Re-Post: Review of Itadakimasu

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So, in working on Autumn Harvest: Maiden, I cast my net looking for other smart and sexy stories about romances between an older woman and a younger man. One work I found that I wanted to share is Yoshihara Yuki’s Itadakimasu (scanlation here).

Naeko is a recent divorce in the prime of her life (mid-twenties to early thirties? it’s never made clear) who has a good job at a bridal salon (read matchmaking agency). The only problem is that her immediate supervisor is her ex-husband, Souichi, a philandering jerk who wants to get back together with her (but has no intention of keeping his fly zipped).

Then she meets a beautiful and dashing young man, her junior but very mature, a Japanese mensch in the old-fashioned sense, possessed of honor and dignity.

There’s only one problem. No, wait, make it two. Ouji is even younger than he seems: he’s just finishing High School. Also, he’s Souichi’s little brother.

That setup is sit-com improbable, but the plot picks up from there, and is by turns sweetly romantic, smutty, funny, and introspective. Much of the humor comes out of the introspection: Naeko in particular is self-conscious but also bawdy (Yuki celebrates the idea that women not only have a libido, but can speak about it – a theme that runs though the series’ autobiographical omake comics as well ).

There is a degree to which this is “role reversal”, but it’s role-reversal in a self-aware vein: at her wedding to Souichi, Naeko mistook a younger Ouji for a girl and gave him the boquet, saying “I hope someday you’ll find a nice man and be happy with him.” Ouji has been carrying a torch for her ever since. (Note that this may be a little less gender-queer than it sounds, as Japanese is relatively gender-neutral: a more literal translation might be “find a nice person and be happy together”).

Itadakimasu is a light, fun read, classic bishonen josei with a refreshing perspective on relationships and gender.

Re-Post: Games need to have More Sex (so they can have Less Sex)

Sex isn’t a bad thing. Let me repeat that: sex isn’t a bad thing. Sexual objectification, however, is unhealthy, as is the conflation of sex with violence, and the forcing of sexuality into a narrow, omnipresent scopophilic fetish.

Here’s what I’m ranting about: videogames (and comics) have a problem with sex. The problem is that they are generally afraid, unwilling or, arguably, unable to show sex acts, or develop romances, but have often catered to an audience with an interest in sexual content.

The result is psuedo-sex, in which everything about female characters is sexualized for the scopophilic pleasure of a presumed-to-be straight male audience. By way of example, I cite the fact that in Mass Effect 3, Bioware gave EDI, the ship’s AI, a robot body – with pronounced camel toe.

What’s wrong with this? It’s simple: this kind of hypersexualization doesn’t allow female characters to ever be anything other than sex objects. They can never own their own sexuality because, to pick on Bioware a little bit more, the only time they aren’t walking sex-shows is in Mass Effect’s rather tame no-nudity sex scenes.

Anyone who has read superhero comics in the past couple of decades knows that this is an omnipresent problem in that medium, extending, for example, to the Avengers movie poster.

Note in the image on the left, the further technique of the “crotch blackout” – the Hulk and Hawkeye’s groins are shaded in solid, without a hint of definition (and Thor’s fist is right there, because sublimated dick-wiggling is approved, as long as we don’t have to see another guy’s package). In Marvel and DC comics, when a female character’s front side is visible (as opposed to contorted to show her breasts and butt at the same time), for some reason, there’s never any crotch blackout.

Just in case you need a visual aid, most male spandex-wearing superheroes should look a bit more like this image of Sir Winston Churchill in a swimsuit.

Okay, it can be done more subtly than that, and frankly it’s a good thing that Winston was a politician, because he’d never have made the cover of Playgirl, but the broader point is that games and comics exist in a culture with “robot camel toe” on one side and “crotch blackout” on the other. Women are (nearly) always, (seemingly)  unavoidably sex objects, and men (virtually) never are.

