[Link] Age-gap relationships in fiction

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I talked about Gankutsuou’s handling of teen crushes on adults last week, but here’s a more extensive discussion on age-gap relationships with Dee and Caitlin: the ethical, the bad, and the normalizing. Oh, and the “that doesn’t actually fall under this pernicious problem.”

(I can’t believe I forgot to bring up Yuko/Watanuki, over which I still have the longest and most exhausted sigh).

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Gankutsuou and Responsibly Portraying a Teen Crushing on an Adult

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After the Rain has sparked many a conversation about the lines between ethical fantasy, how age gap media is targeted (and how you can tell), and the romanticizing or normalizing of potentially predatory behavior. Many have argued that AtR is a light and harmless fantasy show meant to give young women a chance to live out their crushes on older men in a safe environment. I’ve talked before about why I don’t truck with that assessment—the framing skews heavily toward romance (Crunchyroll’s ad copy quotes it as a “heartrending love story”), heroine Akira wouldn’t be out of place in the films of real-life predator Woody Allen, and most of the interior life is given to the male protagonist Kondo.

Whether or not Akira and Kondo wind up together forever (or at all), there’s the fact that framing matters immensely. No media exists in a vacuum—it inevitably answers to other works of art and to real events, and doubly so when it sets itself in a real, grounded setting like Rain’s. It means that whether or not the show intends, say, to play up that Kondo is so completely harmless and could never hurt a girl against her will (a technique commonly used by predators) or frame the narrative so that Akira is constantly coming on to the clueless Kondo (an excuse favored by sexual predators after they’ve been caught), it nonetheless creates a seedy impression hitting too close to real life—and not in a way the show is intending to. There is a reason that the most successful shows about indulging in a taboo subject have some marked fantastical element to set them apart.

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“This is a fantasy for teens,” I often hear, but it strikes me as the opposite—a fantasy for old men who want to prey on teens. I know, because my all-time favorite anime—one I discovered as a teenager and have continued to enjoy into adulthood—has at its core the story of a teen who is able to save an adult from himself.

[contains major spoilers for Gankutsuou]

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Winter Premiere Review Round-Up

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Premiere season is finally winding down, meaning it’s time for me to crawl under a rock and sleep for a week. In the meantime, this also means I can do a single post for everything I reviewed this season. Short version: the season started out strong with some amazing titles and kind of petered out at the end.

Also, because I didn’t review it because sequel, but Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc made me tear up.

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“Those Poor People:” Penny Dreadful’s Secondhand Approach to Marginalization

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This essay was commissioned by May Walsh, who requested an essay about Penny Dreadful season 1. You can learn more about commissions here

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young woman buys a house. It is haunted, perhaps by a ghost or only by the heavy guilt and terrible misdeeds of those who came before; the difference is ultimately inconsequential, as the prose has already wrapped its way around you and started strangling. That’s gothic fiction. Of course, the misdeeds might just as well be crimes of existing while queer or mentally ill, depending on the author. Gothic fiction is a genre preoccupied with looking at the “other:” other than male, other than white, or straight, or able-bodied—and finding them frightening.

Over time those parameters began to involve. Those who were defined as Other began to make their own entries into the genre. It became a place where writers could depict characters like themselves, whether that meant being able to push against their accepted societal roles or being allowed to exist at all. As long as it ended in a neat cap that reassured the audience that proper order could be restored, any number of things were possible in the meanwhile.

Crossing the genre over with the concept of fanfiction seems a natural fit, given that fanfiction (at least in its modern incarnation) also sprang from women, queer folk, and other marginalized identities looking to write themselves into texts that excluded them. And so we have Penny Dreadful, a show gleefully intent on elbowing you in the ribs with its references while also solemnly assuring you that it has something to say. While the first season frames its plot through a discussion of women and the various ways in which they’re abused, it’s muddled by clumsy execution.

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