5 Amazing Things About America That Have Nothing To Do With Politics

Well, today is the 4th of July, my country’s 244th birthday… but between everything that’s happened here since about 2015 or so it’s been harder and harder to celebrate it. But I do think it’s important to celebrate where you come from, no matter where that may be, and even if the people currently in charge make LeLouch from Code Geass seem like a sane and responsible leader in comparison. So here are 5 things that I love about America that are as apolitical as I could possibly think of. I know everything is political nowadays, but I’ll try my best, so just… okay?

1. Huge, Interesting Cities

Bernal Heights Park, San Francisco

I’ve traveled and lived in many cities in America, and though none of them are without their problems, they are all unique and fascinating. Each one has its own unique regional culture and many of them are famous around the world. A lot of them have hokey nicknames – LA is The City of Angels, New York is The City That Never Sleeps, Albuquerque is… The City Where They Did Breaking Bad? There’s so much to see and do in all of them. Even though the cost of living is often high, a lot of them have amazing sights you’ll find nowhere else and lots of amazing people from all over the world.

2. Awe-Inspiring Natural Wonders

Flagstaff, Arizona

But as awesome as the cities are, I they don’t compare to the joy and wonder of nature. America has many different climates – evergreen forests, harshly beautiful deserts, rustic old plains, two gorgeous coasts. The natural wonders in California alone will take your breath away. It’s a big, beautiful country, and one of my favorite national pasttimes is going on a road trip to see it all.

3. Music. Just… Music

If it weren’t for Americans – specifically black Americans, because they invented pretty much every genre of pop music there is – music would pretty much suck. Black Americans combined African folk music with Appalachian folk to make country and blues, then from that they made jazz, gospel, rock and roll, Motown, soul, funk, hip-hop, house… There is so much amazing music that came from this country, from people who could turn the best and worst parts of human experience into songs that they could share all over the world. Music is one of the few things that has given me faith in the world in these troubling times (well, that and my dog Muffin…) so it makes me proud to have so much amazing music come from people who have lived or been to the same towns and cities as me.

4. (Some of) The Greatest Movies of All Time

Casablanca at 75: fascinating facts about one of the most famous ...
My mom and I always watch Casablanca together around the holidays

I’ve been pretty cynical on Hollywood lately, but I used to be a pretty big film buff in college and some movies I’ve seen have legit changed my life. They open my eyes to different people’s experiences, make me feel emotions that I often feel forced to repressed, and are just a ton of fun to watch. I’m a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, obviously, but there are also some great indie movies and cult classics I watch over and over. And I think it’s fascinating that American cinema takes influence from many different cultures, but also influences the media other countries make too. The original Star Wars was heavily inspired by the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, but without Star Wars we probably wouldn’t have Final Fantasy or Legend of the Galactic Heroes! Movies are great, y’all.

5. The People In Power Suck, But Most Of The Regular People Are Okay

A lot of people are pretty disillusioned with humanity, and I kind of am too, but I wanted to talk about some of my IRL friends that have helped me get through all of this and made me feel less shitty about this rock we’re all stuck on.

One of my friends works in biotechnology and researches vaccines for infectious diseases (he’s also a guitar player and an amazing cook!) Another one of my friends is just starting to come out as transgender and I’ve been helping her pick out new outfits – she looks so cute and happy in her transition! Another loves magical girl anime and we’ve been spending our free weekends watching Little Witch Academia together. I have an older friend who works as a therapist for kids in poverty. There’s one girl I know who lives in LA and is an amazing singer – she’s got the swagger of Amy Winehouse and the thoughtfulness of Joni Mitchell. I firmly believe she will be famous someday.

All of these are folks I met at coffee shops, pubs, meet ups, social media. They have family from all over the world from all sorts of life. Some of them are close to me, most are far away now, but they all helped me get through a lot of shit in my life. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them.

I don’t really care about America as a country or as a concept but I think there are parts of it that are worth protecting. There are a lot of amazing people who live here, and in other amazing places all over the world. Even though it seems like everything sucks right now, I hope that people take some time to be good to each other today and remember that we all have a lot more in common than not.

Magia Record: The “Joey” of Unnecessary Spinoffs

I put off watching Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story for a while because of my baggage with the original series. Madoka Magica is one of my top 5 favorite anime. The art, music, and pacing are phenomenal, and I love the mashup of its cutesy magical girl aesthetic and existential horror (and of course, tragic lesbian romance!)

This is official art. It’s canon!

I never wanted more, because I didn’t think anything could live up to the original ending. And as much as I wanted to watch this new anime with an open mind, I couldn’t help comparing the two constantly. Madoka Magica is like a dish at the finest Italian restaurant in town, and Magia Record is like the same meal at Olive Garden.

