Stella’s Women Academy, High School Division Class C-3

C3
It’s so easy to write this off based on appearance. Then again, a lot of people are fooled by realistic design that an anime is deep. Stella’s Women Academy is simple and doesn’t aspire to much, but hits every target it aims for.

In truth, it’s not just an anime about cute girls who play with guns. The cuteness factor is there (since we in the West are still impressed by macho bullshit, it’s a plus). What drives the series, though, are the characters.

vlcsnap-2016-05-02-20h35m05s65

The story is simple because it’s a very humane one. It puts a bunch of personalities and examine them, using the theme of competition. What dominates is the characters’ reaction to every situation. Although external events pop once in a while like competitions, it’s not noticeable. They only happen to develop the characters. Feeling like you’re not enough or being narrow-minded or being laid-back are more crucial to the story’s progress.

It draws comparison to Ping Pong. There are even pseudo-artistic moments where the anime tries hard to be taken seriously. Thankfully they vanish quickly. Moments of confrontation, where we see the relationships change are more meaningful and profound than any weird-psychedelic-vision-thing.

The anime is full of such moments. Every episode is a clear progression of Yura’s personality. It is such tight pacing. Even the best anime don’t have pacing that is this focused. The series catches you off-guard when it moves from the cuteness of the first episode to the serious conflicts. It does it only in 6 episodes.

vlcsnap-2016-05-02-20h35m18s191

The tonal shift isn’t jarring. It adds depth. Life isn’t monotonous except in some circumstances. It’s mostly ups and downs. These tonal shift add realism to an anime that at first seemed only comic. It makes all the drama later believable and engrossing.

It’s an impressive feat. The characters shouldn’t work. They’re neither psychological portraits nor exaggerated oddballs. They still manage to feel real. This thanks to the work of the voice-actors. Most of the attributes – Ren’s gentleness, Honoko’s mother-figure, Karila’s toughness is expressed by these voices. Even when the characters all react positively to something, the voice-actors add their little touch to create distinction.

Yura is the highlight of the series though, and part of what prevents it from being brilliant. Going back to the comparison with Ping Pong, that anime explored every character it had. It wasn’t satisfied with just giving them distinct personalities. They each had their own journey.

Stella’s Women Academy is more narrow. Yura is the only one who goes through a major change. She’s a more believable and realistic character than Ping Pong‘s Tsukimoto, even if she’s less psychological. The changes in her are more apparent and clearer. The anime doesn’t rely on inner-monologues or visions (Okay, there are a few of them but not too many) to show us who Yura is. It’s the constant interaction with the cast.

vlcsnap-2016-05-02-20h35m45s229

Why make the decision to have such a narrow focus? Knowing your limitations is important, but great characters were the strength of the show. Everyone was flawed in a way and could be improve. The writers know how to develop a simple character, and using their talent only for one character is a waste.

Since there are guns in the anime, there are also action scenes. They’re the least flashiest action you will see, but somehow they work. Again, the simple and low-key approach is an advantage. The scenes are clear and easy to follow. They’re made of set-pieces which progress to a conclusion. Some tactics and strategy are involved, but they’re complex enough to be interesting and simple enough not to drag the anime down.

The overall message of ‘real winning is having fun’ may seem simplistic, but it actually goes deeper than that. It doesn’t pretend the world doesn’t have conflict. The message is that we need to understand when we’re in a serious conflict where we must win, and when we’re in a fun activity.

vlcsnap-2016-05-02-20h36m31s155

That’s the fault of both Rin and Sonora. Sonora just wants to have fun, so she doesn’t fight when she has to. She lets people leave freely even though it harms both the club and themselves. Rin sees everything in terms of conflict. For all her victories, her existence is joyless. She can win all she wants but what does she has in the end?

is not a huge anime. It’s a simple story about a person with no confidence getting drunk with power and then waking up. It works. Its focus may be narrow but nothing is missed, no idea is undeveloped and no moment is wasted. The only thing that prevents it from being a classic is that it never tried to be. Still, even the greatest of anime don’t hit their target dead-center like this one does.

3.5 girls with guns out of 5

Advertisements

Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook

dorislessig
I kept postponing writing this review because I had no idea where to start. I hoped reading other reviews and another book might have helped me. It didn’t. I’m falling back on the technique of telling that I had no idea how to start the review and feminism. I, too, wish I had a more original approach.

Lessing said she didn’t view this as a ‘feminist work’. Others have agreed with. They pointed to Anna Wulf’s character, who is overflowing with flaws. Her whole mind is in fragments and she can’t help but be attracted to guys who have no problem cheating on their wives. Then there is Africa and communism and a story-within-a-story. It’s like someone took that Tove Lo concept album, mixed it with a Rage Against the Machine and Drums of Death record and didn’t trim the weaker tracks.

My interpretation of feminism is different than others. Many think feminism is giving a female character a gun and letting her shoot everyone down. You can teach a man to fish, but it doesn’t mean you know him. Whether we’re putting women in the kitchen, factories or in the front lines doesn’t matter. We’re still putting them in roles.

