Good Soil Makes a Good Crop: The Story of Saiunkoku and the myth of meritocracy

The Summer of Saiunkoku continues, this time in article form!

Shurei in formal dress stands with her back to the viewer, one hand extended to a blossoming cherry tree branch.

Once upon a time, a poor little girl named Hong Shurei did not dream of marrying a prince. Instead, Shurei saw the struggles of the people around her and dreamed of becoming a civil servant—an impossible dream, for women were banned from public office. Yet when the law changed to allow her entry, Shurei soon learned her dream was not without its nightmares, for deep-seated prejudices loomed everywhere she looked, and these were not the sort of monsters one could draw a sword and slay.

Despite its fantastical shoujo setting, The Story of Saiunkoku is no traditional fairy tale, and Shurei’s journey is much closer to unjust reality than escapist fiction. This allows the series to explore systemic oppression, workplace harassment, and the importance of structural support, especially in systems that claim to be merit-based. Through its young, marginalized civil servants, Saiunkoku provides an intersectional critique of the “bootstrap” mentality, highlighting how oppression creates hurdles that often require more than just “hard work” to clear.

Cllick here for the full article on Anime Feminist!


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Podcast: Shojo & Tell – The Story of Saiunkoku [With Transcript]

Let’s put some shine on this buried treasure.

In the foreground, Shurei faces the viewer and holds a fan. She is surrounded by flowers. In the background, Ryuki and Seiran watch her affectionately.

I was beyond delighted when Ashley (@AshMcD00) invited me on to Shojo & Tell to talk about one of my favorite series: The Story of Saiunkoku, a.k.a. “the shoujo gem that time forgot.” Hear us gush about Shurei, marvel at wild plot twists, discuss the manga’s feminist undercurrents, and pick our favorite pretty boys.

You can listen to the episode or keep reading for the full transcript.

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Daring to Speak its Name: Goodbye, My Rose Garden and the queer historical romance

Set in 1900 England, Goodbye, My Rose Garden tells the story of the young noblewoman Alice and her maid Hanako as the two connect over their shared passion for fiction and eventually fall in love. Steeped in references to the history and literature of the Victorian era, the series draws on turn-of-the-century reality and fantasy alike to highlight the intersectional struggles of queer women of the period.

Utilizing the narrative devices of early feminist and women-loving-women (wlw) literature, Rose Garden encourages its audience to expect a melancholy love story. However, it swerves in its finale to offer an unambiguously romantic, happy ending, arguing against “inevitable” heteronormativity and providing a shining example of how to write nuanced, happy historical queer fiction for a modern audience.

Click here for the full article on Anime Feminist!


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You Don’t Have to Kick Ass to Be Kickass: Shoujo fantasy and the value of the noncombatant hero

HItomi stands atop the Escaflowne mecha, holding aloft her glowing pink pendant

Over the decades, the number of fantastical stories starring female characters has slowly but significantly risen. As that number has gone up, so too have the number of lady action heroes. Girls and women are no longer relegated to the roles of “white mage” or “brainiac”; they can sling spells, slay vampires, and punch supervillains in the face right alongside the menfolk.

And this is a good thing… for the most part. But the ability to enact violence shouldn’t be the only way we measure someone’s value. It’s important to showcase a variety of roles—not just soldiers, but politicians, doctors, mediators, artists, caretakers, and so on—to highlight the different ways of doing good or being a hero. This is as true of fantastical escapist fiction as it is grounded slice-of-life stories.

So, how do we tell these stories without falling back into the old gendered stereotypes of “man fight, woman heal”? One subgenre in particular provides us with a useful template: shoujo fantasy, which features a number of action-packed tales with protagonists as diverse as their worlds.

Click here for the full article on Anime Feminist!


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A Swing and a Miss: The mixed-up feminism of Princess Nine

Ryo and Takasugi in their baseball uniforms, facing away from each other and looking grimly upset.

Created as an anime-original project in 1998, Princess Nine spends the first three-quarters of its 26-episode run with an often spot-on understanding of the sexism girls and women face when trying to enter traditionally masculine fields. Through its narrative and characters, it challenges gender norms and argues for female participation both in boys’ sports and adult leadership positions.

Unfortunately, the series falls into its own sexist assumptions in the last act, becoming mired in a melodramatic love triangle and undercutting its progressive messaging in the process. It makes a strong early pitch for feminist-minded viewers to cheer it on, but by the time it staggers into home plate, it’s hard to manage more than a halfhearted sigh.

Click here for the full article on Anime Feminist!


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Thinking Outside the Circle: Accessibility and education in Witch Hat Atelier

No witch left behind.

A boy sits instead a broken glass bottle. He presses a hand to the side of the bottle. Just outside of it, a girl in a witch's hat presses her hand to the bottle as well, the two trying to touch through the glass.

Witch Hat Atelier begins with the premise that “anyone can become a witch” and then spends practically every volume introducing us to someone who’s been told “no, actually, you can’t,” whether because of their family, their learning speed or style, their physical abilities, or their mental health. Thankfully, the series always proves these naysayers wrong, telling hopeful stories not about “overcoming” differences, but working with and even embracing them.

Using its “magical school” premise, Witch Hat Atelier explores diversity among students and argues for the importance of accessibility throughout society, but especially in education. With supportive mentors and a focus on individual accommodation, anyone really can wield their own kind of magic.

Click here for the full article on Anime Feminist!


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Podcast: Manga Variety Hour – Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight!

Bring on the lovers, liars, and clowns!

A two-panel comic of a man holding a cat. He says "Fukumaru" in the top panel and then presses his cheek to the cat's cheek. Sound effects read "Squeeze." They both look delighted.

Caitlin, Vrai, and I dust off some obscure musical references and recommend a slew of comedy series to help give you a little reprieve from the whole… well, Everything going on in the world nowadays. From the wacky to the sweet, the school life to the pet life, there’s something for everyone in this batch of feel-good comics.

Click here to view the show notes and download the SoundCloud file, or find it on iTunes and Stitcher by searching for “Chatty AF.”


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Podcast: Winter 2020 Wrap-up

A season so strong, it’s not just bueno.

A girl in a school uniform smiles and says "Es perfecto."

Vrai, Peter, and I team up again for the Winter 2020 retrospective. This season was chock full of good pets, great girls, and cheeky ghosts, so take notes and get ready to binge!

Click here to view the show notes and download the SoundCloud file, or find it on iTunes and Stitcher by searching for “Chatty AF.”


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Podcast: Toradora! Watchalong – Episodes 7-13

In which I finally, truly understand the concept of “Best Girl.”

Ryu and Minori cross a finish line at sunset, holding hands

After a somewhat rocky start, Toradora soars with a fantastic school festival arc that had us all blinking back more than a few happy tears.

Click here to view the show notes and download the SoundCloud file, or find it on iTunes and Stitcher by searching for “Chatty AF.”


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Podcast: Toradora! Watchalong – Episodes 1-6

Let’s get dorangerous.

Taiga holding a can of coffee and looking furious

I’ve reunited with Caitlin and Vrai on a watchalong, but there’s a twist: I actually haven’t seen this one before! Join me on this journey into early-decade YA rom-coms, won’t you?

Click here to view the show notes and download the SoundCloud file, or find it on iTunes and Stitcher by searching for “Chatty AF.”


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