Review: Anohana

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Note: possible spoilers are in white

Anohana is a tale of grief and recovery, love and jealousy, and of course, friendship. The main characters are make a close-knit group of friends as children, with Jintan as the leader of their group called the “Super Peace Busters”, and Menma who is loved or envied by all. Menma is considered the prettiest and sweetest of the girls, but she dies tragically and suddenly. Years later, Jintan is a hikikomori and the group barely interact. However, one day Menma’s spirit visits Jintan and everything is set in motion again.

The music is lovely, the animation is clean and bright. So nothing to worry about there. The characters are distinct both in design and personality, as they have a touch of realism to them, and personalities that are distinct without having to resort to 2D “types”.

The anime is short, only 11 episodes long. The story is a heart-wrenching tale of loss that progresses at a steady pace. This anime made me cry. I didn’t even know why I was crying at times. It makes everyone cry. The Anohana crew sure know how to pull some strings, and that’s admirable! If you are really into dramas or interested in exploring grief and friendship, this anime is for you. However, Anohana could be labelled a ‘melodrama’ due to its excessive use of intense emotions. You don’t have to be too far into the anime to be swamped with scenes full of crying or shouting. Some characters overreact, raging unexpectedly. Such intense emotional scenes should have been saved for the climaxes, such as the ending, but their overuse instead dulls the effect of emotional climaxes,.

Furthermore, the anime did not go as deep as I wanted. It lacks specific details- what happened immediately after Menma’s death for everyone involved? What happened in the years in between? And moreover, the characters could do with more depth as they only exist in relation to Menma and their friendship group. They don’t seem to have any real aspirations outside of their friendship group, which would have made the characters more well-rounded and therefore realistic. For example, Tsuromi studies hard- maybe it’s a reaction to Menma’s death? Or maybe it’s because of her dream to become a …? Furthermore minor characters such as Jintan’s mother and father were not fully fleshed out, but had great potential and relevance to the story.

Furthermore, the problems that have been taunting the characters are … yawn… so repetitive! X is in love with who is in love with Z. Tears, repressed love and melodrama ensue. It get boring and is uncreative. The anime would have been more interesting if it explored other problems beyond unrequited love. Also the fact most of the characters still had the same childhood crushes even into their late teenage years seemed ridiculous and childish… I mean sure, one or two characters would be fine… but almost all of them? And none of them had moved on?

However, I am happy that Anohana is able to depict characters moving on from mourning and guilt, especially Jintan as it is a story of hope and action for those who feel unable to progress. If you want to watch a sweet, tear-jerker, Anohana is for you.

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Why haven’t I been posting and where have I been?

I had grand plans to post every week this holiday and even write enough to schedule some for later. As it turns out, I barely wrote anything. Mental health recovery, getting a job, going on holiday, learning a new language, filling out forms and getting vaccinations and packing for university, reading for university, meeting new friends, going out, being exhausted… and finally… WRITING! There’s an extremely brief summary of why I haven’t been posting this summer.

This probably could have been written more eloquently, but I’m going to bed soon.

Anyway, having stopped writing, and re-edited the whole text TWICE now, I can happily inform you that I’m nearing 30,000 words! So that’s almost 120 pages of a novel! My ambitious goal was to write 200,000 words this summer, i.e.: two books, my realistic plan was to write 100,000 words for one book. I’m not close to those targets, but hey, I’ve probably written more than I ever have (edit: actually not, because I wrote almost 50,000 words for an unfinished novel when I was 12… it was pretty fucked up… but also just a bad novel)! And, I know I’m going to edit it again at some point, but I don’t fear that, in fact, I look forward to it. Look forward to having my novel completed and polished up to a standard that I would not be embarrassed to share it. I’m close to finish the first part, and I have been “close to finishing the first part” for the last 2 months (laughter), but I’m glad I went back and edited or planned when it became hard to plough on.

What can I say? I learnt from last year, and had wrote a plan. The vaguest plan ever probably. Using the snowflake method which I began using last year (you can look it up, it’s helpful). Having a vague plan meant lots of improvisation, not writing, stopping to think and plan. I’ll plan longer next time. And as for the writing? It’s so much harder than I imagined! My vocabulary is not as wide-ranging as I have liked as I haven’t read much fiction-for-fun for the last year. And my writing only improves when I consciously want to absorb the vocabulary or style of a text I am reading.