It’s based on a pay-to-win mobile game, because capitalism ruins everything

Our new heroine is Iroha Tamaki, a pink-haired girl clearly in over her head. (Sound familiar?) She’s already made her pact with Kyubey at the start of the story, but neither can remember what her wish was. When she realizes she wished to save her little sister Ui from disease, Iroha vows to find the girl at any cost. But why did both Iroha and Kyubey lose their memories, and why does Kyubey seem to have a cuter but even creepier younger brother?

Did that sound like an interesting premise? Did it seem like there were cool mysteries to solve, and that they could take the concepts and themes of Madoka Magica in a new direction? Well, sorry, because Magia Record does nothing with these ideas at all. The pacing in this anime is like running on a treadmill: fast and intense, but never actually going anywhere.

What’s the point of including the stack of chairs from Monogatari if you’re not gonna do anything with them?

The first problem is one that many gacha anime have: too many characters and not enough development. The original Madoka only had 5 magical girls, and gave them all several episodes in the spotlight. Here, there are like eight magical girls in the first episode alone, cameos from the original characters, and a cult of evil magical girls in addition to the witches as antagonists. And they only get one or two episodes of screen-time each. These characters are not here for you to care about them, they’re just marketable designs to get you to spend money on, well, you know…

To be fair, Felicia’s Magical Girl Viking aesthetic is rad as hell

The story feels less like a story and more like a mess of cool looking imagery cooked up on a peyote trip. The original Madoka was pretty surreal, but Gen Urobuchi’s clever writing helped tie it all together cohesively. But Magia Record constantly jumps from one plot point to the next, with little focus on Iroha’s quest to find her sister (you know, the goal of the main fucking character?!) And remember all those gut-wrenching twists and reveals in the original? Here, they’re explained again in a PowerPoint presentation. I wish I was kidding.

It’s a shame, because there are moments – moments – where Magia Record gave me the same sense of awe as the original. The trademark SHAFT visuals are back in force, which makes the transformation and combat sequences really pop. They couldn’t get Queen Yuki Kajiura to do the music this time, but the new tracks are pretty good regardless. And they expand the lore of Madoka Magica enough that it’s not a complete rehash of the original, I guess…

She has a hood, see? It’s completely different this time!

But even the positives make me wish I was watching something better. Who is Magia Record even for, really? If you’ve never seen the original Madoka, you’ll have no clue what’s going on. If you have, you’ll get frustrated with how much this show rips off not just Madoka, but other great anime like Revolutionary Girl Utena or the Monogatari series, while refusing to do anything new of its own.

Anime fans have been waiting for “the next Madoka‘ for almost a decade now, but this isn’t it. If you want a great dark magical girl anime, watch Flip Flappers, Magical Girl Raising Project, Yuki Yuna, Symphogear, or even an older anime like Utena or Lyrical Nanoha. All of these shows are more unique, have more three-dimensional characters, and do a better job exploring Madoka‘s themes than this “official” tie-in. It’s not a terrible show, but it is pretty much the “Joey” of pointless, unnecessary spinoffs in anime.

Okay, I think I’m the only person alive who still remembers Joey, so let me explain. Friends was 90’s sitcom about douchey white people in New York, and Joey was an early-2000’s spinoff about the whitest, douchiest person there moving to California to pursue his acting career. It was a tremendous flop and even the main actor, Matt LeBlanc, hated it. I guess a more modern example would be, um… Agents of Shield? Did anyone even watch that show?

5 Anime Characters That Aren’t Explicitly Stated As Autistic, But I’m Pretty Sure Are

Autistic people love fiction, but there aren’t many positive representations of us in media. (I don’t look anything like Sheldon Cooper!) Anime tends to skirt around labeling people in this way, but I think there are a lot of characters who could be perceived as autistic. I know it can be problematic putting a medicalized term onto fictional people, but it’s not really meant to be taken seriously. Maybe just call this “5 Anime Characters That I, As An Autistic Person, Can Relate To?” I never know how to start these posts. Let’s just get to the cute anime pics already!

Rei Ayanami – Neon Genesis Evangelion

Eva is full of complex and tragic characters, but I think Rei Ayanami has it the hardest of all. She goes through hell throughout the series, but continues to pilot because she has nothing else. She has a hard time outwardly expressing emotions or understanding social cues, and her blunt nature causes others to see her as heartless. But behind her steely red eyes is a compassionate young girl with a rich inner world, desperate for genuine human connection.

(I also wanted to talk about Kensuke, the military otaku, but he’s basically an irrelevant character after Episode 4. Sorry bud!)

Shigeo Kageyama (Mob) – Mob Psycho 100

Mob’s greatest weapon is not his incredible psychic powers, but his strong morals and empathy. His autistic quirks, such as not knowing when someone is lying and difficulty “reading the room”, make it easy for others to bully and manipulate him. When it gets too much, he melts down, completely losing control of himself and his powers. But he always tries to solve problems without violence and see the best in people, which inspires others to see the good in themselves and change their lives for the better.

