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

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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

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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

 

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…)

Avengers: Endgame miscellaneous spoilery thoughts May 16, 2019

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This and Captain Marvel are the only two MCU movies I’ve paid to see while they were in theaters. Both late enough that there were only a dozen people in the audience. (I also saw Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming on a big screen, courtesy of the CWRU Film Society.)

Just gonna leave a block of spoiler-space and then jump right in.

(I have a non-spoilery Infinity War post over here, too.)

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So it turns out in the eighth Temeraire book, the hero gets amnesia February 28, 2019

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and of course he remembers his life right up to the start of the first book, but nothing from afterward, and it’s the greatest thing ever.

The rest of the characters have been cautioned not to tell him about anything that might give him a “shock.” Let’s see how well that goes.

Temeraire: Back away from this human, he’s my captain!

Laurence: what

Temeraire: And also, an adopted Prince of China!

Laurence: whAT

Temeraire: Laurence, I’m really sorry that I didn’t precipitate a major international conflict to rescue you sooner, please don’t be mad

Laurence: um???

Granby: Oh dear, now you have to re-learn that we have women serving as officers, including this teenage girl in your crew

Laurence: whomst

Granby: Also, these two African kids, whom you took on after…uhhhh…let’s not talk about the thing in Africa. Or the thing with the Inca Empire. Or your current rank and status with the military.

Laurence: uh

Admiral Roland (in a letter): you’re doing great, sweetie <3

Laurence: UHHH

Temeraire: No, of course you aren’t married, and that teenage girl is not your secret daughter!

Laurence: oh thank god

Temeraire: After all, you’ve only been getting it on with her mom for five years, and when you did propose, you got turned down

Laurence: WHAT

Temeraire: It’s fine, she probably wouldn’t want to move to Australia anyway

Laurence: wha

Temeraire: you know, the place we got exiled to? after the whole treason thing?

Laurence: W T ACTUAL F

Granby’s secret boyfriend: …yes…I’ve been awkward around you because of the…treason…definitely not any other sensitive personal info you might remember learning about at any moment

Laurence: ffffffff–

Temeraire: oh no, now you hate me, and you don’t even know the worst of it, which is that…because of me…you lost ten thousand pounds

Laurence: …and?

Temeraire: Uh. Apparently you forgot this too?? Ten thousand pounds is a lot of money

 

Literally All The Feelings I Have About Voltron December 13, 2018

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Final season is about to drop, so…

I’ve actually been watching the whole time, but pretty sure I’ve never talked about it anywhere? Because I don’t have enough feelings about it to be worth venturing into the massive wankpit that is the fandom.

But I do have some feelings, and may as well put them down somewhere.

In no particular order, general thoughts:

  • First-season setup was good!
  • Classic dramatic “we form Voltron for the first time out of friendship+panic” scene, good comedy “wait, how did we do that? will it help if we stack all our lions on top of each other? …and I’ll form the head?” follow-up.
  • Pidge is cool. Yeah, my fave is the Velma/Nenene mashup, no surprise there. (I was unspoiled for the twist, and didn’t see it coming, which was nice.)
  • Fans who try to treat Pidge as Canon Representation of anything other than a standard “girl dresses as a boy to sneak into something” plot arc are…tiring.
  • Allura is also cool. Elegant space-elf princess who’s secretly a dork and turns out to be awesome at martial arts? Nice.
  • Favorite side characters: those two Galra henchwomen. Can’t keep track of their names (or what they’re doing most of the time, tbh), but if I say Purple Jasper and Purple Ty Lee you’ll know who I mean.
  • There’s a little too much “we can’t take Voltron into battle, the supervillains might get it!” angst, at least in the early seasons. What’s the point of having a legendary battle mech if all you can do with it is hide it?
  • The plot could be really all-over-the-place. I would watch a season, then come to the internet later and see people having deep discussions about a whole chunk I had totally forgotten, because it was so disconnected from the rest that it just dropped out of my mind.
  • Feels like that got more pronounced as the seasons went on, but I couldn’t swear to it, and I’m not rewatching them all to check.
  • Special note: that handwavey game-show filler episode, in the most recent season? That kind of thing is designed to be a recap, refreshing casual viewers on all the salient plot points and where the different factions stand, before diving into the finale. And this one was just…random. There were funny jokes, don’t get me wrong! But not much else.
  • Also, the clone subplot in particular was rough. Every twist seemed to come out of nowhere, and leave no broader worldbuilding consequences in its wake.
  • I’m sure Shiro will be happy with his shiny new battle mech, but it’s still kind of a bummer that he’ll never really be reintegrated with Team Voltron.
  • In spite of all this griping, I’m tuning in for the final season. It has its funny moments, and some good character stuff, and I’m sure we’ll get a heartwarming ending full of the Power of Friendship.
  • Also, gotta get the firsthand look, so when the wankbomb explodes I’ll have some idea what everyone is yelling about.

And, on their own special list, thoughts about shipping!

