Saturday, October 11, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 16

In this episode, Oniisama E becomes a sports show.

We open with Rei chilling in bed, getting a phone call from Kaoru, who is nostalgic for how they used to compete against each other in basketball in middle school. Rei is like "God, not this again" because Kaoru has brought it up before to try to convince her to re-join the basketball team.

Kaoru makes it clear that playing for Seiran's basketball team is like shilling drugs for a crime gang- once you've helped them, you can never really leave.

Next we see Kaoru practicing shooting at Seiran at night, with Rei walking up to comment in a very theatrical/Rei-like way.

Kaoru is like "I'm glad you're here to play!", but Rei is like "No, I just came to school at night to chill", because who doesn't do that. She clearly used the same sixth sense to find Kaoru that she used to find Nanako at the beach.

They have some banter, and Rei is casually like "Oh yeah, one of your fangirls has been watching you from behind that tree." Kaoru is like "Who are you?" to the silhouette that is obviously Mariko. Mariko runs into the woods, and there is a hilarious chase sequence that involves Rei giggling while running sideways through the woods. In a horror show, she would probably make a good villain.
You know Mariko is tsundere for Kaoru because she's like "I-i-it's not like I was hiding in the woods for you, or anything!"

Kaoru humors her, but Rei won't let it go and grills her about why she would be at school at night for no real reason, completely unlike Rei's stated reason. I wonder how many girls come to school at night for no real reason because of Kaoru.

Mariko admits she's worried about Kaoru's condition since her first comeback game is tomorrow, and gives her a nicely wrapped present before running away.
While the hiding-behind-a-tree thing is reminiscent of her behavior when she was obsessed with Nanako, everything else about this scene feel more awkward blushing schoolgirl than creepy, which I think illustrates the shift her character is undergoing. Guess it helps that A) she did realize she became hella creepily possessive and B) even if she didn't and tried the same thing here, a more seasoned student like Kaoru would be harder to pull that kind of thing with than the baby lamb finding its legs that Nanako was when she started Seiran.

We see Nanako in her room, just letting Takehiko know that for once, everything is going pretty well, even though we know whatever allowed Fukiko to find out that Nanako became Takehiko's pen pal will let her know that Nanako ignored her order to stop writing Takehiko.

On the commute to school, Mariko tries to excite Tomoko into wanting to see Kaoru's basketball game with her and Nanako, but Tomoko's too disinterested in sports and too straight for it to work.
Tomoko ribs her about it, but Mariko pretends she isn't interested in butches.
At school, Nanako and Mariko see Kaoru being fangirled over even more than usual, and Mariko is like "Harumph, she doesn't even like that kind of behavior" and walks away.

Nanako and Rei have a short, friendly conversation, and Nanako is extra-chipper while thinking it's going to be a great day.

It's time for the game. Kaoru's coach gives her a pep talk about how doing her best is what's important, but Kaoru responds with the polite version of "Fuck that, I'm going to win." Once she's alone, her speech about winning turns to the subject of her trying to forget lost love and suddenly there are fireflies and she's naked. When I watched this scene next to my girlfriend and went "Awww" she looked just in time to see Kaoru's butt, which was awkward timing.
Fukiko and her two righthand women show up dressed like they're going to a gala to give Kaoru a bouquet. Kaoru effectively tells Fukiko to fuck off because of her treatment of Rei, including the fact that Rei doesn't play basketball because Fukiko forbade it.

The game starts and we get some imagery from the perspective of the students comparing Kaoru to Genji, in keeping with her school nickname. I always found that comparison amusingly inappropriate because Genji is a horrible person, despite the novel he is in wanting us to think otherwise. (But I know, it's Kaoru's looks and grace that are being compared to his even though their personalities are completely different.)

The way Kaoru's basketball dribbling is directed looks a lot like Utena's, so as a bunch of other people have noted, given Oniisama E's very distinct Osamu Dezaki directorial style and obvious influence on Utena, it's pretty clear the way Utena is animated playing basketball is a homage to this series.