Riko – Made in Abyss

A cheerful, impulsive girl like Riko might not fit the stereotypical definition of autism, but I actually relate to her a lot! She’s exceptionally curious about the nature of the Abyss (you might even say she has a special interest in it…) and she’s the youngest person to explore the Abyss on her own. She’s physically frail, and often gets into trouble for not understanding others. But her resourcefulness, booksmarts, and ability to keep a cool head under pressure make her invaluable, and her charming personality makes it easy to empathize with her despite her differences.

Mafuyu Sato – Given

Not all autistic people are into computers or card counting! For many of us, music is a way to express ourselves in ways that words can’t. Mafuyu is a young singer and guitarist, who is often seen as an oddball because of his quiet nature and monotone speech. It often seems like he is on a different wavelength from everyone else, but inside his mind is a whirlwind of emotions. When Mafuyu gets on stage – or during his adorably blunt love confession – you can see how much of a kind, sensitive soul he truly is.

Violet – Violet Evergarden

I watched Violet Evergarden when it came out back in 2018, and by the end of the first episode I was already in tears. So much of what she struggles with in the early parts of the series, like her difficulty understanding social norms or other people’s emotions, are things I’ve struggled with for my entire life. Because of her differences, she’s unfairly held back at school, almost loses her job as a letter writer, and feels crippingly isolated from the rest of the world. But she thrives through the support of her friends, who believe that her kindness and ability to reach people who are suffering more than makes up for any of her disabilities.

Conclusion

I don’t think any of these are meant to be perfect (or even canon) representations, or that you should watch them if you really want to understand autism (well, maybe Violet would help). I just really like all of these characters and relate to them for their wonderful quirks. They helped me understand a bit more about myself and connect better with other people. And really, isn’t that the most important thing?

Anime Pride Month: Flip Flappers Is Everything I Love About Anime

No one complains about anime more than anime fans, but I think we can all agree that it’s one of the most diverse and creative forms of storytelling out there. And Flip Flappers is pretty much everything I love about anime. It’s a psychedelic wonderland that combines magical girls, mecha, cyberpunk, DBZ-style fight scenes, Jungian psychoanalysis, and a beautifully gay love story about two girls risking everything to be their authentic selves in a world that will do anything to suppress them.

Cocona (left) and Papika (center) – they swap hair colors when they transform

The story is simple, but with a lot of depth if you’re willing to look for it. It stars a seemingly ordinary schoolgirl named Cocona, who feels alienated from others and lacks direction in life. This all changes when she meets Papika, the bubbly transfer student who takes her to a world of unfettered imagination called Pure Illusion. The girls must use their new magical powers to gather the Amorphous (basically the Dragon Balls of this universe) before a sinister organization finds them first and wreaks havoc on the world.

It’s a simple setup, but they pack a ton into just 13 episodes. Almost every episode plays on a different style or genre. One episode is a Mad Max romp through the desert, another is a horror pastiche in the all-girl’s school from hell. Little about the world of Pure Illusion is explained through exposition – instead, the show lets the gorgeous visuals and music tell you everything you need to know. There are visual and thematic references to fairy tales, Jungian archetypes and the collective unconscious, Gainax classics like Eva and FLCL, and even optical illusions. But you don’t need to pick up on all that to get to the heart of Flip Flappers: the gay shit.

Of which there is a lot (mild spoilers ahead, but nothing that you can’t figure out on your own)

Cocona and Papika’s relationship is complex and full of spoilers, but their character arcs are all about queer identity. Cocona is repressed at the beginning, pushing away Papika’s romantic advances even though she secretly wants them. But as she becomes more aware of her feelings for Papika, the world(s) start conspiring to keep them apart. This is most obvious in the “yuri hell” episode, where the girl’s school pushes them to do cute girly things together – but if they ever leave the school or talk honestly about their feelings, they’ll bleed out and die.

What’s the girl from Orphan doing in my yuri magical girl anime?!

For Cocona, Flip Flappers is not just a love story; it’s a coming out story. Her character arc is about embracing her identity, in spite of the people who may not accept it and her own fear and indecisiveness. Papika, who is already out and comfortable with her identity, helps Cocona through her unconditional love and boundless enthusiasm. There’s also best girl Yayaka, who is basically Bakugo from My Hero Academia as a lesbian – loud, standoffish, crazy in love with the hero. All three girls go to Pure Illusion for different reasons, but it helps them all understand themselves and be out and proud in a heteronormative world.

Two-toned hair and an eye-patch? Oh Yayaka, you’re such a weeb 😛

Unfortunately, Flip Flappers is one of those anime that gets a little too… anime sometimes with the fanservice. To bring up another My Hero comparison, we have Bu-chan, who is basically Mineta as a way-too-horny robot. He (?) gets the crap beaten out of him about once an episode, but it’s still aggravating to have this character whose whole schtick is trying to sexually harass teenagers in such an anime that is so thoughtful and progressive in almost every other aspect.

