert stereotype here].
On Phreex, John meets Chick the Cherub, who immediately decides to be his best friend. Chick’s whole backstory is so trippy. Apparently “putting a baby in an incubator” is the 1910s equivalent of the 1960s “accidental dose of gamma radiation” — a plausible-sounding excuse for all kinds of bizarre physical traits. No parents! Incredibly intelligent! Needs a special exotic diet! (Conveniently, it excludes gingerbread, so John has no fear Chick will eat him.)
And this is fun: Chick is canon nonbinary. And/or intersex. It’s not clear how much Baum knew about either issue, but we do know is that the writing plays a strong game of pronoun-dodging, and when a pronoun is unavoidable Chick uses “it.”
Para Bruin the rubber bear is also from this story! (Baum’s thing for rubber strikes again.)
Is this the only Baumian book with a language barrier? John Dough is magically enabled to speak to anyone, but Para Bruin speaks one language, Chick and the other humans speak another, and the Mifkins speak a third.
Unexpectedly serious body horror when John’s fingers get eaten off.
The story wraps up in a typical Baumian way: John stumbles into a country (well, two countries; this is the book that Hiland and Loland are from) that needs a new ruler, and the people immediately decide he’s a great choice.
Apparently the publishers wanted Baum to firmly establish Chick as male or female by the end. He refused. The last few lines of the book:
“The Records of the Kingdom say very little of Chick’s later history, merely mentioning the fact that the King’s most valuable assistant was the Head Booleywag, who grew up to be the especial favorite of all the inhabitants of the island. But, curiously enough, the Records fail to state whether the Head Booleywag was a man or a woman.”
Erin Watches: #Supergirl to the left of me, #Gotham to the right…. October 24, 2016Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: DC Comics
Netflix now has the first seasons of Supergirl and Gotham, so I’ve been watching them back-to-back.
Talk about a thematic clash, huh.
I like Supergirl, but…the thing is, I want to love it, and it keeps not letting me. Keeps falling down on little things that should be so easy.
Like — I appreciate that they’re bringing in lots of female characters from the comics, but two villains in a row whose motivation is “professional woman turns evil after rivalry with other professional woman”? When it wasn’t even their original backstory.
Or — red kryptonite temporarily turns Kara evil, okay, but the warning signs include “she gets more assertive about not wanting to be taken for granted” and “she starts dressing sexier”? Really?
And Cat Grant eventually decides to make a video warning about how Supergirl has gone evil…and orders her news network to play it on a loop. That’s not how TV works! Much less a TV network that’s supposed to be wildly successful!
Gah, Cat is the type of character I usually love, but that’s because she’s usually written with lots of competence kink and a sense of internal logic that is coldly consistent. Whereas these writers keep sending Cat in such dumb and/or random directions.
…also: when male characters figure out Kara’s identity, she brings them in on the secret pretty quickly. When Cat figures out her identity, Kara bends over backwards to deny it, finally bringing in a shapeshifter for the most convincing possible fakeout. Whyyy. She’s one of the smartest people you know even with the writers handing her the idiot ball at obnoxious times.
On another note, I wish we got more alien backstory and culture shock for Kara. She was already a teenager when she got to this planet! Everything’s sorta self-consciously a metaphor for young perky hopeful generic millennials, and that’s not what Kara is. She’s a young hopeful foreign refugee. You could get so much topical mileage out of paying attention to that, even.
I guess a lot of this falls under the heading of “wanting the show to be smarter than it is.”
Finally: what’s with the conspicuous avoidance of so many names? Do they have a copyright restriction where they only have the rights to say “Superman” twice a season? The constant references to “my cousin” are…well, super awkward. There’s also a line about heroes wearing masks in “that other city.” Was that supposed to be Gotham? Or somewhere else?
Specific references would make Kara’s world feel grounded in a larger world of superheroics. References this generic just make it feel artificial and thin.
Speaking of Gotham:
I’ve been itching for someone to take on the “police procedural set in a superhero universe” concept for a while now, and this show hits the balance really well. The era of costumed crimefighters and cartoon-style supervillainy hasn’t arrived yet, but you can see it bubbling under the surface, can see the bad guys just starting to get weird.
It can be gorier and more gruesome than it needs to be — we get it, the mobster characters are violently double-crossing each other for the umpteenth time, what else is new — but at least there are other interesting things going on. It’s not like the writers are counting on the violence to carry you through a lack of plot.
I’m a sucker for origin stories — all the continuity-porn moments of “aha, it’s you! I know who you’re going to be!” — and this show delivers in spades. Ivy! Selina! Ed Nigma! Harvey Dent!
Little Bruce in particular is delightful, the way they’re slowly nurturing the seeds of the future vigilante/action-hero/World’s Greatest Detective. Foreshadowing the ridiculous levels of competence he’s going to have, while making him still feel like a kid who has a long way to go.
A special shoutout to Renee Montoya for existing. And Barbara for having a thing with her, and Jim for being exactly as affected by that as he should be — i.e., no more or less upset than he would be if she had those same Feelings and History with a guy.
I like the ethical quandaries, the way our heroes have to wrestle their way through a tangle of corruption and crossed loyalties even among their own departments. I like Bruce’s whole arc. It would be great to have less mundane criminality, but I’m willing to hang around through that for the sake of the good parts.
And I’m crossing my fingers that we get Kate Kane at some point.
Erin Reads: The Surprisingly Modern Gender Politics of Oz October 14, 2016Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
Tags: The Wizard of Oz
Gotta finish this Baum reread, because it’s Yuletide season and I may need the canon refreshment for my assignment and/or treats.
