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Archive for November, 2011

In Tangled, Disney takes a crack at yet another classic fairy tale, Rapunzel. Now I think most of us are familiar with the story of Rapunzel; innocent girl with freakishly long hair held captive in a tower by yet another evil older woman until prince charming comes along. If Disney had kept very close to the original story line, I would have ignored it (which honestly wouldn’t have been too hard seeing as it’s not a very action-packed plot), but luckily, they didn’t. Instead Disney did some major tweaking (as usual).

Rapunzel is still the girl (actually a princess in this version) whisked away by an evil older woman, waiting to go outside, but she’s got a lot more spunk than the original Rapunzel. Swinging frying pan-kind of spunk. Because of a healing flower the pregnant queen consumed to save herself from sickness, Rapunzel was born with magical hair granted with the same power as the flower. Well, the crazy old lady of the story (no fairy tale is complete without one) wants that power to keep her young forever and kidnaps the princess, raising her in a tower for almost 18 years secluded from the world. Prince Charming eventually shows up except he’s not a prince like the original; he’s a criminal finding refuge in the secluded tower. (That’s when Rapunzel brings out that frying pan.) Flynn reluctantly helps Rapunzel escape, but Rapunzel’s captor isn’t going to let her go so easily. Thus begins the adventure.

Rapunzel from Disney's Tangled

After seeing the commercials way back when Tangled was being released to theaters, I was intrigued by Disney’s more adventurous take on Rapunzel. It didn’t let me down on that. Tangled’s Rapunzel has a lot of giddy energy which is not as annoying as it sounds; compared to stiff renditions of young princesses in past Disney princess movies like Aurora, Cinderella, and Snow White, this energy breathes life into a previously dull girl whose only memorable characteristic was her flowing locks. This doesn’t give her an air of great maturity, but this goes along with the goofiness of the other characters. And while this new Rapunzel is captive, she doesn’t give off the feeling of a helpless damsel-in-distress (for example, she’s not rescued from the tower; she actually strikes a deal with the criminal Flynn to get him to escort her out of the tower). She may not be wielding the frying pan the whole movie, but Rapunzel is pretty resourceful and isn’t just along for the ride. This is a Disney princess movie so, the focus is on romance, but Rapunzel is one of the more modern princesses I’ve seen from Disney. She’s no Mulan (who, strangely, is considered a princess), but Rapunzel is a notch above most of the princesses.

Flynn Rider from Disney's Tangled

The love interest of Tangled is a mixed bag. Flynn Rider replaces the prince from the original tale as a criminal which is good and bad. In some big ways, Flynn is similar in personality to Prince Naveen from Disney’s other most recent princess movie; he thinks he’s hot stuff just as Naveen did and both men have an unhealthy obsession with money. Flynn also starts off as a bit of a jerk at the beginning. His character has a bit of a twist though; he’s really not the tough guy that he acts like, but puts up an act to emulate a “cool” guy. This makes things tricky. He’s not your average trope, but this still presents the message that if you just dig deep enough, a guy who seems jerky will turn out to be nice. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know how I don’t like this idealistic notion of a jerky guy *changing purely due to love. (*After something a reader pointed out, I’d like to correct this; often the jerk-who’s-not-really-a-jerk changes due to love, but this is not entirely the case in Tangled.)  I know these characters are supposed to be good guys that just aren’t in tune with their hearts or whatever, but unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty scenario in reality; in reality, rarely does a jerky guy change like Disney and other fiction suggests. However, with so many stories spinning this tale, some people pick this idea up and expect similar results in real life. I do see why Disney did this though; by making Flynn a criminal/guy-trying-to-act-cool instead of a prince, he’s someone who has just as many problems and issues to work out as the female lead. So, not my favorite stereotype at all, but I’ll acknowledge the effort.

That brings me to my next comment; I did like the equal standards in Tangled. Not only did the two leads both have issues to work out, but they helped each other through the journey and both did some saving. Looking back at the original where Rapunzel just sits in a tower until a prince comes around and helps her escape, it was much more interesting seeing Flynn steal into the tower to hide out only to be hit by Rapunzel with frying pan (the natural reaction to an intruder) and forced into helping her then watch as the two evade not only Mother Gothel but also the authorities after Flynn. As I said, equal opportunity.