But if that’s not a deal breaker for you, you’ll find so much to love in Flip Flappers. It’s a love letter to creativity and the power of self expression in all its forms. The magical girls are all relatable in their own way, and though the story can be confusing at times, you’ll get a lot out of it if you pay attention. I only recently watched this one, but I’m planning on watching it again with a friend soon to pick up on all the themes and symbolism I missed the first time around. And even if “heady” anime isn’t your thing, you’ll still find a lot to love in the stunning art and thrilling action sequences. Flip Flappers might not be perfect, but it was clearly made with passion and heart, and it’s one of my new favorite LGBTQ+ anime out there.

THEY’RE WEARING MATCHING WEDDING DRESSES IT’S SO GAY AND CUTE OMG OMG OMG

My Mental Hospital Horror Stories

Disclaimer: There is a lot of triggering content in this post. I have been going back and forth on whether to talk about this here or on a more private forum, but I kinda needed to get some of this stuff off my chest. Apologies for being self-indulgent.

I was fourteen years old the first time I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was my freshman year of high school. I had no friends, was bullied nearly every single day in class, and for the first time, I stopped caring about my schoolwork. My religion teacher was kind and smart enough to figure out what was going on, and one day he brought my dad in for a chat. Barely 10 minutes had passed, and the next thing I knew, he was driving me to a big white building with no windows and no way out.

They diagnosed me with Psychotic Depression and told me I had to stay there for 72 hours. They took everything I had on me – my wallet, my flip phone, and all my clothes – and put me in a room with another kid who I had never met before. I didn’t sleep a wink. I was too terrified.

The next day, the doctors gave me the first of a seemingly endless cocktail of pills I’d get prescribed over the years. I took Abilify, Seroquel, Prozac, Celexa, Xanax, Klonopin… the list just goes on and on. Many had horrible side effects and made me feel like a zombie. Xanax got me addicted for years, and tapering off that made me vomit nearly every day for weeks. And this all started when I was FOURTEEN!

I’m not anti-medication. I think when used responsibly, it can help a lot of people. But I really don’t understand how any psychiatrist could give a fourteen-year-old child antipsychotics and seriously think it’s the best thing for them. I think I would be in a better place now if I wasn’t medicated so much when I was younger.

It didn’t help that most of the staff were, well, very unhelpful. Doctors and nurses would routinely scream at patients, or threaten to deny them food for not behaving. I didn’t trust them, and I couldn’t be honest about how I felt. Sometimes I would lie and say I was doing better than I really was, just so I wouldn’t have to stay there any longer.

After I started transitioning, everything got worse. I was constantly misgendered, and before I changed my driver’s license, they wouldn’t even call me by my chosen name. One time I was in with another patient, an elderly religious woman. She was sweet as pie until she found out I was trans, and then would tell me I was going to hell every time she saw me. I tried to get the staff to ask her to stop, and they told me that I really should just get over myself.

But the worst part about psychiatric hospitals is all the damn waiting. You’re stuck there by yourself, with very little contact with the outside world, and there is pretty much nothing to do until you get out. Once I got lucky, and the patients got lots of group activities to talk about our issues, draw, or play board games together. But most of the time, we’d just have to sit around all day. No TV, not even a book to read, and only one outside phone call a day. It’s the most boring version of hell imaginable.

Thankfully, my horror story has a somewhat happy ending. I haven’t been to the hospital in over a year, and I’m clean from those nasty benzos. I have a much better therapist who actually listens to me and tries her best to help me face challenges in life. My mental health hasn’t been great this year (has it for anyone?) but at least I can try to manage it a bit better and avoid going back to the hospital again.

But I want to make a point with all this. The mental health system in America is fucked up. The vast majority of public psychiatric hospitals are not set up for long term care. They don’t have the funding. So instead, they put people in a sanitized prison cell for 72 hours, with staff who are too overworked to care about their needs or just not have the place smell like shit all the time. I was one of the lucky ones, in some ways – because I’m white, and because I had somewhere to go after I got out. Some people don’t have that option, and bounce between homelessness, hospital, and jail for their entire lives.

We need to fix mental health. We need to talk about it constantly, not just when it’s in the news. We need to put more funding in our mental health system, hire more/better mental health professionals, and to make mental health just as much of an important issue as physical health is right now.

And most importantly, we need to respect the needs and rights of people with mental disorders. Just because someone has depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or even borderline doesn’t mean that they are any less human. They are just as worthy of compassion and love as anyone else. And when the system is this bad, when the “cure” is worse than the problem, it makes me wonder if it’s us, or the rest of society, that is truly mentally ill.

Anime Pride Month: My Next Life As A Villainness and the Wholesome Bi Harem

Just as I thought I was finally getting sick of isekai anime, My Next Life As A Villainness: All Routes Lead To Doom swooped in this season with a genuinely fresh take on the genre. Sure, it’s an escapist harem fantasy romp, but it’s also a romantic comedy with a hilarious female lead, who’s harem includes guys and gals in equal measure. That’s right – she’s a BICON!