The Tin Woodman of Oz — book 12 — is a nice low-key novel, heavy on the backstory. Useful plot hook: another random Oz civilian, this time a Winkie boy named Woot, wanders to the Tin Woodman’s castle, where Nick Chopper and the Scarecrow treat him to food and backstory. When Woot hears that Nick used to be engaged to a fellow Munchkin before he was rebuilt without a heart, he declares that it’s Nick’s duty to fulfill his promise and marry the woman (thus making her Empress of the Winkies), even if he doesn’t love her.
Bonus: from his self-description, the Tin Woodman is what in modern terms we would call canon aromantic:
“She said she still loved me, but I found that I no longer loved her. My tin body contained no heart, and without a heart no one can love. […] [T]he Wizard’s stock of hearts was low, and he gave me a Kind Heart instead of a Loving Heart, so that I could not love Nimmie Amee any more than I did when I was heartless.”
The quest is front-loaded with boys…which is thoroughly plot-relevant, because a girl in the party would have stopped them and said “why are you assuming this woman is still pining after you? She hasn’t even seen you for decades. She’s probably moved on.”
Plenty of little continuity drops. Woot used to live near Oogaboo. The Scarecrow has learned poetry at the Woggle-Bug’s college. Woot gets lost and falls into a cavern full of dragons, which are clearly the same underground dragons we saw in book 4.
And there’s the castle of the Yoop, from book 7! In a mirror/foreshadowing of the characters’ main bad assumption, they assume that since the Yoop is locked up, his castle will be empty. Turned out that was only Mr. Yoop — the home is still occupied by Mrs. Yoop. And she’s hella powerful. Like “casually mentions she has Polychrome in a birdcage in her room” powerful.
Poly’s temporarily a canary, but she still has magic powers, she just has to do things like pick up a twig and wave it around in her beak.
She turns Nick into an owl. But he’s still made of tin! And the Scarecrow gets to be a little bear, stuffed with straw. It’s hilarious. (Woot: a green monkey.)
So much meditation on identity, and transformation, and what qualities make you yourself! Since Nick got all his original body parts replaced one at a time, is he really still the same person? If he keeps his memories and personality but happens to be shaped like an owl, does that make him unsuitable for marriage? How about if he’s shaped like a man, but only a few inches tall? The others get drawn into the theme with their unwilling transformations, and there’s a related sequence where the Scarecrow has to give up his stuffing, so Poly carries him in the form of a bundle of clothes for a while.
…also, a one-off scene with a guy named Tommy Quick-Step, who, after an unfortunate wish, has a really long torso and 20 legs. Insert your own human-centipede jokes here.
Our heroes continue walking/flying toward Winkie Country, but now they make a deliberate detour to Jinjur’s house. I love that she and the Scarecrow are buddies now.
Luckily, Ozma and Dorothy have been spying on the party via Magic Picture this whole time, so they rendezvous at Jinjur’s place to reverse the transformations and say hi. (Along with Toto. Still comfortably using human language, though it’s mostly to say things like “Leave me out of your magic, please!”)
Ozma appears “about 14 or 15,” and Dorothy “much younger.” (But only half a head shorter?) This is the book where Baum really doubles down on the “nobody ever ages, really, there are babies in this country who have been babies for thousands of years” version of continuity.
Sure enough, Dorothy: “Do you s’pose Nimmie Amee still loves you, after all these years?” Nick is totally convinced. Ozma says that, well, it can’t hurt to go visit her and ask.
Anyway, it turns out Nimmie Amee got a new boyfriend (a soldier, unsubtly named Captain Fyter) not long after Nick broke up with her. The witch tried the same limb-lopping-off trick, and Fyter did the same incremental replacement with tin prosthetics, aaaaaaaand that was what convinced Nimmie Amee to accept a marriage proposal. She has a thing for tin!
But Fyter conveniently got rusted in a rainstorm, so after Nick oils him and hears his backstory, they try to figure out which of them has a better claim to their one-time fiancée.
Woot: “If she’s into tin, you’re basically interchangeable.”
Scarecrow: “Why don’t you draw lots for her?”
Polychrome, currently the only girl in the party, eyerolling so hard you can probably see it from space: “No, you idiots, it’s up to her who she marries.”
Seriously, the gender politics of the whole thing feels way ahead of its time.
Massive body horror alert:
In trying to track Nimmie Amee down, the party goes to the tinsmith who made Nick’s and Fyter’s tin bodies…and find out that he still has their leftover meat parts. Still alive. Most of them in a barrel. Nick finds his own old severed head in a cupboard, and they have the most bizarre conversation.
On top of this, it turns out the tinsmith patched together a bunch of those parts to make a whole new Frankenstinian person. All the “what makes you yourself, anyway?” thematic questions are getting slammed, and hard.
The tin men finally find their old sweetheart living in the mountains. They still expect her to be actively crying over her lost love.
Nope. She’s married. The body-horror-chimera guy has been her husband for, like, decades now. And she’s not interested in either of the tin guys,
Good going, girl.
On the way home they stop in the Emerald City, and the tin men ask, kinda pathetically, what they should do about all this? Ozma sets them straight with an incredibly patient “look, your ex is happy, and it’s really none of your business.”
Fyter gets hired as a soldier by Ozma, while Nick and the Scarecrow return home, to get back to bro’ing it up for the next few decades. And the Tin Woodman soothes his ego with the idea that, eh, the Winkies probably didn’t want an empress anyway.