I would love to share with everyone what my novel is about, but I don’t have that many followers. Hmm, there’s an artist, a ballerina and a socialist musician. What do you guys want to know about my novel/series? Feel free to ask!

I’m actually planning on making a webcomic and a hypercomic later in the series, so I’m supposed to be improving my art but I’m inconsistent when it comes to practising art since it’s not my priority right now (writing is!).

Anyway, hope you are having a good time, if not, I hope things get better from you.

Hope to be writing more often,

N.H.

Review: Lan Yu (2001)

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Lan Yu (2001) tells the story of a poor university student, Lan Yu, who agrees to have a one night stand improve his financial situation. However, he falls for the wealthy businessman Chen Handong instead of the man he is supposed to service. The story is a struggle between Lan Yu’s desire for a loving relationship and Chen Handong’s wish for a purely sexual relationship, between Lan Yu’s firm devotion and Handong’s tendency to sleep with other men and women.

At first, when I began watching this film I felt that the exposition at the bar was messy, partly because my Chinese really wasn’t up to scratch and the volume wasn’t loud enough. Secondly, I disliked how the film jumped quickly from one cut scene to another- I wanted the characters’ relationships to be explored in more detail. However, as I continued watching the film I realised that the quick jumping between scenes skillfully captured the fleeting nature of Lan Yu and HanDong’s relationship, as they come apart and together again and again. I expected the relationship to be developed at the start, but instead it is developed by the leaping between scenes and years, and in Lan Yu this way of development had won my approval by the end.

The film doesn’t have the best cinematography ever, but the slightly off colours and angles, the old architecture, successfully re-create the atmosphere of a past China with beautiful nostalgia. I liked the actors, and I especially thought Lan Yu’s actor did well to capture his initial naivety and sweetness. Similarly, the film overall manage to capture the various emotions of the characters and different tones- realistic anger, sweet jokes, loving gestures and tragedy.

Overall, I would recommend this film. I mean I was crying by the end. Or was that because of my shit mental health?


Spoilers Alert- Discussion Time- Drag Your Cursor Over The White Text

I wish there could have been more explicit gay sex.

It’s not cool to kill off gay characters. However there are circumstances where a death would make more sense and be more justifiable than others (e.g.: in a war where everyone is dying, if the character already had suicidal tendencies). And this is not one of them. The worst sort of “bury your gays” scenario is when a gay individual or couple is finally shown being happy after overcoming tragic struggles, and then suddenly dies in an accident. This ending sends the message that gays just aren’t allowed to be happy, or even alive. This film definitely could have deviated from the book in terms of the ending. The film could keep its tragic tone and sad opening lines even if the ending was altered. Lan Yu didn’t have to die. He could have gone into a coma, and the ending could have been one of ambiguity, uncertainty, encompassing both hope and despair, HanDong not knowing if he will get better, but promising to treat him well if he does and desperately hoping he lives.

LGBTQ Fiction: Fitting In and Non-Binary Representation

I love LGBTQ fiction, and I love LGBTQ representation in the media. But despite the increase in LGBTQ representation in the media, for a long time I still felt left out. And it’s only recently that I realised why.

When I flick through description of gay novels, they appear either to be endless remakes of Dorian Gray or cheesy YA fiction.  Lesbian novels seemed great but still not quite right for me. But ultimately I felt neither lesbian or gay novels really fit me or depicted the kind of relationship I wanted. I felt the same looking at images of same-sex couples, imagining myself with someone of the opposite or same-sex. I was only then I realised, that what I really wanted was a non-binary relationship. For a long time I have been really open, warm towards the idea of dating someone genderqueer or intersex, and recently I thought about how nice it would be to date another nonbinary person, so I wouldn’t have to cross-my-fingers and explain and hope they understand, but instead have someone who understands my view of gender and what it is to be non-binary. However, I never realise that this was what I wanted until this week. There’s something about the way cisgender homosexual relationships are depicted or are that never quite felt like an easy fit for me, and then this is when I realised that I was interested in genderqueer/non-binary relationships more than any other form of relationship in both fiction and real life.

However, that’s where it gets a little shitty for people like me. Non-binary characters virtually do not exist in YA fiction, and hell, give me a call if you find a non-binary character in adult fiction. Mainstream fiction. Even in LGBTQ fiction, I do not see many non-binary characters (mainly YA I am talking about). It’s great to see gay and transgender literature flourishing, but there’s always that bitter tear of being left behind and forgotten.