Bisexual Queen

Villainness basically explains the plot in the title, but here’s a run down: In a Victorian-inspired fantasy kingdom, a spoiled rich girl named Catarina Claes takes a nasty fall to the head one day and gets visions of her past life as an otaku girl in modern Japan. She realizes she’s actually in the world of her favorite otome game, a visual novel for girls that usually focuses on romance. But poor Catarina was reborn as the villainness, and every route in the game leads to her death or exile! Catarina resolves to become a good person and befriend all the characters in the game. Since she’s, a total dumbass, though, she accidentally triggers all of the romance flags instead of the death flags, so now 8 handsome guys and gals have all inexplicably fallen in love with her.

Yup, this is The Good Place as a harem anime. I have no idea who thought something like that would work, but here we are!

More than most genres, rom-coms need likable characters to get people invested. Villainness knocks it out of the park with its lead, Catarina (or as the fans call her, Bakarina). She’s charmingly oblivious to a lot of things: how many cakes it’s acceptable to eat at a party, societal norms that say rich girls can’t be into farming, and especially every other character’s infatuation with her. But she always helps her friends with their own deep-seated issues, and she’s So. Damn. Cute! My favorite scenes are her inner monologues, where a council of her five remaining brain cells argue with each other, like a diplomatic meeting on The West Wing done by a bunch of toddlers.

The supporting cast is also great, male and female. Most of them don’t get too much development, but they do a great job at being the “straight man” when Bakarina gets a sugar high, while secretly losing their minds at how oblivious she is to their advances. Even though they compete with each other for Catarina’s affection, they never seem to judge or resent each other for it. Homophobia doesn’t really exist in this world. And if the OP and promotional art are any indication, Catarina’s at least got a thing for Maria, the demure heroine who, of course, makes amazing pastries.

It can be hard to find good bi representation in media. For a long time, bisexual TV characters were only ever treated as a joke. People often treat bi women as straight and bi men as gay, which leads to misrepresentation and erasure. Even anime bicons like Sailor Moon and Shinji from Evangelion have had their works censored in the West. So it’s great to see a show where fluid female sexuality is so normalized, especially in a genre of anime that tends to be associated with sleazy male-gazey stuff like No Game No Life and Konosuba.

I hate that I like this show.

Beyond all that, though, My Next Life As A Villainness is a wholesome and hilarious anime. The characters are all a joy to watch, and the writing builds every joke on top of the previous one in a very Kaguya-sama sort of way. Some episodes dip into drama and discuss issues like bullying and classism, but they never take away from the fun. I may not be a fan of most harem anime, but I’ll gladly stick around for more seasons of the tree-climbing, sweets-devouring, dumbass bisexual queen.

Can we stop with the ridiculously long light novel titles though? If The Promised Neverland was a light novel, it would be called We Used To Be Happy Orphans, Until We Realized The World Is Run By Demons And Our Mother Is Trying To Feed Us To Them.

Falling Out of Love with the Harry Potter Fandom

(TW: Transphobia. I was thinking about writing this after my Anime Pride Month posts are done, but it’s fresh in my mind and I just wanted to say something now when people still might actually care about it.)

When I was in third grade, I did my first book report on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was the first kid in my school to even read the damn thing and I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it was. The world of mystery and magic sucked me in, and I related a lot to the main trio of Harry, Ron and especially Hermione. They were three misfit kids who didn’t fit in in the “real” world, but found a place where they could be themselves and have adventures with people who were just like them.

From childhood to my late teens, I was a Harry Potter obsessive. I read each book the day it came out, saw all the movies, and even went to the theme park at Universal Studios Florida. Like so many of my generation, Harry Potter made me fall in love with reading, gave me something to bond over in my tumultuous teenage years, and helped me become a more worldly and compassionate person.

How to Make Harry Potter's Butterbeer at Home + 7 Butterbeer Recipes
I waited in line for over an hour for a mug of butterbeer, a drink that has no actual beer in it. What a rip!

As I got older, though, the magic of Harry Potter lost its sparkle. Compared to the earlier books, the later ones felt bloated and full of unnecessary romantic drama. Morally questionable plot points, like the house elves being so chill about slavery or the goblins being anti-Semitic stereotypes, became more apparent over time. “Expanded universe” stories like the Fantastic Beasts films did nothing for me (even if Newt Scamander is a surprisingly decent autistic character). But the thing that made me fall out of love with the Harry Potter fandom, more than anything else, was actually author J.K. Rowling herself.

J.K. Rowling is Being Transphobic Again | Consequence of Sound
She Who Should Not Use Twitter

Most Potterheads are familiar with ol’ Jo’s Twitter obsession. Over the years, she’s made a bunch of weird retcons to her already-finished story, like saying that Dumbledore was gay, Hermione is actually black, wizards used magic to get rid of their poop, and Donald Trump is more evil than Voldemort. (OK, that last one is probably true.)