If we let sex be sex (meaning that we have to let sex be sexy), then we can let not-sex be not sex. I’m really tired of having every high-kick be an excuse for an upskirt shot, and every time a female character fires a gun be a thinly-veiled metaphor for (male) orgasm.

Thank you, Bayonetta – you can go now.  Don’t let the front door hit you… nevermind. Sheesh.

I’ve gotten so used to this crap that I can barely muster outrage at Ubisoft’s E3 presentation, which opened by taking Just Dance 4 (a series largely targeted at women and family gamers) and turned it into a school uniform fantasy with a lot of female dancers gyrating in knee-high socks and little gym shorts.

It then transitioned into a Far Cry 3 trailer that opens with the game’s (male) protagonist getting a psuedo-sex pseudo-lapdance from a “tribal” chick who is effectively naked without “any nudity” (bodypaint and a ridiculous tiny slit-skirt/loincloth hybrid leave nothing to speak of to the imagination). A more detailed analysis and links can be found at “Not Your Mama’s Gamer”.

The thing about this that particularly gets to me is that it isn’t romantic (at all) and isn’t even about two people pleasing each other. It’s strictly a show nominally put on for the game’s protagonist (and actually for the game’s player).

Even so, it’s not as bad as the ways that games have casually sublimated violence for sex. Let me tell you a story… when I was in high school, a game called “Duke Nukem 3D” came out. As a horny teenager, I wasn’t bothered by the fact that the game has strippers in it, or that you could tip them and they’d flash you. Then something happened. I came across a naked woman in some sort of alien cocoon, chamber, or trap. I shot it, and the cocoon burst open. I was waiting for the naked woman to emerge and shower me in gratitude for saving her. Instead, when the cocoon burst, there was nothing left. I’d killed her. Deeply disturbed, I quit the game and tried again, but there were only two options. Leave the trapped women alone, or shoot them.

That’s really sick. And, while I don’t remember any other games that have casually (as if it *really didn’t matter*) asked me to chose between killing innocent women and leaving them to suffer, I have completely lost patience with the plethora of games that feature buxom barely-clothed “succubus” enemies that cry out orgasmically when killed (oh, and killing them is the only playable option).

That’s why I think we need more sex in games, so sex can be sex and everything else can be free of the weight of “being sex” as well.

Give female characters practical clothes to wear, such as rugged, durable pants for tomb raiding, armor that doesn’t leave their midriff exposed, and leave the bondage gear for the bedroom. Seriously, you can have bondage gear, when it’s appropriate. You wouldn’t wear your motorcycle leathers into the pool, so trade the stiletto heels for insulated boots when you’re walking into Mordor.

Among other things, then the player will know that when “Hot Lips” Hoolihan shows up for an off-duty dinner in a low-cut top, that it means she’s interested in the protagonist, rather than just “drawn that way.” And if she invites the Player Character up for coffee and goes to change into something more comfortable, seeing her in a negligee will actually be a bit of a thrill (for players who want to see Hoolihan in a negligee – and those who don’t will be spared seeing her fight space squid in a negligee).

Anyone out there actually remember Loretta Swit (y’know, the actress who played Hoolihan on M*A*S*H, y’know, M*A*S*H…)? She’s still alive and kicking, and a gamer, BTW. In 1986, she wrote “We are Ms. Pac-Man fanatics in our house.”
Anyway… I think more games should have sex in them, and that it should generally be more explicit. Let sex be sex, and let sex, particularly happy, mutually satisfying sex between consenting adults, be a good thing. Then maybe we can stop making every female character into a sex object, and cease conflating sex with violence

Remember, just like no one is actually getting “gibbed”, “capped” or dismembered by a chainsaw, there is no actual sex taking place in these games (or comics). Some other time, I’ll rant about the fact that extremely graphic violence and acts of genocide are acceptable in games (at least in the US), while simple biological realities – such as nipples – are completely verboten

P.S. Comics readers may feel that I’m ignoring the thriving market in sex comics. I’m not. Look at what indie comics (especially all those confessional autobiographies) do with sex. Some stories are titillating, others are entirely about being uncomfortable with sex, and some aren’t particularly about romance or sex but still have sex in them. And frankly, while some of the sex comics are in bad taste, they’re generally less offensive than the latest “women in refrigerators” or “insert penis here” moment in the “mainstream”.