The opposing team decides to pile on Kaoru. As they start racking up points, the other students are annoyingly like "Why isn't Kaoru single-handedly fending off this entire team going after her?" even though they know she just got back from being so sick she had to skip a year of school.

Kaoru gets a fresh rush of GUTS or whatever powers anime characters to suddenly pwn their opponents. Her coach is worried, but as an athlete, she is happy to be able to feel like she's pushing her physical limits again. We see that her love of the game can't make her forget her sad lost love because she suddenly looks like she's playing surrounded by nothing but fireflies,
like the fireflies in her sad flashback, but that bit of symbolism is cut short by some girl playing dirty and elbowing her in the chest. If someone intentionally elbowed me in the chest, there is a decent chance I would punch them back, but because Kaoru apparently had surgery there, she bleeds and collapses.

In a moment that probably fueled the Kaoru and Rei shippers, Kaoru refuses anyone's help and calls for Rei.
Rei starts to take her to the infirmary, and Kaoru insists that she play in her stead.

Rei does an awesome job and is cool, but I still feel the need to share this screencap.
Nanako notes that she looks more alive than she has ever looked before. Like me, Nanako finds hyper-competence sexy.

We get a scene of Fukiko being pissed while riding her horse because a Sorority member told her about Rei playing, although she has the comfort of knowing Seiran lost the game.

Rei finds Kaoru at the hospital and recounts the rest of the game, and like Fukiko, they laugh in response, but in a way that shows they're still happy with what they were able to do.

Mariko practically pushes Rei aside to get in and see how Kaoru is. She goes tsundere again, but drops any pretenses when she realizes Kaoru is genuinely glad she came.

Nanako has a realization about Mariko
and quietly leaves with Rei.

The next episode involves Nanako being jealous of Mariko's ability to be open about her feelings for Kaoru, and Fukiko trying to bring Rei back under her control.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I Enjoyed Playing a Huge Bitch in a Lesbian RPG

I guess weirdly for a nerd, I was never very interested in gaming. I have enjoyed some games, like The Walking Dead computer game (zombies are a hook for me) and what I've tried by Christine Love. And before I played this game, I hadn't played a role-playing game since a miserable middle school attempt at D&D. So given my non-gamer-ness, clearly I am the perfect reviewer for this role-playing game!

Origin story for this game, Blossoms In Winter: my and my girlfriend Amy's friend Ben Lehman birthed a historical m/m role-playing game called Hot Guys Making Out. Amy subsequently convinced influenced (Amy: "Convinced is a strong word.") him to write a lesbian game despite his reservations about being qualified to write one. It is still in development, so you can't buy it yet if you're interested. This review is based on a play test. Since Ben is my friend, there is a conflict of interest here, but if I didn't like the game, I honestly wouldn't be writing a post about it, so take that as you will.

In Blossoms' case, the promise of a lot of lesbian content was good baitbut I wasn't sure how much I would like the actual role-playing aspect of it.

Blossoms in Winter is about two high school girls coming outor not, depending on how you play it. It's set in Taiwan, or as the game puts it, "the version of modern-day Taiwan that appears in TV shows and romance comics." On a smaller scale, it is set in territory familiar to yuri fans, an elite girls' school. Its protagonists are the secretly lonely girl who everyone worships because she is gorgeous, smart, and, most crucially, filthy rich,

Pictured: filthy rich girl Ximen Peiwen
Art by Kamapon

and the earnest, principled scholarship student who attracts bad attention after she and the rich girl hook up.

Pictured: the Yumi/Nagisa/Nanako of this game, Peng Lihua
Art by Kamapon

Peiwen is one of Meihua Girls' Academy's four "Beautiful Blossoms", like Oniisama E's Magnificent Three except that they're all friends. Amy and I played as two of the Blossoms who aren't Peiwen.