But her support of TERFs (Transphobic, Evil, Reactionary Fart-heads) on social media has flown under the radar until recently. Her public support of Maya Forester, a tax account who was fired for her own transphobic tweets, got some notoriety last year. But it didn’t make front page news until last week, when she wrote a long, confusing, and weirdly self-congratulatory essay on her website, explaining her inexplicable position. It illuminated the ugly truth that trans Potter fans have known for a long time: J.K. Rowling hates trans people, because transphobia is a huge part of feminism and political culture in the U.K.

How Hermione from Harry Potter should have looked
Also, it proved J.K. isn’t that great of a writer. (Sorry, I’m being petty, but can you blame me?)

Part of me hates even talking about this. I don’t use social media. I don’t normally care if a celebrity does something dumb or offensive. And I do believe in “separating the art from the artist” to some extent. But it’s hard to just look the other way when it’s coming from someone you used to greatly admire, saying hateful things about a group that you personally identify with.

Still, there is a lot to admire about Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s life in general. She started writing the books as a single mother in a coffee shop in Edinburgh. She overcame poverty, an abusive ex-husband, and her own depression to become the most successful female author ever. And even though I have issues with the books on a story level, I still support the general message; that hatred is corrosive and that our differences are what make us stronger in the end.

Image of the Day: That time Spielberg turned down Harry Potter to ...
At least Daniel Radcliffe, Rubert Grint, and Emma Watson all publicly spoke out against Rowling’s statements, definitively proving the movies are better than the books

Honestly, this whole thing is baffling to me. How can someone who’s struggled through so much, who believes so strongly in love and inclusivity, still lack the humanity to accept people who are different? A lot of Harry Potter fans are trans, and used the books to help them understand their own identity when they were younger. Rowling could have tried to understand or connect with us, but instead, she’s alienated us, for no reason other than her own prejudice and ego.

The Secret To Transforming 'Harry Potter' Star Ralph Fiennes Into ...
The biggest plot twist was that Rowling was a Death Eater the whole time!

So I’ve broken up with my Harry Potter fandom. I love the happy childhood memories the series gave me, but I also acknowledge my tastes have changed since then. And I don’t want to support an author who uses her massive wealth and fame to spread hate and disinformation about my community. I have to deal with too much of that shit in my life as it is. I mean, just last Friday, the Trump administration got rid of protections from discrimination based on gender identity in a medical setting. (Happy Pride Month everybody!)

If you still like Harry Potter, we can still be friends. Obviously. I’ve tried to give the series and Rowling credit for what they’ve done, which is more than they have for people like me. But I’ve moved on. I’ll take the good parts of Harry Potter with me – the magic, the messages of hope and inclusivity, the timeless story of young people fighting oppression and changing the world. J.K. Rowling can keep all the stereotypes, fear, and hatred for herself.

Just watch Little Wtich Academia instead. It’s way better

Anime Pride Month: Madoka Magica’s Universe-Defying Romance

(Spoilers for Madoka Magica and Madoka Magica Rebellion)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a lot of things. It’s a dark deconstruction of the magical girl genre. A chilling mix of fairy-tale whimsy and cosmic horror. A meditation on hope, despair, utilitarianism, and the pain of growing up. But more than anything, I see Madoka Magica as a tragically beautiful romance between its two main characters: Madoka Kaname and Homura Akemi.

This may be a hot take, because there’s a lot of arguing on the internet about whether Madoka and Homura are actually in love, or just very close friends. Honestly, I don’t get it. Sure, they don’t actually kiss or confess their feelings on screen. But their attraction for each other is obvious to anyone who’s seen the whole series, especially Rebellion. Also, without Homura’s love for Madoka, the entire story kind of falls apart. Let me explain:

At the beginning of Madoka Magica, we know almost nothing about Madoka and Homura’s relationship. Homura is introduced as a cold transfer student who excels at school but doesn’t play well with others. Madoka is drawn to her almost immediately, but they have a hard time connecting due to Homura’s antagonistic relationship with the wish-granting devil Kyubey. This sets up Homura as Madoka’s rival, but there’s clearly something deeper, bubbling beneath the surface.

Any time Madoka is in danger, Homura comes in, seemingly out of nowhere, to save her at the last second. She treats the other magical girls coldly, but seems to be obsessed with Madoka. She knows much more about the school, Kyubey, and the corrupted magical girl system than she should. And then there’s the whole matter of Madoka first meeting Homura in a dream. Slowly, it dawns on her: Madoka and Homura have met before, but for some reason, Madoka doesn’t remember it.

With episode 10, everything starts to click. Homura is using time magic. In her first timeline, their roles were reversed: Homura is the shy, sickly child longing for a friend, and Madoka is the courageous magical girl who rushes in to save her. How could you not fall in love with someone like that? But when Madoka is defeated by the witch Walpurgisnacht, Homura uses her wish to redo her meeting with Madoka and be strong enough to save her.