What Lessing does here is what many a male author did – Salinger, Bellow, Heller. She dumps all her problems and the ugliness inside on the page with hope of making sense of it all. These type of novels can be cathartic, but they can also lead to a lot of rambling if there’s no idea to bind them together.

Lessing at least attempts that. The whole structure is an attempt to look at every problem on its own. It means every album gets the spotlight for a considerable page-count. It also means that it takes a long time before we return to it, which forces the reader to re-focus, recall a lot of previous details and push back what he just read.

The problem is that Lessing has a lot to say about everything. Paragraphs stretch for pages. If this was a small novel that gave a brief taste of everything and asked us to focus on the big picture, it’d be fine. The problem is that you’re always zooming in. When you spend hours staring at a fifth of a painting, it becomes the painting itself. It’s full of big pictures.

There’s a reason connected novels are published separately. That’s because each has to be readable and be read on its own. It has to be a big picture, too. Chapters should also stand on their own, of course. However, they can’t be a big picture on their own. Cut them from the novel and you lose something.

Lessing reminds me of George Martin (only with far more writing skill). She has so much information to convey, but much of it is too separate to allow you to focus on it. Each of the sections could stand on their own as a novel. Maybe making this a series where the line between novels isn’t chronology but the subject would make it easier to read. It’d be a pretty cool idea that many others will imitate, too.

It’s a shame, because Lessing is otherwise a great author. She rambles, of course. Her labyrnith of thoughts doesn’t flow as well as Auster and is too big. Still, her ideas are fascinating. The section about communism is one of the more mature treatment of the subject I’ve seen. We often encounter either pro or con. We’re told that either communism failed or that it just wasn’t really tested. Sometimes there are even rational arguments to back these up, but Lessing has empathy for all sides. She critiques isn’t pointed at who’s right, but at what causes the discussions to fall.

Her writings about The Female Experience are even better. This is where the whole feminism thing rears its head, and where I find Anna Wulf’s dysfunctional character as feminist. If men are allowed to have their labyrniths of thought, so do women.

Lessing doesn’t care about empowerment. Like Atwood, she just thinks a woman’s life deserves as much attention as a man’s. If men are allowed to psychanalyze themselves using literature, so do women. If there is any conclusion here, it’s that men and women are more similar than they are different.

It seems there is no actual difference between men and women. They all have the same wants and needs. The problems are when we take gender seriously. The two gay men aren’t very different, but the fact they’re attracted to men rather than women casts a shadow over them. It’s this little thing that disgusts Anna Wulf, although they are otherwise fine.

It’s also interesting how the romantic struggle isn’t with loneliness, but with Bad Guys. That seems to be a common theme in any female work of art that deals with heartbreak. Males are trapped in loneliness. There is suffocating loneliness in songs like “Forget Her”. Then you read this, Atwood and listen to Tove Lo’s album and it’s a world where nobody is lonely. There is always someone giving you attention and wanting you. They just don’t want you in the way you want them to want you.

Me and a friend discussed this often. What’s worse? The unwanted attention or the loneliness? We haven’t found an answer yet. Maybe we don’t need to. Maybe asking questions like these are what set up the barriers between men and women. Even if Lessing’s character and Tove Lo will never know the loneliness of being invisible, we somehow all end up with hearbreak and frustrated with the ideal of romance.

I wish Lessing was more brief and focused with these themes. Her labyrniths of thoughts are so dense that you’re too busy figuring out where you are to stop and enjoy the ideas she scattered around. I don’t want a literature of answers. I don’t mind it an author throws me to a maze full of ideas that I will never understand 100%. When an author makes you feel too lost, you give up looking.

There are also a bunch of interior monologues. I keep thinking that intenral monologues are either your whole story, or you don’t put them at all. She’s a bit more stylish, but the whole method goes against what she’s doing. She’s bringing her characters to life using interactions and sitations. There are plenty of these that are amusing enough. A monologue only serves to stop the story to tell us what’s happening. Interior monlogues only work if the whole story is supposed to trap us in the character’s head, like the film Pi. In books like this or the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the action is the core of the story.

Her character also lives a relatively good life. She just lives off royalties from a book she published and rent money. She ‘struggles with ideas’, but it feels like the typical struggle of a privileged person who got it all sort out. Anna even have guys falling for her all the time. I’ve had those ‘philosophical struggles’ too, and I also come from a privileged background. Just sitting around and thinking doesn’t help. It’s self-defeating. You won’t get anything resembling an answer if your questions aren’t directed at the world. My whole life right now is a ‘philosophical struggle’, trying to make sense of everything. I won’t get anywhere lying around like Anna though. That’s why I read all these books and write all these reviews. Maybe if Anna did something other than talk to herself her ‘philosophical struggle’ would have been more engrossing. Talking to yourself often becomes a sick cycle of self-affirmation.

Although it’s a deeply flawed work, it’s also one that’s overflowing with ideas, interesting situations and good writing. The word ‘overflowing’ is truly the best description. There is enough here to make it worth reading, and it is something I want to return to later. It’s too much, however. It lacks the elegance of a truly brilliant work, one with a focus that can’t be swayed.