The game begins the morning after Lihua and Peiwen sleep together, when the magic of their night together has given way to "Oh shit, what does this mean for us?"

The role-playing for this game requires only two people, but you'll obviously get a better experience out of what is essentially improvised storytelling within a set of rules if you have more people. Before starting to play, you'll also want to decide if you want to play this game in one sitting, a regular-length three to six sessions, or an epic-length extended game, which might take a dozen or more sessions. I played this game in one sitting.

You also get a list of places in which scenes can happen, and can set scenes in a limited number of them. And there are some other rules to provide structure, but it would be tedious if I listed them all. I didn't have trouble following them, though.

My girlfriend planned on making her character kind of an asshole, in true high school soap fashion, but she wound up being the good cop to the other non-Peiwen Blossom (played by our friend Karen) and I. In the case of Karen's character, she was very guilt trippy towards Peiwen, but slowly, scene-by-scene, I crafted a blackmailing sociopath. Amy compared my character to Fukiko from Oniisama E, if Fukiko had a media empire and spying drones and a sterile, all-white, cushion-covered office in Taipei 101. The drones and office were my invention. My character card simply reads:

  • level-headed, practical, political
  • trades favors
  • from family that owns newspapers and TV station

I just took the potential evil of this character to its logical extreme.

Basically, this game took off for me when I was able to start fleshing out my character and take her deeper and deeper into the abyss. I made her closetedly into Peiwen also (the blackmail entailed her and Peiwen having previously been at a lesbian club at the same time), and the other Blossoms were implied queer also. According to Ben, the Blossoms tend to be played as queer.

So there you have it, folks. As much as I love happy love-love romances, I made my character into a coldly vicious, intentionally destructive bitch in the lesbian thing I had a say in, although it was Peiwen's conglomerate-owning mom who ultimately drove the final conflict to its post-high school conclusion. If you want a gentler game, the nice thing about role-playing is that you can go for that when you play, unless you turn out to have fun being a fictional villain.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 15

This episode opens with an upbeat ditty playing as Nanako and Tomoko browse dresses for Nanako to wear at the Sorority's post-midterms party on Fukiko's private ship. It's the last day of post-midterm holidays, and the next day, exam scores will be posted. Tomoko aims to be average. Nanako is concerned about her score (although still not as much as your average Sorority member), and Tomoko is like "You get good grades, you're good."

The next day, we soon see that Nanako and Mariko ranked in the top 50. Their celebration is cut short by a Sorority candidate named Nakaya Junko crying and running away because she ranked 73rd because she got too sick to write anything on the first day of exams. (Tomoko notes that's still better than what she got.) The Sorority being as compassionate and sensitive about its members' well-being as it is, you know Nakaya will be fine.

In English class, Nanako thinks about how it's been three months since she fell down the rabbit hole that is this school. She feels more settled, and like weird shit is less likely to happen at this point, hahahahahaha.
(Fyi, the subs at the top are from her teacher's English speech example. It didn't seem as weird before I read it after screencapping it.)

Nanako's perspective reconfirms that even though Seiran has enough architectural and pastoral beauty to make Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon jealous,
its ruling elite is pretty brutal. Like pretty much everyone at Seiran except Kaoru, Nanako didn't fully put together the implications of the Sorority's rules until she saw them used on someone. (I see what happens with Nakaya being for Nanako what seeing how a typical lower class family's life was like was for Rose of Versailles' Oscar. Obviously a starving family doesn't equal what happens to Nakaya on the horribleness scale, but I just think their respective effects on Oscar and Nanako's awareness of the shitty systemic aspects of the worlds they know, however different their scales, are similar enough to mention.)

At this point I mention the similarities between Oscar, Rei, and Claudine's character designs to my girlfriend Amy and tell her what I think their differences are. And then she pulls up this picture, this one, and this one, and proves that they are triplets. (Amy: "They're cosplaying as each other, basically.")