This lack of non-binary representation is a reflection of the lack of discussion of non-binary identities in the media and real life. After Caitlin Jenner came out, transgender identities have been a hot topic for discussion for the past two years. Most people know what the term means. But being non-binary? Haha. Hell no. There’s been very limited media coverage, if at all. My ‘liberal’ friends barely understand the concept- they told me that it’s contradictory to be putting yourself in yet another ‘box’ or ‘label’! Yet anyone who is non-binary will know that being non-binary is the ultimate anti-box.

Anyway, hopefully in the future there will be more representation for non-binary folks. This is something we can strive to do, that I will do. As if making up for the abominable lack of non-binary characters in fiction, at least 3/6 of the main characters of the long-ass literary/comic series I am writing are non-binary ;). If something doesn’t exist, you can always make it exist.

Anyway, this is not all rain and grey skies. The depictions of relationships which I feel are close to what I would like are those found in certain anime.

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Although the relationship between Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tennoh in Sailor Moon is often seen as being a typical butch/femme relationship, there is something in that relationship that seems to transcend those tropes. Maybe it’s because both characters have traits that transcend their supposed ‘type’. Maybe it’s because they’re so well-written they feel real. I don’t know.

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And then there’s Utena! The ultimate non-binary character! Although Utena never exactly says “I am non-binary” since I don’t think the term was really in currency back then, everything about her character and about how she is framed and portrayed screams non-binary (one of the CDs is entitled “androgynous me”).

Maybe I’ll write something more coherent and better structured another time, when my life is less hectic and when I’m feeling better.

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

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Tsukuru has always felt less than his friends, less deserving of his place in their close-knit friendship circle- unlike his friends, his name is colourless, and he sees this reflected in his lack of personality. However, one day his friends suddenly cut contact with him and never speak to him again. 16 years later, Tsukuru begins to search for answers under the encouragement of his current fiance, Sara.

This is a book about three things: nostalgia, growing up and revelation. It’s a revelation-based book, but it isn’t particularly well written. It’s a decent book, but it’s not masterpiece, let me explain why.

Firstly, it’s a book about growing up an nostalgia right? It’s about going from point A to B- what happened 16 years ago, and how it is now. Except, point A, the initial starting point, is never clearly described. Murakami doesn’t capture the friendship through evoking vivid memories, rather slapping down 4 character profiles together, as if he was writing a Wikipedia page for the friendship group. We don’t get to know the friends very well, we are left with a short, trope-filled description for which we are supposed to expand to whole characters. Although, it was refreshing to see these overturned once they grew up. However, the way the characters are introduced (or rather lack of) meant I wasn’t very interested in them, as I didn’t know much about them. So when big revelations did come, such as a character revealing their true sexuality, I really couldn’t care less.

Furthermore, there is way too much travelling in this book. Murakami feels the need to describe.every.fucking.detail. Do I really need to know that Tsukuru asks the Finnish transport person for directions, that he changes trains 3 times and have each train line described? Furthermore, the prose is ungracefully cut with philosophical and scientific discussions which are written in textbook language, and it seems impossible that humans are saying these words, not textbooks. These conversations are rigid  and awkward and are not well integrated into the book, and their meaning is often unclear.

Not only could the novel be more succinct, the prose… was bland. For the first 50 pages I felt like the translator just translated every sentence without giving a thought about how the sentences might join together or flow. The narration felt distant and apathetic, and sometimes like a Wikipedia page.  It consisted of almost only simple sentences.

The novel has explores dark themes, yet it merely dips its toes in the water, decides its too cold and goes back to be warmed by a pair of tits (literally). The darkest aspects of the novels are never resolved or fully explored. Mental illness is dismissed as “evil spirits”, which I find extremely irresponsible and unhelpful- considering that it writes off mental illness as something mysterious and inherently unknowable (which only perpetuates the stigma around mental health issues), and the idea of “evil spirits” has connections with very crude, historical ideas about mental illness. But it’s fine that this is never resolved according to the novel, because Tsukuru gets to touch lots of tits! (not lying).

A feeling of incompletion pervades the novel. This is terrible because it’s a revelation-based novel! And the point of such a novel is to discover secrets and truths!

This is a decent book, but it could have been much better.

Also, I did not mean to offend Wikipedia in this review, it’s a pretty decent site,

I’m interested to hear what everyone else thought, comment below.