  • I figured Lotura was gonna crash and burn when Lotor was revealed as evil eventually, but the execution was really good. Lots of “wait, this thing he’s doing is actually helpful, and has no obvious ulterior motive” buildup. You can believe the characters were won over.
  • Allura sucker-punching him into a wall afterward (or was it a floor? or whatever) was Good Content.
  • Klance was never gonna happen.
  • Sheith had more plausible “romantic tropey setup” moments, but if it was gonna happen, TPTB never would’ve included things like “you’re my brother” and “here’s an on-screen shot of them meeting when Keith is 12.” (Note: this does not make it OMG Terrible for fans to ship it.)
  • Holtcest had…uncomfortable amounts of canon chemistry. It’s like someone decided “okay, everyone knows these two aren’t going to be a canon couple, so nobody will feel shipteased if we play them like they’re in a Folger’s commercial.”
  • Allurance is fine. Standard setup, the general tropes aren’t my thing and the execution isn’t doing anything new, but it’s not rushed or obnoxious, either.
  • Shiro having a male ex, in a serious relationship, was an awesome reveal.
  • The discovery that TPTB had secret backup “no homo” alt-scripts for their conversation highlights how precarious our representation still is. The team must’ve had to fight up to the very last minute to get it in.
  • Pulling a Bury Your Gays with the ex was a poor choice, but I have a hunch it was because didn’t have the stamina to fight with management for a second scene with him and Shiro, even a post-romantic “we’ve both moved on, but I’m glad you’re okay now” scene.
  • If Shiro is getting married off to a random new bf in the final credits? That’s cool bu me. More would be great, but when it comes to “m/m content in Western kids’ cartoons” this already is more than usual, and will raise the bar for whoever comes next.

(December talking meme.)

Erin Reads: the Broken Earth trilogy, by N.K. Jemisen December 11, 2018

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Some thoughts about this multi-Hugo-award-winning trilogy. The parts I liked, and the parts that mean I’m going to end up complaining anyway.

I’ll mark the point where the spoilers kick in.

The series takes place on a dystopian far-future Earth where geology has gone horribly awry, leading to a pattern of disastrous “Seasons.” Communities that still exist have developed long-term survival techniques like “maintain store-caches with a decade’s worth of food at all times.”

A subset of humans are born with the ability to sense and control earthquakes by redistributing energy. You would think this would be a great and useful skill that communities compete to attract, but nope, they’re hated and feared so much that discovery of the skill can prompt people to murder their own children. There’s an isolated training center that trains and controls them, and residents of that center are hired and tolerated — just barely.

Pros:

  • The writing is very good
  • The worldbuilding is cool and unique
  • Frank, unashamed inclusion of queer+trans characters
  • Lots of pretty stuff going on with magic rocks

Cons:

  • Don’t get too attached to anyone, because main characters keep dying right and left
  • [see spoilers]

One cool layer in the worldbuilding is how much disparate strands of culture are influenced by the worldbuilding. There’s no sense of religion, other than an anthropomorphization of the Earth itself as a malevolent force. All their swearwords are derived from rocks/dirt/geological events. Organized study of astronomy is gone, because everyone’s survival depends on looking down to such a degree that nobody has time to look up.

(Spoilers start here.) (more…)

Danger & Eggs review: It’s really good, but mostly not for the reasons it gets hyped for. August 10, 2018

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So I finally had a chance to watch Danger & Eggs, the Amazon Prime animated kids’ show. Only one season so far, 13 episodes, most of them consisting of two distinct 12-minute segments.

It’s a lot of cute fun.

You know how Phineas and Ferb is partly about mundane suburban family stuff, but the kids’ adventures keep pushing the bounds of fantasy and sci-fi, and meanwhile there’s a world of secret-agent animals fighting mad scientists that they keep intersecting with?

That’s the energy Danger & Eggs has. It centers around a city park where people walk their dogs, rent the clamshell for concerts, hold ren faires…and don’t bat an eye at the underground full of leftover experiments from a failed mad-science organization.

Our heroes are D.D. Danger, human girl whose father was a famous stuntman, and Phil, giant talking egg whose mother is a house-sized mutant chicken. D.D. is wild, energetic, and adventurous; Phil is nervous, quiet, and safety-conscious. They are Best Friends. The comedy writes itself.

And it’s never mean comedy, either. They appreciate each other’s differences! There’s an episode where they wander into a labyrinth controlled by a slightly-deranged AI, get separated, and the AI creates an “ideal” simulation of each of them to entice the other into staying forever. But its strategy backfires — holo!D.D. is quiet and listless, holo!Phil is reckless and hyperactive, and the real kids discover that this isn’t appealing at all, that their friendship works because of how they balance each other out.

So that’s the good part.

The bad part is, before I started watching, all I knew about the show was “it’s full of LGBTQ characters! It has such good gay and trans representation! The whole last episode takes place at a Pride parade!”

Which meant I got pretty let down as the stuff I was expecting…didn’t happen.

(more…)

Erin Listens: The Gateway July 11, 2018

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Just finished listening to The Gateway: a 6-part podcast series about “Teal Swan, a new brand of spiritual guru, who draws in followers with her hypnotic self-help YouTube videos aimed at people who are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.”

(So if you don’t want to read a long post about those things, you should bail out here.)

I’d never heard of Teal before this, and I still don’t know anything about her beyond what’s in this report. But I do know a few things about psychiatry that aren’t in the series.

And based on that…I have complaints.

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I dread the day when the suffering of my fellow is none of my concern June 28, 2018

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I’ve had Grace Petrie’s “They Shall Not Pass” in pretty heavy rotation for a few days now, and wanted to share.

Stand up today that we might save tomorrow
Oh I know there’s a way that we might save tomorrow
Yes it’s late in the day but we might save tomorrow if we try

We shall not turn against each other, for our creed or for our colour
Nor the ones we choose our lovers, or our class
You that beckon us that way, you shall not pass