P.P.S. A friend of mine who I talked to about this brought up the fact that she often finds moments that aren’t intended to be sexy, well, sexy, and that she wouldn’t want those moments edited out. I agree: we each have different turn-ons and different fetishes. It’s neither necessary nor possible to edit out those moments. What I’m calling for is not pre-fetishizing everything for a specific (and incredibly narrow) form of sexuality that assumes an immature and uninspired straight male audience (often to the exclusion even of a lesbian gaze, though Bioware does deserve some credit for the “FemShep” phenomenon). Removing the bias will simply make games more accessible to a broader range of players (and a broader ranger of turn-ons and fetishes) by not dictating in BOLD, ITALIC, ALL CAPS to us what we’re supposed to like.

P.P.P.S. There may be those who out there who feel I’m calling for censorship or being unrealistic about market demands. Those people are wrong. What I am calling for is a more inclusive and, incidentally, sexier, approach to games design. I think games like that have a good shot at commercial success in a (slowly, with much kicking-and-screaming) industry and market. If you are working on such a game, know someone who is, or just just know of an actually, emotionally mature game, drop me a line.

Re-Post: Best NSFW Webcomics

Ok, let’s start with the fact that these are Not Safe For Work. That means that there are adult themes and probably nudity, and that there just might be explicit sex.

Ok? Good.

So, I just ran across a poll of the best NSFW webcomics and while I haven’t read most of them, and some are surely atrocious, A few of these are actually quite good in their own right, and deserving of more attention.

Go Get a Roomie is a funny, Belgian, lesbian strip, that started our with beer (Belgian ale, good stuff) and light humor about casual sex. Since then, it has grown into a romance between a closeted dreamer and the titular bar and bedroom-hopping Roomie (who may be a closeted romantic). It’s not very explicit (bare breasts), but it is sexy, romantic, and clever. It’s in good shape to win, and deserves to.

Curvy is highly original (as are the creator’s other, mostly SFW comics). It’s a surreal, dimension-jumping queer comic (mostly lesbian, but also gay and transgender with some marginal heterosexuality). Candy World, Corporate World, Water World, so-called Smart World… and is our home really “Boring World”? There are some very explicit bits.

Menage a Trois has more mainstream appeal, as it centers around a likeable nerdy virgin guy with several potential love interests (there are characters of all orientations). The art is crisp and vaguely reminiscent of “Archie”, and while the premise (uber-nerd moves in with punk-rock lesbian and an excessively tall, blonde and busty French girl) seems doomed to cliché and stereotype, the comic generally plays off of its clichés well. It’s fairly explicit at times, but nothing you wouldn’t see in an “R” rated movie (a rating it applies to itself).

Way down the list, and deserving of more, well, love, is LovexCore, a kind of alternative-reality take on Jamie Jennings’ (SFW) Lavender Legend, just with vampires. LovexCore is funnier (and sexier?) if you’ve also read Lavender Legend, so you’ve got no excuse not to.

Another title that hasn’t received many votes is Jess Fink’s exquisitely-drawn steampunk comic, Chester 5000 XYV. It’s a story about a love affair between a woman and a mechanical man, with some funny and tender moments, but it’s also extremely explicit: more so than anything else on this list.

Addendum: Oglaf is a strip that just keeps getting better over time.

Re-post: World Without Measure

On occasions, I let people know that I believe in magic. This usually confuses them, especially if I try to explain. What I mean is this:–sft042312.php

Even the most seemingly absolute and “natural” means of communicating information, math, is neither absolute nor natural: “the ‘universal language’ it’s not. Mathematics is neither hardwired, nor ‘out there.'” It’s an incredibly powerful and useful fetish (in the shamanic, not the sexual sense), and it powerfully conditions “reality” and our experience thereof.