Content warnings (spoilery): sexually explicit descriptions, rape

Review: The Art of Being Normal, Lisa Williamson

I have to admit, the book doesn’t exactly draw you in at first. But as I got past the first few chapters I really began to enjoy the book. The book if full of happy and sad moments, and it deals with themes of: gender identity, coming out, bullying, poverty, family and friendship. I really liked the exploration of different social backgrounds and family structures, because this sort of thing is sometimes neglected in YA.

I enjoyed it. The book was fast paced and had a diverse range of characters. However, it appeared that Lisa Williamson hasn’t yet mastered teenage slang of the 21st century…

Although the author’s purpose of this book is definitely to encourage acceptance of trans individuals, it is not a textbook. The characters are their own people, will their own lives. However, the author’s handling of its transgender characters could be improved. For example, the real transgender community is very diverse in relation to how they negotiate their transgender identity. But in this book all the transgender characters seem to have the same story: they knew they were trans since they were 5, they like all girly/boyish things and nothing else. It would have been less of a problem if there was only one transgender character, but if you put more in, you should really try to show the diversity of the trans community! I also felt like she focused overtly on the physical aspect of being transgender, and sometimes she really doesn’t choose the right way to show their body dysphoria.

The character also uses 2 POVs, however I wish I could get to know David and his friends more. It does seem quite focused on Leo at most of the time. I found David whiny and annoying at first, and I liked Leo’s stern and serious character. However, in the second half of the book I began to like David more as a character and I enjoyed the development of David and Leo’s friendship. However, I felt that this book lacked closure in some parts.

tl;dr Sweet and informative for those who know little about transgender individuals, but could have had a more creative plot and better representation of transgender individuals.

NB: Too much horny teenager talk in this book!


Spoiler section and discussing

The ending… I felt like it was unnecessary to devote a giant paragraph to Alicia sort-of-apologising-sort-of-removing-the-blame-from-herself. It puts the focus on her, not Leo or Kate, who had really struggled and progressed throughout the book. It annoys me, because she was obviously to blame to some extent for what happened, and Leo should not have had to apologise for not coming out earlier, especially given his past experiences! Other than that, I thought the party was cute and so was the Christmas present. I think if Alicia was going to apologise, she should have done it earlier or not at all, because putting that apology as the ending somewhat ruins the nice ending that was the party. I felt uncomfortable that she was friendzoning Leo…

Also, why didn’t we get to know Mam’s story? I felt like the writer couldn’t be bothered to think it up.

Review: Holding Up the Universe

28686840“Holding Up the Universe” does not stand out as a particularly good or bad novel. The two main characters grow and become more accepting of themselves by the end of the novel. However Jack’s repeated use of “broken” to describe himself as someone affected by prosopagnosia is unnecessary and out of place. Although it’s interesting and educational to understand challenges faced by prosopanosiacs and those deemed “fat”, the characters often seem to be infatuated with and reduced to these issues. Niven intends to show that Libby isn’t defined by her weight, yet Libby is defined by her weight in the book. She is bullied, thinks about it constantly, everyone else thinks about it constantly. Although it may be good to show weight-related bullying and make the audience empathetic, Niven talks about weight to an extent that it becomes Libby’s defining feature.

There is very little other than these issues in this book, except from romance and family problems. Furthermore there is a vast, faceless cast of supporting characters- friends and foes- who lack proper characterisation and differentiation, other than “friendly”, “bitchy” or “bully”.

The book is not slow paced, but could have been shorter and at times, it is melodramatic. However, my main issue with the plot is that it seems incomplete. The ending was incomplete, somewhat anti-climatic (although there wasn’t that much of a climax towards the ending) and utterly predictable.

Another problem: the first half of the book is almost wholly about weight-issues/prosopagnosia, but then the two main characters get into a car together- and BAM- they want to make out. I feel like the chemistry between the two main characters feels forced and sudden sometimes, but as the book progresses it does improve, although some of the romantic lines verge on the creepy or just weird (Niven has yet to master the prose of romance and the use of metaphors), however, at times the romance and friendship in the novel is sweet.

The book is also dotted with cliches from head to toe, although at times it does manage to cleverly incorporate cliches into its message. I also appreciated the diverse cast, especially in contrast to “All the Bright Things”.

tl;dr: book mainly about the protagonists’ defining issues (weight and prosopagnosia) with romance. This is not a terrible book, but there are better books out there.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

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A simple and enjoyable, yet challenging and thought-provoking novel on growing up in an evangelical Church community and discovering one’s true self. Winterson weaves complex ideas and heavy emotions into a simple yet at times fragmentary and experimental novel.