This scene makes me cry every time

And she does – over and over again, repeating the same month for almost eight years (according to writer Gen Urobuchi), but still failing to defeat Walpurgisnacht in the end. By the time we see Homura in the timeline proper, she is jaded, exhausted, and traumatized from seeing the girl she loves die so many times in front of her. There’s a cruel irony to this: Homura loves Madoka so much that she will do anything to save her, but her actions bring them further apart in each timeline. But she still can’t give up, or her despair will turn her into a witch. Even if no one else knows of her sacrifices, even if Madoka herself hates her, Homura keeps fighting, because Madoka is all she has.

That’s what makes the ending of Madoka Magica so beautiful and tragic. Madoka uses her wish to prevent magical girls from falling into despair, but doing so effectively rewrites the entire universe without her. She becomes a goddess, but one that no one will ever see or know about. Only Homura remembers her, keeping her ribbon as a sign of their universe-defying romance.

How anyone could watch this scene and not say they were in love is beyond me

However, there is a dark side to this relationship, one that doesn’t get fully explored until the sequel movie Rebellion. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this film. I feel it’s an unnecessary and confusing addition to a story that was pretty much perfect as is. Still, it did show how Homura’s singular obsession with Madoka can be toxic, especially when it conflicts with what Madoka really wants.

Queer relationships are like that sometimes. It can be so hard to find someone who actually clicks with you, that when you finally find someone, they become your entire life. (There’s a reason lesbians have a “U-haul” stereotype of moving in together after the second date!) It’s not healthy, and it can really fuck things up for both parties. I can’t justify Homura’s actions in Rebellion, but I think it at least shows that their love for each other is genuine.

Madoka Magica is a wonderful anime. I recently showed it to a friend of mine, and she was blown away by the striking visuals and incredible storytelling. And the core of this dark, tragic, and beautiful tale is the love between two young girls. Their love may not be perfect, but it’s stronger than space, time, the corrupted magical girl system, and the universe itself. That just makes my little gay heart melt.

Kyoko and Sayaka also have some great yuri moments, especially in the movie

Anime Pride Month: Utena, Identity, and Adolescence

It’s hard to talk about LGBTQ identities in anime without mentioning Revolutionary Girl Utena. Created by production staff from both Sailor Moon and Evangelion, this series uses the trappings of shoujo manga, fairy tales, Greek theatre, and avant-garde cinema to create a wildly subversive story about two queer girls trying to find their own path in a heteronormative world. It was way ahead of its time when it came out in 1998, and feels even more relevant today.

Also, it has an episode where a girl turns into a cow, because anime is nothing if not hilariously weird

The show immediately sets itself apart from other shoujo anime through its titular protagonist, Utena Tenjou. While many shoujo heroines tend to be ultra-feminine and demure, Utena is bold, hot-tempered, loves sports, and wears a boy’s school uniform. When she sees an older student violently bully her classmate, Anthy Himemiya, Utena immediately rushes in to save her, like a fairy tale prince rescuing a distressed damsel. But she soon finds herself in an endless series of duels to protect her new bride, who has the power to “revolutionize the world”.

Utena is a highly symbolic work. Pretty much everything is open to interpretation. But I think its central theme is about identity, specifically about Utena and Anthy’s struggle to break free of confining and arbitrary gender roles to discover their own truth and meaning in life.

Fun drinking game: Watch Utena and drink every time you see a rose. (Don’t actually do this. You’ll probably die.)

Society forces male and female gender roles on everyone, and it affects nearly every aspect of our lives. Being labeled as a boy or a girl dictates the clothes we wear, the food we eat, our work and social lives, and even how we see ourselves. We internalize these ideas at a young age, as they’re enforced by our parents, teachers, peers, and popular media. The fairy tales we learn as kids are a prime example of this: they almost always involve a princess being captured by an evil witch or stepmother, and a heroic prince saving her at the end.

But Utena deconstructs the fairy tale romance by showing how these gender roles can be toxic and oppressive. The “damsel in distress” trope makes its female characters helpless and weak, unable to do anything except wait for a man to save them. It puts unfair pressure on men to succeed, which can make them bitter and resentful. And it doesn’t make room for anyone outside the norm – dashing women, beautiful men, or anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. As Utena is told throughout the series: “You can’t be a prince, because you’re a girl.”

The Fresh Prince of Ohtori Academy

Societal gender norms are also enforced in the setting, the gilded cage that is Ohtori Academy. High school settings in anime are cliché nowadays, but there’s a reason they’re so common: our teenage years are when we try to figure out who we really are. We define our personality, appearance, career path, political and religious beliefs – and, of course, our sexual and gender identity.

But as anyone who was “the weird kid” in school knows, society hates people who are different and will do anything it can to make them conform. Utena’s independent spirit puts her at odds with her teacher, who constantly belittles her for wearing boy’s clothes, and the other duelists, who literally fight to prevent Utena and Anthy from being together. This gets more disturbing as the series goes on, and you see how much abuse Utena and especially Anthy endure just for being themselves.