Anyway, Fukiko pulls a pretty cruel bait-and-switch. (Not sure it's intentional, since I'm not sure she is cognizant of how hurtful a good amount of her behavior is, despite her guilty hallucinations of Rei a couple episodes ago.)

Since pleading with Fukiko alone doesn't work, Nakaya asks her two best friends to help her out,
but they don't say anything on her behalf, which I think is loads worse than Fukiko's treatment of her.

Nanako stands up to vouch for Nakaya, though, and tells Fukiko she doesn't think the rules by which she's being judged are valid for good measure. I've seen Nanako criticized as a weak character, but lol she's the only one besides Kaoru vocally questioning Fukiko at their school for a good while in this show. (It reminds me a little of Akane from Psycho-Pass being called weak early on in the show even though she acts on what she thinks is right contrary to the shitty system that controls her world from episode 1 on. She does act in ways you would expect of a rookie cop, like Nanako acts in ways you would expect of a 15 year-old freshman. They both show poor judgment at points, but neither of them is weak.)

Fukiko ends the discussion by being like "Who do you think you owe your Sorority membership to?", leaving Nanako in shock because it confirms the rumors that she didn't get in fairly that she didn't think were true, because they were predicated on her being complicit in getting in unfairly. Mariko gives her the obligatory "OMG don't ever oppose Fukiko, what was that" speech and tells her to apologize to Fukiko with a big bouquet of red roses.

But first we see her asking two of her Oneesama, drinking tea and smoking in their private waterfront clubhouse(?) for help. Obviously that doesn't work.

When I first watched this episode, I thought Mariko was being melodramatic as usual with her red rose suggestion- not that this was an established custom for people begging pardon from Fukiko- until this scene.
Well, then.

In case we can't tell that Fukiko is being mean, we see her face ominously shadowed as she plays the same piano tune she always plays.

We see the party on Fukiko's private ship the next day, where Nanako can't enjoy herself. Mariko tries to cheer her up (and get her to apologize to Fukiko if she hasn't), but Nanako is just disturbed by how Nakaya could be kicked out just because Fukiko wants it, and how her admittance might have happened the same way.

Fukiko breaks out the champagne, and the party continues at her beachside mansion. Nanako steps outside, and Fukiko follows with her face completely blacked out, which has only happened so far in creepy scenes- and only with Fukiko, aside from Rei when she was high and thought Nanako was Fukiko in the previous episode.
Fukiko suddenly wants to be reconciliatory,
and her apology turns into an "apology."

The bird motif seems to be replaced by moths in this episode. I guess the director wanted to switch it up a bit.
After Nanako accepts her apology, Fukiko hugs her, and this apology gets weirder.
They walk along the water, and Nanako notes Fukiko's physical similarities to Rei. She also feels that Fukiko hates her life like Rei, although she doesn't know why.

Fukiko also somehow knows about Nanako exchanging letters with Takehiko. She presses a promise to stop writing to him out of Nanako, but Nanako intends to keep writing to him, and how would Fukiko find out anyway. (Nanako isn't thinking this through too well, because why wouldn't it be possible for Fukiko to find out it was continuing if she found out about it in the first place? That's some powerful wishful thinking.)

Nanako and Tomoko talk on the phone later, but it's interrupted by a call from Nakaya, who is waiting at a pay phone nearby.

Nakaya tells Nanako about how she's looked up to the Sorority since she was a kid, assuming its members would have the character to justify the prestige and glamour associated with them. Now she realizes it isn't true, and that looking back, she hasn't had a single happy moment as a member of the Sorority. Nanako is shocked because what Nakaya is saying is how she feels but hasn't articulated, and she isn't alone.

Nakaya admits she had a grudge against Nanako for Fukiko's favor towards her, but now sees that she misjudged her.
In a nice parallel to the obligatory red rose apology bouquet from earlier, she gives Nanako a single white flower, because she wants to.
Nakaya tells Nanako she won't ever forget what she did and leaves. Nanako admits what she thinks of the Sorority also,
and even though this is another bittersweet episode, I think Nanako's disillusionment is more sweet than bitter.