Jeanette was adopted as young age, and poised like Christ to save the world through her future missionary work. However, as she grows older, she discovers that the battle she must fight is not against the sinners ‘out there’ but within her own home and church, and ultimately she must decide to accept herself for who she is or remain in the rigid church community. The novel is laced with humour and sweetness, as well as interesting ideas.

However, I do wish that Jeanette’s lovers were better developed, but I understand the focus of the book was about her, her mother and the church, and the lovers played mainly a supporting role. I cannot help but feel the book is quite simply sometimes, perhaps it is the prose or the oldness of my copy. The ending did not meet my expectations and at times I disliked the fragmentary and brief nature of the novel. However, I still enjoyed reading the novel as a whole.

“I feel like my opinion doesn’t really matter.”

 

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“Do you not maybe feel a responsibility to vote?”
“Not really, I feel like my opinion doesn’t really matter. Like it’s only one vote, so…”

A dialogue with a millennial in a recent Guardian video.(7:38-7:48)

When one sees oneself as only as an individual voter, a sole political agent amidst millions of other, different individuals, one is unable to grasp the power and potential of the collective. That is the loss of contemporary society. That we should not vote, not do anything political, because it means nothing. Of course, if everyone thinks like that any chance of a collective movement is destroyed. The reason #BlackLivesMatter gained attention is because of the mass reaction it provoked and the thousands of activists involved.  In Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues that the capitalism’s most effective opponent and scrutiniser was the trade unions- forcing capitalism to survive through innovation, not cutting wages (as would have benefited the factory owners). Marcuse lamented the situation of society, when people lost sight of themselves as a group and became “individuals” within a system that valued individuality and individual success above all else. For in abandoning the group to fulfil such an individual vision of success, workers lost their collective bargaining power. And thus they lost any power they really had, as financially disadvantaged or marginalised individuals in an unequal system.

Why else was Thatcher so eager to “atomise” society- to break it up into nothing more than mere individuals? Because the forming a political groups empowers the powerless through the sheer numerical strength and solidarity of a group, allowing it to challenge the privileged and powerful. It reminds us that discrimination and oppression exist in a systematic, pervasive and institutional way. That we are not alone. That these are not individual accidents or events. And that in seeing this pattern of inequality, we have the power to change it.

I am not saying that individuality is not important, I am saying it should not be the only mode of identification, nor the only way of thinking, especially when it comes to politics, where power is unequal yet the situation and cry for change is always paramount.

Review: Oniisama e (Brother, Dear Brother)

Oniisama e is about its characters: the sweet and naive schoolgirl, the prideful and manipulative Sorority head, the suicidal, heartbroken drug addict, the basketball star with a secret struggle, and it goes on. Character development is an extremely important ingredient in this anime, and each character in this series is well explored and developed, even the penpal (“Brother”) has a significant role in the anime. However, sometimes I felt some characters could have been more active, or that the explanations for their actions were pompous or unbelievable.

The anime is old, and based on an even older manga. The animation is absolutely stunning, as they give attention to detail and pan paused shots. Similarly, the music is beautiful and conveys the feelings of the anime.

On one hand, the manga is potentially groundbreaking for its time, as it discusses topics such as lesbianism, incest, drug use, divorce and disease. On the other hand, Oniisama e sometimes feels outdated and slightly conservative in its portrayal of such themes and its characters, despite the fact the anime is supposedly ‘happier’ than the manga (not by much, I would say).

The structure of the anime is, well, very loose, but well plotted as most character arcs are resolved and well-placed to drive the action. Sometimes this makes it fun to watch, since you never know what’s going to happen next, other times, there are weird shifts in mood and theme. The anime is also 39 episodes, which is pretty long. This is both an advantage and disadvantage in comparison to the 3 volume manga- the story is expanded, but also hella long. The anime is exciting at times, but can also be pretty boring and slow.

In the end, the anime is a character-centric drama that revolves around the themes of love, friendship and growing up, so if you’re not interested in those themes, don’t watch it.

P.S: there is a hell a lot of crying, but then it’s not surprising since the catch line at the end of every episode is: “Brother, Dear Brother… there is no end to my tears.”

Trigger warnings (because this is a triggery anime)
– self-harm
– eating disorder
– psychological manipulation
– suicidal thoughts
– death