Which must be why Anthy always has what I call “Gendo eyes”

Utena isn’t the only person trying to define her own identity in a world that’s stacked against her. Anthy Himemiya also struggles with this in a different way. As the Rose Bride, Anthy is the epitome of a fairy tale princess – demure, deferential, with seemingly no agency or motivation of her own. But behind her kind smile is a soul full of pain. Anthy is trapped in a cycle of abuse, with no escape and no freedom. Even Utena “saving” her doesn’t give her the independence she really wants. Anthy needs to save herself, to use Utena’s inspiration to break the cycle and become her own person.

I only watched Revolutionary Girl Utena for the first time this year, but it’s quickly become one of my all-time favorite anime. It can be cryptic and confusing, but if you enjoy shows like Evangelion and Madoka Magica, you’ll find a lot to love here. The characters are full of depth and intrigue, the story is packed with twists and reveals, and the themes of female and queer empowerment are as relevant today as they were when it came out over 20 years ago. It’s an inspiring show despite its dark moments, and well worth a watch this Pride Month.

When Steven Universe gives you a shout-out, you must be doing something right

Anime Pride Month: How Yuri on Ice and Given Normalize Gay Relationships

Media representation of LGBTQ+ characters is important, but it’s often hard to find characters that represent our community accurately without harmful tropes or stereotypes. Queer characters are often villainous or the butt of jokes, and so many of them are killed off that TVTropes had to separate its “Bury Your Gays” page into different sections! Even movies and shows meant specifically for queer audiences tend to be highly sexualized, or full of drama and misery. Almost everyone enjoys romantic stories, but it can be hard for us gays to find realistic, heartwarming romances that we can relate to.

Which is why when the Internet went nuts over Yuri!! on Ice back in 2017, it was such a breath of fresh air for fans of yaoi, or boys’ love, anime. As the first mainstream sports anime to feature an openly gay couple, Yuri puts the spotlight on Yuri and Victor’s healthy and loving relationship, without relying on the more questionable tropes that can turn audiences off BL.

I haven’t dipped my toe too deep into the yaoi pool yet, but give me some recommendations and I’ll do a writeup later 🙂

Every sports show needs an underdog hero, so our hero Yuri Katsuki starts out pretty down on his luck. After blowing the Grand Prix Final last year, he’s sunk into depression and gotten too out of shape to skate. But he decides to give it another shot when Victor Nikiforov, a Russian skater and Yuri’s idol, agrees to coach Yuri for his last season. Homosexuality ensues.

Fanservice: It’s not just for straight guys

Most sports anime focus on teammates working together to win against their opponents. But Yuri skates alone, and his rivals, outside of the charmingly Bakugo-like Yurio, are all pretty chill. Yuri’s struggle is not against any one person; it’s against his own guilt and insecurity. And Victor brings Yuri out of his shell by awakening his sexuality and encouraging him every step of the way.

The two argue and bicker, like any couple would, but every episode shows more of how much they genuinely love each other. Yuri on Ice makes a bold statement not only by showing an openly gay couple both from countries where gay marriage is still illegal, but by showing sensitive men who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Guys don’t need to be tough and “manly” all the time to be great as they are.

But if figure skating isn’t your thing, Given is another fantastic anime about boys’ love in a rock band. Ritsuka Uenoyama, a hot shot guitarist, meets Mafuyu Sato, a shy boy with a beautiful guitar he has no idea how to play. When Ritsuka hears Mafuyu’s amazing singing voice, he immediately asks him to join his band and learn guitar from Ritsuka. You can probably tell where this is going already.

Mafuyu’s guitar costs $4K :O

As a musician and music nerd, Given hooked me almost immediately. There are tons of clever references to British indie bands like Radiohead and the Arctic Monkeys, and watching Ritsuka teaching Mafuyu gave me warm memories of when I was first learning to play.

The romance is a slow burn, since they are so young and Ritsuka is initially afraid to come out. He goes through an adorable tsundere denial phase, even though everyone can see the boys’ obvious attraction for each other. It finally takes his bandmates to set him straight and tell him what I always wanted someone to tell me when I was that age: there’s nothing wrong with being who you are and loving who you want to love.

Lovable queer dorks

Queer characters and relationships have been around in anime and manga for a long time, but it’s only recently that anime specifically about LGBTQ+ relationships has started to become mainstream. Yuri on Ice and Given both feature healthy, heartwarming same-sex relationships, which can help queer audiences relate to the characters and help straight audiences empathize us. Even if you’re not queer, you can still enjoy these anime as great love stories, or for the amazing figure skating and music respectively. Hopefully, the success of these shows will inspire more anime about openly queer characters, in all the wonderfully diverse forms and genres of the medium.

This song was absolutely brilliant. Listen to it again after you’ve seen the anime!