Mother Gothel from Disney's Tangled

On the other hand, the antagonist in the movie, the evil old woman called Mother Gothel, is not so refreshing. As I said earlier, we are presented with the evil older woman trope once again. Her entire motive for kidnapping Rapunzel is to retain her youth. Of course, this power apparently extends beyond granting youth but also allows Gothel to live well beyond her years, perhaps forever if she continued to use the power as needed. However, the story is more focused on Gothel forever scrambling after her lost youth rather than any greater ambition like immortality. Also, while the movie makes a point to show viewers that looks don’t necessarily reflect what’s inside, Rapunzel’s real mother (who is, of course, a kind and good person) remains youthful despite the 18 years that have passed during the movie (maybe because she ate that flower?). It gets back to the old idea of beauty=good and old=bad, an idea that seems very limited in its usage to female characters.

In the end, Tangled is still a princess movie which, with more traditional/stereotypical aspects, will not break many boundaries of the genre, but it meets modern times halfway by introducing adventure and more equal standards between the male and female lead. For those of us looking for something more radically different, maybe our wish will be granted in the upcoming Pixar movie, Brave (keep hoping!), but all in all, Tangled is one of the better Disney Princess movies.

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Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita

It’s very easy for people to equate manga and anime to a very limited scope: characters with big, shiny eyes and impossibly small noses dealing with issues such as long-lost loves reincarnated, evil organizations bent on domination, magical transformations, and everything under the sun that screams out-of-this-world fantasy. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it really doesn’t do justice to the wide range of subject matter that manga covers. One such example is Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita. The story revolves around Daikichi, a 30-year-old single man. When his grandfather passes, he and his family are shocked to discover that Daikichi’s grandfather had a love child–a 6-year-old girl named Rin–with a young woman who is nowhere to be found. Ashamed of what the grandfather has done, no one in the family is willing to take in Rin and so, Daikichi rashly decides to take care of her himself. Of course, as a man who has never taken care of a kid, Daikichi has a lot to learn.

After reading multiple raving reviews on the manga Bunny Drop, I was happy to see that the anime based off of it was going to be added to Crunchyroll.com’s anime lineup (under the name Usagi Drop) and it has not disappointed me so far.

This story is sweet, but has also managed to bring up some very modern and thoughtful issues related to parenthood so far. Obviously, it brings up single men raising children. Stories featuring dads raising kids singlehandedly are not new, but the way Bunny Drop is handling it comes off very well and is one of the best depictions of this type of scenario I’ve seen; just like real parents, Daikichi is realistically clueless about parenting and has to figure it all as he goes. Moreover, because he’s single, Daikichi has to handle everything from clothes shopping to bedwetting on his own–no help from a girlfriend or wife. This leads to cute moments like Rin asking Daikichi to do her hair up in pigtails as well as more serious but also heartwarming situations relating to Rin’s family situation.

Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita

Interestingly enough, Bunny Drop shows how similar being a single dad is to being a mom, married or not. It brings up equally important and neglected issues relating to mothers and single fathers. After Daikichi takes in Rin he realizes that he can no longer work the long hours at his company that he used to. Upon realizing this, he remembers a former colleague who requested to be demoted to a position that had more consistent hours so that she could spend more time with her new child. In the same episode, Daikichi is told that his own mother was essentially kicked out of her job after she took a maternity leave. Thus, in one fell swoop, Bunny Drop brings up real issues that affect working single fathers and single or married mothers. Because Daikichi is a single dad, he discovers issues that mothers often deal with such as working and taking care of a kid. At the same time, we realize that single dads might have similar issues.

Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita/Translation by Mangareader.net

Not only does it realistically portray a single man trying to adapt and become a parent to a child, but Bunny Drop seems to be showing that not all women are born to become excellent mothers. At a point, Daikichi starts to wonder if it would be good to get Rin’s real mom involved in her life. Here readers/watchers are introduced with a young woman who is by no means wicked, but simply and honestly  uninterested in becoming a mother. She realized that having a child was not for her and only had Rin at Daikichi’s grandfather’s insistence. I like that Unita is delving into this. Rin’s mother is presented as the tiniest bit odd, she is not vilified but depicted as just another human being trying to figure things out in life, just like Daikichi. I like to think it’s growing less common, but I think there are still people out there that expect girls to dream of marriage and babies even the girls themselves. The expectation is the problem because not everyone dreams of that. I’m looking forward to seeing if/where Unita takes this part of the story.

Marriage is not depicted as happily ever after, either. So far in the anime, there are two characters who represent this; Rin’s classmate’s mother, a woman who is divorced and raising her child on her own and Daikichi’s cousin Haruko who is in an unhappy marriage, but must also consider her young daughter’s feelings. The story manages these realistic scenarios well as it takes them seriously but the show never feels depressing, but rather an honest depiction of people just trying to figure things out.