3 cheating husbands out of 5

Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds

queenoftheclouds

In almost every disucssion involving the thrillng (yet repetitive) subject of romantic love, I pointed out how different men and women experience it. Men suffer from a lack of attention, from a loneliness that’s like a black hole sucking up the joy from everything. I rarely met any women who complains about that. Rather, there is always a stream of guys waiting to get in bed with them. Their biggest problem is that they’re just not the guys they want, or that they only want sex.

I know I can come off as a prick in these discussions. If I told a poor man that my steak was cooked well-done, he’d laugh at me and tell me to be thankful I at least have a steak. This is generally how I reacted when I heard women getting ‘burned out’ on male attention.

Queen of the Cloud both confirms my view and challenges it. Nowhere in these songs Tove Lo talks about being really alone. That emptiness you hear in American Football isn’t here. There’s nothing like “Forget Her”. Yet it doesn’t make it any less emotionally effective. Like Lana Del Rey, Tove Lo shows things from a very female perspective and brings depth to her character.

Lana Del Rey is a good comparison. They both play a very similar character. They’re both sexually charged and heartbroken. The first third is about picking up hot guys in the clubs and telling them that if they love her right, they will fuck for life. Tove Lo’s character is more of an everywoman, one who wants to enjoy life and just happens to stumble upon a guy who makes her feel like she’s on drugs.

There have been plenty of break-up albums. What makes Queen of the Clouds distinct is, other than the obviously female perspective, is its coherency. It’s not just that the album is split into 3 parts with obvious titles. Each song in them show the progress.

The Sex part starts with “My Gun” and “Like Em Young”, which are general statements that Tove Lo likes to have sex and she prefers young guys. It’s a good time to stop and ask why do women can sing about hot guys without sounding so hateful. “Talking Body” is where she actually meets the hot guy, and is one of the best ever songs written about sex. The way she sings “If you love me right” is pure joy. Isn’t this how sex should be, fun and joyous?

We’ve been bombarded by female artists ‘reclaiming sexuality’. What they did was brag that they got ass and that rappers write songs about them. I don’t see it as a major achievement to have a hateful sex rap written about you, but such are things. These artists weren’t really sexual, though. They bragged about their sexuality, which is like bragging about packing guns or pwning noobs in World of Warcraft. In the end, the subject of your song is how awesome you are, not sex.

That’s not so in Tove Lo’s case. Her sexuality is full of joy and excitement. She doesn’t have sex to prove anything to us. She will fuck him for life if it goes right, if it’s fun enough. The whole first half as bouncy, EDM-like production that’s more about warm tones rather than aggressive sounds.

It gets more interesting as it goes on. There’s not much to say about the Love part. “I’m not on drugs/I’m just in love” is a line so brilliant that it raises an otherwise average song. There is also a lot of dubstep influence. What sticks out are the hesitation and insecurity in “Moments”. This is where Tove Lo reminds me that in heaven it’s as it is on Earth. Tove Lo shouldn’t feel insecure about attracting guys. She’s a famous singer who looks good and writes better than lyrics than almost anyone in her sound. Yet when she sings “I have my moments”, she sounds desperate to convince herself more than to convince the guy. Haven’t I felt this before?

The Pain part is the album’s beating heart, where Tove Lo sounds like she’s pouring all passion into. She still gets plenty of male attention. On “Habits” she talks about picking daddies in the playground and going home with other people to numb the pain. Yet it doesn’t work. This is where “This Time Around” comes in. It’s the beating heart of the record. The decision to add a boring house track after it is plain stupidity.

Everyone tells me that love is an unpredictable thing. I wish it was, but Tove Lo seems to agree with me despite our completely different experiences. “This Time Around” isn’t just a eulogy for a relationship. It’s lamenting how repetitive the whole thing is. We go all in only to find that we’re the same at the end and we can no longer feel it. Maybe it doesn’t matter how much attention you get. When you get burned out you’re no longer feeling it, and every time you try it’s the same thing.

Although the songs are good enough on their own, it’s mostly the concept that holds this album together. It’s a joy to listen to from beginning to end, because every song connects to the other. “Moments” opens up The Love with hesitation, while “Not on Drugs” is the climax where you’re feeling like you are on drugs. “Timebomb” ends The Sex with the excitement that makes you indifferent to anything else. “Thousand Miles” opens The Pain with the will to go back to the person, before you realize how much he’s hurt you.

A concept album doesn’t have to tell us the exact events. Music is always better at delivering an emotional experience than an intellectual one. Turning a philosophical essay into pop song will make it lose most of its depth. Turning a political essay to a rock song makes it propaganda. The concept works here because every song documents What It Feels Like in every stage of the relationship. That brings it closer to The Downward Spiral rather than that awful Muse album.

Only “Habits”, “Talking Body” and “This Time Around” truly stick out, although they’re all candidates for Best Pop Songs Ever list. Still, nothing here is filler and the songs that end up without melody (“Timebomb” especially) are musically interesting enough. Recently I’ve been thinking we’re in one of the best eras of Pop music. Albums like this are the reason.

3.5 clouds out of 5