The next episode will feature Kaoru's basketball comeback, and conflict involving her illness and Mariko.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On Finding Trans Men in Old Manga

So a commenter left a comment on my review of Paros no Ken volume 1 rightly critiquing my initial written interpretation of the titular character of Ikeda Riyoko's Claudine...! for finding Claudine's gender identity somewhat ambiguous instead of "this character is a trans man." They also made a good argument for Paros no Ken's Erminia being read as a trans man. Because they brought up some great discussion points, I wound up practically writing an essay in response to it, and I think those discussion points are worth a blog post instead of being hidden in the comments of an old review.

The primary point of the comment was- why my interpretation of Claudine and Paros no Ken's protagonist Erminia as having some ambiguity to their gender identities?

In response to that, I wrote:

I am much more sure that Claudine is a trans man than I was when I first reviewed it years ago. As you read in my writing about Paros no Ken, it's harder to determine bona fide trans men in old manga because the folks writing older lgbtq stuff didn't have a lesbian lingo vocabulary (or couldn't use it) and somewhat clumsily described some characters (like Oniisama E's Rei and Sailor Moon's Haruka) as having "the aura of a man" (this being in the text of Oniisama E) or "the heart of a man" (which the creator of Sailor Moon said before clarifying that she did intend to write two girls who were a couple.)

I hesitate to definitively call Erminia a trans man (although there are definitely grounds for that interpretation) because of the broader context of the time, and the fact that whether Erminia is "both a man and a woman" or "neither a man nor a woman" is a major plot point in PnK. Regarding Claudine, when I first reviewed it, I was looking too much at historical context and not enough at how Ikeda Riyoko went the extra mile to make it more trans-specific than the other examples I mentioned in my discussion of trans straight male vs cis gay female identity in old manga. I will add a note to my review of Claudine...! about that.

In response to the points that "even in clearly trans stories like Hourou Musuko the mangaka have missed the importance of the chosen name. Since Nitori is a girl, the title should have been Wandering Girl and not 'Son'. (The same goes for Claudine and Paros no Ken's Erminia :/)", I wrote:

Re chosen names, yeah, Hourou Musume would better reflect Nitori's gender- ditto with Claudine...! being changed, although it's better there imo because Claudine himself didn't mention wanting a different/true name, like Nitori did. In the cases of Claudine and Erminia both not saying they wanted different names, I'm also pretty lenient because Claudine lived in the early 20th century and subsequently didn't seem to know what being "transsexual" is and how it applied to him until right before the end of the book, and Erminia (assuming the trans reading to be the right one) lived in some kind of Medieval kingdom. I'm reminded a little of how at the women's college I attended from 2008-2012, there were some trans men who didn't realize they were trans before they started school and were exposed to the queer awareness on campus, causing them to realize what they were and start publicly identifying as such- that's my reading of what went on for Claudine until the doctor told him what being transsexual is and what might be going on with Erminia. I realize that I am not the best judge and could be wrong about something, though. Anyway, that is the end of my long rambling!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 14

At the beginning of this episode, we are back in the clock tower, with Nanako discovering the awkwardness of being embraced by the girl she has feelings for, while said girl hallucinates that Nanako is the girl she loves who she once made a suicide pact with. We've all been there, Nanako.

From Rei's perspective, we see that she and Fukiko are in a flurry of pink shoujo petals
with Fukiko acting to fulfill the pact by cutting her wrist
so Rei tries to "fulfill" it on her side, but after she stabs the wall trying to do so, she comes to her senses, sees Nanako crying, and appropriately feels like shit. (My girlfriend Amy after I mentioned this scene to her: "That [a tortured backstory] is the kind of thing I would have found romantic in high school, but now I'd be like, 'I don't have time for this bullshit.'" I was like "This storyline works better in execution than when you just hear about it, but I'm not entirely sure why." When Amy asked if I would actually date someone like Rei, I was like "lol no" though, although I too probably would have in high school or early college. I do think she works as a character I can like- and ultimately like with Nanako, regardless of whether they would have worked in the long-term instead of being each other's first girlfriends- through some alchemy of writing, though.)
On her way home, Nanako processes what Rei said to her while thinking she was Fukiko and what it says about Rei and Fukiko's relationship and history.

