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Tadayasu, the young heir to a small-town sake brewery, has the power to see microbes. They look more or less like this. The manga begins on his first day at a Tokyo agricultural university, where his unique ability makes him sought-after by a maniacal professor with dreams of using microbes to terraform new worlds, a dedicated microbiology student whose punk boots hide a colony of athlete's foot fungus, a germ--phobic student, a pair of money-hungry students attempting to use their disgusting dorm room as everything from a sake brewery to a lab cultivating medicinal caterpillar fungus, and everyone on campus who doesn't want to get food poisoning.

In the tradition of many reluctant heroes struggling to balance great power with great responsibility, Tadayasu complains, “What has it ever gotten me? Being fed creepy and disgusting food.”

Moyasimon practically defines oddball, combining gross-out comedy, nostalgic college-days humor, and meticulously presented lessons on microbiology, fermentation, and agriculture. The word-to-image ratio is as dense as Death Note, using cute microbes and funny situations as the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine sake-brewing demonstration go down.

I could have done without quite the amount of grossness, but I enjoyed the college hijinks, the science, and the sheer bizarreness of the concept.

I leave you with this representative quote: “You know what they call worms? Dragons of the earth! Respect their power!”

Moyasimon 1: Tales of Agriculture
The species called the Jokka have three genders: anadi (female, who get more and more stupid with each pregnancy until they become mindless baby machines), emodo (male), and eperu (neuter).

They have scales, manes, tails, and fangs; they weep venomous tears from their fangs and their blood is white; they have live births but if they have non-procreative sex (or possibly always; this was unclear) the female immediately lays an egg. The biology of the Jokka did not hang together for me, and what with the drooling and fangs and venom and egg-laying, the sex scenes grossed me out. Before one of the characters fists another, she lifts its tail out the way, giving me a flashback to every time I've ever seen a veterinarian do that to a cow. (Before you ask: yes, for medical purposes, you perverts; yes, quite a few times actually, I grew up in a rural area.)

There on a nest of pillows lifted from the floor, Magun reclined in all her atavistic succulence. [...] Her eyes were heavily shadowed by the fringe of thick red lashes and her crimson hair had grown since I'd last seen it: it fell over the pillows in lush, gleaming waves from her head and buttocks, decorated with tiny brass and clear glass beads.

I eventually figured out that the buttock hair was probably her tail, not beautifully groomed ass hair, but since the characters also have tufts on their forearms, I am not 100 percent sure.

Thenet is a neuter who is kicked out of her household after she fails to save a birthing female from the mind-death (which can also happen instantly upon giving birth, not to mention from overheating or other forms of stress) and runs off with Dlane, a female who, in a never-before performed act of shocking defiance, refuses to get pregnant. (Normally, by the way, sex is done with the female strapped into a special rape chair in case she loses her mind partway through.)

They head off in the hope that if they find the ancestral birthplace of their species something good will happen. It's really not much more detailed than that. They get chased but escape. There's a lot of wandering through the forest, and hints that their species is in serious danger of dying out. Then they find a nice community and set up a radical household of childfree crafter Jokka, where they do very well selling their crafts on Etsy to the community, and Thenet invents eyeliner. I am totally serious.

Then the evil male (who is extremely virile -- the male and female genders are basically biological expressions of human stereotypes about men and women) finds them. They flee to the ancestral birthplace where, to my dismay as this was the only storyline I was really interested in, they fail to learn anything about their possible upcoming extinction. The conclusion is quite melodramatic and not what I was expecting, other than the rapes which I was expecting. The door is left open for a sequel, which I will not be reading.

I wish I'd liked this book more than I did. I am a huge fan of explorations of gender, of alien points of view, and of stories of sociobiological quandaries. But this novel didn't work for me on any level.

Since the author can invent a species however she likes, it's off-puttingly misogynistic that the females are biologically subject to many human stereotypes about women: they're fragile, weak, delicate, faint often, and get stupider and stupider with each pregnancy. The last is presented as tragic, but it's still creepy in ways that go beyond what I think the author intended.

The first page alone presented three different unfamiliar terms which were not clear from context and were not defined for several pages. The next pages presented even more unfamiliar terms, some defined and some not, plus more use of the first set of unfamiliar terms. While the beginning was the worst offender in this regard, there were several points where I had no idea what was going on because I didn't know what the key words meant and the context wasn't helpful.