In the end, Bunny Drop shows us parenthood is no picnic, but as we watch Daikichi, Rin, and all the other characters going through their day-to-day lives, it’s hard not to feel touched by the warm atmosphere Yumi Unita has created in Bunny Drop. It’s thought-provoking and an enjoyable ride so, if you haven’t read or watched it yet, I recommend checking it out. I’m going to leave you with an exert from the manga of when Daikichi tried to do those pigtails for Rin.

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This past weekend, I finally got around to seeing the not-so-new newest Disney Princess movie, The Princess and the Frog. As readers of my blog will know, there are very few Disney movies with female leads that I like. However, I was curious to see if they would bring more modern ideas to this movie (since it was made it 2009), I had to take a look at it.

The basic story is Tiana, a young woman from New Orleans, is a big dreamer and is working hard to start her own restaurant when a prince comes to town. Prince Naveen is looking for a rich woman to marry because, although he’s a prince he’s been cut off from his family’s money and doesn’t want to give up the good life. Along the way, he falls victim to a man of black magic, Dr. Facilier and is turned into a frog. When Tiana comes across him with his new green look, Naveen mistakes her for a princess and, thinking of the story of The Princess and the Frog, convinces her to kiss him. Unfortunately, not only does it not work, Tiana is turned into a frog, too. Now they both must find a way to turn human again while trying to escape Facilier’s dark plans.

Obviously, this was the first time Disney featured a black women as lead (wow! if weren’t 2011, that’d be so forward thinking!) and rather than make her a pretty little princess, she’s an independent young woman who has big dreams. I appreciated that Tiana wanted to own her own successful restaurant. While she is interested in something that is traditionally associated with women, that would be a job a woman may have actually been able to get at that time Tiana’s story is set and frankly, the fact that Disney has even given us a career-driven heroine is amazing. Many Disney princesses are trapped/restricted/in trouble in some way from the start of the movie (Aurora, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White) and either don’t give independence or adventure a thought or don’t do anything on their own to achieve it. Tiana, however, is driven very much by her desire. She works her butt off and isn’t reliant on anyone. I also liked the fact that Tiana is not the damsel-in-distress here. Naveen and Tiana have an equal amount of problems to deal with.

Of course, I knew I should savor these radical-coming-from-Disney aspects. I could feel the shadow of tired, traditional thought processes creeping up on the entire movie just like those voodoo shadows kept creeping up on Tiana and her friends.

My first big issue showed up in the form of Tiana’s friend, Lottie. Lottie is pure and simply “the blonde girl” and Disney makes that very clear from the start. She’s rich, spoiled, talkative to a fault, not too bright, etc. Disney loves stereotypes so, it seems they tried to make the second most prominent female character in the movie as stereotypical as they could to balance out Tiana’s modern character. (No damsel-in-distress? Send in the blonde stereotype!) She’s introduced as the girl who can’t seem to shut up and is determined to meet the prince just because he’s a prince. She’s blind to Tiana or anyone else’s troubles until the end of the movie because she is so absorbed in herself. When it seems like the prince won’t show up to a party Lottie is throwing, she starts sobbing like a child, pointedly ruining her mascara, after she wasted the whole evening waiting for him to show up, but immediately cheers up when he comes. You don’t have to watch this character for more than a few minutes to figure out she’s a complete blonde girl stereotype. Disney really likes taking baby steps, don’t they?

Prince Naveen from Disney's The Princess and the Frog

But Lottie is not the only stereotypical thing in the movie. The prince who changes into a frog is more like “the jerk who (finally) changed into an adult” but it’s not really his character I have a problem with; it’s how Disney handles him. Prince Naveen, as he’s called, isn’t a really bad guy; he just doesn’t act like an adult, but instead more like an immature teen. He thinks he’s the best thing that happened to women (not to mention some other problematic traits) and only changes after he meets and falls in love with Tiana. Oh no. Here we go again. Is it so unusual and wrong that the prince undergoes character change? No, it’s fun to see character change, but by having him change because he meets “the love of his life” we’re returning to the overused jerk-will-change-after-he-falls-in-love scenario. As pretty as that sounds, it’s really not the message to be sending out to kids (or adults, for that matter). Ok, so not everyone is a sponge that absorbs this harmful and unrealistic expectation, but when we have so many stories repeating this fable, some are bound to internalize this. How many women how you heard say “Oh, he’ll change”?

(On a more positive note, I did like that Disney showed some vulnerability in Naveen. Not only is he in a bit of a pinch, but he also admits that because he’s been so spoiled by people he has–if any–very few skills with which he can take care of himself. Guys have problems, too, but in some of the most traditional Disney movies (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) the guys are perfect (in a cardboard cutout kind of way).)