The next morning, Nanako sees that Rei isn't in her homeroom and Fukiko is like "Whatchu doing?" Fukiko points out that she hasn't been attending the Sorority study sessions for the midterms, and is very subtle about her real reason for being vexed at Nanako.
The funny thing is that she has a point. I think this episode knows that Nanako should be focusing more on her midterms, even though it also knows that Fukiko's motives towards Nanako are dubious.

After school, Nanako stops by Rei's place and finds the front door not only unlocked, but ajar. She finds Rei lying motionless less to a mound of partially empty pill packets and is relieved when Rei wakes up. She warns Rei about someone dangerous entering with the door left open, but Rei is like "Eh, they can kill me for all I care."

The next morning on the way to school, Nanako impresses Tomoko with the mnemonic devices she learned from the Sorority for the exam. Tomoko picks up on Nanako having another secret thing, so she's like "lol Here we go again" and Nanako doesn't quite get how much Tomoko knows about how her school life rolls now.
Nanako falls into the all-too-common mistake of being too distracted by her crush to concentrate in class, so Mariko nudges her into jotting down what she needs for the exam. (Amy when she read my draft of this recap at this point: "Why does Nanako have a crush on Rei?" Me: "Because she is us in high school." Amy: "Well I was stupid in high school, and so were you." And then we laughed for no real reason.)

After class, Mariko tries to find Nanako to ask her something about French, but finds Kaoru in their classroom instead. Kaoru makes her day by offering to help her out instead.
This scene is too easy to make a double entendre about.

Back at Rei's place, Nanako enjoys watching Rei eat decent food and goes into the kitchen, where she sees yet more pills and tries to throw them away, before Rei is like "MY BABIES."
Rei is like "Leave me alone, I never asked for your help!" so Nanako runs away and heads to the beach to be sad.
This message brought to you by Oniisama E. Don't pop pills and leave expiring shit in your fridge, kids.

We also learn from Nanako's humming that she knows her own theme song.

Somehow Rei knows that Nanako is at this beach, so she shows up and says something about looking at the sea, and they have tea at her apartment, and even Rei is like "Thank you for seeing me home, but shouldn't you be focusing on your test right now?" Rei says that, at least for today, she won't take any more pills, and Nanako asks her about the doll. Rei hesitates, so Nanako decides to leave.

On her way to the elevator, Nanako runs into that guy who is Takehiko's friend and they briefly re-introduce themselves. We already know he knows about the Sorority and Nanako and Takehiko being pen pals, and he says he's here to meet "a friend" before saying bye to Nanako, before we see Rei be like
The significance of him referring to her that way is awfully sad knowing what their relationship is. I won't spoil it, although someone who has only seen this far can probably sort of guess if they eliminate romance based on Rei being gay.

Inside Rei's apartment, she and Takehiko's friend have a rather awkward conversation.

Takehiko's friend asks how she's doing, and she responds like someone who is inured to people pretending to care but not following through on actually showing it. I feel like she tests the patience of people who care about her because of that- sort of pre-empting the abandonment she expects by being flighty and distant herself.

Nanako and Tomoko are silly on the way to school, and Rei gives her the memorization cards she accidentally left at her apartment at school.

Kaoru shows up for their usual banter
and Rei responds in turn
and all is right with the world. Or something.

And it's time for midterms, which will determine whether Nanako stays in the Sorority. I wonder how much Nanako's lack of concern for the Sorority's exam requirement has to do with how little good the Sorority actually seems to be doing her.

The next episode involves Fukiko telling Nanako ~secrets~ on a Sorority party aboard her private ship.