The writing was tin-eared in other ways as well. As the words "male," "female," and "neuter" were used interchangeably with the invented terms, I'm not sure why new terms were also needed. Thenet's household is called House Mated. Since so much of the book involves mating, I kept reading that as a past-tense verb. Later another household is introduced: House Neked. I could not help reading that as House Naked. One of the major religions, which is not Christian, often refers to the Trinity.

And then there's this line of dialogue, which reminded me of Le Guin's classic essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," on diction in fantasy: "Our products are high-quality luxury items..."

The Worth of a Shell, which is self-published, could have used an editor as well as a copy-editor. But it's possible that furry fans would appreciate it more than I did.

View on Amazon: The Worth of a Shell
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Sep. 15th, 2008 07:30 am)
An entertaining, though perhaps not actually good, Korean film about a cooking competition.

In the prologue, two cooks compose exquisite blowfish sashimi platters for a panel of judges. "They're poisoned!" chorused [livejournal.com profile] cofax7 and [livejournal.com profile] laurashapiro.

[livejournal.com profile] rilina, [livejournal.com profile] oyceter, and I, more used to the conventions of Asian media, said, "Eh? Why would they--"

The panel of judges proceed to vomit and keel over. Poisoned!

Cut to several years later. A cooking contest offers as prize an ancient knife used by a chef to hack off his own hand during the Japanese occupation of Korea as a protest against the overlords. The grandsons of the chefs seen in the prologue are competing. There is a good chef (handsome, honest, owns a cow he loves like his own little sister) and a bad chef (puffy face, greasy hair, cheater, no cow.) There is also The Girl, who plays even less part in the story than The Girl usually does. Also, she does not actually participate in a romance. She's just there.

It was all fun and games until a stage of the contest required perfect charcoal. It turns out that perfect charcoal is only made by one man... on Death Row! Evil Chef visits and stupidly mocks Death Row Dude. Death Row Dude tries to bite his nose off, but unfortunately fails. Then we see the sepia flashback of tragedy and woe! Once he was a small starving child, abandoned by his destitute mother who was forced to turn to prostitution and being the kept woman of an abusive man. He learned to burn charcoal, which slowly blinded him so he had to wear Coke-bottle glasses. (I flashed back to the pony going blind from coal dust in the YA Agony Awards.) When he tried to stop his mother from being beaten, she turned on him, and then he stabbed her abuser with a charcoaled branch. And then was executed. But he tells the charcoal secret to Team Good Chef before he dies.

For the next contest, they need perfect beef. The hitherto Good Chef kills the cow he loves like a sister! The cow cried! The Girl did not argue against this! There is a random scene of some other guy fisting some other cow. We all boggled.

There is also assisted suicide and Alzheimer's. A guy dresses up in his old Army uniform, bends over, and begs his old Army buddy to beat him. The old Army buddy does. If this was a better, or just better-known movie, a thousand slash fics would have been born.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Jun. 26th, 2005 06:53 pm)
JB and I went to see Mysterious Skin, a movie about two boys who are abused by the same man when they're children, and grow up to be affected by and interpret that in very different ways. It's written and directed by Gregg Araki, a gay indie director who I almost interned for when I was an undergrad, but ended up going for an internship at Castle Rock instead.

After the movie:

Me: Wow, Gregg Araki has really grown up. The last movie I saw of his, he was still pretty heavily into "Let's see how much I can shock you."

JB: Yeah, this was great. And it didn't have any gratuitous shocks at all.

Me: Well, there was the dead cow fisting scene.

JB: Yes, but it wasn't gratuitous. It was completely relevant to the plot.

Me: That's true. And the end-- which I thought was extremely touching--

JB: If the cow fisting had been less graphic, we might not have remembered it, and then the scene at the end wouldn't have had the same impact.

Me: I think you're right. Though possibly cow-fisting is always memorable, even if it's not graphic.

For the two-or-fewer people reading my journal who won't be turned off by a little non-gratuitous cow-fisting, I have to say that I liked the movie a lot-- it's thoughtful and moving and has some neat hyperreal images. But though I don't know what the actual rating is, I have to give it a mega-warning for sex, drugs, sexual violence, really disturbing stuff involving children, and, of course, cow fisting.
.

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