But other experiences are, or at least were, possible. Imagine a mathematics where the spacing between integers is variable or one entirely without a number line. I have no doubt that such things at least were possible (could have been) even if they cannot be located by anyone who has received a modern education. But if everyone except for the Yupno vanished tomorrow, they’d at least have a chance of figuring it out.

This is the phenomenon of the lost trailhead: the journey first obscures, then devours it’s point of origin. This is because possibilities exist back there that could undermine the system created by the journey, expose it as a one, relatively arbitrary, possibility among many.

That’s why I believe in “magic.” These excluded possibilities, these equally-valid entities, surround us. Time is the slope of a valley wall, a non-linear arc in three dimensional space: “Yupno seem to think of past and future not as being arranged on a line, such as the familiar “time line” we have in many Western cultures, but as having a three-dimensional bent shape that reflects the valley’s terrain. […]  ‘Ultimately, no way is more or less natural than the Yupno way.'”

The world isn’t what we think it is, except that it is, because what we think it is overdetermines our experience of it to a degree that is hard to explain and impossible to fully experience. This doesn’t mean that everything is subjective, or that knowledge is meaningless. It just means that we will always know much less than we think we do. Someday, we might learn enough to be able to understand know little we know. That’s magic, or at least its prerequisite.

Re-post: More Tentacles!

This image from “I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space” inspired me to post about Women with Tentacles and the Men who Love Them.

There’s a whole genre of erotica/porn (and, on extremely rare instances, romance) involving “tentacle monsters” (aliens, demons, kraken, etc.) and women. A lot of it is, sadly not sex-positive xenophilia but rape fic (thus the disturbing phrase “tentacle rape”).

But what about *healthy* human/cephalopod relationships? Especially what about those where the human is male and the be-tentacled one is female

I’m one of the small handful of people who swooned at the Fred/Laliari pairing in Galaxy Quest… so when I discovered Humon’s (NSFW) Love and Tentacles, I was thrilled.

It’s a sweet series of vignettes and images depicting Tom, an average-joe mechanic, and Frida, a kind of alien called a “Tentacula.” While it’s NSFW, it’s not nearly as explicit as one might expect.

There’s some gender-bending involved, minimally in the association of masculine heterosexuality with activity, dominance, and penetration. It’s interesting to see just how quickly homophobia and especially transphobia crops up when those traits are called into question. Humon noted with disappointment that, while Frida *is* the female of her species, among her readers there were a lot of “men who not only lost all interest in Frida as soon as they found out she lacked “lady parts” but also thought less of Tom for it”.

Did you catch that? There were some people who followed this series, rooting for Tom as he caght hell for being “gay” from his backwards coworkers, but as soon as they found out that the (egg laying) Frida doesn’t have a vagina, they changed their tune and “thought less of” Tom.

This makes my head spin and my stomach churn.

On the plus side, it reminds me of one of the many ideas I have on my creative back-burner: “Uke of the Elder Gods” (“uke” is Japanese sexual slang for “bottom”). The idea is this: Lovecraft’s stories are full of male protagonists who are led around by their more-aggressive, more-taboo breaking close male friends. There’s never any overt homosexuality in the stories, but it just drips with potential (and ichor).

I’m imagining a series of stories in which the “submissive” Lovecraftian narrator is dragged around Arkham (&c) by his very dominant friend/crush, looking for shoggoths (&c). The aggressive friend never seems to find the proof he’s looking for, but when they get split up, the narrator keeps running into surprisingly amorous betentacled elder gods (&c).

The only problem is that I have a hard time seeing this story as properly consensual, and I don’t want to write non-con, let alone rape, fic. So, unless I figure out a way to square that circle, it stays on the back burner.