My final and biggest problem with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog was how Disney handled Tiana’s ambitions of a big career. While Tiana does get her business in the end, the lesson in this movie is finding out what we want vs. what we need. Guess what Tiana wanted and what she needed? Yep, she needed love while she only wanted a career. Love is important, but love comes in many forms and the fact that Disney is essentially telling girls to give up their career dreams if they have to choose between one or the other is very old-fashioned. Running a successful business also is more than just getting money; it’s a way to independence not too much another type of fulfillment. If a girl wants both a guy and career, that’s wonderful. Many women end up with both now (whether it was their dream or not). If a girl wants to dream about a career rather than a guy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, either. But by presenting it the way Disney did, want vs. need, it seemed to me like they were saying if a girl must choose, she should choose the guy. All I can say after watching Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is “Wake up, Disney! It’s 2011!”

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Those of you interested in games and/or anime have probably heard: Fate/EXTRA from the popular *Fate series has hit stores. I usually don’t blog about games, but I couldn’t ignore this one. I’ve never played one of the games, but the Fate series caught my attention via the anime remake Fate/Stay Night a few years ago. I was intrigued by one of the main characters, a stern-looking female warrior who goes by the alias of Saber in the series. So many female warriors presented to us in fictional medias with visuals look more like deformed prostitutes participating in some kind of kinky role play so, while it’s not perfect, I was impressed by Saber’s character design. Unfortunately, I’m not so impressed by the newest Saber character design, but before I get to that let’s talk about the original Saber.

The original character design is the picture above. Right off the bat: yes, Saber has a feminine look, but she’s not sexed up. There are no watermelon-sized boobs, short skirts to show off shiny thighs, or other cheap tricks used to objectify her. I’m not sure how practical a skirt is during a sword fight, but hey, at least she’s wearing armor that actually protects her. I also like the fact that Saber has such a commanding and tough presence unlike the pouty, come-take-me faces that so many other female “warriors” are depicted with (check out this post and others on Go Make Me A Sandwich if you don’t know what I mean). Men have been going to war for centuries and they’ve done just fine without utilizing their sex appeal in battle. This look demands the respect that Saber receives from opponents; she’s a serious threat and she looks like one. The outfit helps, but it still could have looked too girly if Saber didn’t have the tough expression to go with it.

Fate/EXTRA pretty much took everything I liked about the original Saber and toned it down so that those elements are almost non-existent. Take a look for yourself:

Sexy Saber

If I were to pretend that there were not much better character designs previously, this design is not the worst female one I’ve ever seen. However, because better designs of the same character exist, I can’t help but cringe at the backward step the franchise took with Saber. My first impression is that this Saber doesn’t look nearly as tough; in fact, she doesn’t look tough at all. I’ve been sifting through Saber artwork on the internet trying to find official artwork that depicts her with any kind of intimidating feel, but I’ve had no luck. The closest look to tough that I found was the picture below. She appears doe-eyed and bemused and even in the picture below only depicts a neutral face. Then we have her “armor” or rather lack there of. The only armor she has is made to look like a fashion accessory-sexy, knee-high boots. The rest of her outfit looks more like the outfit previous versions of Saber have worn under her battle wear not as her battle wear. However, the dress goes beyond simply being pitiful battle wear. What’s up with all this peek-a-boo stuff? A sheer front to the skirt so that we can all see her panties, low cut-outs on her back, and a lower top than her previous designs takes away her coolness and replaces it with cuteness/sexiness. The outfit also draws much more attention to her chest. That’s great if you want to give your opponent an easy target. She looks more like an unorthodox princess than a warrior.

Original Saber without armor

I also want to compare this new Saber to other versions. Saber has had two other character designs that I know of previous to this newest one from Fate/EXTRA- Dark Saber and Saber Lily. Dark Saber is just as good as the original Saber (if not better on a level of intimidation) and I appreciate that she almost looks scary even. Again, Saber is supposed to be a bona-fide warrior not a girl at a beauty pageant. Saber Lily is the weakest of the three older designs because of her design looks more like a dress than armor, but even Saber Lily looks tough. That expression says she means business so, even though the dress/armor is unpractical, I still can take her pretty seriously.

Dark Saber

Saber Lily

 I know people like to be creative and make new character designs, but the only thing that was achieved in this one is Saber now looks like a pretty/sexy girl. Some of the previous designs have been depicted as more pretty than fierce, but at least a good amount of the depictions are also more warrior-like. Can I have cool Saber back now?

*I realize that the original Fate game was an “adult” game, but I think it should be noted that not all games released in the series are such and revised, non-porn versions were released of the original. The anime adaptation, of course, followed the revised version of the game and Fate/EXTRA is not an “adult” game.

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